I get asked to draw the strangest things….

Usually on this blog I like to talk about the methods of my work.  The inspirations, sources, procedures and tools for creating my art.  These topics are to help advise newer artists, to prompt suggestions and wisdom from other artists, and to inform, entertain and inspire non-artists.

In this episode, however, I plan to simply tell funny stories of some of the most bizarre contracts I’ve done.  Be prepared… this may get weird… and PG-13.

Let’s start here:  For a little over a year I was a full-time staff illustrator for an adult toy company.  Yes, that’s completely true.  I drew naked people for a living.  How did I feel about this?  Well…. GOD I miss that job.  Although erotic art is not my 1st reflex, it’s certainly one of the most enjoyable occupations I’ve ever had.  Unfortunately, the departments decided that working with photos was just plain easier, and my brief stint ended.

Ready for the punchline?  One month later I was illustrating children’s books.  Needless to say, the client requested I use a different pseudonym.  …I’m still laughing about THAT one.

Next up:  Sexy stripper fish.

That’s right, I said sexy stripper fish.  Well…. technically the strippers were bait, and the strip club patrons were the fish.  The company was called “Red Light Bait Company.”  So…. it makes perfect sense, right?

Yep. Thems some sexy fish, a’ight.

The real challenge was that all the patrons had to be PARTICULAR types of fish, more specifically, the most common fish sought after by fisher… people.  Then I had to find some way to capture each fish’s “personality” (?) somehow.  I’m particularly proud of making the flounder, who has both eyes on one side of his head, a creep in a trenchcoat.

There’s also the shark bouncers, barracuda gangster, sexy-cop shrimp waitress, and sailfish…. sailor.  The client had the brilliant idea of having them all tipping with “sand dollars” (can I get a rimshot?).

The next previous project I can’t speak too much about, as it’s still in production.  I can, however, tell that I was asked to draw… and even animate…. an anthropomorphic pot plant.  Among other “stoner” related imagery needed for the project, the feminine humanoid/pot plant stood out.  It was especially tricky to get movement out of her since she was rooted to the ground.  There’s also the irony of showing her smoking a joint (would that qualify as cannibalism?).

Continuing chronologically backwards (as I am often wont to do)… was the 4th sexy welder pin-up girl.  As strange as that may sound, let me point out that this was the FOURTH.  No, they were all different clients.  The first came to me because she saw my Character Portraits and pin-up art, and thought it would be

Weld me, baby.

fun to have herself drawn as a pin-up girl dressed as a sexy welder, since that was her husband’s occupation, as a gift for his birthday.  Makes a certain amount of sense…. until another came along.  Granted, I can give some credit for this concept from the following three clients, to the fact that they probably saw the first one on my website.  But still… how many welders are out there?  Each one has been fun to work on… and tricky, being as I know absolutely nothing about welding (well, I know more NOW).

Now let’s talk about shows.  Here’s some crazy things people have asked me to draw in PERSON.  I used to perform/sell at certain collector’s expos, trade shows and conventions.  Primarily this was to promote my freelance work, but also to sell some limited edition matted prints of my fantasy art.  Part of my draw was that I offered “Character Sketches.”  These were pencil sketches of customers, however they wanted, in a generally realistic (or comic book) style.

The first stumbling block was when somebody wanted to be drawn as Iron Man.  Okay… how do I make it so he can tell that it’s HIM.  Then it dawned on me, have the helmet in his hand!  This worked for several heroes and other characters with face-covering masks and helmets.  Eureka!  Then comes the kid who loves Bumblebee from Transformers.  Um…  All I could really do is draw him wearing Bumblebee-like armor, also holding a helmet.  Hey, it made him happy!

Then comes the guy who doesn’t want me to draw him, but his favorite super-heroines.  Cool.  One hitch… he wants them naked.  As eyebrow-raising as this may have been, I have to admit it was a nice change from drawing little girls as faeries.  No, I didn’t ever mix those up…

Going back many years I somehow (no, I honestly don’t remember how), got contacted by the local leather gay bar to produce their annual Christmas cards.  You may be saying to yourself “Hey!  MY town doesn’t have a leather gay bar!”  This is Austin, though.  Also… you’re probably wrong.  Anyway, the first design involved caricatures of the employees on the inside, and Rudolph putting nipple clamps on Santa on the front.  Wow!  Can’t get any weirder, right?  Wrong.  The next year, the client has me draw all the employees sitting in a urinal with Santa peeing on them.  The caption read “Urinal our thoughts this holiday season.”

You win.  You’re the weirdest.

That’s all for now, but stay tuned for more bizarre stories from the archives of Jay French!

Working outside your realm and finding limits…

A lot of freelancers stumble across this decision from time to time.  I’m not just talking about artists, either.  There’s a great (though silly) discussion on this in the movie “Clerks”, where the main characters are discussing how the destruction of the unfinished (looking) Death Star in “Return of the Jedi” is more of a political question than the one in “Star Wars” because of the possibility of the collateral damage of deaths of innocent contractors still working on said Death Star (the character Randall points out “Do you think your standard Storm Trooper knows how to install a toilet?”).  Like I said, it’s silly, but thought-provoking.

In the film, a bystander listening to the conversation pipes in with a story of his brother in real life turning down a plumbing job for a well-known mobster.  Some time later, the mobster is marked for a hit and everyone in the household is killed (including the contractors).  He finishes his story by stating that contractors do, in fact, consider politics and repercussions when choosing jobs.

Very seldom in my freelance career have I actually turned a client away at all, much less for political, moral or safety reasons.  The few times I’ve declined projects were usually because I was currently swamped with work, in which case they would sometimes just wait, or because a project was really outside of my skill set.

To the right is a good example of this.  A client came to me asking for a pin-up girl, which I’ve done many of, but when they showed me this sample, I had to admit to the client that “photo realistic” painting was simply beyond my capability.  The same thing happens when people ask for web design, flash or full-on animation (not to mention 3D modeling or animation).  I cover quite a lot of ground in my art skills, but there are still limits.

There have been rare occasions where I’ve turned a client away because their project was distasteful.  I’m willing to produce erotic art (though I do that under another pseudonym), violence and opposing politic views, but I draw lines at white supremacy, pedophilia and other things of that nature.

Which brings us to the more subtle areas.  People ask me to draw the strangest things sometimes, and I often wonder when entering into new fields what made the person think that I could manage such a project, when there’s no examples of similar work on my website.  I suppose many a layman assumes art is art.  If a fella can draw, then obviously they can sculpt, paint, draft architecture, compose concertos, juggle knives, fire dance, etc.  Again, I’m rather versatile, and usually I find myself capable of approaching a new medium, style or subject.  But I have to wonder what made the client who sent me that pin-up sample think I could do that.  I mean… if I could do that, my website would be COVERED with that style of art!  I suppose it’s difficult to take myself OUT of the perspective of an artist and understand that most people just don’t think or see that way.   ….I’m still not really able to draft architecture… just for the record… (or fire dance).

U.T. Head Coaches- 2004

What happens more often is that I get projects outside my norm that I debate whether or not to showcase them on my website and in my portfolio.  When I produced a Christmas card for the University of Texas Athletics Department, with caricatures of all the head coaches in their sports’ uniforms, it was a little daunting.  I know nothing about sports (I know, I know… I have a penis, so I should…).  I had to Google all the uniforms to figure out what they looked like (and I’d like to say that you athletes wear some strange things sometimes)!  Then there was the question of whether or not to display the work, possibly attracting more of the same type of work.  In this economy I’ve usually chosen to get all I can.  I simply don’t highlight those works that aren’t my greatest strengths or areas of expertise.  I still display all I can, though, because just like the ones who assume I can do anything, there’s the opposite side of the coin… many non-artists think if they don’t see something almost exactly like what they need or have in mind, that I can’t do it.  I almost find this mentality even more perplexing (obviously if I can draw human figures, fantasy art, greek and hindu mythology…. I can manage to draw ancient Mayan characters… that’s obvious, right?).  I suppose I should be thankful because the reason I get work is that most people’s minds DON’T work that way.

Not my usual thing, but hey...

So, I’m usually fine with producing work that’s conservative, religious, sports-related, country and western, or otherwise outside of my realm of knowledge and interest.  I draw lines at extremism because no amount of money is worth being connected with that sort of thing (I have occasionally been known to take my name off of projects that were downright pathetic because of other factors).  I attempt to steer future clients towards that which I’m more interested in, but that’s mostly because that’s what I’m best at.  It’s a simple dynamic of interest equates time invested which produces improvement.

For me, that works, because I wish to promote myself as a versatile artist.  I’m willing to be patient as I steer more clients in the direction I want to go and am able to pass on projects that aren’t my strength or simply aren’t interesting to me more and more.  For other artists, especially ones who wish to be more specialized, this can be a slippery slope.  If you need the work (as most of us do), but are more determined to steer your work in a particular direction, then the answer is usually to be willing to do work outside your normal realm (that is, if it’s within your capabilities), but not display or promote that work.  Granted, you will lose some of those clients who won’t choose you if they don’t see anything like what they’re looking for.  On the other hand, you’ll still get plenty who think if you’re an artist, you can do it all, and will request the abnormal work.  Those who are in the arts industry or are looking for your type of work will see by your website or portfolio what your strengths or main focus are.  In the end, you’ll essentially steer more clients in the direction you want, but will probably lose a few opportunities to make more money.  In theory, you should eventually be doing almost nothing but your preferred work (not taking into account other factors such as skill level, talent, business sense, contacts, being a jerk, etc.).

If income isn’t as strong of a factor, such as if you’re working your freelance only part-time, have some other form of funding or income, or are starting out with an education and high skill level, then you can probably focus solely on your preferred types of work.  This means only including these works in your portfolio, website, blog, etc.  It also means turning away that which is outside of this realm.  One can always try to steer an inquiry, such as saying “well, I don’t really do [blah], but if you’ve seen my work, maybe something along those lines would work for your project.”  All of this is still working under the concept of a commercial artist, not fine art.  A fine artist just does what they want & tries to sell, market or otherwise profit from it (though I still classify certain “fine artists” as “con artists” or over-celebrated interior decorators).  A commercial artist is given instructions and produces said product.  Although a person in this third category might be seen as “finicky” or even arrogant, it could just be that you’re an artist who knows what they want to do, and is only interested in working in that realm and improving and expanding upon those foundations.

Amy Brown fairy art

The summary of this category:  You do that type of work you want, and that’s it, though your client base is vastly limited.  This will, of course, vary depending on what your realm is, and it’s general demand (or current popularity).  If fairy artist Amy Brown had been around in the 50’s trying to make her way, she probably wouldn’t have gotten very far (a modest success at best).  However, in the 90’s when whimsical and fantasy works were more popular than ever… she soared.

A tattoo artist under the current popularity would also do well, talent permitting.  If your specialty is carving little goblins out of goat turds… don’t expect a huge reception (though, you never know…).

That’s all for now, but I thought this was something worth discussing!


We never forgot, and we finally got ‘im.

Bin Laden mounted

What actually was done with his body...

See it on the website here.

Check out the client’s website (where these are for sale as stickers, etc.) HERE.

Archangel Tattoos

A number of people have emailed me to ask permission to use the Archangel Series as well as the seals for tattoo designs.  I find this quite kind of them, since I really couldn’t stop them if they did it without asking!  A few have even sent me photos of the finished tattoos, pictured here:

You can see more pics that fans have sent me here: http://www.jayfrenchstudios.com/id253.html

It’s all about the Archangels…

I figured, since I receive the most fan mail on the “Archangels Series” (for specific art, I actually get the most about my art instruction videos!), that I should start by talking about them.

Michael: The Right Hand of God

I can’t really say for sure what my initial inspiration was for this series.  I tend to just defer to my “love of archetypes.”  As a child, I was somewhat fascinated with the concept of archangels.  Something about a celestial warrior is just appealing to a young geek.

Once I decided to produce the series, next came the research.  Although primarily web research, I made sure that all my sources referenced their sources.  It seems most of the specific information about the details of the archangels comes from the Koran, the Kabbalah and the Grimoire of Armadel.  Most sects list seven as the number of archangels, but many differ.  I decided the best bet was to make a list consisting of any name that appeared on more than one list (Michael, Gabriel and Raphael are on each list).  This way, I ended up with a list of 15 archangels: Michael (the general of the celestial armies), Gabriel (messenger, teacher, and destroyer), Raphael (healer and pilgrim), Uriel (giver of gifts, keeper of secrets, winds of change & guard of eden), Metatron (keeper of all celestial records), Azrael (angel of death and comfort), Camael (angel of war, judgement, victory and honor), Zadkiel (angel of mercy and freedom), Jophiel (angel of art, beauty, inspiration and illumination), Raguel (overseer and judge of angels), Raziel (angel of intellect and knowledge), Israfel (angel of music), Haniel (angel of love), Cassiel (angel or temperance),  and Sandalphon (angel of paths & choices).


For some reason, I never really thought about the style in which I would produce this series.  The idea of parchment-backed pencil illustrations seemed to be a given.  Although I went back over Michael in Corel Painter and used blending tools (with a digital tablet) to smooth him, I decided against using this method on the remainder of them (Michael was okay to stand on his own since he’s the head-piece of the series).

A lot of people ask me what this series “means” to me.  I made a concerted effort to make them religiously broad.  This began with the combined research of Christian, Judaic, Islamic and even Pagan legends and lore.  When working on each piece, I wanted to show some factor of positive energy that was related to their position as an archangel.  For example, with Michael I wanted to show the kind of guy you’d have no problem taking orders from with the depth, wisdom and compassion in his face.  I also wanted him to look like the kind of guy you’d feel safe hiding behind!  I opted to go pupil-less on all of them to maintain that aura of “other-worldliness”.

Well, that’s all for now, but I’m going to post some pics of tattoos that fans have gotten of this series!

Check out these links to view merchandise with the “Archangels Series”:


Getting Started…

Welcome to the world of Jay French!

This will be a place where I’ll talk about projects I’m working on, shows I’m going to be at, methods I’m using and learning and all things related to my art and business.  I’ve avoided writing a blog until now for fear that I would appear self-important, but after receiving hundreds of subscribers on my instructional art video YouTube channel and countless direct fan mail (mostly about the Archangels Series), I’ve decided perhaps it’s time!

I welcome all your thoughts and questions!

Thanks for reading!