Several times a year I am called on by local ad agencies to do marker comps. “Marker comp” is an industry term leftover from the days before computers. Back then if an agency wanted to pitch an idea to a client they would sometimes bring in an illustrator, plop him in front of a drawing board stacked with paper and markers, describe what they had in mind, and then ask him to quickly do some color sketches of their ideas to show the client. A picture is indeed worth a thousand words. It’s much more effective to sell an expensive idea to a client by showing them what you have in mind rather than by trying to describe it in words alone.
Today most of the artwork is done digitally. I usually do comps in my studio on the Cintiq and then deliver them via email (although I do own a portable Cintiq that allows me to work on-site if needed). Everything is colored in Photoshop rather than with markers on paper. But the term “marker comp” seems to have stuck.
Since everything in the world of advertising has to get done yesterday marker comps are often very rough and done under very tight deadlines. I recently did some black-and-white comps for a client where I only had three hours to sketch eight concepts! That’s a very extreme example but it does happen. If an illustrator can draw fast, draw well, and be creative all at the same time, he or she will be very valuable to an agency.
Usually I am asked to keep my marker comps confidential. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes a client will want to protect their ideas from being stolen by a competitor. Often the agency simply gives all rights to the comps to the end client which leaves me with no control over the art. Other times an agency might not want it to be known that they brought in outside help to work on a project. Whatever the reason, most of the marker comps I do are kept under wraps which makes it a bit of a challenge for me to advertise that service.
Every once in a while a client gives me the “thumbs up” to publicly display something that I’ve done. A few months ago I was hired by a freelance designer who was, in turn, working on a project for a local agency. The idea was to pitch a specific retail display to Target in the hopes that Target would allow them to set it up in their stores. Unfortunately I don’t remember who the end client was or what the product was they wanted to display. I was simply asked to sketch up an area of open shelves in a typical Target store (specifically the “camping/lawn-and-garden” area of the store), and then the designer would fill in the shelves and end cap with some of his display ideas using Photoshop.
The designer gave me a few reference photos and then I drove down to my local target to snap a few more. This was the end result that I submitted to the client. It’s one of the more “neat and tidy” comps I’ve ever done so I’m glad I’m able to add it to my portfolio.