Saturday, January 24, 2009

Bernie Madoff for the New York Times

This is a finished painting that I did this past week for The New York Times. Sadly because of a number of issues (luckily none were my fault) the "editor" decided to use a photograph instead of my painting. I will try to explain a bit of what happened because I feel there's a lot of people who read this blog that want to have their work published and will eventually work with art directors and editors. What happened to me this week, happens and can be expected, it's frustrating to say the very least.

After seeing my sketch, the final art that is attached above was approved by the art director and editor. Before this final painting, I had to reduce the size of Bernie Madoff's nose several times, which is understandable, that sort of thing can be expected. When I handed the final in, the a.d. loved it and was excited about how the final turned out, she said the only thing she can see that might need changing is the "nose", yet again. About 45 minutes after I handed in the final version I got a call from the a.d. saying that the "editor" doesn't want Bernie to be wearing glasses? Please note that he had glasses on in every sketch and painting I did before he saw this final. Also, the editor wanted the nose trimmed down even more!

Long story short, I went back to the painting and did another version . . . I painted the glasses out and re-worked the eyes. I also trimmed the nose down for like the fifth time, and it no longer looked like Bernie Madoff!

After handing in the new version (which I won't post) The A.D. informed me that the "editor" doesn't think the eyes are quite the way he wanted so instead of printing the final painting that you see above, they're going to run a photograph. I think that the editor was afraid of offending Bernie Madoff, afraid of what he might do if he saw this painting of him in the New York Times?

Like I said above, these sorts of things can and do happen. For the record, I still get paid and through everything I was able to remain civil with the art director. She was very cool throughout the whole thing, the problems were not caused by the art director but by the "editor". The "editor" is the person you as an artist will have the most trouble from, not the art director.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying all editors are evil or difficult to work with. As an artist, we must learn to work with these types of situations and handle it in a professional manner. Editors are just doing their job. I find though that there's usually not much communication between the artist and editor . . . the a.d. plays the middle man. This is were things can be frustrating for everyone.

Below I will share briefly about my other drawings and sketches. I started this job on Wednesday and final was due Friday before noon.

This was my first sketch of Bernie Madoff. I like this sketch a lot, has good form and exaggeration while keeping a strong likeness. The purpose of this sketch was only to get a likeness. In fact, when I did this sketch, I hadn't yet talked to the a.d., I was just getting a head start on the likeness, trying to get to know my subject a bit.

I was first told that they'd like something a bit "creepy", full body pose . . . so this is the first sketch that I did for them. Notice that I had to reduce the nose size. I also changed the eyes so that they look towards the viewer.

Turned out that this was "creepy" and they'd now like to do something that's more subtle.

This is my rough sketch for the more subtle version. I thought it would be cool to have him sitting on a bench almost like a "secret spy" as if he knows something that no one else does . . . still a bit creepy, but more reserved.

Guess what? They liked this and approved it to go to final!

So this is my painting which I spent about 7 hours painting. I was very happy with how this piece was turning out, I like the pose and was happy with my painting. I emailed it to the a.d. to share how it was coming along. She wrote back and said that the editor doesn't think this is "creepy" enough that it needs to be more sinister. So we're back the the "creepy" thing again! And so I had to start over again from scratch . . . the next version I worked on is attached above, Bernie behind a computer, in the dark.

This was an awful lot of painting and drawing that won't see print. While being frustrating, I did learn quite a bit and I'm proud of the work that I did. I'm also a little tired and require a nap today, as I had to pull an all nighter on Thursday to finish the "Bernie-computer" painting.


Blogger Sagan Lacy said...

Wow... nothing quite as frustrating as working against multiple personality disorder. This reads sort of like an epic tragedy.

That's a really fun sketch od him on the bench, I especially like how the light hits his pants legs.

10:47 AM  
Blogger Tim Bye said...

Wow - really great painting! It may not see print but I reckon it's a great protfolio piece!

10:55 AM  
Blogger Brett W. McCoy said...

I think the "creepy" one of him rubbing his hands together is the best one in terms of concept -- it seems to more capture the spirit of what he has done.

11:25 AM  
Blogger Paul Moyse said...

Yeah, that sucks!!! It's easy to get annoyed, but you did a great job as always, and you still get paid, not using your art is their loss.

Enjoy your nap!!

11:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, what a headache... if it were me I'd probably go Super Saiyan... it's difficult enough with time restraints and making something original and funny... lets add a billion changes on top of that.... I think you did a superb job Jason! Really strong. I think this shows just how professional you are as an Illustrator:)

12:28 PM  
Blogger Aaron Wilkin said...

Wow that sounds super frustrating, I don't know how you kept your cool through all that. I like all the version's you did, but i'm not the A.D. Great job on the hair, its very realistic. In your experience, how often is this the case? Are most editors like that?

2:41 PM  
Blogger Patrick LaMontagne said...

I know this sucks for you, Jason...but if it can happen to you, it'll likely happen to all of us at one point or another.

I'm assuming that's why you offered the explanation, so thanks.

The painting's wonderful, regardless.

2:49 PM  
Blogger sensei said...

way to put a positive spin on a $%@@!

5:54 PM  
Blogger Marco Bucci said... get dragged through the dirt a lot with these magazine folks (I'm also thinking of other stories you've told me). Oh well, at the very least you got a good portfolio piece out of it. And the NY Times is probably sweet resume fodder too.

9:59 PM  
Blogger J. Bustamante said...

Working for editors sounds so great! i cant wait til i have a library full of great stories to tell like this one!...*please note the heavy layer of sarcasm in this post*

11:28 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I totally recognize this. It is very clear that you can give your a.d. anything he asks for. However it is very hard to have to work for someone who doesn't really know what he wants, and uses your sketches to define that. To me it sounds as if they should make clear for themselves what they want before briefing you. From experience I know that these things happen now and then, and it is tough, since with every step you give them just what they asked for...

The key, I think, is to start every new sketch as if it was the first time they briefed you. A new illustration, with new challenges.

It is sad that eventually they choose for a photograph, instead of your great illustration.
Thank you very much for sharing, these things happen to me often as well...

4:47 AM  
Blogger Manoj Sinha said...

Very sad to know about your great efforts spoiled by "editor". I think that editor can edit nose only, that's why he told to change the nose every time {he didn't know that you have a 'golden nose'}. Any way like the lighting most. Keep your nose always up.

6:30 AM  
Blogger Vincenzo said...

Yeah, welcome to the world of illustrating for the "Big Boys"...and the idea of offending Bernie "The Douche-Bag" Madoff should absolutely be the purpose of it!!

Great piece though!

9:46 AM  
Blogger Pito said...


Awesome BLOG!!!

Excelentes trabajos.


10:01 AM  
Blogger ARI said...

I think that, all of us that have worked with clients who don´t really know what they want experienced exactly the same frustrating feeling that you had. You can see how, little by little, the first sketch that you normally do with such a great illusion goes transforming in a work that is not what you expected. There´s only one explanation for that: They don´t apreciate art. Anyway, It´s an excellent painting as always.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Chris Wahl said...

So I'm guessing you couldn't charge for alterations? You did after all give them what they briefed you on, then they changed their minds. To me that should incur an additional cost.

Although through personal experience, doing art for publications always come with very limited budgets which can't be stretched very far.

Maybe mentioning it at the beginning though e.g. changes that stray from the initial brief will cost you $so much$. This might make them think harder about exactly what they want, so to avoid blowing their budget.

For me, that's one big advantage of having agent representation. They fight your battles for you and don't take any crap from indecisive clients.

In a nutshell you should have been paid for your additional grief.

Excellent work btw, Jason. You're a trooper.

5:32 AM  
Blogger Everybody's gotta be in a Gang said...

Sorry to hear that , Jason- it's a great piece and they're foolish not to use it. The same thing happened to me- also with the New York Times (magazine) back in 1994.

You have a pretty good attitude about it, though, and of course you'll be getting tons of more work, cause your work rocks!

9:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The imnportant question is "Did you get paid?" for any of it.

9:14 AM  
Blogger William K. Moore said...

Thanks for sharing the sweet and sour of the advertising world Jason. Interesting the editor would be concerned with hurting peoples feelings... especially crooks. But if you still own the art you can perhaps make use of it yet. The art is excellent and I like how you rendered the laptop - nice touch. Lessons on the rosd...

12:00 PM  
Blogger Will Appledorn said...

man, bummer. i've never worked for a publication, but for a few picky clients. it's almost reassuring to me to hear that even the best artists are in the same boat.

good post, great art.

2:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love your art, these pieces included. But I just wanted to add to the discussion that perhaps the fear was not of offending Bernie Madoff per se but of a fear of charges of anti-Semitism. I know that is nowhere near your intentions and your portrayals, but I believe that at the time this story broke there was a bit of fear in the Jewish community that, with such a prominent Jewish businessman at fault and so many Jewish investors who had trusted him with their money and also happened to run prominent Jewish charities... well, I think there was just a lot of sensitivity regarding that. I think the Times didn't want to be accused of drawing on old 'Jewish moneylender' stereotypes/slurs.
Probably overly cautious, and maybe I'm placing too much emphasis on this line of reasoning in the final decision, but that's how I read the situation and I'm actually surprised no one else brought it up.

2:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

>I'm actually surprised no one else brought it up.

Because it's obvious !!

5:38 AM  
Blogger Albii said...


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All artwork © JasonSeiler 2006 unless otherwise stated. All characters are copyright to their respective owners