“Working with Matthew Kalamidas is an excellent example of why I love my job as a freelance artist. His interest and dedication to the science fiction field shows through in his willingness to seek out new illustration talent at conventions and art events around the Northeast, as well as his passion for creating art himself. He is an art director who truly understands the ‘angst’ of the artist and through that knowledge supports his illustrators as they push new boundaries. It is a joy to work with Matthew and I look forward to every collaboration with him.” Donato Giancola
What is your role at SFBC?
I’m the Senior Art Director for The Science Fiction Book Club. I handle and oversee all the design of club materials which typically entails the design of our catalogs and mailings to members as well as some book jacket design and other various projects. The majority of titles offered contain the publisher’s trade edition cover.
What are some of the factors that go into deciding whether you change the artwork from the original publisher’s?
Some of our titles are original works or collections of stories which require original cover design. With these titles, I feel that I have the most freedom since essentially, we are making it up as we go along. In addition, I can allow the illustrator this same freedom.
We also produce a lot of omnibus collections due to all the series in our genre. Often, the club offers a series after several of the titles have already been available in bookstores. We combine these titles in omnibus editions and in doing so create a new jacket to avoid any confusion with the trade editions. Sometimes, I approach the artist from the original covers to create our cover so that the look and feel is consistent.
It is my goal when collaborating with an artist on a commission to always be certain that the work that is being produced is one which they want to paint. There are always marketing and editorial concerns and my job sometimes is to carefully balance all of these concerns without compromising the integrity of the art. I strive to ensure that the illustrator comes away from a given project with a portfolio piece that they can be proud of. When they recognize that the painting they are creating for me will have additional value for them they produce a fantastic painting and in turn provide me with a fantastic piece of art for my jacket.
What are some of the issues you face when working on a book with a cover already known to the community?
In some aspects I have limitations in that the general public has certain expectations of what a character looks like. Although, in the same thinking, that sometimes saves both the illustrator and I some time and allows us to explore other directions or perspectives. Established imagery allows for plenty of available reference. Knowing that our product will be offered either through the web or printed in a catalog, type design becomes extremely important to ensure that the title can easily be identified. So, some of the very elegant subtle type treatments seen in bookstores can’t be explored.
How much artwork are you responsible for throughout a year?
I’ve come to understand that our members and in general readers of science fiction and fantasy are very aware of the art that graces the covers and the artists creating them. I’ve overheard, in lectures and at conventions, conversations by fans who had purchased books solely based on who had painted the cover. Based on that, I make an effort to identify the cover artists when selling a book in the catalog. Our catalog covers also feature a different piece of art which is usually not directly related to the titles within. With nineteen 32-page catalogs a year, I’m faced with finding a new cover image just about every three weeks. The interior art is minimal in that I’d rather not compete with the book jacket art. In addition to that there are usually fifteen new projects a year (mostly book jackets, but sometimes other products like posters).
Some of the places you go to find new artists?
In a bookstore, you can always see me picking up books and turning them over to see the cover credit. I also maintain a large bookmark of artist’s websites which I frequent often to see new work. I’m always adding to this list of sites as I discover new talent. My desk is covered with postcards and examples of work. I also have a library of annuals like Spectrum. Recently, while I was traveling through Europe I found a European annual of digital artists. A few recognizable names and lots of new contacts. There have been many times where I receive suggestions from other artists. Of course, I read igallo.blogspot.com.
What are the exciting and/or scary aspects about working with an artists you never worked with before?
There’s always the concern that we stay on schedule, the work meets everyone’s expectations and that the entire experience is a good one. It’s always a thrill to make a new connection with an artist and to talk through a project and develop what we all feel is a great result. I prefer a very fluent relationship where I can go back and forth with the artist and bounce ideas off of each other (as time permits).
What are your pet peeves in website portfolios?
The obvious ones are hideous watermarks placed across the entire image. As an art director, I can see past it but when trying to sell the idea past non-visual people, it becomes a problem. It’s like going to the Met for an exhibit and rather than seeing the paintings unobstructed, the museum decides to etch their logo into each glass of each frame.
Another huge oversight is not keeping their websites updated. This is essential. Thankfully, I’m seeing more and more blogs connected to artists websites and the more content that is added, the better. Even sketches placed on a blog daily gives me a reason to check back more often than normal.
After an emerging artist gets their first job with you, what can they do to better their chances for a second job?
Stay in touch! You need to remind clients you exist. Again and again. Whether by sending out promotional pieces or if you know the person personally an occasional email touching base is good. Doing this will keep you in the back of their minds so that when projects arise and your work meets the fit, they won’t be searching for the artist. In fact, I keep a file of email correspondence with artists and illustrators. The majority of those emails are not even work-related. The bottom line is that a relationship will form. It’s that relationship which will get you the job because you will be foremost in the ADs mind. Vice versa, an illustrator once told me that it is inevitable that when you have a personal friendship between artist and client, the artist will strive to deliver excellent work. So the result is a win for all. It’s in my best interest to have these relationships as it is for artists as well.
What do you do for fun? (Not to imply that work isn’t fun.)
I have a fine art background, so there’s always a painting on my easel. I find coming home and working traditionally to be a nice balance to the many hours a day where I sit in front of the computer and work digitally. I also play the piano. It was a careful decision after having ten years of private instruction to choose the path to art. After being accepted to both the instrumental music and fine art programs at LaGuardia H.S. (the Fame school), I chose art where up until that point, I had no formal instruction.