My husband once saw an art installation at the High Museum of Art that featured two solid colored triangles side by side entitled, as best he can recall, Two Panels: One Red. One Blue. One of my friends has a six foot tall piece of abstract art in her living room depicting what I believe to be four women holding martini glasses. It is a little hard to say for sure since their necks are elongated, and their eyes are sort of floating off their faces. Another friend sculpts face jugs the size of her fingernail. While I find face jugs pretty terrifying, in miniature, they somehow become adorable. My point is that art, like beauty, is a matter of personal opinion.
I recently held a contest on 99designs.com for the cover art of my debut novel, Blood Toy. I received submissions from nine designers. Many of them put forth tremendous effort to align their vision of my cover with my own, making numerous minute adjustments in design over the course of the week-long contest. I hated that ultimately only one would actually be paid for their time and, further, that I had to decide which one. I held a poll to help me avoid the responsibility, but, in the end, I chose the one that spoke to me.
From a marketing perspective, this was perhaps not the wisest choice. There was one particular cover with a red background and a character that reminded participants of Lara Croft that was unanimously deemed the most striking. And it was a great cover design. It just wasn’t mine. This is mine.
After selecting the winner, I received a most scathing private message from one of the other finalists, incidentally not one of the higher ranking ones. It began with a minor guilt trip regarding the time she spent creating my design. I know. It sucks. One should never ask a talented designer for spec work, but I hoped that those working on 99designs.com were still building their reputation, skill and client base. I hoped they participated in these contests for the experience vs. the money, so the time spent was not wasted even if their design was not chosen. Guess not.
The message went on to vilify my design choice and, in fact, 3D design as a whole. Apparently there is a great rivalry between traditional and Poser artists. Poser is a 3D animation software and character creator for digital artists–an unfortunately named one, given the debate about whether or not Poser artists are “real” artists. I guess many traditional artists and illustrators consider 3D artists folks with little artistic talent who use the program to compensate. The fact of the matter is a LOT of art—3D and otherwise—is bad. And a lot of good art looks like crap to me. It is all a matter of opinion.
I didn’t want to justify the hate mail with a comment, but I felt I had to come to the defense of my incredibly talented designer, Donna Murillo of DHMDesigns. Hers was the first submission to my contest. In that one, Diane looked a little like a cross between a female ninja and a knight. I gave feedback; Donna came back with another look. And another and another and another—16 in all. She changed costuming, hair, lighting, font, etc. She even changed the 3D mesh to create a new face for my character with nods to both Eliza Dushku and Olivia Wilde. In short, she worked her *ss off.
During the course of revisions, I realized that, while the look of the character was spot on, without context to explain why a modern heroine would be outfitted in armor and medieval weaponry in the first place, readers might get the wrong idea. So we took off some of her armor and replaced her sword with a shotgun. It wasn’t in my design brief, which prompted my disgruntled contest entrant to rail about the winning design having the “wrong weapons.” She’s right. The shotgun was not in the brief. But it is in my book. I immediately wished it was already published so I could tell her, “Read the book…it will all make sense.” I just had to settle for explaining that Donna had been in much closer communication with me, enabling her to make such design choices.
After a not so veiled insult to my artistic vision, or lack thereof, she went on to lecture me about the “uncanny valley effect. “ In a few words, uncanny valley effect is the way three dimensional characters or objects meant to look like real people make actual real people uncomfortable. Many believe the uncanny valley is a myth anyway, but I’m OK with Diane making people a bit uncomfortable. She’s a dangerous chick. Dangerous chicks should make people uncomfortable. I also happen to look at video game characters, who are all 3D models, all day long. So I won’t debate the existence of the uncanny valley; I’ll just say it has no effect on me. And uncanny valley or not, Donna is one hell of an artist. I could not be happier with my design.
Ultimately I chose this design though for reasons a bit more superstitious. First, the background is a photo the artist took of my favorite place on Earth. Second, I dreamed Diane actually tried on the body Donna created for her, told me how much she liked it, and said I better buy it for her. Like I said, Diane is a dangerous chick, and dreams are kinda her territory. So, what can I say? I bought it for her.