Thursday, January 26, 2012

On A Quest To Hire The Über Production Artist

After reading my blog post "The Über-Manager: A True Story", a high-end Retoucher asked me what does it take to be an Über-Studio Artist and I answered the following:

"In my story about the Über-Manager, I am referring to an individual who cannot only manage but work and do pretty much anything in a studio. In your case to be an Über-Artist you'll have to take the 'Specialist' approach instead of the 'do-it-all.' Retouchers, unlike Production Artists, don't need to know as many applications, instead they need to be specialists in order to find their niche, a position and to create professional brand.

Studio Managers really appreciate when a Retouching Artist knows about color profiles, effective resolution, spot color usage, file formats and technical prepress knowledge. However, what really gives you an edge is to be a specialist within the specialty. For instance if you are an expert retoucher in high-fashion or jewelry, or a wizard doing background extensions out of 'nada.' Those are the qualities that will make you stand out from the crowd."

With this thought in mind I started analyzing the characteristics we look for when hiring a studio artist.  In general we want them to be responsible and reliable, to have a good attitude, expertise in their field and software knowledge, etc. 

Production Artist qualities
A mechanical artist needs to be a pre-press wizard, someone who understands that we receive comps (visual layouts) from Art Directors and we need to transform them into a printable piece (mechanicals ready for production). Let's put together a list of the most notable skills a production artist should have:

  • Software—Proficiency using Indesign, Illustrator, Photoshop and Acrobat is a must. Shortcuts knowledge is what makes the difference between a power user and a junior artist. Speed and quality are critical in a production environment.
  • Pre-flighting—Thorough knowledge about effective resolution, color trapping, color profiles, how to troubleshoot files, i.e., a banding gradient, PMS colors appearing twice in the color palette because of bad naming, etc.
  • Logo usage and Branding, Style Guide knowledge—It's a godsend when a production artist knows all the nuances about a specific account.
  • Typography and Typesetting skills—Font knowledge and font management usage. Being detail oriented and able to identify when tracking and kerning are not right or inconsistent, having the eye to appreciate when leading and/or paragraph spacing is/are off or inconsistent, minimize the use of text boxes with the proper use of Indesign typesetting tools (setting tabs and tables when appropriate), creation of style sheets and spell checking before printing.
  • Mechanical Revisions—Attention to detail is required for every Studio Artist, and while doing a revision to a mechanical might not be a difficult or glamorous task, you'd be surprised at how many times a simple punctuation or deletion request is missed in a round. Good Production Artists check their own work before it goes to proofreading.
  • Design sense—Even though most of the production artist job posts say "not a designer position," in my opinion every production artist should have the ability to interpret the Art Director's design and must be able to translate and respect the integrity of such design when resizing a mechanical. Beyond the obvious knowledge of bleed, trim and safety, it is very important to see when elements are not properly aligned, cluttered, off-balance and/or disproportionate. Art Directors truly appreciate when Production Artists add value to their layouts.
  • Diecuts—Setting up mechanicals with foldouts, gatefolds,  BRCs, pockets and interesting printing processes like spot varnish, metallic inks, die construction, etc., is like Disneyland to the Production Artists. It is the kind of task that allows them to show a certain degree of expertise in the trade. (In my days as a Production Artist those were my favorite.)
  • Workflow and Process—A good Production Artist follows directions and understands how important it is to adhere to the studio process. File organization, folder structure and naming conventions must be consistent across the board.
  • Delivering files to pubs and vendors—PDF X1A workflow is the standard when delivering files to a publication. However, a Collect for Output (CFO) is the norm when delivering files to a vendor. So it's really important for a Production Artist to understand the science behind a PDF X1A compliant file as much as it's important to make sure that all assets have been collected when doing a CFO. A common mistake the artists make when doing a CFO is missing to collect either a font or a bitmap file that's being used in an Illustrator file. Testing and attention to detail are a must when doing file delivery.

With the rise of new technology like Dalim Twist (Pre-media) and Xinet Webnative (Digital Asset Management system); Adstream (file delivery to pubs); and software upgrades (Slugger, Cropster, Color Breaker, etc.) that streamlines tedious and complicated tasks, the job of a Production Artist has become much easier than what it used to be a few years ago. Nevertheless, technology is just an aide. Just knowing how to use a software doesn't make you an Über Production Artist, but the understanding and knowledge of the concepts behind that technology. Either by means of traditional paste-up or using computer technology the true concept of a mechanical build is what counts.


If you've made it to this point it means you read this article. Awesome!! Your opinion is greatly appreciated and if you like it please use the share buttons to spread the word.
Ernie Arias