The Evolution of an Illustration: Rose-Fairy-Rock-Birthday-Girl with Snakes

After freelancing in art for 25 years, most jobs go smoothly for me and for my clients. Sure, with some jobs you'll run into a bump in the road, a creative challenge or a deadline shift, but I've been doing this a while and communicate pretty well. I know what to ask and how to deliver. But then there's that atypical job that starts choppy turns out to be a rough ride all the way through. A short while back, I got an email from a client with whom I've worked before. They needed some art for a 16-year-old girl's birthday invitation and cake. They wanted me to replicate another artist's style and the budget was decent but on the low side. I responded I didn't want to replicate the style per se, but would take it on if I could do my own spin on it. Plus, it was needed over the weekend. So I jumped on it and did a quick sketch that was exactly what I had in mind, and thought it included elements that were asked for:

Since it was Saturday, I proceeded right to final pencils, inks and colors so we could deliver the art on time on Monday. I probably should have sent his sketch to run it by them; it may have saved us all some trouble. But at the time, I was pleased with the results, and so was the art director:

But apparently, the end client wanted something more dark and edgy, so we were asked to change the girl, remove her wings and add a leather jacket and a snake around her shoulders. We also added more hearts, making them darker and changed the color of the roses. I asked for more cash to cover the extra work, but the budget was topped out, and so I agreed to make the changes at no extra cost. Move on and job done, right? Not so fast.

We next heard this still didn't please the end client. They now wanted to remove the girl altogether. I was ready to bail on the job entirely and receive no payment of work already done and told them so, but more money was offered to make yet more changes and finish up the job. At this point a couple weeks had passed beyond the original deadline, which is kind of funny since it seemed such a rush at first. So, my wife and I patched in more roses and thorns, different snakes, made more color changes and delivered a final illustration they were happy with:

Now I like all three of these finished illustrations, but still prefer my first one. A lot of the problems we encountered on this job might have been avoided with better communication from my side, the middleman and the end client. Or maybe I shouldn't have taken it on in the first place, since I am generally resistant to replicate the style of another artist. I've turned down work like that before, in which case I miss out some income but save time, trouble and headaches. Though I'm sure all involved wish the project had gone more smoothly, in the end everyone got what they wanted and needed, and I still get to use and display my original illustration.