How Obsessive Artists Survive as Professionals

By Bill Kray

Creative obsessions can work to your advantage.

How Obsessive Artists Survive as Professionals

You probably don't need anyone to tell you that you have obsessive compulsive personality disorder (OPCD), though it's often confused with OCD — the one where people wash their hands repeatedly. OPCD is not a disease, it's a personality trait. Perhaps you prefer a term like "perfectionist" or "type-A personality." One dictionary defines type-A personality as a temperament marked by excessive competitiveness and ambition, an obsession with accomplishing tasks quickly, little time for self-reflection, and a strong need to control situations.

Is it logical that an obsessive client is ideal for an obsessive artist? Having an obsessive client with deep pockets might seem like a lucrative arrangement if willing to pay for each iteration of a design. But quite frankly, when an OCPD artist loses control of the situation, it can bring about anxiety and stifle creativity.

Since it's not a disease, there is no "cure" for OCPD, but there are ways to make it work to your advantage. A key lies in creating the perception, from individual perspectives, that both client and artist are in control.

Who’s in Control?

Whether obsessive or not, a client is spending money on a solution. Implausible, unattractive or plagiarized artwork triggers buyer's remorse. So naturally, a client wants to feel in control — that he is getting his money's worth (and then some).

On the other hand, a freelance artist, not receiving a regular paycheck from other sources depends on being compensated for the time expended. A 20-hour project estimate that becomes 40 and then 80 hours cuts the value of work by 75 percent. Imagine telling your landlord that you only are able to pay 25 percent of your rent because a client devalued your work.

Making Obsession Work For You

One way creatives cope with obsessions is to become fine artists. In the privacy of an art studio, the artist can spend as much time is desired on each piece, sans any outside influence. The culmination of creativity is revealed only when perfectly satisfied. Then it's a matter of finding someone willing to pay for this personal vision.

Illustrators (medical, technical, commercial, etc.) rely on coming up with creative solutions to communication problems. Companies or individuals are willing to pay money in order to see artistic resolutions to these issues because their customers would rather see a clear explanation than read a bunch of technical data.

Accepting an Assignment

As an illustrator, if your first reaction to an initial project request is to sketch an idea, you're approaching it wrong. First listen to the client, then ask questions, many questions, and listen some more. When you have a complete grasp of the project scope, think about any similar solutions you have produced in the past. There may not be any, but when there are, show them to the client to get an idea if going down that path is satisfactory.

Out of the view of the client, in the privacy of your own studio, produce some very rough sketches of directions you'd like to explore. This serves two purposes: 1) it builds confidence in your ability to meet the task; 2) it allows you to accurately describe on the contract what will be done for the agreed upon fee.

Every illustrator, especially obsessive ones, must fully describe what will be performed. Indicate how many rough designs will be produced, progressive stages of the final art, at what point and how many client alterations are permitted, and how either party may extricate themselves in the event of dissatisfaction.

Three design directions are customarily presented but it is not a hard-and-fast rule. However, it's important to include a specific number on the contract and also indicate the cost for each additional design presented at the request of the client. This tends to reign in obsessive tendencies.

Creative Obsessions

As an artist, be cautious about becoming convinced that the first design is the only possible solution. Set it aside and tell yourself that the client may reject it for any number of reasons. Then challenge yourself to come up another design that is just as good, if not better. Repeat this a third time. During this process, if working rather loosely, you'll likely produce way more than three designs. This allows you to weed through them for the best.

Once you have three solid rough design directions, work them up to a presentation stage. Though not final art, they should instill enough confidence in both you and the client that going down either path will be rewarding. Before the presentation, do research to make certain your solutions are unique. You may have a favorite, but never include inferior designs to sway a client into only one viable choice. He will feel cheated, or worse, may choose an inferior design, causing you much anxiety.

After receiving thumbs up on a design, give yourself a reasonable time limit to allow obsessive detail finessing. Stop short of your time limit and allow the client to see how the work is progressing before final completion of the work.