|What they are, and how to get the most out of them. Originally published in EMG-Zine. |
|Kinds of Collaboration|
Collaborations can be as simple as two people deciding to work together on a single piece of artwork or writing, as informal as a fanfiction, or as complex as a feature-length movie, involving writers, artists, animators, actors and various support. Anytime you have a final product that involves the combination of the creative talents of two or more people, you have a collaboration.
In some ways, a commission could also be considered a collaboration; your client provides you with a description and you do all the heavy lifting and create the artwork.
We'll be talking today about collaborations on more equal footing: two or more people who come together to create a tangible final product that they've all notably contributed to.
Define the Project
The first step of the project is deciding what to do. Are you going to create a multi-artist deck of oracle cards? Are you going to produce a single painting? Are you going to write a few stories with common characters in a shared world? How many people will you involve? If the final product involves publishing costs, who pays for them?
This step is usually easy, informal and enthusiastic. Here is where most of the energy happens, and it can be great fun full of boundless possibility. Everyone wants to do everything, and from this rosy point, it seems certain that your project will gain you fame, riches and maybe hot pool boys to do your bidding.
But while you're setting some goals and imagining your success, pause to think about a few key things:
Rights: Who will have the rights to the final piece? Will one artist be able to sell the piece, or will all of them be able to? How would licensing a product work? Make sure that you make all these decisions before things get started and make sure that everyone involved understands them and agrees.
Contracts: Even if you're talking about a strictly for-fun collaboration, you should have a contract. Don't let the term "contract" intimidate you, though -- a contract is just a formal agreement. It doesn't have to be in writing or signed in blood or anything. Any agreement is a contract as long as you fill four qualifications: the agreement is lawful, all parties are able to make the agreement they're making, all parties understand the agreement and all parties actually do agree. It's that easy!
What's not as easy is proving to someone else that the contract exists. Be sure to keep copies of the emails. If the project communication is on a website (a forum, a livejournal community), ask yourself -- will you always be able to access the information you discuss? Summarize the important details of the project and get an agreement from the involved parties in your email, if you don't want to go the extra step of writing out a hardcopy contract and getting it signed.
There are a lot of questions to be asked at the inception of a project, and it's very important that they be made early on, so that people know what they're getting into! Be sure to be very specific about your answers to these questions, and put all of them together in writing somewhere that you can all easily reference them later as the project moves on.
Set Goals and Milestones
In a very simple collaboration of two people, there are well-defined parts that you each have. For example, one person sketches and inks, the second person colors. The flow in this case is driven by necessity: the second person can't start until the first person finished, and the sections that each of them does is clearly delineated.
The parts of larger and more involved projects should be just as well defined, even though it's trickier. Every collaborator should know what they are expected to do, how and -- most importantly! -- when. In a large project -- a collaborative tarot project or book, for example -- it is important to establish a chain of command. It doesn't need to be a particularly complicated chain of command, but the members should know who to turn to with their problems and questions.
Make reasonable deadlines, and enforce them. I've witnessed dozens of projects that have loose deadlines that are never met, so that the project trails off into nothing before it really has a chance. It is helpful to have a progress report in the middle of a long project - make sure that your members are still interested in it, while you still have time to replace them or see that the can make up for lost time.
Pitfalls and Broken Promises
Once the project is in swing, the 'slog' sets in. This is where hard work actually happens... and things can start to go wrong.
Dropped Balls: The most common pitfall is that one or more collaborator backs out, or worse, simply vanishes without communication. Do you have a contingency plan in place in case this happens? In most cases, an existing collaborator can pick up the missing parts, but in some cases, you'll want to pull someone else in. Be very careful about this - did the original member still contribute to the project in such a way that they're going to be angry if they try to come back to it and find they've been replaced? The best way to solve this is to plan ahead for it. Make it very clear in your initial plan what milestones the member has to make, and what happens if they don't.
Hurt Feelings: Credit is a number one reason for hurt feelings in a collaborative project. If one member does significantly more work than another, but gets equal credit, they may feel ripped off and sour about the project.
Sloppy Work: Another major cause for hurt feelings comes about when an artist or writer produces work that isn't up to par for the project. Sometimes they get rushed making work for a deadline, and the quality slips, sometimes they weren't a good match for the rest of the group from the very beginning. Do you accept the work and let the quality of the final product suffer? Or do you give the member further direction and ask for edits? In a very extreme case, you might decide to cut out or replace that work in entirety. This is always a difficult place to find yourself in. That decision can be made as a group, or by the leader of the group, but it's very likely to lead to some bruised feelings.
Why do it?
With all these potential problems and gritty details, why even bother collaborating?
It can be thrilling and rewarding to share the creative process with other people, and you can concentrate on your individual strengths without getting bogged down in things you may not be as good at. Having others involved can solve many motivational problems; if other people are depending on you to carry through, it may be more likely to happen than if it's just you for you.
As a group of two or many, you can have more creative strength than you would individually. During periods of time where one of you has unexpected problems, others in the group can pick up the slack and see that the project continues forward. You also have a great deal more marketing clout when you work together than you do individually, leading to greater opportunity for the final product.
It can also be excellent practice for professional work in the field, where often an artist is expected to work with a team of others to push forward towards a larger finished work.
Whatever the reasons you choose to collaborate, may it be rewarding for you!
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