Monday, May 16, 2011

A Follow Up To The Pseudonym

Here's a query I got from Tom P. on my post about the Pseudonym (it started out as a reply comment, but before I knew it it was almost as long as my posts usually get, so I just went with it):

Hey Steve, if you feel so inclined, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on different names for different styles of work from the same artist. While at Illuxcon in November, as artist I was chatting with mentioned this and felt that it was pretty important in his opinion. For instance, you're Steve Belledin known for your work on Magic cards, but let's say you took an unrelated graphic design job doing a few logos or maybe wanted to pursue fine art painting bowls of fruit and such. This gentleman felt that it was important to have alternate names because clients tend to know you for a style and will be turned off if they see something seemingly unrelated on your website. What have your experiences been in this regard?


This is exactly what I was referring to when I spoke of keeping your fine art or day job separate.  I think back before the internet, it was easier to keep your name, but have a more compartmentalized career.  Nowadays, it's so easy to hunt down everything about everyone, that it can be very useful if the name is compartmentalized, as well.

I think how compartmentalized you go depends on how different the jobs involved are.  I'm not sure I would go under a different name if I were going to do some graphic design work (something that no one would ever pay me to do, by the way).  The way I see it (though others will surely disagree), there's nothing in my illustration work that would necessarily conflict with logo design or some such.  At least not under most circumstances.  However, one circumstance that might be an issue is if I'm doing logos for some religious institution.  Like it or not, there are folks in some of these institutions who might see my Magic work as demonic or satanic in some way (there are still folks who feel this way about Dungeons and Dragons), and my Magic work may result in my not getting said graphic design gig.  Now, I'm not trying to make a commentary about anyone's beliefs, as everyone is entitled to theirs, I'm just saying that I'm aware these beliefs exist, and could potentially have an impact on trying to get work.

Here's another example.  Let's say instead of being a Magic artist, I am a children's book artist.  Let's also say that on the side I like to do pin-up or erotic art.  This is certainly a case where having multiple identities would be helpful.  While I kind of doubt that knowledge of a children's book career would harm my pin-up career, knowledge of my pin-up career could most certainly have an effect on the children's book work.  While I can't really speak to how folks in the publishing business would personally feel about such a case, they would certainly be concerned about customers finding out and having their book protested, banned, etc.  After all, children's books have been banned for far lesser reasons.

Going back the whole fine art/ illustration example, simply put, an illustration career on the side, in the fine art world, can be very harmful.  Illustration is widely considered a lesser art form — with some feeling that it does not even qualify as art to begin with (which I'm not even going to get into right now).  Consequently, there are fine artists who utilize an alternate identity for their illustration work in order to protect their fine art work.  On the other hand, there are a lot of illustrators who have gotten into gallery work over the course of their career and have kept their identities intact throughout the transition.  Not having done this, myself, I cannot comment on any trials or tribulations they may have suffered, but the ones I know who've done this don't really seem the worse for wear.  If you want to know more, I'd suggest trying to track some of these folks down.  I'm sure they'll have some thoughts on the matter.

As far as different styles or aesthetics go, that's a whole other ball of wax.  Working under different styles is difficult at best and is not something I generally recommend.  Art schools tend to encourage a great deal of experimentation, which I think is essential, but once you get into the real world, I strongly feel that young illustrators should pick a direction and go with it.  I'm not saying you have to be married to one aesthetic for the rest of your life — you can always pull in new influences and evolve your work — I'm just saying that it's hard enough out there as it is and it's best to have a consistent portfolio of work using a single aesthetic so that you can attack the field in a more focused fashion.  Now, if you happen to be some sort of savant and have managed to put together two (or more) consistent portfolios of work in two (or more) very different styles, I will tell you that, yes, you should segregate them.  Does it require a totally different name?  Perhaps.  Many have done just that and I think it's worth looking into.  Just be sure that your heart is in all of your various aesthetics, because with life working the way it tends to, the style you're least into will be the one that takes off.

At the end of the day, I think it helps if you segregate things a bit, but to reiterate, I feel that the degree of difference should be taken into consideration.  For example, I get the odd historical work now and again, but I don't go by another name for that kind of thing.  I've also done some advertising art that could not be more different from my Magic work and still went with my real name.  Though I haven't done much political/editorial illustration, I don't know that I would keep two completely different identities if I did so while also doing Magic cards.  Sure, I'd have two different portfolios, and possibly two different web addresses, but I'm not sure I'd go as far as having two different names.  And if, in the future, I suddenly become inspired to start doing anime work, you can bet it'll be under some name you've never heard before.  But, again, that's just me, personally.  I suspect that if you asked twenty different illustrators about this, you would get additional points of view.


  1. Also, Tom if you're reading this, I didn't forget about the second half of your query. It was off-topic, but worthy of it's own entry. So, in other words, I'll be answering it soon.


  2. Awesome! Thanks Steve! There's so much I don't know sometimes it's hard to figure out where to start, but it's really helpful just to hear an artists personal take on how the industry functions.


I welcome all comments, questions, and discussion so long as you keep it civil.