Monday, 10 September 2012

A word of Caution about Commissions by Jeremy Lampkin

As an Artist and Web Designer, a few friends have tried to help me out by sending business my way on different occasions.  But each time their associate turned out to be a flake, just another loser wasting my time expecting me to do a lot of work for nothing.  I thought this card game publication my friend mentioned would be more of the same, so I blew it off.  Finally after weeks of bringing it up, my friend got me to meet with this guy, after telling me the game was about ancient Nineveh.  Being interested in the Bible I had to see what this was about.

I took the day off just to meet this friend of my friend's husband in the afternoon on a Saturday in mid-April 2012.   His name was John and he wanted me to do the artwork for his card game about gambling in its most potent form.  The concept of this game he chose to title Nineveh is that each turn, each action involves bluffing, as in poker, looking directly into your opponent's eyes to determine whether you want to keep the card or have the opponent take it.  The game is balanced by positive and negative cards, with positives being generally smaller in value so that negatives have a stronger impact.  Intrigued by this concept with the psychic abilities it plays, I really wanted to do this project.

John had a theme all laid out for me to paint the artwork for the deck, going into great detail.  There were to be 28 cards that would have only a number on it, 15 cards with certain images to paint - plus 8 cards with images of hands praying, and a card with the words 'mine' and 'yours' with paintings of the city gate in daylight and at night.  So that's 25 paintings for the cards that needed images and 28 simple number cards.  He offered me $1,000 and the chance to have my artwork in publication, he even promised mention my name and website in the publication and to link to my art website from his site.  He also offered a $500 down payment right away.  I accepted his offer, even though the low price tag he put on my work indicated a cheapskate.  He had me sold on the idea of this project being just what I needed to kickstart my art career.

I decided to get a quick start on the project, painting the 'Mine' and 'Yours' cards.  I thought I'd see if he liked a soft, rustic look so I put a low level of contrast on the shading/highlights.  John wanted high contrast, so I deepened the image's lighting effects.  I also had to thicken the letters, as I had done them far too thin.  He said he wanted high contrast and not to worry about being realistic, as this was for a card game.  He said he wanted the temple in the daylight to be darker than the one at night, so as to maximize the level of contrast.  Also he wanted me to make the street leading to the gate paved with large stones, and to paint the grass light in the foreground, dark in the middle, and pale (which is light) in the background.  Since John emailed me a detailed diagram of exactly how to do it, I did just that - as stupid as it was.  His response was "no no no, that's not right" - well, obviously light to dark to light is an ignorant idea.  But that was easily fixed.

Mine/Yours Card - to indicate whether a player wants to keep the card drawn or have the opponent take it.

Confident that the first 2 paintings were complete, I sent him the updated images.  He wanted more changes.  He wanted the text thickened on one card so it would precisely match the other, when they were already identical.  Also he wanted the night gate darkener than the day gate because that would be more realistic.  Confused by conflicting instructions, I only darkened the inner doorway of the large city gate.  A few minor touch ups and I sent him the updates.  John asked me not to be upset, but that he wanted to redesign the mine-yours card so that one side was a living city and the other city ruins.  I had just been screwed around for 3 days for nothing.  The salt in the wound was that I had spent what seemed like an eternity on the phone with this arrogant idiot already - hours talking about his game concept - and he hadn't even sent me the project outline which I obviously needed in order to remember and organize what to paint.  I was eager to get started on the actual card paintings, so I asked him to put the outline together and email it to me.
"One last image I neglected to mention is the one of the inside of the temple that will be on the back of the card box." 

This sentence was tacked on at the end of the outline email.  The next thing I knew was that he expected me to do an extra large detailed illustration that included all of the cards' paintings on the inside walls of a temple.  He wanted me to do this huge piece which would obviously more than double the workload - before even getting to the card paintings, which made no sense whatsoever.  Like a fool, I obediently went ahead and started this temple illustration - which he ignorantly hounded me about using small brushes on.  Naturally a painted illustration takes far and away much more time to complete, having to anal-retentively keep going over thin outlines that covered the walls - as paint keeps drying in the little tiny brushes.  I thought I'd be a nice guy and not ask for more money, just because this still seemed like a great opportunity for me to get my artwork out there.

But he had already proven himself obnoxious beyond insult, screwing me around while nit-picking every detail of my artwork.  What was I thinking?  He also insisted not to take any time off from my job, which I easily could have, and asked me if it was reasonable that I could get everything finished within a month.   Obviously John had no clue what Art is, and what goes into making it.  Being so confused, indecisive, and dim-witted is a great way to stifle your commissioned artist.  I hope this story can be a lesson, at least it has been for me, to never compromise my principles again. 
Nineveh Temple - was intended for the back of the box and the background for an animated flash website:

This project also called for a bit of research.  In the research and execution of the temple image I was made aware of fundamental spiritual symbols which actually filled in some of the gaps in my Gnostic-inspired philosophy.  Having studied and applied various religious paths to my lifestyle, I see all religions ultimately as one.  They just overlap on different levels.  Two of the symbols that I learned about were particularly potent.  One was the Assyrian Tree of Life, which of course relates to the Hebrew version.  Like a candle or a flowing fountain, the tree is obviously a phallic symbol of vitality.  The flowing energy on the top of the tree is also repeated in the trim patterns all over the temple walls.  The second awesome symbol I became familiar with was the double lightning bolt.  Representative of the supreme god Ashur, this solar symbol also bears direct significance to the Hebrew and Gnostic realities.  The Gnostic representation of the Hebrew god is a lion-headed serpent with a lightning bolt inside each of his eyes.  In light of the Gnostic connections, the double lightning bolt and the god Ashur can be understood as basically the same archetypal character as the Hebrew god.  We can also see connections which reveal the flow of certain information in Gnostic circles.

After working extensively on the painting and research for a whole month, I finally sent him the finished temple image, eager to get started on the actual cards, which were after all what I had been hired to do.  John's reply was that the art for the cards was "on hold" and that he didn't know what direction the project was taking now.  Obviously he had hired another artist to do the cards without telling me.  Because of this back-stabbing gesture, I let him know that the deal was broken and that we would obviously need to renegotiate my payment.  At this point he cut off communication with me.  The next thing I knew, the friend who had arranged this commission for me told me that John had asked me to give her the temple illustration so he could pick it up from her house.  My response to that was, yeah okay, after he pays me for my work.  I never heard from John again.

I write this story as a lesson for others not to compromise their principles to get ahead.  Ultimately I weighed the risk of the project and the worse-case-scenario, which actually happened, still saw the project as time well spent.  This story is also written as an investment, as a sort of insurance policy.  Being that I only got paid the down payment and had to keep the artwork, whether I like it or not I am still invested in this project.  This article is a documentation of my experience as the initial artist who was hired to paint the Nineveh cards so that if and when Nineveh the game does become popular, I would one day be able to sell the temple illustration which cost me a month of my life and finally receive payment.  According to John, there are 3 millionaires which invested in the project, so I imagine Nineveh the card game will market quite well.  (John actually told me to pray for him when he was flown to Florida to meet with these millionaires.)  It's a shame that someone would rather sacrifice his own reputation than to pay the small expense that he promised to.  Even more shameful is the fact that I had to let down all my supporters, my friends and family by letting them know that I wasn't getting any of what I had been promised because John had apparently backstabbed me by hiring another artist right after he hired me, and that my artwork was not getting published for mass circulation after all.  They had been so happy for me that I hated to have to tell everybody the good news:  I had been ripped off by a con artist whose plan was to waste my time and discard me.  I suppose it's poetic justice, a self-described Christian with a passion for the vice of gambling hiring me to paint his card game:  I should have seen this coming from miles away.  Ironically, I did.  My ultimate mistake was to accept the miniscule price tag he offered, making me just a tiny expense to be discarded without a second thought.

Aside from the awesome symbolism I had discovered in researching Assyria, there was another major benefit from this project.  The painstaking process of illustration had reawakened my passion for art.  As a result I am more focused than I've been in years, determined to launch my art career.  Despite the worst case scenario actually playing out, the Nineveh project has been a blessing.

Jeremy Lampkin September 2012

See more Artwork by Jeremy at his Website