Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mediocrity

-By Dan dos Santos


As many of you may have already noticed, my cover for the novel 'My Life as a White Trash Zombie' was just nominated for this year's Chesley Award for Best Paperback Cover of 2011.

This painting also won a Silver Medal in last year's Spectrum, and was also accepted into the Society of Illustrators Annual Competition.

But did you know that this very same cover also made several 'Worst of' lists?
Amongst others, Cover Cafe voted this cover as the #3 Worst Romance Cover of 2011.

Here is what some of their readers had to say:
Rick: “I just had lunch, but this image makes my eyeballs wish they knew how to vomit.”

Lynn: “This cover screams at me – stay far, far away – the blood, the cigarette, the hair. I like SF and fantasy and steampunk, but this, I would never pick up to even try the blurb on the back cover.”

Kat: “The muted colors blend into each other, the text for the title looks childish while the topic is definitely not for children, and the graphics just don’t see to match the title.”

Nina: “So very ugly – could not keep this cover in the same room I am sleeping.”

Cover Cafe’s Lee: “If I saw this at a bookstore, I would pick it up and turn it to the back so people wouldn’t freak out.”

Cynthia: “Even though I do smoke, I believe that may be the most disgusting book cover I have ever seen and would probably not buy the book because of the cover.”

Cover Cafe’s Leanne: “It combines all the worst cliches of white trash one can imagine.”

Ellen: “This cover is so off-putting it changed my vote from the disaster that is 'Es ist ein Mann entsprungen'. Yuck! Even her poor cigarette is broken and soaked in blood. I hate pink eyeshadow, and her tattoo is unrecognizable. I think it says “I Love Perkins” or something. If I were to judge this book by its cover, it would be sliding down the wall at this moment.”

Kaye: “Really!!! The title does not lie. Most of the covers are bad but this one is horrid.”
Over the years, I have taken part in a lot of art competition juries, and one of the biggest flaws I routinely see is too large of a jury. When you have a lot of people trying to agree on something, you will inevitably get a lot of differing opinions. One juror will love a piece, while another absolutely abhors it. In the end, the only pieces that get past the entire jury are the ones that everyone can agree are 'OK'. The result is, mediocrity is rewarded.

So do all the negative reviews bother me?
Not one little bit!
Heck, I'd be worried if someone didn't hate it!

Love it... hate it... it doesn't matter, so long as the art invokes a real response from the viewer.

So remember,
If everyone likes your work, it's probably a good indicator that you're doing something wrong.

46 comments:

  1. Those are reviews? >LOL
    What I don't like on the cover is the placing, size and fonts of the text. It does not look very balanced to my eyes... it just looks slapped on the cover... that's URGH! xD

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  2. "I love Perkins" is clearly what the tattoo says. :D Hilarious.

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  3. "I love Perkins"... so I decided to get a brain tattooed on my arm...

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  4. Wow! This makes me laugh because I brought this book based on the fact that I loved the cover and could tell that you'd painted it - colours blending into each other and all. The book itself was not so great, so I ended up chucking it. Still love the image though.

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  5. After reading the comments I am wondering what is wrong with me.
    I love the cover. I love that it is pink. I love the slight white trash in it. I love that grim sense of humor that comes with the choice of purples and pinks for that trashy zombie woman.

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  6. I think that placing it on that site with the other...REALLY really unprofessional and abominable covers is atrocious. I love the cover and I'd probably buy the book only because of the cover.But tastes differ i guess.

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  7. I have to be honest, this is one of my least favorite paintings of yours. "The Fires of Heaven" and "Blood Divided" I absolutely love (and many others but the list would get long and boring). I even prefer the one where you show her sitting on a toilet (I think it was the same character, I couldn't find it on your website). When you originally posted this one on this blog I think you mentioned that the publisher had you tone down some of the "zombieness" of the girl, less rotting flesh etc to appeal to a wider audience. For me, that is part of the problem, she's kind of in between, not really zombie looking, not really human looking. While that was probably the direction you received, and pulled off, I don't think it makes for a "great" cover. But at the end of the day you can get a million different opinions on the net, what really matters is how well did the book do, was the art director pleased with your work.

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    1. I totally understand. One of my favorite pieces to date, Butcher Bird, is my Wife's least favorite. She always asks me if we -really- need to have it hanging in the house. As for being successful or not, I think the book likely did it's job of attracting a new demographic.

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    2. Your cover to Butcher Bird made me buy the book, gotta say. Is the White Trash Zombie book really a 'romance' offering, as all the other entries in that contest seem to be? Hrmm. I dunno. At least it wasn't a photomanip; mad skills went into its creation, not just fancy font and a few stock photos. Just sayin'.

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  8. Yes. I agree with the Romance Cover Critics. This painting is a huge pile of do-do. The broken cigarette makes it too icky for words. You should be ashamed of yourself and should dispose of it immediately. Look, we're friends: I'll help you for old time's sake. Give it to me; I'll take it away (naturally holding my nose and averting my eyes from its worst...ness) and we won't discuss it ever again. You might as well preemptively toss the White Trash Zombie on the toilet in the box, too, just to cover all your bases. No, no, Dan: don't thank me. I'm just trying to help you.

    My Fed Ex # is...

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  9. Really interesting point, Dan. As much as I dig your work, it shocks me to find out what some other people's opinions are! I think from now on I'll be striving to make my whole body of work as awful as possible haha.

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  10. I really do prefer the work you've done for Patricia Briggs' novels - part of the excitement of when her new books come out is to see your latest interpretation of Mercy. This one, well, it just makes me a bit uncomfortable. Living where I do, there is an awful lotta white trash and they can be rather crazy-making. So in that sense, the painting is serving its purpose. We HAVE had quite a lot of discussion lately at the cubicle farm about how consensus breeds mediocrity - in ALL things. Constantly having to appeal to everyone causes stagnation; new ideas get sqaushed and productivity never increases because we always have to meet the "needs" of the lowest common denominator.

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    1. I think you just summed up our entire political system.
      As for Mercy, keep your eyes peeled. I just finished the latest installment.

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  11. I guarantee you this won awards, aside form the fact that it is beautifully executed, because it is evocative. I'm sure Arnie couldn't even tell you how many discussions Spectrum jurors have had bemoaning sameness, comfortably executed pieces with comfortable images that probably sell books. We need those but I applaud the publisher and Dan for this. This is what moves the industry forward and makes it exciting for professionals. Plus I think it is a stunning image.

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  12. That's a bad sign for the people at Cover Cafe if they don't like this piece. It's beautiful and I don't really mind the more subdued zombie aspect. Only going half zombie on the cover might actually get a viewers attention more because they might be drawn in. Full on zombie someone wouldn't need to look closer to see but if they see a girl on a book cover but something is slightly off about her; then they take a closer look it could be more intriguing.

    Good point to your post though about not trying to please everyone.

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  13. I've been reading this blog for some months, and I had not commented any post. But I don't understand yet what does your beautiful cover have in common with the others they comment. Maybe they didn't like the fact of being an expressive work. Or they are just stupid.

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    1. No, they're not stupid. They are just looking for different things in a cover. My Wife will often tell me that she really likes a particular piece of art, a piece that I personally think is poorly executed. But she doesn't know how to paint, so she doesn't know that. Instead, she is looking at the subject matter. She likes fairies, so if she sees a painting of a fairy, she likes it, regardless of technical execution. I expect those readers simply do not like White Trash Zombies.

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    2. Yep, I think it's the point. We use to have a "technical" point of view because we paint. People don't care about technique :)
      Btw, the internet is full of judges. Everybody judge everybody. It's easy to do nasty comments, it's more difficult to do constructive ones.

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    3. This is precisely the truth Serge. The internet gives us a seeming layer of anonymity which gives us power. It is so easy to be a drop by critic.

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    4. Piece of art? No, that would be something else. This is... piece of pretty girl and some blood. And that's not art.

      Just don't call it art.

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    5. Are you the anonymous art police? I wish if people have strong opinions the would express them with a name and not anonymously.

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  14. a million thumbs turned down can't come close to the thumbs up or down of a close peer.

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    1. I think you've thumbed it up nicely, Aaron.

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    2. So true, Aaron. I was just talking about this yesterday: Make art to impress yourself, and your close peers, and let the public think what they will.

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  15. Seems to me they just don't like the goryness of it. It's their own fault for being too sensitive, I say.

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  16. I have to agree with Jose Prado. Overall it is a good piece. What bugs me is the rendering of the blood. Its far too clean and 'too planned out' the way blood is on the bikini. Same goes with the blood around the mouth. She is a zombie. She just ate or bite off somebody's neck or chest. Can't be that clean. My 2 cents...

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  17. I can't believe how passionately some people hate this painting because it's seriously one of my all time favourites, I think it's awesome. It's great to see your positive response to the negative comments, I'll have to try to respond to negative feedback the same way in the future. The only issue I've ever had with the cover was the fact that they had you change the eye colour, when the original is way better, and I do kind of agree that the text didn't go with the picture, but I'm guessing you had no imput there. I love the painting though, and the sequel that you did with the graffiti in the background, so, so cool.

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  18. Dan, I really like this one! Love the blues and pinks and her hairstyle and attitude. But why would her tat say “I Love Perkins”? That's weird... LOL, people need to learn how to read before they rant.

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  19. "So do all the negative reviews bother me? Not one little bit!"

    Come on... just a little bit?

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  20. I love the notion of some renegade arbiter of taste sweeping through the bookstore and turning objectionable covers to the wall to keep OTHER people (that's the kicker) from "freaking out." Bookburning for the timid?

    Points also go to the reviewers who don't like how "white trash" your white trash zombie looks. Get it together, Dan - you're good enough to turn down all but the WASP-iest of zombie projects that come your way.

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  21. Unfortunately, the actual paperback itself isn't half as beautiful as this painting.

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  22. I absolutely hate zombies.... I don't watch zombie movies, play zombie games etc. I absolutely LOVE this painting! I saw photos of its progression and I absolutely love what you did with it. It makes me want to buy and read the book. The whole point of art is for it to generate a reaction in the viewer, even in the most minute or even negative way. Thanks so much for sharing this, Dan. The art world isn't always sunshine and bunnies but man it sure is interesting. :D

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  23. it's so often strange to me when people give such a definite reaction to a peace and aren't realizing how much they've really responded to what the artist enjoys most. if i could actually make someone want to turn my painting around rather than look at it i think that would be a success (if none of the problems were technical and pointed out by a peer). painters like jenny saville are getting more famous by the day and it's these gruesome pictures that make them possible. it's the wrench in our guts that make us love it- like an amusement park- there are thrills, there are scares, there are bearded women, and yet, we flock.

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  24. I find the fact that the last reviewer used the word "horrid" is actually more disturbing than anything else on that page. And that's including all the badly photo-shopped pseudo porn entitled "sweet temptations".

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  25. Boring cover it is.

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  26. It always remembers me of Frabk Quitleys Bite Club cover. http://dc.wikia.com/wiki/Bite_Club_%28Collections%29_Vol_1_1

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    1. WOW! Too similar to be a coincidence. I like Dan's picture better, but still. The side view of zombie girl, punked hair, tattoo on shoulder, blood dripping down mouth. Even the pink background. Hmmm.

      Care to comment Dan?

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    2. good link. I'd be curious to hear Dan's response as well.

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    3. Yeah, it is really similar... especially in that cropped format. The original piece is a full body shot, and doesn't look quite as derivative.

      Either way, there -are- more similarities than I'm comfortable with. But it really is just coincidence.

      I was actually looking at Sam Weber for inspiration around that time, playing off the greys and pink. It just so happens that the result ended up being really close to Frank's piece.
      That's the way it goes though. When you're given a certain set of parameters, which are often derivative in themselves (like a white mohawk, and blood), it's only a matter of time until you stumble across the same solution as someone else.

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  27. Sure it doesn't bother you, but It would bother me.

    not for the fact that its criticism but for the fact that they said it in a aggressive and unnecessary fashion. When people do those things its obvious that they don't know the effort an artist of your caliber puts into his/her work.

    Love it or hate it you should respect the person.

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  28. I think the comments from Cover Cafe say more about them (the commenters) than anything else.
    This work just does not fit in with the rest, it is way out of place and does not belong on the list.

    I don't like pink that much so I was surprised I like this.
    I agree with what Bill says ..."...it is beautifully executed,..." and "...a stunning image."

    Objectively it fulfills the assignment. The broken cig, her pink eyeshadow, hair, her top, the attitude behind the tilt of her head etc. all screams white trash, thats the point.

    Most that gave negative comments probably are uncomfortable with that element and forget that illustration is meant to communicate.

    Let them (Cover Cafe) lay their eyes on an Ivan Albright then come back and look at this, they may change their mind.

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  29. This is one of my favorit covers painted by dan. those other covers were really bad. I feel like they just didnt like the subject matter thats all. and thats not a big deal. even if you dont like what its about, you have to give credit to dans amazing technical ability.

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  30. "If everyone likes your work, it's probably a good indicator that you're doing something wrong."

    My first thought is that if everyone likes your work, you are showing it to the wrong crowd :P
    However, if you ever want a thorough ego-smashing from your peers, see if your name is tagged on tumblr. It was surprising seeing many very good artists completely trash my work (not critique.. like these guys, just straight up hating on it) willy nilly, without a guise of anonymity at all. One would think as fellow artists, especially good ones, they'd be constructively forming their opinions, but it must be hard to resist that primal urge to fling your poo at someone else's efforts.

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    1. What does see if your name is tagged on tumblr mean? I'm on tumblr but really don;t know how to use it.

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  31. All those people are hating but I'll bet if they came across this book they would open it up to see what it was all about.

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