Image by Rakel Stammer

Draw The Line: the brief

This is the third post in a series of – oh, I don’t know, maybe five or six?

We’ve already looked at the end product of the Draw The Line project and how the idea began. In this post I’ll try to cover the practicalities involved in managing a remote art project with more than 100 participants.

Attend meetings by Emily Haworth-Booth

An international list of artists

If you’ve been following along, you’ll know that, thanks to Karrie and the power of social media, we now had a long list of artists who were willing to get involved.

We’d invited them to join a dedicated Facebook group and I also asked everyone to add their name, email address and a link to any web presence to a Google spreadsheet, so I could easily communicate with everyone en masse. Eventually I would import this to Mailchimp, which is free to use if your list of recipients is low enough, and use that to send out mass email updates.

During this stage, I occasionally had to pinch myself as I looked at who was coming on board: many were artists I really looked up to and had never imagined I would be working with. Among them were some pretty big names of the comics world, like Dave McKean, Steven Appleby, Kate Charlesworth, Lucy Knisley, Fumio Obata and Hunt Emerson.

There were also many people I knew well, both from the closeknit Brighton comics scene (Zara Slattery, Michi Mathias, Simon Russell, Daniel Locke, Joe Decie, Hannah Berry, Nye Wright, to name but a few) and the wider but equally networked UK small press community (Katriona Chapman, Una, Rachael Ball, Rachael House, Dave Crane, Karen Rubins, Woodrow Phoenix and more).

Then, thanks to my contacts with the Finnish Femicomix organisation (which itself had come about from the fortuitous friendship with Siiri Viljakka) there was a good representation from Finland (where, in case you didn’t know, small press comics are thriving); this was by far the biggest country represented but we also had artists in Australia, USA, France, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, Canada and beyond. At this stage I don’t think I knew how many nationalities we spanned: one side-effect of working online in this way is that people didn’t necessarily mention where they were located, and it took a Facebook post explicitly asking the question to discover that we were spread across 16 different countries.

Then of course there were also plenty of artists I’d not heard of before, and it was a pleasure to discover all their work and various styles.

An inclusive project

Everyone was welcome to take part. We weren’t going to invite artists to submit a piece and then decide whether or not to include their work: the project was inclusive, and if an artist was going to give up their time, we would accept their submission.

As you’ll remember from yesterday’s post, we already had the list of actions that the artists were going to depict. The next step was to allocate them.

We could have done this randomly, but it seemed more sensible to look at each artist’s website or social media, and try to match them to the action we thought was best suited to their style or subject matter.

Some of these pairings worked so well that I now understand how proud casting directors must be when they feel they’ve chosen just the right actors for each role in a production.

For example, Katriona Chapman, who had just published her first book Follow Me In about travelling around Mexico, was given the action about the ‘Border Angels’ who leave water and supplies for migrants crossing into the States.

Carry Water by Katriona Chapman

Steven Appleby did great things with ‘Be yourself’ which played into some of his self-identified obsessions of identity and public perception:

Be Yourself by Steven Appleby

Lengthy instructions

Once we’d made these pairings, we sent each artist a long and detailed brief by email.

This took a little time: while 95% of each mail could be copy and pasted, we also had to include the details specific to each recipient.

In retrospect there was perhaps a bit too much information in these mails, but they did at least cover all bases! Here’s what we included:

  • The title of the action the artist had been allocated (eg, Plant Radical Roots or Question Sources)
  • The text that would accompany their illustration (usually a couple of sentences that explained what the action was, and why it was a good one to do — you can see them all in situ on the Draw The Line website)
  • A reference number that would help us keep track of the action, what the caption was and where it fitted in to the project — we asked artists to name their image with this number, plus their name
  • Specifications for the format, size and dimensions — and Simon made a graphic to show where the bleed margins needed to be
  • A deadline (that, top tip, was a week or two before the actual deadline)
  • A request that people provide their work in both CMYK and RGB versions (because we were foreseeing using them on both a website and the print book)
  • A suggestion that any text was added as a separate layer (so if we ever translated the project for future foreign versions, it would be easier)
  • Links to any reference sources we had identified during our research phase, where relevant (for example, if the action was about signing a petition, we’d link to articles about petitions which had actually brought about change, or a piece about how to ensure your petiton got wider take-up)
  • Some links to inspiring examples, which we listed like this:

If your action is suitable, ie it has several steps or dimensions, you may choose to create a ‘how to’ strip. Here’s a good example by the comic artist Cordelia.

Or you may wish to make a humorous illustration/strip based on the action, like this one by Jorge Cham.

Maybe you’ll use the theme to make a political comment. Here are some examples by female cartoonists from North Africa and here’s another by Nick Anderson of the Houston Chronicle.

If your action includes a case study, you could use that to make a reportage strip (and we’d then remove it from the accompanying text). You may want to research it a little more before you begin. Fumio Obata is a great example of a comic artist working in this tradition.

You could make an infographic if that’s your bag, like this one by Falara.

Or perhaps you’d like to create a single, meaningful illustration, like this one by Jeannie Phan on the benefits of mentoring or this by Veronica Lawlor depicting a demonstration.

Some other details

A few other things it may be worth mentioning:

  • We asked everyone to confirm they’d received the brief, which turned out to be a useful way of keeping track of how many firmly committed artists we actually had.
  • We told artists to add their name to their work, so that even if it was copied and shared outside the context of Draw The Line, their attribution would never be lost.
  • We requested that all artwork be suitable for kids, because many of the actions were child-friendly (in fact, we had a whole category that was labelled as such), and besides, it would be nice not to exclude that audience. Children were likely to be as worried as we adults about the state of the world, we reasoned!
  • At this stage we also reiterated the need for non-partisan pieces of work.
  • I kept track of absolutely everything on one giant spreadsheet that listed the actions, the artists, whether or not they’d received the brief, submitted their artwork, etc.

The collaborative nature of the project continued: I think some artists were surprised to be asked their opinions about key points, while others found it a natural way to work.

The set-up was loose enough to include a whole range of approaches, though: some artists just wanted to be told what to do, submit their work and be done, while others were quite passionate about the whole idea and keen to join in every discussion point. Both attitudes were absolutely fine and caused no problem to our progress.

The briefing email suggested that artists could discuss their action in the Facebook group if they weren’t sure how to illustrate it and needed inspiration. People could also ask for help if they were unsure how to meet the formatting requirements. And while we didn’t really want the extra work of artists asking us if they could pick a different action instead of the one they’d been allocated, we said it was fine if people wanted to arrange a swap between themselves.

Dig Deeper by Rakel Stammer

What to expect

Here are some of the things we learned during this phase, which, if you’re planning something similar, you might benefit from knowing in advance:

  • Even if they say they will, people don’t always come through (because people are human, and have other commitments, or things crop up, or… in some cases, people are just flaky). Some who said they’d like to take part initially, replied when they saw the brief to say they were dropping out. Others didn’t reply at all, or did confirm but then never submitted work.
    As noted in the last post, we weren’t paying anyone, so we couldn’t really complain about this.
    I’m not sure what the advice is here, other than, perhaps, to accept more artists than you want to eventually get work from?
  • People don’t always read long lists of instructions (some people do! I guess it depends on one’s character). This meant that we received some images that were the wrong dimensions, loads without the artists’ names included, and lots of questions we’d already answered in the original brief.
    One way to try and avoid this would be to send a short email instead. This could list the various points as titles which then linked to fuller instructions on a web page.
  • Even if people do read your instructions, you have to be super clear. For example, I knew what I was envisioning for each page: there would be text below the image to describe an action, with the illustration or comic strip accompanying it — but I can’t have described it as clearly as I might have, because lots of artists replied to ask whether they were expected to integrate the writing into their artwork.
  • Not everyone uses Facebook (in fact, the sanest people probably don’t), and even if everyone did, there’s no guarantee that everyone will see an important message you post there. But email wasn’t infallible either: it could go into spam or just get lost in people’s overswamped inboxes. I used to use a mixture of methods to get attention: for example I’d sometimes tag artists in Facebook posts if they hadn’t replied to an important email.

Creative Commons licenses

We decided early on that, by participating, the artists would be agreeing to make their work available under a non-commercial Creative Commons license. This means that:

  • the artist would retain the copyright, so they owned and could reuse the image in any way they liked in the future;
  • but at the same time, the image was free for anyone else to use in any way, so long as they weren’t going to be making money out of it.
    This means, for example, that any campaign or charity, or indeed individual, could pick up the images and use them in leaflets or posters without payment, boosting the positive effect that the project could have and providing quality artwork to often cash-strapped causes.
    After the website went live, we did indeed hear from campaigns large and small (notably, among them, the Fawcett Society) who asked for permission to use them. No permission was required, but it was nice to know where they were being shared. And this was a good vindication of our decision to have artists sign their work, so that their names were carried through to these other contexts.

Deadline day

As the deadline approached, each morning I’d open up my email and find one or more illustrations submitted by the artists. This part was pure joy!

It was the first point at which I could see the whole nebulous idea really beginning to take shape. Each time a picture arrived, I’d reply to let the artist know we’d received it safely, and then save it in Google Drive, since they tended to be quite large and would use up a lot of space on my hard drive.

Build A Wall of Kindness by Jaime Huxtable

That’s it for today

So, in summary: everything we did at this stage was fairly straightforward, and while it was a bit time-consuming, that was to be expected. There was, however, some extra work I hadn’t foreseen here, which was:

  • When people dropped out, responding to them, removing them from the central spreadsheet and perhaps allocating their action to someone else;
  • Replying to artists to clarify points they were unsure about, or to ask them to alter their submission to adhere to the guidelines;
  • Chasing people who didn’t reply to the initial brief, to check whether they still wanted to be involved.