One for the Money, Two for the Show

Those of you who know me are well aware of the fact that there was never a Marc Ericksen style. I was wildly all over the map when it came to accepting commis­sions. Beyond that I worked in every medium and with every agency and design firm creating illus­tra­tions for any and all appli­ca­tions: complex cutaways, and tech­nical art for tech compa­nies. I was commis­sioned to do Video Game cover art for 30 different compa­nies, and Toy Pack­aging for 6 different major compa­nies, including Marvel and Tyco Toys.

Marc Ericksen: The 8 Bit Artist | Presented by Chex Quest

Marc Ericksen: The 8 Bit Artist | Presented by Chex Quest

There was adver­tising art in pen and ink, acrylics, gouache, oils, brush, airbrush, pencil, markers, water­colors, dyes – – you name it. Story­boards, compre­hen­sive sketches, brochures, logos, and prints, edito­rial art for maga­zines and book covers and major newspapers.

My career covered 40 years, from my days as a student at Art Center in L.A. (where I needed to free­lance story­boarding at agen­cies while a student to supple­ment my meagre GI Bill funding.)

All that said, you might think prob­lems with one illus­tra­tion would not stand out. You would be wrong.

As much as I loved every moment of my career, and nearly every client, I would like to tell you the story which was the single worst expe­ri­ence I ever had as an illus­trator. As far as I can remember it occurred around mid-career. I cannot say clearly because I looked without success for days for any residual infor­ma­tion, but I would guess: 1995 or so.

I was contacted by Letraset to do an illus­tra­tion that they wanted for the cover of that years’ cata­logue of all cate­gories of the prod­ucts offered by the corpo­ra­tion. I of course was familiar with the company, as I had used their numerous prod­ucts in various ways since art school. In a face to face meeting with their adver­tising team, we conferred over their wish for an illus­tra­tion that was exciting and perhaps in the vein of a number of my video game pieces. They also requested that their prod­ucts not appear. It was a terrific oppor­tu­nity because the client was releasing me from the need to clutter the compo­si­tion with devices. As we continued conversing, I was sketching ideas and came up with a sketch of a robot hand sweeping across back­ground of stellar space in close prox­imity, and on each fingertip of the robo-hand there would be the form of an indi­vidual tool that referred contex­tu­ally to the various Letraset basic depart­ments. The tips would be in the forms of an exacto-style blade, a rOtring style inking nib, a paint brush, an AD marker nib, and the busi­ness end of a rub-down tool.

They loved the concept and I was excited to get started. The budget covered execu­tion and buyout for $2,500.

The process I used was to mount (with two sided tape) a cold press 20” X 30“ illus­tra­tion board (work side up) to a slightly larger foam core rigid board. I placed a light acrylic sheet and its atten­dant (very light). Then, in the form of a large flat book, I attached a foam core rigid cover board over the illus­tra­tion board. I did this to all of my airbrush pieces.

A day later, I had care­fully drawn the graphite illus­tra­tion and attached it over a large piece of frisket which covered the entire surface. Then I care­fully cut the entire drawing into the frisket. Finally, I spent the next few days airbrushing each deli­cate frisketed area. Then a day of removing all of the frisket and cleaning up edges. And the day following, metic­u­lously painting edges and spots that could be consid­ered rough.

Ready to deliver the illus­tra­tion, I called the client. On the planned day, I showed them the art. My routine in deliv­ering art was to place the art on a table before the clients, and first to lift the top foam core cover, then, to lift the the clear acrlylique flap, allowing the art to be seen for a moment through the tissue sheet, The art was greatly enhanced by lifting the final tissue sheet.

The client loved every­thing about the piece! They were ecstatic. I was very pleased, and they loved every aspect. When I left the meeting I was walking on air.

Two days later I received a call from the group. In our conver­sa­tion they were very clear on how great they felt the art was for their appli­ca­tions… they simply wanted to confirm that I had used the corporation’s own Letra Max illus­tra­tion board. The blood drained from my face… Hadn’t I? Certainly I must have done…. Asking for a bit of time to look through my supplies, I came upon the box from which I had drawn the illus­tra­tion board…It was Crescnt Board!!

My only course was to own up to my error, which I did in my call that day. The client asked for a day to consider our plight. Next day’s call was as I suspected. The team was not angry, explaining two aspects: they reit­er­ated their love of the art, – – but clearly, if leaked, that their illus­trator had preferred Cres­cent board – – it would be catastrophic!

I assured them that I had always used both Letra Max as well as Cres­cent, usually buying in bulk boxes…but I knew I was doomed. I prepared to return the fee.

They called me a week later, asking if I could paint the piece again, and they were willing to pay $2,500 a second time, due to their feeling that they had had a respon­si­bility to make clear to me that LetraMax be used, and that they had, in fact, stated that their tools were not desired in the illus­tra­tion. I felt their kind offer required my accep­tance. I felt they were being more than generous.

The result was my require­ment to repaint this illus­tra­tion, which was a thing I had never ever done, The next week was agony. Despite my frus­tra­tion, I had to insure the art was (if possible) even better than the last. I couldn’t cut any corners and it was a week of frus­tra­tion for which I could only blame myself. I was so frus­trated with myself, I didn’t eat or sleep until it was finished. The art began as one of my favorites – – – and then began to feel like a bone stuck in my throat.

LetraMax proved them­selves to be a fair and consci­en­tious client, but I swore to be more aware, hope­fully never to have to ever repeat having to do a repeat piece again.

I do not recom­mend it.

Marc Ericksen