Starving Artists

For the past 20 years I have been freelancing and never has there been a time like there is now. If it were possible, I would make an appeal to all attendees of the convention to buy original art for their publications. The careers of illustrators and photographers are suffering do to the widespread and ever increasing use of stock and royalty free images. The people who helped give your magazines a distinctive look a few short years ago are now struggling to stay afloat in this business.

Many of my friends, who had viable careers as illustrators are now working at other vocations. One drives a truck for FedEx. Another is a bellman at a hotel. Carpenter & landscaper are now the jobs of two others. These were guys who were doing work nationally (except for the FedEx guy).

One magazine designer I spoke with recently told me a story of an incident with the editor of one publication, a denominational magazine. An illustration had been assigned for the cover. Sketches had been approved. The illustration was completed and delivered. The designer was thrilled by the beauty of it. The editor hated it. It was too feminine to suit his tastes. Never mind that demographically the likelihood was that the greatest share of his readers were women. He made an editorial decision. Only stock photography would be used in the magazine from this day forward.

No one likes an unpleasant surprise, so this sort of reaction is somewhat understandable. But, so is the way your leg moves when the physician gives a little whack with that rubber mallet just below the knee.

However, where there is no risk taking, there is no change. There is sameness. Has no one noticed the blandness that has crept in with the increased use of stock and royalty free images? Does no one long for the thrill of something unique in their publication? Oh, how I wish you would.

There are a few art directors who have fought against this trend to emblandish their publications, to make everything safe, to avoid all surprises. I thank you. You know who you are.

As I write this, I am still a full time freelance illustrator. I do what I do because I love it. God put a love of creating images deep inside my soul. Once I became His, he put in me a desire to serve, also. I became an illustrator and it has been a joy to me to serve many of you. During the past few years the opportunity to serve has become less and less as less and less original illustration has been used. I have hoped to see the pendulum swing back toward the use of original art, reversing this trend of photo-montages created with Photoshop layered images from a royalty free disk. (And don't forget to include the image of a compass! How many times have you seen that?!)

But what about the bottom line? Isn't that what's driving the current situation? I understand the need to have a profit margin. After all, my writing this is motivated by my own profit margin, or lack thereof. I am motivated by the desire to feed my family, which is why when the pendulum does its return swing toward illustration, if it does indeed ever swing that way again, I may not be here to answer the phone. I may be driving a delivery truck in order to feed my family and my creating images will no longer be to enhance publications, but purely for the joy of drawing and painting. I have come to accept that this may well be the direction the Lord is taking me. It is not the path I would choose, because I love illustration and design. I love creative problem solving. It is a joy for me to take a story, an article and try to distill the ideas from that piece of writing and create the picture worth a thousand words that will catch the reader's eye and hopefully their imagination, spurring them on to read.

I hope that I will indeed be here when you call, if you call. If not, I will find other avenues for what the Lord has put into my heart.

Ken Westphal is a freelance artist.