Request Inquest

Allow me to paint a cautionary tale of a request for artwork and some unforeseen pitfalls that I encountered. Pitfalls that you might avoid after I’m done babbling.

A cautionary tale is a tale told in folklore, to warn of a danger. There are essentially three parts to a cautionary tale.

  1. Firstly, a taboo or prohibition is stated
  2. Then, the narrative itself is told
  3. And finally, the one who disregards the forewarning of taboo comes to an unpleasant fate, which is commonly told in grisly detail

1. The Cautioning (not heeded)

Recently I was contacted by an agency regarding shooting a certain line of LEGO for their client.

There had been posts about product photography, and declarations of not being a product photographer from Kristina and Shelly. I ignored them. Shelly’s post even had a heading “Be careful what you wish for” but that warning was flouted.

I agreed to their request for artwork. My agreement was based on previous dealings I’d had with clients. Previously, I’ve been asked to submit existing photographs or create new ones. Each time I’ve been approached there has been a familiarity with my work, and based on that, there’s been an understanding of what I’ll likely produce. A certain level of trust is established, and creative licence is granted around a certain theme or line.

That’s what I based my acceptance of this request for artwork on.

2. The Narrative (not in six images)

After accepting the offer, things progressed nicely. There was talk around the line to be shot, preferences for styles, number of artefacts to be submitted, timeframes, fees etc.

request for artwork: Fishing for common sense
Fishing for common sense

As the emails from the agency continued I was sent a list of links referencing other toy photographers as examples of great editing. Maybe this should’ve been when the alarm bells should’ve started ringing?

She loves me, she loves me not
Wise up sucker to what you’ve got
Pop Will Eat Itself – Wise Up, Sucker 

There was another line in these initial emails that sparked my concerns; “the client has at least 2 rounds of reviews prior to final approval“. I’d never encountered this type of caveat before. The knowing of my work and the faith that I’ll provide photographs of a similar ilk and standard never required my work to be reviewed before.

The First Review

Two weeks after the initial contact, I got my first taste of the client’s review. Based on a reference photograph I sent through, it was critiqued with “effects are welcomed but should not overshadow the characters”. This was one of my photos, underlining my apprehensions that the client wasn’t familiar with my works. It also came after the initial brief highlighted “preference is to have effects added/edit photos to make the scenes look more lifelike and cinematic” as a desired parameter.

Based on the client’s review, I then clarified that the characters would be the key focus of every shot delivered, and sent through some more of my shots as reference points, highlighting this. However, the client expected to receive more specificity around each asset.

I then sent through a list of specific ideas for each shot of the items found on the link that was provided to me as the subjects to be photographed.

request for artwork: It's a bizarro world we walk through
It’s a bizarro world we wander through.

Whilst waiting for another review of these planned shots, there was a shift in the scope. As time was ticking (5 days past the preliminary due date), the agency recommended to the client that some of the content now be created around holidays like Halloween or Thanksgiving.

You won’t even take a look,
To see another way
You aren’t even listening,
Take your ideals and go away
Pennywise- Same Old Story

The Second Review

As I attempted to digest this latest shift (Halloween and Thanksgiving are not so big in my Australian world?), the second review from the client landed in my inbox.

This review of my proposed shots contained feedback such as “we should have a character in every shot”, “we shouldn’t have other LEGO pieces in these shots”, “we’ve done something like this before” etc. Befuddled, I replied asking for a definitive list of exactly which characters the client wanted featured, not just a link to the entire line that characters were included in. 

3. The Fate (not so grisly)

The next email that popped into my inbox informed me that the client had shifted gears to focus on another campaign.

After 5 weeks and over 30 emails back and forth, the agency and I said our farewells.

I bear no grudges towards the agency that contacted me. They were merely the middleperson between the client and me. As they said “it truly took a crazy turn”. They offered the hope that we could work together in the future before we said our goodbyes.

If that opportunity arises, I’ll be better prepared to request what I’ll need to make the next venture work.

If there’s one lesson I’ve taken from this experience, it’s that not all offers are the same. I’ll never assume that my past experiences will be the same as new ones the next time a request for artwork arises. Maybe I’d just been lucky until now?

I should point out that in the days following our farewells, two extremely exciting opportunities came my way from LEGO. Working with someone who knows what I’ll produce and me! Working with someone that I understand what it is they expect!

Not all offers are as intricate or anticlimactic as the one in this tale.

– Brett

Has a request for artwork ever come your way? What was your experience like?

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  1. Sorry for that crappy experience, Brett. You are right, your first huge red flag was them sending you other toy photographer’s work as reference. I know we all want to work and hate to pass up opportunities (myself definitely included!), but this would have been the time for clarification as to whether or not you were the right person for the job. The client is hiring you, but in a sense you are also hiring the client – it’s as much our responsibility as it is the clients to make sure we are a good fit. As for the 2 rounds of image reviews – I have mixed feelings about that. It’s a given that clients can request changes, and that we as the contracted/commissioned artist will typically make those changes within reason. They are, after all, our client. I would say that this contract point was your 2nd red flag. With an unreasonable client, which they clearly hinted that they were with this contract point, this could amount to complete re-do after re-do on every image you create. Ultimately I think, as you said, this comes down to the client knowing and loving your work before hiring you, and for you to set expectations. I found that setting expectations up front is one of the biggest keys to avoiding disasters and headaches down the road. That pertains to setting expectations on what will be delivered as well as timing. I never want to miss a deadline, and the best way to ensure that happens is to set realistic deadlines from the start. If they disagree with that reality and decide to walk away then they were never meant to be your client. In the end, count yourself lucky that this particular client decided to go in a different direction. This would have been a nightmare of epic proportions for you. I know you know all of this already, but hopefully others that read it might find it useful.

    • brett_wilson

      It was more frustrating than crappy Mitchel! But yes, there were some flags that I ignored.
      Perhaps these were raised too late in the dealings for me to have noticed them as I should have? Part of the confusion undoubtedly can be attributed to the triangle of client > agency > me. We know, triangles don’t have a start and end point, so establishing that the client and I were a good match should’ve occurred earlier in the negotiations. That’s one thing I’ve take out of this!
      I get the review process. I deal with it daily in my job as an interactive designer at a university. However, there’s an understanding and expectation of what is desired and what is possible before work evens begins being planned. Again, another thing that I should’ve applied from my 9-5 to my 5-9! Perhaps when toys are involved in a situation like this, I assume it’s all going to be fun and games and drop my guard in terms of thinking of all the logistics that I would if they weren’t?
      Am I disappointed this one didn’t work out? Kind of. Did I learn from it? Yes! Apart from some time and some emails, I came out of it relatively unscathed, but also savvier!

  2. Brett,

    Im so glad you have shared your experience with the community. By sharing your insights and where you thought the situation went south is really helpful. I know now that if I’m ever in the same boat, to listen to my instincts and look for those red flags.

    I wish that this had ended successfully of you, you deserve it. But at least we all were able to learn a little from your experience, which is a small win. 🙂


    • brett_wilson

      It’s all about learning!
      As I said up there, applying what I’d always do in my 9-5 is something I now understand I should do in my 5-9. I never thought I’d need to be so meticulous when it came to dealing with toys.
      I will now!

    • brett_wilson

      Thanks for reading this Jennifer. Yeah, when we last spoke it was the start of the demise of this venture! Yes it was frustrating and disappointing, but I’ve learned from it. And hopefully by sharing my experience, others can too.

    • brett_wilson

      Cheers mate.
      Always onward and upward. We must move forward, not backward; upward, not forward; and always twirling, twirling, twirling towards freedom! (sorry, onward and upwards always makes me think of this Kang line from The Simpsons!)

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience, Brett! It was especially valuable to me for obvious reasons 😉 I’m sorry to hear that things didn’t go well for you and that it was a frustrating process. You seem to have walked away from the whole thing with the right attitude though, which is commendable!

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