Charles Hively Interview
Please introduce yourself and what you do in no more than four sentences…
I am the publisher and design director of 3×3, The Magazine of Contemporary Illustration as well as the publisher and design director for Creative Quarterly. I also design and publish an illustration annual as well as a directory. Our design firm includes two full time people, Sarah Munt, who is my partner and the art director for Creative Quarterly and the 3×3 Annual, and Jessica Quinones, our production assistant and show coordinator; and three part time interns. My background is in advertising and design and I started my career as an illustrator.
If it was a matter of life and death and you had to destroy the illustration industry from the inside, how would you do it?
I would convince even more illustrators to promote themselves even less. Illustrators are so far behind photographers in how they promote, what they promote and how much they budget for promotion. In our international survey of over 200 leading illustrators, the average annual promotion budget was $500 that's the norm. Compare that to photographers who spend thousands of dollars each and every year. As an ad agency art director I would always get three photographer's mailings to a single illustrator's. And that's still the case. There is no excuse not to be promoting, not to enter shows, not to rely on more than one mailing a year and to rely only on postcards. When you look at the stats the illustrators who were spending thousands the top was $5000 they were the well-known illustrators who are constantly busy. Illustrators who don't have a consistent marketing plan will be left behind. Schools don't teach it and for the most part illustrators are more interested in doing the work than promotion. Our section in 3×3, CareerTalk, speaks to a lot of issues illustrators face and I take every opportunity I can to communicate how important promotion is. A general rule you should be spending no less than 2% of your annual income on promotion, if you're trying to make a name for yourself you spend 10-20%.
How much does it cost to produce and print each issue of 3×3?
A zillion-dollars! Each issues takes about three months of work from the initial selection of the featured artists to lining up artists for the Showcase and Gallery section, to editing articles, gathering images, designing pages, the cover and all the details. Our costs do not factor in design time, we just look at the raw costs of printing and delivery. And both printing and delivery have gone up since our first issue back in 2003, we try to keep our subscription costs low, but for instance it costs $10.10USD to send one magazine to the UK; the cover price in the US is $15 so we have to add shipping costs just to cover our out of pocket expenses. Printing is now done in Canada, the dollar to Canadian dollar helps; we used to print in Nice, the cost was the same but the Euro/dollar got so out of hand we moved the printing to North America.
And it's hard to recoup our dollars, for every issue on the newsstand that sells we get $6.75, we then have to take out the cost of shipping the magazine to the distributor less any returns so we might make $4 which does not cover our out of pocket costs and absolutely no design time.
Do you always get the final say on what goes into the magazine?
Yes, always. We may have some disagreement about a specific image an artist would like in an article and there are times when we do revise an image but this is rare. We count on the artist's web site to select images for an article, so we are confident that the artist likes what they put up on their site. Once the layout is done it's difficult to go back and make a change; design is like putting together a puzzle, every element is considered and must work well together. I spend a lot of time selecting images and then selecting images that go well together. It's much like a gallery exhibition, you want images next to each other that make sense so I look for color, theme or composition to make the images relate. Getting the flow between spreads and then the entire article takes time, to make a change at any point after the layout is done requires going back to square one on the entire article.
3×3 is sold internationally, do you think its a bit strange that the publication can be traced back to one man rather than a over zealous publishing house? You’re not exactly a small fish anymore, how have you kept that independent feeling, is that ever going to change? Will you ever sell-out?
Strange indeed. But not all that strange. There are independent niche publications springing up every year, we are a rarity in the fact that we're a design firm first and a publisher second. And we do everything in house and with a very small staff. We keep the independent feeling since we don't answer to anyone other than our readers, and that will never change. And no, we have no plans to sell, or sell-out. This is my final project.
Do you think the creative arts business is â€œreallyâ€ about who you know, and regardless of skill, not what you can do? Could you personally make a living out of being just an artist?
No. I think you have to have skill but I agree you have to know people. What I find is that most successful artists have spent some part of their early career in New York, they had a great book, got good commissions, kept in touch with art directors and art buyers and then are able to leave the city and work elsewhere. We figure they probably lose about 20% of the jobs they might get if they worked here but they still make a very good living. That's the beauty of being an illustrator you can live anywhere as long as there's an internet connection.
And yes, I have made a living as an illustrator and today I think I could make a living again if I wanted to.
Why don’t you keep a blog? I’m sure I’m not the only one who would like to see what it takes to put 3×3 together.
Surprisingly enough we started our blog this January, one for 3×3 and one for Creative Quarterly. And that was the point to take people behind the scenes of putting together the magazine, www.3x3mag.com/blog. We're also on Facebook. But I'm resisting Twitter.
Do you attend many gallery shows or exhibitions? What was the last one you went to?
Yes we try to do that, we probably spend more time in fine art exhibits than illustration but we always put events on the calendar. We're in Brooklyn about 45 minutes from the city so we don't get into the city as often as I'd like so it takes a special effort to get in to see a show. We do more of that on the weekends. Going to the Society of Illustrators is always on our list but I really like going the day after the openings, the room is so packed that its hard to see the work which is what I'm interested in so I'll go on a Saturday morning and avoid the Friday opening. As you can imagine New York has so much to offer art-wise that you could spend days just looking at art.
The last fine art exhibit was Pierrre Bonnard: The Late Landscapes. The last illustration exhibit was at the Society.
If you could pick only one illustrator to be featured in your magazine and never have any alternative artists in any subsequent issues, who would it be?
That's a hard question, we have a difficult time narrowing down to the six artists we feature each year, there are so many choices out there so I'd rather not limit myself to any one illustrator or style. That said, if I did choose only one illustrator I would pick Pierre Bonnard. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has an exhibit up of his late landscapes, he's been one of my favorite artists for a long time. The light you find in his paintings hasn't been matched before or since. What I haven't seen is any faithful reproduction of his work, the reproductions are muddy for the most part so it would be a challenge to get it right. We are always complimented on our color reproduction so I think we could do a great job on showing this artist's work, don't forget he was also an illustrator.
Apart from art and illustration â€“ what else do you love in life?
Life itself. As we age we consider every day more precious than we might have in our younger years. I love the first snowfall, the skylines of New York and Houston. I love exploring the city since around every street corner is something new. I love walking. I love my new grandson. I love my partner. My children. I love to visit new places, London, Paris, Rome but I love the countryside even more. I love to escape mentally and physically I try to get out of the city every six weeks, even if it's just a long weekend. I love to paint, draw and take photos of interesting elements.
Is Nate Williams your secret love child?
Nate thinks that's funny! Nate and IllustrationMundo have been very supportive of our efforts.
Disclaimer: not everything published on the Internet is true! I read, while doing research via Google – a number of artists who have meet you have written that you’re a tall imposing legend of a man (think Arnold Schwarzenegger from T2) and you eat portfolios for breakfast, and then proceeds to use the illustrators as tooth picks. Although the artists always end their blog-rants (blants) with comments like â€œhe really knows his game and the experience was well worth it. Are you that scary and is the impression they give of you true?
Well that's from student groups that come visit us; I doubt you'll find any working illustrators saying that. In looking at portfolios I don't pull any punches, I try to give them my perspective first from an art director's standpoint and then from a publishers. Since I have spent the greater part of my career as an art director I know what ADs are looking for from an illustrator and from my current position I see more art and artists than anyone else, my job is to find new artists so I'm constantly looking online, books, magazines, exhibits, you name it I'm seeing what's going on out there. So from these two perspectives I'm able to critique the book and the work. And my hope is that it's beneficial to the student, or graduate. Unfortunately the school system in America doesn't encourage pointed critiques, I have that luxury.
Can you do me a favor? Next time you review an illustrators portfolio, if there is a piece you think should be dropped from the folio. Pick it up, chuck it over your shoulder and say the words “Hasta la vista… Baby!”. Just make sure someone has a video camera before hand, so it can put it on YouTube afterwards. I would love to see that!
I do that part as gently as possible. Many times I'll look at a site and there'll be one image that just doesn't fit and I'll mention that to the artist. I get requests all the time to look at sites and in the beginning it was manageable, these days it's much harder to find the time so I'll either start charging for the advice, after all it is valuable advice or limit it to our subscribers.
Photo of a critique Charles Hively did last week for Falmouth University in the 3×3 studio
New York Knicks or New Jersey Mets?
Knicks. Though I prefer college basketball. Oh and it would be Yankees, not Mets.
Baseman or Biskup?
Jets or Giants?
Mickey or Bugs?
Bugs. As a kid I loved Mickey or anything Disney. Now, less so or not at all.
Falafels or Hot Dogs?
Falafels. The best are at Rainbow Falafel by Union Square.
Drawing, directing or publishing?
If I had to choose one: directing.
Left: Charles Hively in 1971 / Right: Charles Hively, present
You can find out more about Charles Hively at
The current issue of 3×3 will soon be on newsstands in the UK, they’re already on newsstand in the US. The Issue features James Jean, Eddie Guy and Christopher Silas Neal, their Icon is Henning Wagenbreth and their profile is Nicholas Blechman.