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How Collaboration Can Make You a Better Artist

If I were to always do everything by myself, well that would be rather lonely ... but also I'd miss out on a lot of opportunities to learn and grow as an artist.  I absolutely LOVE to collaborate. Whether it be with a makeup artist, hair stylist, costume designer, cosplay badass, graphic artist, model, or other photographer, I always feel such a creative charge when I can throw an idea at another human and have that idea bounce back at me with even more imagination.

One of the many reasons I'm such a super-fan of collaboration is because it often forces me to do things I probably would not have done on my own. For example, I've never been one of those "gun people" who loves to collect an arsenal to take with them to the shooting range to, you know ... shoot stuff. Don't get me wrong, shooting stuff is awesome, and can be super fun WHEN DONE SAFELY!!! It's just not one of my passions. This series of images would never have been born from the magical fantasy-obsessed brain of Robert Cornelius, but with the combined mental soup (hehe brain soup eww) of Rick Wattai, Arthur Clagett, and myself, this project was created.

Rick Wattai has been collaborating with Simone Associates, (the studio where I work) for years. During my time here he has become a great friend and creative ally; he's always good company. As a graphic artist/designer, he brings projects to the studio that are some of my very favorite to be a part of. Technically he is a client of ours who is working for another client to create a wonderful pamphlet or book of some kind in order to sell something cool. We just create the images for the book he has designed. After "the art" is in his grubby little hands (disclaimer: his hands are both clean and normal sized...) he goes in and pieces all the parts into place with the copy, graphics, and whatnot to bring the final book together. That then gets sent off to he printers.  All of the images in this post were created for a company that sells ... wait for it ... yup, you guessed it. Guns.

Apparently Rick had been stalking my work (probably because I always show it to him...) and he decided to plop this project in my lap and set me loose to do my thing!  (Please don't tell any of our other clients, but Rick is my favorite.)  It just goes to show that if you work hard and find your voice, eventually someone will hear your voice and then ask you to speak with it. I was given so much creative control of the imagery in the book, it just doesn't seem real. I'm sure it very seldom happens that a creative is given a job to do and isn't onslaught-ed with "notes" until they are pulling their hair out.  The client is always right, so you have to give them what they want, even if it's not your taste. For this job my only notes included statements (usually in all caps) like, "YOWZA!" and, "No ass-kissing….GREAT JOB." (Those are direct quotes from email conversations with Rick, just so you know haha.)  For each page of the book the only guidelines I was given were things like, "This page needs to have police," "this page should be military," "this page is a close up of this type of gun.." and so on. 


Let's hear some thoughts straight from the horse's mouth. (The horse is Rick you guys, horses can't talk.) Please enjoy his words of wisdom in this brief interview.....

1. Where did you start in this industry and can you briefly describe your transition into the sort of work you do today? 

Remember I’m old school, years ahead of the computer. My intention coming out of art school was to be an illustrator (paints & brushes). Very few except the mega-talented could survive solely as an illustrator. So I worked in a design studio and ad agency the first several years, honing my skills designing ads/brochures/annual reports/posters and illustrating from time to time when appropriate. Sadly as time marched forward and computers became the tool of choice, illustration became increasingly less popular as no one wanted to spend the money (most illustrations were very time and labor intensive). Besides, the new wave illustration was “cool” looking with its raster “techy" look, not to mention it was quite inexpensive and different looking - Not exactly what I had in mind moving forward in my illustration career. So I struck out to be the best graphic designer I could be, but this involved teaming up with vendors capable of delivering the “visuals” necessary to complete the look I desired. That did not come easy and there were a couple of years where designing was very frustrating and not much fun. 

2. Can you talk a bit about when you first started collaborating with Simone Associates?

As I transitioned from designer/illustrator to strictly designer, it became increasingly evident in the projects I would land that design alone was not the answer. I researched and worked with many photographers who produced imagery that frankly just did not impress. This was very frustrating. Through a recommendation from my brother (also a designer/illustrator), I met Bill Simone (a fledgling photographer in my hometown!). Unlike the other big studio photographers I worked with, it was a pleasure working in the studio with Bill, and out of the chute he produced some nice visuals to complement my designs. But that was just the beginning. Bill, along with his staff of photographers Artie, Pammi and Vicki, took their expertise to a whole new level surpassing my expectations time & time again. I had to step up my game just to keep pace….wow, designing was now FUN! But as the digital experience melded into photography, collaborating with Team Simone got even better and that's why I’m talking to Robert today. He has brought it full circle … a true “illustrator” with vision beyond his years, just as I had hoped to be … but with different tools (Photoshop/Wacom tablet/digital photographs).   

(Guys, I didn't even have to pay him to say that! *blushes*)

3. Do you think collaboration has made you a better artist?

ABSOLUTELY!!! For years there was always compromise in trying to execute what was in my head. No more… 


Now you're probably going, "Wow this Rick guy sure sounds like a stand up fella, but who the heck is that Arthur Clagett character you mentioned earlier and what did he have to do with this collaboration?"  Well you see, Art (Art the person, not the...stuff) is one of the photographers at Simone Associates, and was the mastermind behind capturing the pictures for this project. Yes I know I know, "but this is robertcorneliusphotography.com - how can you write about photography that isn't yours?" Well I don't know if you've noticed, but I'm sort of a Photoshop nut, so yeah I'm going to go right ahead and talk all about a really fun Photoshop job I got to be a part of.  Even though I didn't take these photos, this project is as much mine as it is Art's or Rick's and vice versa, thus is the glory of collaboration. (Ok, let me just step down off my soap box and move on.)

Art took SO MANY fantastic images, it actually made my job a hell of a lot harder, the major problem being that each capture was more wonderful than the last. He basically took more pictures than I could ever hope to use and said, "Well here's your library of pics, have at it!"  I then got to sort through all his glorious images and select what pictures I wanted to use for what pages. I also got to assist on the photo shoots as I often do, which as per usual was a ton of fun! It's always a treat to watch Art work, he is a master of shaping light and I always learn a thing or two while watching his gears turn on set.

In addition to the work in the studio, we even got to spend the better part of one day on location at a giant abandoned factory! I didn't even have to worry about the cops coming to bust in and send us packing...because they were the ones who let us in - that and they were our "models."  I got to venture off by myself for a good long while and take some background plates of the decrepit buildings. It was so awesome. I'm sure you'll be seeing some of those wonderfully grungy backdrops working their way into a few of my future compositing projects.

Just thought I'd drop this in here for all you people who might be thinking, "That picture has a weird use of negative space..." Also here you can see Art's stunning "tabletop" images of the guns, as well as Rick's swanky designing skills. (Please excuse the quality of this photo my iPhone was just way more convenient of a camera when I thought of this last minute. I assure you in person the book will leave your jaw on the floor with its stellar quality.)

Just thought I'd drop this in here for all you people who might be thinking, "That picture has a weird use of negative space..." Also here you can see Art's stunning "tabletop" images of the guns, as well as Rick's swanky designing skills. (Please excuse the quality of this photo my iPhone was just way more convenient of a camera when I thought of this last minute. I assure you in person the book will leave your jaw on the floor with its stellar quality.)


What say we hear a few thoughts from Mr. Clagett, yeah? 

1. Where did you start in this industry and can you briefly describe your transition into the sort of work you do today? 

Photography started in my junior year of high school when a Canon AE-1 Program was given to me as a Christmas gift.  By summer I was shooting senior portraits and selling landscapes. The creative process in fine art was intoxicating, but I knew the real money at the time was shooting commercial work. My best friend told me the following year that I would eventually be shooting digital and film would be a thing of the past.  That was 1984 and my response was “I will be retired by then”.  Smart guy, 10 years later he was a Neurosurgeon at Sloan-Kettering and I was shooting my first digital picture.  

2. Can you talk a bit about when you first started collaborating with Simone Associates?

Bill Simone was a commercial photographer in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, whom I met when working at a downtown camera store.  I started as an assistant/darkroom slave, etc. for $100 per week with the norm being 6-7 days and countless hours.  After a short time, respect was earned and my opinions were slowly welcomed on composition and lighting.  I soon learned, when working with a group, you are collaborating not only on the creative aspects but on how the business develops.

3. Do you think collaboration has made you a better artist?

Collaborating is sometimes tricky.  Both parties need to have pride for their own work, respect for each other and the understanding that the goal is not compromise but enrichment of the creative process.  When the correct chemistry is applied to a collaborative endeavor OMHO the results will be greater than with one person's imagination.


So, how does collaboration make you a better artist? It often has you trying things outside of your comfort zone, or forces you to work on subject matter you might never have given a thought. It puts someone else's creativity into your work, and yours into theirs; more creativity and different artistry can only lead to more fantastical artwork! When you are working with other creatives towards a common goal, you are hopefully all going to push yourselves and each other to do the very best work to make the project a total success. Plus, it's just plain fun to have other people to work with and see what your combined forces can come up with!

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