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How NOT to Motivate Creative Talent: Ian Fleming & James Bond Cover Art

Ian Fleming, author of the bestselling James Bond novels, considered Richard Chopping to be the British master of trompe l’oeil, an artistic technique that makes images appear three dimensional.

Fleming was introduced to Chopping’s art by his wife and was immediately attracted to its eye-arresting qualities. He felt that Chopping had to produce the cover art for the next installment of his Bond series, From Russia with Love (1957).

Chopping agreed to the project and on Fleming’s request drew a rose intertwined around a Smith and Wesson. Fleming paid 50 guineas (equivalent to $1,300 today) out of his own pocket so that he, not his publisher, could own and have the rights to the image.

The cover became synonymous with Bond and helped the series grow in popularity. The cover art was captivating, mysterious, and provocative which matched Fleming’s writing and personal style well.

A collaboration between writer and artist began–but it was by no means warm.

Chopping later referred to Fleming as “a mean and vain man” and even went as far as to criticize the Bond books themselves. In an interview in 2003 Chopping admits that his frustration with Fleming stems from Fleming’s attitude and his unfair pay scale. He remarked in an interview, “The paintings I did for his dust jackets are now worth thousands and they sold as many books. But he would not even let me have royalties.”

As for Flemings’ attitude and behavior as an employer a lot can be learned from the note he sent Chopping in 1961 asking him for a cover illustration for what would be, The Spy Who Loved Me (1962). The letter, featured on Letters of Note, hopes that Chopping can begin work on their forth collaboration for $5,000 (in today’s dollars).

Fleming proposed what he wanted the cover to look like and said “first of all, will you please do the jacket and, secondly, will you please have a brilliant idea?” Fleming set parameters while he gave a small hat-tip to autonomy.

Fleming did not let Chopping share the royalties and, as his note suggests, collaborated with Chopping superficially. It would seem that Fleming was less interested in motivating Chopping and more interested in getting anything that was in the neighborhood of Chopping’s distinctive style.

Chopping’s recent bitter reflections were most likely spurred by the success of Fleming’s work and the failure of his art to generate a similar reaction. Perhaps they were also inspired by the fact that Chopping sold his autographed Bond books before the 007 collectors market exploded.

Chopping’s hard creative work was under-appreciated, restrained, and wasn’t given a fair shake by Fleming. Fleming, as an employer, did little to motivate Chopping and push him for his best, most clever, work. Further, he didn’t place their artistic collaboration in high-esteem. He assumed Chopping’s participation, but he didn’t know of Chopping’s unease with working for a franchise that did little to motive his creativity.

In the end Fleming and Chopping collaborated on eight different projects, but Chopping was left unhappy, resentful, and sour over the experience. Working with creative talent isn’t a easy, but certainly Fleming’s mistakes can illuminate positions employers shouldn’t take.

Picture Credit: Johanoomen