I’ve been fortunate enough in life to retire more than once. I really thought the first time I did so… that I meant it. The second time… it had to be for real and now… I’ve given up. Though I no longer sign multiple annual contracts with my former employers I still get too many good offers to really retire, including that “c’mon… just one last project” from former employers.
Once I announced my first retirement… the work poured in and almost overwhelmed me. Why is easy. I deliver on time, and I won’t break the budget. I don’t ask for concessions and do as I’m instructed. I never argue creative differences past a certain point because it’s not my project. In fact, I rarely argue creative differences at all as it serves no purpose. The project isn’t mine to question past a certain point of responsibility. As long as I don’t tarnish my reputation I feel I’m still on top. After all.. I got the job done, got paid on time, sometimes early, and required little to no supervision.
I believe these reasons are why I stayed busy. I started in 3D when there were few if any schools and none were anywhere near my part of Texas so I’m self-taught. Which means I do not have the technical background of those that went to animation school and paid attention to the detail they were learning.
I was never the best animator, creator, or artist on any given team, but I had my place. It was continually reserved for me until I decided it was time to move on. I’m not the best digital artist out there… not even in the top percentile… but I stayed busy and was asked back time and again when some highly skilled divas were never seen again.
I didn’t make trouble; I didn’t question decisions openly and I kept my thoughts to myself so no one could rope me into something. I found out something interesting happens when you keep your mouth shut most of the time.
When you do speak… people actually listen.
As opposed to continually speaking up on topics that disturb you in some way. The boy who cried wolf too often will end up eaten by that wolf. At times, I was the first one hired for the project outside of the initial circle of creators.
As a project manager, I tried to find and recruit people that held similar views, were competent in the work, and were respectful to everyone around them. To illustrate this point I tell the story, which some of you have heard too many times, about being the last person standing on a project ran by a demented art director. Everyone but me quit. I was worried about my professional reputation, so I stuck around. And… I don’t give up easily when there is an eventual exit written into the contract.
When it was over, instead of getting my percentage of the bonus pool… I got the whole thing!!! As I was the last one standing, I reaped the rewards. Hanging in there and being true to your word is a paramount strength in my book and this project manager clearly felt the same way. In the end, I felt I was compensated enough for the hassle, but I never signed onto another project with that studio.
So, you can see where, not being the most skilled, but the most trusted kept me busy. This kept the door open, and I tried desperately to never burn bridges behind me.
Now you can see why I stay busy, though not as busy as I was when full-time, and that is by choice. It had nothing to do with great skills and more to do with dependability and not creating new problems. With this in mind, as I know I’m not the only dependable freelancer reading this, is why I wonder if digital artists will ever really retire?
How do you turn down income when you have the ability to do the job? It’s just like writing. I’m far from the best, untrained in the art, and tend to aggravate or even piss off some writers that think I write like a hillbilly.
Well.. that would be a proud hillbilly that will probably never retire from art or writing unless forced to.
I’m not going to blow sunshine up your butt with sayings like “be true to yourself”. No... I’m more in the “be true to your employer or don’t work for them” mindset. Be respectful of who pays the bills, gives the orders, do your utmost to deliver on time… and keep your mouth shut.
You just might find yourself in demand and unwilling to fully retire in the future.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website.