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Rob Dunlavey
Summer Cleaning
posted:
It's a quiet day, July 3rd. Kids are at camp for a few weeks. The suburbs have emptied out. Things are loose. Sort of. It's always sort of loose in this business (self-employed artist) singing for your supper …every damn day. At least for me. Some of you may be more disciplined, thick-skinned and unhampered by thoughtfulness. It's not a debilitating indecision but I find that things take longer than expected and one symptom is that it's hard to toss things out. Here's one example.
Back in 2005 I accepted an art director position for an educational software developer in San Francisco. The job required long phone conferences with software people, engineers, writers, project managers, animators and teachers. They'd never had an art director. You know the drill: the product is stylistically all over the place and somehow they've take a brave leap to polish things up and clean up their act. They've sweated it out long enough and now not only have they earned the right to a make-over, they NEED it!
I would sketch hundreds of drawings to flesh out our vision of the content and they would be reinterpreted by a band of free-lance animators and Flash programmers. Over the year or two that I worked for them, I amassed a big pile of drawings of teenagers and teachers in various educational settings. Sketches I'm certain will have no use for any other application. I suppose it's possible, but probably not. Why do we save sketches? Do you?? Sketches are raw material. In these ones I drew on all my years of training to make interesting drawings of people doing uninteresting things.
I sorted through them this morning and tossed out about half and put the rest in a binder. Maybe next year, in a similar pique, I'll weed that binder by half again. I have boxes of sketches for editorial jobs too. Why? They're old business and they clutter up life. I want to be free of all that but yet I hang on to them!
Illustrators make sketches. That's what we do. For this extraordinary skill, we get paid. Imagine a business where somebody (your client) thinks of something and needs to SEE it but can't draw to save their life. Bring in the illustrator/artist/designer and things start moving again.
There was a time when I had a few more brain cells and sketches would get weeded through as soon as the job ended. Certain preparatory files were deleted and things got cleaned up and curated. Maybe kids happened, or some other insidious life perturbation and I found all the sketches (and files) piling up. Piles!
This particular job ended with a whimper and the relationship slowed to an ambiguous end. So I saved the sketches. You never know, they might want them for some reason… I do have scans and those are all archived… why keep the analog versions?
In this paper bag: a bunch that are headed to the recycling. I feel lighter already!
I definitely saved that Noah Woods paper promo cover though!
Maybe I'll use them in another project: do I really want to do this type of work? Educational software? Really?? Pictures of people scratching their heads, writing, talking, doing math problems? I don't think so! I'd rather draw castles, cars, eagles, elves, flowers, boats and monkeys. Anything but politically correct teenagers.
I am a draftsman and these drawings are evidence of this facility. So it's really just vanity isn't it?
These things will never reside in the climate-controlled rare-drawings collection at the Metropolitan Museum or the Louvre along with Raphael, Michaelangelo and Degas… but they were commercial artists (sort of) and not so different from me. Weren't they? 
Summer is a time for dreaming and somehow, among all the nests in my hair, there's one filled with a dream of Gulley Jimson: impractical and always hoping that the best lies ahead somewhere. Even these pedestrian, workaday drawings point the way from ephemeral problem-solving thought to something larger than life. It's hard to let go of that but then again, it's hard to climb a steep mountain with too many things in your hands.
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