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The thing about custom artwork (FAQ & rant)

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Right. So I've been getting a lot of members in the last few months messaging me with their artwork needs.  I'm not going to call out any names in this topic, nor am I going to divulge any of my price quotes and history as I think that is confidential between me and my clients.  But there has been quite of an influx of people that are not artistically skilled at what they have planned to really "art-up" their projects, and think that it is an easy or cheap thing to do. It is not!

Now I want to explain something to those who are not familiar with the art process, I cannot speak for the other artists here that supply artwork, this is coming from my perspective -- I do custom artwork, built to your specifications and creativity from scratch. I do not handle the printing side of things (been there, done that, not doing it again), we're just talking about the content creation. Not clip-art, not licensed artwork grabbed off the net.  But art that is under the "artist interpretation" status, similar to what you'd find on deviant art or other art-community sites.

(to my past clients: I thank you for your business, and understanding of how much work is involved with art. I commend you guys, and have had a lot of fun working with you to get your projects to shine!)

On several occasions I would receive a PM from members new and old, looking to fulfill their project vision and asking me to quote them on the cost of completing that vision. Only to be snapped into reality by the cost. There seems to be quite a bit of ignorance as to how long, how much effort, and skills required to create your custom tailored visions. This topic is going to be my go-to link in explaining why custom artwork costs the amount it does.

"Why does it cost so much? I was looking to spend x amount of $$$ on this, you're just drawing it up right???
Just. <sigh>

Creating artwork is practically equivalent to the entire effort it takes to construct your project. Cutting, painting and wiring up your project is only about half the work, the other half is art.
It takes just as much planning, skills and execution to complete a piece of art, but unlike physical construction where you can watch a youtube video to figure out how to cut something, having an artistic-eye and drawing skills to creating a compelling theme is something you cannot just watch a video about, and takes YEARS to master.

"Where do you get your price-point from?"
Let's compare this to tradesmen, something that most people can relate to.  It takes a few years to become say, a carpenter -- a proper one, not some dude who just has tools and a truck and learned most of his stuff on-site.  But someone who's knowledgeable from training and schooling, does good work and has proof of said work through recommendations and examples.

Carpenters make what, average $60 an hour?  And their jobs take hours of work!

Now compare that to an artist. Artists are basically tradesmen!
It takes even more time to be an artist, who is skillful at not only creating the art, but also knowing what the right choices are esthetically and has the design sense to put together something that is appealing to the audience.  Not only do you have to have the techniques to create the art, but you also have to possess the knowledge of what works together and how to arrange and compose an image.
It takes years to master!

So why would someone like a carpenter, cabinet maker, or a plumber be any different than an artist in terms of pay?  Why is art something people regard as cheap labour?  It takes just as much time, skill and knowledge to be one. And the actual projects creation takes just as long in terms of hours to create something from scratch!

"But as an artist, isn't this fun for you?"
Sure, it's fun. But because I have fun doing it, does it mean I should be paid less for it?  No. That's called taking advantage of someone.

"But I already paid x for my build, artwork shouldn't cost that much!"
Well you may have not planned your project out, with including the cost of custom work.

"Maybe I'll just do it myself. I can download a copy of photoshop and I think there are a bunch of Bob Ross videos I can watch. I can learn how to become an artist like you in hours!"
Be my guest.
This is like saying to a mechanic, after he assessed your car fixes and gave you a price that you have tools at home and can probably just "read the manual" to fix it. That's like one of the biggest "diss".

I can guarantee you that it will take more than a few hours to do what us artists do (time=money), and in the end, you'll end up with an outcome that is "good enough" rather than "that's totally awesome!". Sure you'll save actual money, but to get there you'd have to go through a learning curve that some people just don't have time and patience for.

"I want to have a bunch of characters from all my favourite games featured on my cabinet. But I've got a small-form/bartop/mini cabinet, so is the price the same for something smaller?

Yes. The price is the same!
The artwork doesn't change just because the print-size is different. The content is still just as involved to create on a full-sized cabinet as it is on a small-form cab.
If someone who was building a full-sized cabinet wanted the same amount of artwork (same amount of characters, effects, colours...etc) as a person building a bartop, it would take the same amount of hours and effort to make. 

"What is actually involved, so I know what I'm paying for?"

Ok, the meat-and-potatoes.
Here is an excerpt from my standard policy that I send to those interested in commissioning me:

* I take as much information to start-off as possible. Theme info, reference images, plus dimensions of the CP (Button/joystick placement needed), marquee, etc... There is some time needed for research in art-style, or subject matter before we start.
* Then a rough penciled First-pass is generated, I get you to comment on it, change/add anything you want me to. There is time involved in getting your vision together, and a lot of communication in-between.
* We do a Second and Third-pass, these are clean-up stages where things like line-weights, composition, scale sizes are tweaked and cleared up. More communication is needed here where you can critique, suggest changes based on what you want. Sometimes I throw rough colour onto it to get an idea of the colour scheme,  before moving onto the proper colouring pass. (this is subjective to the art-style of course, i.e. Cartoony, realistic, comic...etc.)
* A Colour pass is then completed (shading, shadowing, outlines, etc...)
* After that, a Final-pass and vectorizing is then completed - this adds sufficient time to finalize, but you can opt for a non-vector'd image to help speed up time (be sure of this, as a non-vector'd image will only look good at the destined print-size. Vectored images can be scaled infinitely without any loss to quality). Finalizing the image can also take a little bit of extra time to complete
In the end, this takes many hours.  I do this as a service to the community, on the side of my fulltime job. Time away from my friends and family, so that you can have a pretty looking cabinet for you and your family to enjoy for years.  Sure I take a commission for it, I have to, 'cause with the amount of work involve I cannot sanely do this for free. There have been cases where I would do a bit of art for people here for free, but that is mostly small effort things like a logo, or a card for their mom. And mainly for members who have been active contributors to the community.

Years ago, I saw a trend of people being frustrated with the idea of having to create art themselves. You see it all the time now, people who post their CP or Marquee designs in this forum, asking people for critique and help, 'cause they don't know what direction to go in, or what to add/change/replace...even for tips on how to actually use photoshop or sketch-up or whatever software package.
I figured I'd use my god-given and years-of-trained-skills to supply a service to people here so that the hassle can be eliminated, and the outcome is professional and completely fitted to your needs. And in return, the pay helps keep my arcade hobby and collection going.

It's a fair trade. I do not gouge you on the prices. You get a very good rate in consideration of how many hours and skills it takes to make.

Lets compare this to artwork already being sold for cabinets.
Say for example, (no slight on Rich -- I love his work and his shop -- I'm just breaking down a comparison) Rich has reproduction side artwork listed anywhere between $100-200.  You get 2 physical sheets of printed art. Now depending on the quality of print, the actual cost of materials can vary. This is for artwork already out there, created for dedicated cabinets of their types.

The average cost printing of quality paper for side-art that I've seen is around the $100 mark for a full sheet. So say you're paying another $100 for the actual art content, and that's for existing art!  Now add  the cost of custom creating and communication time, and my prices are not that far off!!

"If you don't print, what do I get then?"
Some people do print as well. I personally don't because it's a huge hassle that I do not want take on again.

* You will get a high-resolution digital format (PSD, AI, or vector-form PDF -- customer's choice) that is entirely owned by you. It's the easiest transaction. I hold no ties to the artwork, as far as I'm concerned it's completely yours to do with what you want...make t-shirts, print out posters, tattoo it to your forehead...this is Artist Interpretation art, so licensing is not an issue nor applies. It's equivalent to those tee-shirt shops that have reproduction images of bands, videogames, products.  You see them all over the place in malls, and those images are not licensed to those shops.
* The work will be exactly fitted to the cabinet dimensions that you must provide, all you have to do it get it printed. I size it exactly to your specifications, it's a no-hassle feature that all you have to do is hand a printer the file.
Hey, the CPO/Marquee/Sideart/etc looks too plain...can you add/change x?
Sure can! In the end the artwork is your vision. Sometimes less is more.
But there are things to consider when designing your art-set:

When creating a full cabinet of artwork, you have to balance the amount of detail when looking at it as a whole.  This goes for any project that requires multiple components of high-level detailed art to work together.  Most inexperienced folks treat each individual piece of art as it's own self-contained image, not taking into account the entire project's aesthetic and how it balances out.  For arcade art, the key is to take a step back and analyse the cabinet altogether, how each part works with each other. This is one of the reasons I tend to "mock up" the cabinet by photoshopping these images onto a photograph of the cab, to see how it all fits together.
Also, using the old painter's "Squint" technique is incredibly useful. By squinting your eyes when looking at the art, you can get a sense of where the details should be amped-up, or taken away. This is incredibly useful for clarity of the image, and balancing contrast. Because when looking through squinted eyes, you get the core essence of the image. Similar to sketching, where you breakdown the elements into primitive shapes to figure out proportions.

Another component when deciding a vision for your artwork is taking into account how arcade games were handled in the hay-days. They were meant to sell.
Side art was primarily the most "flashiest", while Control Panels and Marquees were the most informative.  When creating a marquee, artists had to make sure the title was clear and concise, without clutter so that the audience could easily read and recognize what game it was among all the other cabinets around it.  This is why you see a lot of classic marquees have much simplified graphics than side and control panel art.

Artwork makes a project complete, it's a vital part of an arcade's appeal. Lots of folks underestimate the creativity and time it takes to get artwork looking good and "non-kitchy".
It's the difference of making your cabinet look "cool", to making it look "holy cow, that's fricken awesome!".

Anyone who wants to dispute any of my statements above, please do so. I would happily argue my case, TO THE DEATH, so that everyone can have a clear, educated idea of what these commissions involve.

Thank you.  :cheers:

I'd say those who hassle graphic artists about price should look into the price(s) of the tools used to create decent art.  Multiply that times the amount of training it takes to be good at it (which as a 24 year IT guy was ASTOUNDINGLY hard to learn even basics that I used), then raise that to the power of the creativity that it takes to make a vision and then execute it within these difficult tools and you will come up with a price that is several orders of magnitude larger than the quote you were probably given.

There is a reason why people do this as a full-time job.  Because it is difficult to do well.



--- Quote from: mcseforsale on May 24, 2013, 05:40:17 pm ---I'd say those who hassle graphic artists about price should look into the price(s) of the tools used to create decent art.  Multiply that times the amount of training it takes to be good at it (which as a 24 year IT guy was ASTOUNDINGLY hard to learn even basics that I used), then raise that to the power of the creativity that it takes to make a vision and then execute it within these difficult tools and you will come up with a price that is several orders of magnitude larger than the quote you were probably given.

There is a reason why people do this as a full-time job.  Because it is difficult to do well.


--- End quote ---

Amen to that. Just getting the little bits I do in PS or whatever takes ages. Course, that's mostly because I haven't invested the craploads of time it takes to get proficient with those tools, but hey, that's not worth anything, right  ;)

opt2not, Ond, topjimmycooks, and there's a ton more here that dang well have the chops for art that I definitely do not.

You get what you pay for. Just watch an episode of bad ink sometime  :D

Hear hear. It's like when people want you to build them a cab and then balk when it's not $200.

Well Fed Games:
Opt, I hope you didn't feel dissed when I approached you but decided to do it myself... in my case, I did some light graphic design at a previous job but wasn't sure if I wanted to refine those skills; once I decided to pursue game design I decided I needed to learn Illustrator better (and I have been... I actually have a fluid grasp of the pen tool now!) and arcade art was the perfect excuse. Of course, if I had hired you I could be applying art right now...  :banghead:  ;D

Opt's work speaks for itself, but after doing some initial communication about a commission I can say he is great to work with, too. 

Custom art is so much cooler than arcade character clip art all over a cab!


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