Creator Spotlight with Graphic Artist Lisa F. Shaftel

Graphic Artist Lisa F. Shaftel

This week we would like you to meet Scenic Artist, Muralist, Illustrator, and Graphic Artist Lisa F. Shaftel.

1. What was the inspiration behind you becoming a scenic artist, muralist, illustrator and graphic artist?

I was drawing non-stop since I was old enough to hold a crayon. I burned through art kit toys faster than my parents could buy them. By the time I was 11, I was taking adult art classes. I went to a summer camp in Vermont where I was allowed to spend the entire day in the arts & crafts building, and the art counselor used to staple a length of brown craft paper to the outside of the building and give me poster paints and I’d paint all day. I grew up in the NYC area, and when I was 15 I went on a school trip to the Metropolitan Opera House. We toured the shops, and when I saw the scenery paint shop with the big paint frame for painting backdrops that was it; I realized that was a real job, and tha’s how I could get paid to make art. I was on a straight line from that point on. I knew I had to figure out how to get paid to make art, because doing anything else was unbearable.

2. Can you take us through your creative process? How long does it take?

I start by talking with the client, and I ask them to give me visual research of things they like and why. We discuss who the target audience/market is, and what the visual message is to convey to those people. What is the story the client wants to tell? Tha’s what i’s all about. Then I come up with a visual concept for the client to approve. I get specs on the usage, size, output, location, color swatches, etc. I do a lot of visual research, tha’s a lot of fun. Every element of an illustration, a mural, or an exhibit has to tell a part of the story. I make a lot of rough sketches, and come up with 3-5 rough concept sketches to show the client. I also show the visual research for each concept sketch to the client and explain how each element plays to the visual message. They pick one, and then I work through an agreed-upon number of revisions until the final illustration or design is completed. I work in both traditional media and digital. If the project is a mural or exhibit, working on the output, painting or construction is the next phase after design. I make scale design renderings.

If i’s a small illustration job, it may take a few days to a week, longer for a bigger assignment. If i’s a mural or an exhibit, it could take weeks or even months. People underestimate how much time it takes artists to produce commissioned work. No, I can’t have it done by tomorrow.

3. Have you experienced copyright infringement and, if so, how has it affected you personally and financially?

My work has been infringed many times and in many ways. Often by a client who makes an unauthorized [and unpaid] additional use of my work. I’s been a significant loss of income throughout my career. The first time my work was infringed was when I was 25, by Zaro’s Bakery in NYC. I didn’t know anything about copyright ÛÓI thought it only applied to literary work and music ÛÓand I didn’t know how to write a contract or NDA. I was so angry I went down to [the original] Barnes & Noble and found the 3rdedition of The Graphic Artists Guild; Handbook of Pricing & Ethical Guidelines.I read it cover to cover and then joined the Graphic Artists Guild. I learned everything I wasn’t taught in professional undergrad and graduate art school, and I started using written agreements and registering my work.

My worst infringement experience was by Hasbro Toys when I was working as a contractor on their showroom in 1991. My showroom work was repurposed for use on product packaging. That one really hurt because Hasbro knew who I was, they knew it was my work, and they certainly could have afforded to pay me a licensing fee. Their legal department told me to pound sand. An IP attorney I consulted said bringing an infringement suit would have been too costly. I thought about a copyright small claims court back then. That experience fired me up to become an advocate for artists’ legal rights. I’ve been working towards a copyright infringement small claims court since then. The CASE Act establishes a small claims court for creators to have recourse for these low-value infringements.

4. What is your biggest copyright related challenge?

The same problem artists have had for many years, and none of the registration reforms have resolved this. I cannot register all of the artwork I create for one job/project together in one registration. The Group registration category has applied only to photographs, not other types of visual art. Unpublished and published works cannot be registered together in one registration because the Copyright Office is stuck on very old registration application practices that don’t apply to how visual artists actually work with our clients in the marketplace. The sketches and revisions are considered unpublished works; but the client has copies (digital files) of those, so there is risk of infringement. The final artwork tha’s made available to the public or reproduced in the marketplace is considered a published work, as are all the variations of the final art created for different output or uses. Artists used to be able to register unlimited multiple unpublished works in one registration application. We have to register each published work separately, even if i’s for the same project; each variation of the published work has to be registered separately. The registration fees add up to a lot of money. Now the Copyright Office is going to limit the number of unpublished artworks to 10 for one application, so if we have more than 10 preliminary sketches and drafts we’re going to have to file multiple registrations for them, too. Artists are going to give up and stop registering most of our work for complex or large projects because i’s become cost-prohibitive.

5. What is the best piece of advice that you would give fellow creators about copyright and how to protect themselves and their work?

Learn how to write an agreement for every job/project you do, and do not work for anyone who won’t sign an agreement. If they won’t commit to paying you on paper, they’re probably not going to pay you. Include clear copyright and licensing terms in your written agreements. Register all of your work that leaves your hands and goes out into the world; even the roughs and early works that you give to your clients. Register your work yourself on the Copyright Office website. Copyright registration is your insurance policy that if your work is infringed you can do something about it —at least write a demand letter that has some teeth. Include the cost of registration in your total fee. If you think you can’t afford to register your work, then you’re not charging enough.

Are you one of our Individual Creator Members? Participate in our Creator Spotlight series! Please email us at And if you aren’t already a member of the Alliance, you can join today by completing our Individual Creator Members membership form!

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