I’m not a very good artist.
I mean, I’m OK as far as it goes. I can get the job done or at least figure out what needs to be done. But when it comes to guys like Matt Cauley or Kerry Gammill or Dave Hudnut (all guys I know and worked with) there’s just no comparison. And I’m cool with that. To be honest I never wanted to be an artist; I’m self-taught in the sense that I doodled in the margins of my school papers, and taught myself how to paint just for fun in high school, but I was never one of those guys that just HAD to draw. The ones that spent hours practicing, or laboring over tiny details, or studying the great artists to figure out the secrets
Nope. I just did it until I got bored and then I’d rush through the rest to finish it. I didn’t want to grow up to be an artist, it was just a hobby. It relaxed me, and I wanted to keep it that way. Sadly, life decided that I would end up having no marketable skills and I somehow backed into a career as a designer, first of toys and now of promotions.
The good news is that I’m quite good at computer programs like photoshop and illustrator. With those, I don’t need to be a good artist, I can fake it. But it is somewhat of a regret that I never really learned how to draw well. Now that I’m in my late 30s new skills don’t come quite so easily anymore, and I sometimes really struggle to get something looking how I want it to. It was much harder when I was a toy designer, as my puny skills meant that while I designed a lot of stuff, someone else would do the final artwork. Oh, I was able to design some nice display pieces, but they were almost always not my style or done by committee (which is kind of the default in any graphic business these days). Still, I was able to put my stamp on things by slipping in the random otter or hyrax onto the item.
Once I moved to doing promotions for big companies I got a lot more freedom to design display pieces, but it was still directed by multiple people within the agency and the client. It was my art, but not necessarily what I would have done given free reign (but then, given free reign I wouldn’t be making ads, either!) But most of what I do serves the client, and not me, which is how it should be.
So what’s the point of this post, you ask? Well, I was in Wal-Mart the other day and for the first time I saw some of my own artwork, in my own style, there on some product! It turns out that a while back I was doing some design options for a pool chemical company. They wanted some pieces that would evoke “summer fun” and I presented the usual stuff- photo montages of kids playing in the water. But literally at the last minute, I decided to slip in an extra option that no one had asked for: just some very retro style kids on a stark graphic background. At that point, I was moved to a new account and handed that one over to another very capable designer and didn’t think much about it. Well, it turns out they liked my concept and ran with it!
Which leads me to the bittersweet part. I mentioned before how I wasn’t a great artist. But I can fake my way through an awful lot. I did those designs in about 25 minutes, with the thought that if they didn’t like them it was no sweat and I didn’t waste a lot of time but if they got chosen then I would redraw everything to be really nice and very tight. But everyone really liked the art as it was! So the only modification that got made was adding goggles to the dog. Now, don’t get me wrong: I’m not ashamed of these or anything. But here is my own artwork untouched by anyone else, finally on store shelves (more or less) and it’s the equivalent of a rough sketch! Ah well…
BTW, you can find these on the neck of some bottles of pool chemicals in Wal-Mart, just over from the toy section. It’s a fold-out brochure on how to treat your pool. Whee!