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The Specs on Specs:

The Critical Importance of
Following Guidelines

by Chris Tugeau

Chris Tugeau is an artist and artist's representative. This article is used by permission. It and other articles can be found at her excellent web site at www.catugeau.com
I am keenly aware of the wish and need of illustrators to better understand the specifications of the business of illustration.

In fact, if you don't follow the specifications, your career could come to a fast stand-still, especially in the more heavily art-directed area of educational publishing.

Remember when, as an art student, you were given an assignment to do a landscape in watercolor, 8 x 10. Let's say you did the MOST marvelous 24 x 30 oil painting of your mother in a colonial kitchen. The quality of work was not in question, but the following of assignment specifications was. Therefore, you received an "F" for a grade. Nothing personal. The grade did not reflect your talent or nice personality. It measured your ability to follow directions. In the "real world," you are getting paid to solve a visual problem for a client with a serious deadline who expects that you had better follow directions.

Most projects come with a set of guidelines. For trade picture books, this may be minimal: a manuscript with the directive to "have fun" and make a 32-page book in perhaps 6 months or a year. Of course, there will be a suggested deadline for the thumbnails, one for the sketches, and a finish. Eventually, with your help, there will be trim size, layout for type placement, color direction, character development, page flow--but a good deal of all this may be primarily and happily, up to you.

Imagine the extreme: a 24-page, 7 x 9, soft-cover, educational book with tight, specific thumbnails already done, specific characters already developed, specific page art boards included, and a very specific 6-week, critical due date that has no room to move! A long list of "Do's" and "Don'ts" come with this: work at 100%-150%, but not larger than 8.5" x 14"; no racism, sexism or violence, etc.; contemporary fashions; do not sign your name in the art area; 5/16" bleed on all sides; do not use fluorescent dyes; text cannot overprint art; etc. Get the picture? Each and every line of these guidelines is specific.

Miss any one of these specifications, and you jeopardize the client's satisfaction, project success, payment, and the chance that they'll ever call you again.

I'd like to share a few tips on specifications. It's not unusual for some of the specs to change while you are working on the project for editorial or design reasons. Get the changes in writing to avoid problems later. Often these are done over the phone. Get the Art Director to jot down changes on company letterhead, and fax them to you. Never, never proceed to finish without a specific approval in writing It may seem like a good idea when schedules are tight, and the deadline is looming, but don't assume anything. Also, watch for fax distortions: a 1/16" to 1/8" distortion can happen, affecting your understanding of the directives.

From my professional standpoint as an illustrator's rep, I strongly recommend my "Specs on Specs":

  1. Read the list completely. Then read it again!
  2. Call the Art Director/Editor with any questions immediately!
  3. Follow the Specs completely.
  4. Get everything in writing; keep it.
  5. Send in finished work on time, and early if possible (for revisions!)
  6. Keep the Spec list for all your jobs ... they're an education in themselves.
  7. Do your best work within the Specs and have fun!

This article first appeared in the SCBWI Metro newsletter.
© Chris Tugeau.
May not be reproduced or printed, except for personal use, without permission.

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