Posts Tagged ‘soapbox’

One of the items I have in my Etsy shop is a metal skeleton key with a sculpted gums and fangs. It looks like this:

Now that you’ve seen it, you probably realize it should be in your cold, pale hands. You can snatch it up at the shop.

The idea for this key came from my ever-lovin’-beholden-ferever-boyfriend. He draws pretty damn well, and one day we sat down to play with some clay. He drew up a pile of designs, chose one, and worked it out in clay. I looked at this little drawing of a key with “real” teeth and decided to see if I could make one. Then I gave it to him. He said, “Oh! You made it! And you incorporated the actual metal teeth into it too! That is so much cooler than I was originally thinking!”

So that was a good collaboration. We also worked head-to-head on a costume for a party, once. It’s a very long story, but if you imagine that you have friends who are so awesome that they invent their own holidays just so they can party more, that’s our crowd.

Glory to the Mahatehna. L-R: “Tom,” The Sexy One, The Lord Rahl, The Short One, The Manfriend, A Pretty Good Deal on Gyros.

We messed with designs for several hours, pacing around the house, flinging sketchpads back and forth. It was an interesting experience, because A. I’m not used to people being so creative and specific in their requests for custom work (usually it’s “Oh, I dunno, something kinda…. y’know, neat.”) and B. I realized that I approach things from “Do I know how to make this? Do I have the supplies?” whereas Manfriend entered from “This is the ideal. How could we do it?” It was exhilarating. And I got to sew leather armor, sort of, and make a dreadlock mohawk that got glued to his head. Totally worth it.

Those types of collaborations can be awesome, provided that both parties are willing to compromise, work things out, explore new territory, and keep expectations reasonable. Which we were, so it was all good.

Some other collaborations haven’t been so spectacular. Usually, a “collaboration” is code for “I have ideas that I don’t know how to complete, so I’ll get you to do it for me and expect it to be free because we’re ‘working together.'” Or, “I have this idea and I’d like some help with improving it, but I actually have no interest in hearing YOUR ideas. I just want you to agree with mine.”
Both of those suck.
So if you want to collaborate with an artist, ask yourself these questions:

1. Why do I want to work with this person? Am I after a generic minion, or does this specific person bring special traits/skills to the mix? Do they bring knowledge that I don’t have and couldn’t easily obtain? (Read: “Knowledge I couldn’t get from a decent Google search.”) Am I just being lazy, or do I really need this help to complete my project?

2. Am I willing to compensate the artist? This doesn’t mean money, per se. If nothing else, you should be damned appreciative of any help that anyone gives you, for anything, anywhere, because what they’re really giving you is their TIME– the only resource we always have, right up until we don’t anymore. So regardless of how the end result might benefit the artist/yourself, you should be thankful. They should, too. Everyone should. Being thankful is an easy way to avoid being an asshole.
Anyhow– if it’s a good collaboration, with each participant putting in work/time/resources, make sure people know. If you make a cool video with friends, put everyone’s name on it. If you make a dress and people comment on how nice it looks, mention how your aunt Nan helped with the darts. Gratitude costs nothing and is worth a lot.
AND, if your collaborator ends up helping a bunch (sewing your outfit, editing your song, driving you to the store for supplies), try and throw them a bone. Gas money. Lunch. A few beers. Small gifts are social lubricant- not required, but they make the experience so much better.

3. Do you have a fully fleshed-out idea, or are you looking for a general sounding board? Either is fine, but it might change the conversation if the artist doesn’t know what sort of advice to give. Saying “I’m trying to figure out what Halloween costume to wear, any ideas?” is a lot different than “I’d like to be a fire-breathing dragon for Halloween, but I don’t know how to rig the flames. Any ideas?”

4. Is this person a good fit for my project? This has already been touched on above, but more specifically, remember that there’s a reason artists have a “style.” It’s what they’re good at, what they’re known for, what they enjoy. That doesn’t mean that artists don’t like to step out of their boxes sometimes (or A LOT of the time), but I’ve run into too many circumstances like the following:
Them: “Hey, nice pants. Did you make those?”
Me: “Yep.”
Them: “Wow. Could you help me tailor my prom gown?”
Me: “I’m really not qualified to do that.”
Them: “But you can sew! You made those pants!”
Me: “Yeah, out of a t-shirt. Big difference.”


Them: “I was thinking you’d be a great vendor. You could sell the clothes and jewelry you make.”
Me: “Great! I like to make weird, somewhat macabre, patchwork, looks-tattered-on-purpose things. Stuff that looks like a wicked fairy godmother picked up a century ago and has been adding to ever since. Sound good?”
Them: “Sure! And y’know, you should do some cute baby stuff. Like shoes with glitter and feathers on them. Those would sell.”
Me: “….what about me made you think ‘Makes adorable baby items’?”

I know that sometimes the problem is the “It’s all MAGIC” issue. Like when you can’t draw, people who can draw mildly well ARE DOING MAGIC. Since you can’t draw at all, there’s not much definition between “decent art” and “good art” and “OMFG amazing artartart”. It all falls into the category of “Something I can’t do, and therefore am slightly awed by.” I feel like that about maths. (People who can subtract in their heads ARE DOING MAGIC I SWEAR.)
I’m usually flattered by this sort of thing, and I bet a lot of other artists are, too. It’s flattering to know you think I have skills that I simply don’t have. However, I’d be remiss if I pretended I DID have those skills. I’d be cheating you out of getting what you want.
So please.
If we say we don’t know how to do this or that, please believe us.
We’re probably more aware of our limitations than you are. We spend all day fighting with them.

5. Last bit that isn’t a question, but is something to think about: Collaborate a LOT. And don’t be picky about your source. I teach dance, and I’ve had beginner dancers come up with solutions to problems that were boggling the senior dancers. New perspectives are fresh perspectives. So don’t judge. Listen to people, ask questions, offer ideas, and don’t be offended if they’re not taken. Collaboration isn’t a right, it’s a privilege. And the way you earn it is by playing nice, not by being the bestest.