The art of choosing art

Posted February 16, 2015 
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Here at Accidental Cyclops, we are relative newbs at game design. Very early on in the process of designing and developing Succession, I decided that selecting artwork was going to be a focus for me. It seemed very important to my vision for the game. Now that we are two years into the process, and nearing the launch of our Kickstarter campaign, I am beginning to worry about the artwork even more.

Heretofore the whole idea of selecting artwork has seemed like a distant need... something for future me to do. Now future me is present me, and I am way behind on this.

I have to admit that this is partially due to my own lack of focus. But there have also been some significant roadblocks, or at least speed bumps, that I haven't been able to control.

How to value creative work

I have always (by always, I mean since I could afford it) been a patron of the arts. I have a good number of paintings and other artwork by local Indianapolis artists. I also have a handful of creative works from artists local to the many places that my wife and I have travelled over the years. I would probably buy a lot more art if I had the means. I just love it!

That said, I have always had a problem with valuing art. In a way it is priceless. I mean how do you value creative spark and raw talent brought to life?

To remedy my inability to value art, I have adopted the fairly common philosophy of refusing to haggle over the price of art pieces. More specifically, I believe that only an artist can value his/her own work, and thusly I will pay whatever they ask. If I can’t afford it, then I must not want it all that badly!

Now the problem with my philosophy…

We don’t have an infinite budget for our game’s artwork. Worse yet, we need a LOT of artwork. Because the game is themed around specific characters in a specific setting, we’ll likely have to have a lot of custom, commissioned portraits and figures.

So, how does one go about offering a very low price to license or commission artwork without devaluing something that is, IMO, priceless?

Coming to an agreement

Perhaps even harder than valuing the work is drawing up the agreement to use the work. I am finding that very few artists, even successful ones, have premade licensing agreements, contracts or other forms of legally binding paperwork sorts of things. I’m not sure what I was expecting…

It turns out that artists are not very effective bureaucrats. It must be the wrong side of the brain or something. Unfortunately, as soon as you decide to publish something, the fear of our increasingly litigious society comes to the surface. Everyone wants to be protected form everyone else, and no matter how much we might want to trust each other, it just isn’t possible to avoid the need for intellectual property rights and the like.

To make matters worse, there doesn’t seem to be a cheap or easily accessible source for having such legal paperwork drawn up. So, where does one go to get the proper protections for artists, designers and publishers?

Relinquishing control

Perhaps the hardest part of the artwork selection and licensing process, for me at least, has been coming to terms with the idea that I might not need to be the final decider.

Sure, I created the theme and the setting for the game. Yes, I have a vision on how it should be portrayed. Of course I have a certain threshold for what level of quality I require.

But, since I am not publishing the game, and since I am not paying for the artwork, I am finding that I need to come to terms with not controlling the visual design and artwork associated with my game. I am finding that I need to trust the guys over at Cosmic Wombat Games to do what is best for the game, for us, and for sales. 

That is really hard!

So, friends and readers, who has some insights and resources for folks in our current position? Any help would be greatly appreciated!



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