Thursday, September 29, 2016

How to Invoice

By Lauren Panepinto

Ok, everybody. I've been posting a lot of travel lately, and that's great for inspiration, but it's September and it's Back To School time. More specifically, Back to Art Business School. I'm going to break down something that you'd think was pretty simple, but a lot of people get wrong, causing no end of frustration to artists, art directors, and accountants throughout the industry: Invoicing.

Ask any Art Director: getting artists to properly fill out paperwork is like herding cats. Many companies, who I'm extremely jealous of, have gamed this system as much as possible. Some companies generate their own invoices for artists, some just computerize the entire system, and some use digital paperwork services like Adobe Echosign (now called Adobe Sign). However, the standard is still a ton of paperwork getting emailed back and forth.

Getting paid is complicated. There's lots of forms, lots of legalese. It's such a huge pain point that it was actually my first Art Business series on this very blog 3 years ago. Now I'm breaking it down into even smaller digestible bits. Do you like getting paid? Yes? Then make it easy on your Art Directors and read on! I'm going to write this from my personal experience, but I guarantee if you mention paperwork to any AD they're going to audibly moan and repeat most of the same complaints I have.

Getting paid generally takes 3 things: 

(some companies may have extra forms, but these are the big guns)

1—Contract: Every company has their own. Read it. Read it again. Read it carefully, because if you sign it then you don't get to bitch and moan about not wanting to follow the terms later (which happens all the time, I see you all complaining on the internet). Signing that contract means you're a professional and you're promising to follow the rules. Often you can sign it digitally, or print it, sign it, scan it back in…but we're all artists here. It's very easy to set up a signature file and cut and paste it into pdfs or in photoshop. Make sure you're not leaving out other things you might need to fill out, like a credit line.

Return ALL the pages of the contract. I have gotten just the last page of a contract a ton of times, and it's a giant pain because I have to piece it back together before I can submit it for payment. I have even (more once, sadly) gotten a cellphone picture of just the signature portion of the last page of a contract. I mean, really guys, why bother. That's not ever going to hold up in court if it needs to. If I am at the point that I need to photoshop your paperwork back together I am hating you the entire time I'm doing it, which severely affects how quickly I want to work with you again. And chances are that file is going to sit in my inbox for a while until I have the time to photoshop it together before I submit it, and then you're wondering why your payment is late...

2—Tax Form: I'm writing this from a US-based company, but I'm sure other countries have equivalents. The best thing to do is ask your Art Director. In the US there is a Tax Identification Form. If you are a US Citizen (and/or paying US taxes) it's a W9. If you are an individual who is not a US Citizen (and/or not paying US taxes) then you need a W8-BEN. If you have made yourself into a foreign company you need to fill out a W8-BEN-E. And god help your soul. That form is super complicated. Get thee to an accountant stat.

If you are a US citizen, you have a Social Security number. DON'T USE IT WHEN YOU'RE INVOICING. Get yourself an EIN number. It used to just be for companies but years ago, when ID theft became such a thing, the IRS started letting individuals get EIN numbers to protect their SSN. Some companies (like mine) won't take a SSN anymore, just an EIN, because we don't want to be responsible for protecting everyone's SSN in case of a data breach. Any company that still takes SSNs will also take an EIN. An EIN number is free to get, takes 5min to get on the internet, and doesn't change anything about your taxes. Go get one. Do it now. I'll wait here.

3—Invoice: I am often shocked by how little care many artists put into their invoices, when clearly it is the thing that determines, at the end of the day, whether you're getting your money or not. An invoice should not be simple text in the body of an email. It should not even be a word document. It sure as hell shouldn't be a lo-res jpeg, which I get a lot. A pdf is best, please. Fonts won't be an issue, nor will someone accidentally altering it when they open the file.

Things that need to go on the invoice:

     • Your name: which has to match on all the paperwork. If you use, say, Tom on one piece of paperwork and Thomas on another, it will get rejected. If you use a company name on the contract and a W9 in your name, it will get rejected.

     • Address: whether you are getting a check mailed to you or using bank transfer, we still need an address for tax purposes.

     • Invoice Number: which has to be a unique number. I get repeat invoice numbers rejected all the time. I end up just making up a new one for you, but it takes time to have it returned to me. Some companies give job number. You can use that. If not, make up your own. And change it for each invoice. Come up with a formula, like Company Initials + month + year, etc. And keep it short. I got an invoice rejected recently by someone who was using the entire title of the book embedded int heir invoice number, but accounting can only fit 15 characters in the field.

     • Invoice Amount: with an indication of currency (dollar sign, euro sign, pounds, etc.) and decimal points. Yes, I get invoices returned all the time for not having the ".00" and for not having a "$"

    • Invoice Date: Pretty self-explanatory

    • Company Name & Contact: you should know who you're working with, right? But accounting doesn't necessarily know, especially if an invoice gets separated away from it's email and processed in a huge batch.

    • Description of Job: What it was and what you did. Sometimes it's "Untitled" still, but at least get the author name and put it on there. Also note what your service was: Illustration? Photography? Design?

    • Payment Terms: how do you want to be paid? "Check payable to" is needed, at least, or "Bank Transfer to" (which I recommend at this point, it's much more reliable, especially if you're international). If you're asking for a Bank Transfer you must have on the invoice the following: Name of Bank, Address of Bank Branch, Swift Code for that bank, Name of Account Holder, Account Number, & Routing Number. (If you don't know all these things, all your bank, they'll help you out.)

Dan was kind enough to share the blank invoice he gives out to his classes.
I would even improve it by saying "Payable by check to:" but this is a great example
of an invoice that makes it very easy to pay someone.

So right now, do yourself a favor, and go update your invoice template to make sure it has all this info. Don't have an invoice template? Well now's a great time to make one!

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Language of Tropes: From Theater to Illustration

-By Clark Huggins

My sincere thanks to Muddy Colors for allowing me to hijack the blog as a Guest Contributor today. I’m here because an idea-generating card deck I created, called RECKLESS DECK, has a new Kickstarter that’s launching today. I’d like to use this opportunity to share with you some of the deeper creative motivations behind why I made this thing.

A very quick lowdown on Reckless Deck for the uninitiated: It is a card deck that contains 72 individual cards, each one offering a different object, character attribute, weapon or trope from the Fantasy, Sci Fi, Horror, or Steampunk genres. The idea is to shuffle the deck, draw some cards, and then, as Artists & Creatives, make something new happen out of the random, incongruous hand you’ve drawn.

The strength of Reckless Deck lies in the idea of TROPES... How to use them, and how to subvert them.

I feel (and this may be the first of several things I say that might get me lit on fire, making this the briefest debut in the history of blogging), the world of Science Fiction and Fantasy Art gets a great deal of its mojo from the "Set Design", "Costume" and "Prop Shops" of your imagination.

Let’s not joke - Sci Fi and Fantasy tend to be realms of "cool stuff". Because otherwise, we’d just be painting naked people on blank backgrounds, or pedestrian-attired people doing very everyday things (see also: Fine Art, Portraiture). What makes it "Fantastic Art" oftentimes is a function of the personal vision of your inner production designer, and how big a “creativity budget” you have stored up in your head to “fund” your next production.


For those of you who don’t know me, I left my illustration education mid-stream to be a professional actor for 13 years, finding my way back to illustration only after a lot of stage work, a lot of “suffering for my art”,  and a Master’s Degree in performance from the A.R.T. Institute at Harvard University.

I want to share with you some of the performance-related lessons I learned that ended up fueling the creation of Reckless Deck, and how my creative process continues to shape itself as a result.

I performed in a number of Shakespeare (& other classical) plays, and witnessed countless more. I can count on one hand the number of times I saw a doublet-and-hose, traditional period rendition. (Or, what we used to call “pumpkin pants”. Never wore ‘em once.)

“In sooth I know not why I wear this ridiculous getup.”

Modern Shakespeare performance tends to exist in either:

A) a different historical context a director might use to frame (and hopefully thereby inform) the production, or...

B) a kind of theatrical nether-realm, which to our Sci Fi/Fantasy eyes can often be actually an exercise in really intriguing world building.

And, it’s in this nether-realm that I learned that it’s possible - and often preferable - to have a world that can encompass both swords and handguns, a pocket watch and a cell phone, an hourglass and a laptop. Some recent examples you may already be familiar with:

Kate Fleetwood &Patrick Stewart, MACBETH, 2010

Alan Cumming, TITUS, 1999
Steven Waddington & Andrew Tiernan, EDWARD II, 1991

Creating Reckless Deck did an interesting thing - it allowed me to see that the various objects & tropes we traffic in as Sci Fi Fantasy illustrators can behave in very startling and unexpected ways, once you lift them away from the snug surroundings of their native genre and make them interact with unfamiliar companions. The inherent nature of a thing suddenly can fizz and pop in surprising new ways, similar to the shades of meaning of words in a sentence, or (in an analogy-tip-of-the-hat to Lauren Panepinto and other Mixologists) ingredients in a cocktail. Often, the incongruity between one thing and another creates a visual tension that can be really interesting - something akin to an unscratchable, never-ending itch in your brain.


Something unique to the nature of film as a medium is the act of film editing, or Montage. In the 1920’s, Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein credited montage as “the nerve of cinema”. He stated, “Montage is an idea that arises from the collision of independent shots” wherein “each sequential element is perceived not next to the other, but on top of the other.”

The term “montage” was first coined in 1916, however, by filmmaker Lev Kuleshov. In a now-famous film experiment, Kuleshov combined independent shots of a man, a bowl of soup, a woman in a coffin, and a woman on a sofa. The strategic ordering of the shots had a marked effect on audience’s interpretation of the man’s neutral expression. Although the man’s expression doesn’t change, when juxtaposed with the three images, the resulting mini-narratives suggest that it does. Essentially, Man + Soup = Hungry, Man + Coffin = Sadness, and Man + Woman = Lust.

For me, Reckless Deck acts as a kind of portable illustrator’s Kuleshov Effect Kit. Each card becomes like a snippet of film that can endlessly be edited and re-edited together in different combinations.

We all know well the resonance & frequency of combinations like “Sword + Shield + Dragon”, or “Laser Pistol + Robot + Spaceship”. And, no arguments, these are good frequencies, that most of us revisit often, and some among us wield with superlative skill. But what happens when you go jumping Once More Into That Breach with a montage like “Sword + Robot + Suit & Tie?” or “Shield + Laser Pistol + Angel Wings?” The results, admittedly, could be a hot mess. But, they could also be amazing - and have a freshness and a vibrancy that are borne directly out of the inherent risk - and dissonance - of such a montage.

The Sartorialist, 2015 © Clark Huggins


The last thing I want to leave you with is a moment from the completion of my undergraduate education at UC Santa Cruz. The 'Shakespeare Santa Cruz Artistic Director' at the time, Danny Scheie , showed us two opposing clips of the same aria from different versions of George Bizet’s CARMEN.

One was from the 1984 film by Francesco Rosi. This one was…about what you’d expect. Spain, stucco, petticoats, peasants.

The second was from a stage production of CARMEN by British director and theater pioneer Peter Brook. (Apologies in advance, I’ve scoured the internet looking for this footage, to no avail. The best I could do was this photo from a remount of Brook’s adaptation at Baldwin Wallace University in Cleveland earlier this year.)

Brook’s production has become legend in the theater world for its brazen stripping down of this pageant-like opera to its barest bones - a small cast, reduction of the full orchestra to 14 musicians, and all the lavish costumes and sets reduced to a blank, Zen-garden sandbox and minimal props.

Seeing the juxtaposition of these two interpretations of the same material was one of the seminal moments of my education both as an actor, and, as it turns out, an illustrator, as well. This freedom to upend and subvert expected tropes (sometimes replacing them, sometimes obliterating them completely) to suit one’s own personal vision has become something that is central to my work, both in my own work in the studio, and with the creation and expansion of Reckless Deck.

Macbeth Witches #2, 2015 © Clark Huggins

The Reckless Deck Kickstarter launches at 10 am on September 28th.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Kin Fables

by Cory Godbey

"Come! O, human child! 
To the woods and waters wild, 
With a fairy hand in hand, 
For the world's more full of weeping 
then you can understand."
W. B. Yeats

Quite a while ago I stumbled across the KIN FABLES TRILOGY, loved it, meant to post it on Muddy Colors, somehow didn't get around to it, ultimately forgot the title, lost the link, all that.

Well! I just spent the last week backpacking through the North Cascades National Park (that'll be my next post for sure) and, incredibly, at some point during all the switchbacks the name of this collection returned to me. Delighted, when we got back into civilization I looked into it again.

Seb and Ben McKinnon have crafted a magical and haunting experience with their work. The shorts are moody, atmospheric, strange, and wild. They manage to strike that John Bauer tuning fork within me.

What's more, there's an entire catalogue of short films to be enjoyed here.

To close, I couldn't post about Kin without noting, as I understand it, Ben McKinnon passed away earlier this year.

As if that Yeats quote couldn't possibly be more poignant.