last-second assignments


In the last week, I’ve gotten two one-day illustration assignments. Other than when you’re working for a daily paper, this is extraordinarily rare. Like, usually when an art director gives me a “quick turnaround” project, they may have “only” two weeks before the deadline. Not usually a problem.

Well, last Thursday night, at 8pm, I got my first-ever assignment from Time magazine (!), for a piece due 11pm Friday! Barely 24 hours. Plus, it was for a very dry topic (527 committees and the Federal Election Commission) and they had no ideas for the illustration. AND I was leaving for SPX the next morning. Oy!

Well, I got the job done, brainstorming and coming up with seven sketches at 1am Thursday, and doing the complete, full-color illo after I got to Bethesda on Friday afternoon. It meant I lost a full day at the con with Pekar, but, oh well, the pay was great, and it was for fricken Time. (The irony is that tho’ the illo was supposed to run this week, the story ended up getting bumped. So look for it next week…)

I thought that was a one-time thing until I got a call yesterday from a regular client, The Washington City Paper.

The story had just come in and they needed something by today (Wed.) at noon. Aghh!! But I like the AD a lot and I wanted to help him out. The story is for their sports section. It has to do with how the Washington Redskins football radio broadcasts are inundated with advertising. Everything from the “Mercedes-Benz 50-Yard Line Report” to the “GMRI Scoreboard brought you by McDonald’s.” Ridiculous! As the writer put it, “Redskins radio has become the broadcast equivalent of a NASCAR fender.” Being a sports fan myself (who listens to a lot of baseball and basketball games on the radio), incessant advertising and “sponsorship” is one of the things about modern sports broadcasting that bugs the hell out of me.

So I was extra motivated. And I even had a good idea: a radio plastered with decals from all the sponsors — just like a NASCAR car! And I suggested the radio could even have a line, something like “And Brunell [Redskins QB] throws for a Duane Reade touchdown!” The AD loved the idea and I was ready to go. But then, just as I was setting up at the drawing table, the AD called back. The job had been pushed back a week. Whew! I was off the hook for the super turnaround, and I could get back to finishing another illo from the previous week.

Fast-forward to 9pm. The AD calls me again. Now the story is back in and they need the illo for today after all. Just barely 12 hours. Double Aghhh!!! There goes my evening. So last night I came up with this:

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And then this morning I finished it up, like this, even getting it in 15 minutes before the noon deadline:

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All things considered, it didn’t come out too badly. The AD loved it, and it’ll be in the paper tomorrow.

I don’t love doing jobs under these circumstances, but there is something stimulating about the adrenaline rush. Actually makes my job (sitting at home all day, by myself) seem “exciting.” And I always love the back-and-forth with the art director, and then seeing the piece in print when it’s published.

23 thoughts on “last-second assignments

  1. Really nice work.
    I’m hoping to start doing some magazine/illo stuff in the coming weeks; seems like I’ve got to wait for my website to go live before I can mass-mail the postcards.
    Any advice for a n000b would be most welcome…

    1. Thanks. I forgot to mention that the City Paper AD actually called for this gig first, but he balked at the one-day turnaround and passed it on to me. We’ve done that a number of times, passing on each other’s names for assignments when we’re either too busy or not motivated. In the case of the City Paper, I had done some illos for them and then I had send his card in. And he’s gotten some illos and a cover out of it!
      But, yeah, you wanna have a good website and then do the postcards. I have a pretty good contact database now (in Palm format) which I’d be happy to email you for your first mass mailing. I love that moment when an art director calls you for the first time! Your first gig basically pays for the cost of printing and mailing the cards; and every assignment after that is pure gravy…

      1. beautiful; thanks.
        I’m hustling to make a grant deadline btw now and monday; after then, it’s gonna be all website.
        i’ll drop you a line when it’s all ready; that contact database would be muchly appreciated.
        ——-> d!

    1. i had the illo up there, but when i found out they’re not running the piece ’til next week, i took it down. i signed a bunch of agreements when i did the illo and i’m SURE there was something in there about not “publishing” the pic on my own until after it’s run in the magazine.

      1. Doubtful. You’ve just demonstrated that you can be relied upon to come through in a crunch. That’s huge. Remember baby, this business is reputation, reputation, reputation.

  2. TIME! I’m jealous! I do a bunch of stuff for the Wall Street Journal. Just about once a month I get those “We need this by 5:30” deadlines. I ask if they realized it was already 2pm and they ask if that’s a problem and of course you say “NO! not at all I was just synchronizing my watch!”
    I love that adrenaline rush too! Nice job for the City Paper!

    1. thanks! i’m realizing that to be a successfull freelance illustrator, you’ve gotta embrace the uncertainty, stay flexible, and enjoy the challenge when the gauntlet is thrown down.
      i’ve gotten some interest from the New York Sun. the editor there warned me that they work on a “very short deadline (an hour or so)”! that is insane!
      have you ever had to turn around an illo in an hour?!

      1. I once did a quick portrait head shot of Brad Pitt for the Wall Street Journal in about 20 minutes. Desperate art director, rush fee, I had to try. They sent the picture via e mail. I ink with a brush, so I work directly from the screen. No preliminary sketch. Scanned as soon as it dried. I still like it as far portraits go.
        That NY Sun sounds a bit too high pressure!

  3. Time mag
    That adrenaline can be hyper-addictive as those of us in the news game know…its habit forming… rrrrr…safer than crack but just as hard to kick….
    PS what do you mean 527s are dry? Its a fascinating outgrowth of how the money kudzu seeps around the most well-intentioned campaign finance walls…can’t wait to see….

    1. Re: Time mag
      what do you mean 527s are dry? Its a fascinating outgrowth of how the money kudzu seeps around the most well-intentioned campaign finance wall
      oh, YEAH … (yawn) … how could i be such a philistine? ;->
      anyway, it looks like they didn’t run the story this week either. i’m afraid it may be dead. i get paid all the same, but that would have been a nice clip…
      p.s. welcome to the active end of the blogosphere!

      1. Re: Time mag
        To coin Shafer’s (second?) law of journalistic thermodynamics: copy is created, never destroyed. odds are that piece will run someday!

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