Category Archives: Learn

Tutorials, artistic advice, process, and product reviews

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Managing Time and Being More Productive as a Creative Professional

I’ve done a lot of things over the course of my creative career. In addition to working as a freelance illustrator, I’ve run a blog, written many tutorials, made videos, built websites, written books, kept an ongoing webcomic, and on and on. And one of the biggest questions I get is – Where the heck do you find the time??

The truth is, I don’t always know the answer to this question, and I have not always succeeded. It’s one of my biggest challenges. There have been times when I feel like tearing my hair out under all the stress. Recently I sat down and tried to evaluate what has worked and what hasn’t, what has driven my career forward, and what has gotten in the way. Here are some of the thoughts I gathered…
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Advice for New Illustrators and Art School Graduates

You just graduated from art school. Congratulations! Now what?

There is a lot of ambiguous advice out there like “get your name out there” and “create a portfolio” – but how exactly do you do it? Based on my experience, here are some essential and very specific things I think you should do.

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Making Minicomics

Making a Minicomic by Dani Jones http://danidraws.com

I am prepping for some shows I will be attending (MECAF in May and Kids Read Comics in June). I didn’t have any new comics printed since last year, so I decided to make up some minicomics featuring my short Zombie Bunny comic. I’m also reprinting my Captain Bacon comic which I sold as a mini last year.

I love doing these quick homemade type books, and I love buying them from other artists as well. They’ve got an indie-artist-handmade-craftiness to them that I like vs. the pro printed books.

I’ve seen other artists make both down-and-dirty-photocopied-stapled numbers and the really-fancy-expensive-paper-individually-screen-printed kind. Mine are on the cheaper side, but I decided to use some colored cardstock to pretty them up a bit. I thought I’d share my process. Enjoy, and MAKE COMICS!
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How to Find an Illustrator For Your Picture Book, Part 2: The Self-Publishing Edition

This article is an addendum to a previous post I wrote called How to Find an Illustrator For Your Picture Book. It remains one of the most popular blog posts I’ve ever written; it’s also garnered a slight bit of controversy.

In that post, I pretty much said this: Writers do not need to find illustrators for their children’s books because the publisher will find and hire one for them. The only thing writers need to do is submit their manuscript. It’s not only simpler, but it’s also likely to increase their chances of getting published.

Some people felt I was discouraging collaboration between writers and artists. Some artists have gone so far as to say I am ruining potential jobs because the article discourages writers from contacting artists. Yet others say that I’m advocating publishers as tight-knit, locked-down industry gatekeepers.

In response to the critics

I had no agenda when I wrote the article. It is simply an explanation of the picture book submission process, in the traditional sense of submitting a manuscript to a print publisher. It came from info I’ve heard from fellow artists, read in books, and gained from personal experience. No matter what my opinions about the industry or big publishing or collaborations, it is the truth as far as I know.

Also keep in mind the article was written for a specific group of people – writers who contact illustrators wanting them to illustrate the story they have written so they can submit it to a publisher. These writers are mostly beginners and have never submitted a book before, and so are unaware of how the whole process works. The average person thinks you need to draw up the whole book as a completed project, and the publisher picks it up as-is and prints it; that’s simply untrue.

The fact is, these writers do not need illustrators. They might be willing to hire artists and give them money to pretty up their book submissions, but I think it would be unethical and un-smart for an artist to take that pay knowing full well the writer doesn’t need the art, and that it could potentially damage their chances of getting published.

I do not discourage collaboration between writers and artists. I approve of it. I just urge people to be smart about it. Be aware of your markets and clients and how things have worked in the past, and what applies to you. This is a highly subjective industry and there is no one set process that works every time. Just be aware of the rules before you break them. What matters most in the end is that you make a really good book.

So What About Self-Publishing?

Another class of people who tend to disagree with the article are self-publishers. That field is ripe for collaborators and the writers-hiring-artists set. I have mostly responded by pointing out that the original article is largely not about them. It is specifically about the traditional print publishing submission process. I had mentioned self-publishing briefly as a sidenote, saying that it’s a very difficult process and lots of illustrators won’t want to work on self-published books because they are unmarketable (and probably cheap) work that requires lots of time that could be better spent on other projects. That’s still kinda true, except…

That article was written in 2009. That’s pre-iPad, folks. The Kindle was just a baby. Now self-publishing has boomed. People are starting to think of it as a legitimate option. Writers are making money off of them. Illustrators are more willing to do the work. So I think it’s about time I addressed self-publishing more fully, and what it means for writers hiring artists.

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A Guide to Posting Artwork on Pinterest

I have a new internet obsession in Pinterest. If you don’t know what it is, it is an online “pin board” where you can post links and images. You can sort them into categories and follow other people’s pins to find even more cool links.

One reason I love Pinterest is that it is great for bookmarking my favorite art and artists. It has a nice visual interface and it is super easy to use. It is kinda like the deviantART “Favorite” feature (which I love), but I can use it with anything on the internet, not just dA.

However, Pinterest’s simple interface also makes it easy to propagate uncredited art and improper links. As I’ve followed other’s art boards, I’ve noticed some unsavory trends. This post is my call to my fellow pinners to take some consideration before posting a piece of art on Pinterest.

Click for my Pinterest tips!

Jot Touch Quick Review

Top, my Jot Pro iPad stylus. Bottom, my new pressure-sensitive Jot Touch.

I just received my Jot Touch in the mail yesterday, and I am super excited about it.

The Jot Touch is an iPad stylus. It is unique in that it is the first pressure-sensitive stylus to come out for the iPad so far. It works over a bluetooth connection and is made by the company Adonit. I was very glad when they announced development of this stylus because I was already a big fan of their work. Their standard iPad stylus is one of my favorites (and believe me, I’ve tried a lot of styluses).

In between freelance projects and prepping for my Kickstarter project that I’m launching tomorrow, I don’t have much time to do a full review with images and stuff. However, I thought I’d throw out this quick review for all you inquiring minds out there.

Click for the full review!

A Sketch, a Video, and an Art Supply Review

Here is an ink and watercolor sketch I made of my comic character Frosty the Gourdman. I recorded the making of the entire sketch and made some comments about my process. You can view the video here:


http://youtu.be/J_mqeFLm_pw

If you would like to hang this painting up on your wall, I have the original up for sale in my store here.

I used this sketch to try out and review some art supplies I received from Pentel. Overall, I was very happy with them!

Click for the full review and pics!

Professional Quality Artwork and the iPad

I recently got an email from Rachelle where she asked:

“What is your opinion on completing professional illustrations on the iPad? I’m dying to be more mobile and efficient with my digital illustrations and would love a new method. I’m currently using a Cintiq which I love and will continue to use, but I need something more mobile for smaller projects. What are your thoughts?”

Here’s my answer!

I Love Dropbox

This is kinda a shameless plug, but also a very good tip for all you freelancers and working artists out there.

I signed up for Dropbox a couple years ago, and it is one of the BEST investments I have ever made. If you are unfamiliar with it, Dropbox is an online storage and syncing service. You set up a folder on your computer, and everything you save to it gets automatically synced to the site. If you have it installed on multiple computers, the files will also sync to each device.

I cannot emphasize enough how useful this has been for my illustration business. I didn’t really understand it at first, but I signed up because I heard good things about it. It wasn’t long before I had upgraded to a pro 50 GB account. Just recently I upgraded again to the max 100 GB because I was using it soo much.

I use my Dropbox folder to sync all my current projects, and archive my most precious artwork. As soon as I save a file on my main computer, it gets uploaded online and to my secondary computer. If I want to take a break from my desk and work on an illustration on my modbook, I don’t have to think about it – the most current version is already ready and waiting. I don’t have to worry about moving files, finding a thumb drive, or keeping recent versions synced across both my computers. It’s just there, everywhere. I also have the app for my iPhone and iPad, which is handy for quickly viewing files or emailing them to a client.

Dropbox is also integrated into a lot of third-party apps and services. Lots of iPad apps, for example, use it as a file management system. It is my favorite way to move my iPad sketches to my computer.

And on top of it all, Dropbox is a great backup system. Dropbox keeps files safe online, and also saves several versions of each file. Dropbox has saved my behind on numerous occasions where I have accidentally saved over the wrong file or deleted something I shouldn’t have. For that alone, it has been worth it’s weight in gold for me.

I apologize if this sounds like a huge sales pitch, but there is genuine love behind every word.

Dropbox recently announced that they are giving away more free space for referrals, and I am not ashamed to admit that it is partially the reason I was driven to write this post. I have been eating my Dropbox space like a maniac – I want free space!

If you decide to give Dropbox a try and want to help me out too, please click here to sign up. If you use this link, both you AND I get some free space (1 GB for me, 500 MB for you). A 2 GB account is free. If you decide to get a pro account, I can personally attest that it is worth every penny.

Sign up here.

iBooks Author: First Impressions and Making a Comic

ibooksauthor_cover

Apple released a new piece of software called iBooks Author. It is for making digital, interactive books for the iPad and is available as a free download. I recently gave it a test run, and was pleased with the results. Here’s my overall impressions and thoughts, and a free download of my first ever iBooks book!

Click to read more and download the book!

Building an Artist’s Website with WordPress

I’m finally going to answer, in depth, one of the most common questions I’ve gotten over the past few years – how did I build my website?

Most artists ask me this because they want to know a) how I built my portfolio gallery or b) how I integrated my blog into my website. I will attempt to answer both of those questions.

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How to Make It As An Artist

I am extremely lucky to do what I do every day.

That being said, becoming an illustrator is not a big game of chance. I’m a firm believer that success as a working artist is just a splash of luck, a little bit of talent, and a lot of hard work and persistence.

“Making it” is a matter of PRACTICE and TIME. Lots of people say that the odds are slim you can make a living as an artist, but that’s only because most people are lacking one of those two elements. Do both, and your odds go up greatly. Granted, some people might have to practice harder, and others may need more time, but I believe most people can do it if they have enough drive.

Artists go through different stages. How you succeed depends on how you move from one stage to the next.

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Web Presence Revamp: Back to Basics

It’s becoming increasingly clear to me that my life as an illustrator is changing. More than ever before, I am being bombarded with things calling for my attention, whether it be a growing freelance workload, more ambitious personal projects, miscellaneous websites, and life outside of my job. On top of it all, social networking is more confusing, spread out, and demanding as ever. I am, quite frankly, wearing thin.

So I have come to the decision to scale back. I am going to put my emphasis into what I think matters most for my needs and goals and get back to basics.

My plan:

Reduce social networking

My social networking philosophy so far has been to TRY EVERYTHING. This has been a great strategy for me over the past several years and I don’t regret it. I’ve learned so much about promotion, technology, and the internet and I’ve gotten to know a whole lot of interesting and talented people.

But this strategy isn’t going to work for me anymore. I’m no longer a newbie looking for ways to get out there. And also, social networking is growing fast. It’s no longer possible to do everything and keep up. The farther I spread between them, the thinner my presence becomes in each.

I am going to continue to use Twitter as my main social outlet. I’ll also keep my Facebook page (which is really just an extension of my Twitter feed). I’m dumping everything else, or vastly decreasing my dependence on them. These include Tumblr, deviantArt, Ustream, Flickr, and Google+. Some I’ll get rid of completely; others I’ll keep for only posting occasionally or to follow other artists.

Back to Blogging

I’ve let blogging take a backseat while I’ve been trying out this newfangled social network thing. It’s time to bring it back! Twitter is great for small snippets of info, but after so long it starts to drain you instead of help you. On the other hand, maintaining a blog is something that really helps me keep my creative momentum going. I create more, learn more, and teach better while I am blogging because it forces me to come up with meaningful content rather than shooting out random bits of info and links.

So prepare for the triumphant return of my blog! I will try to post more artwork, process, tutorials, videos, advice, and other random thoughts. Subscribe to stay up to date on all my latest posts.

Some Unfortunate Necessities

Schedules and strategies for other various projects are also going to go through an overhaul. My weekly webcomic, for example, will suffer temporarily. It is definitely not going away by any means, but I am going to try to be smarter about it. This means I will not put it back on its regular schedule until I have the next volume completed.

***

I am sharing all these thoughts to give you an idea of what goes on in the mind of this illustrator. I am always making plans, mistakes, and even more plans. This job is a constant balance of artistry, business, promotion, creation, and timing. Even those of us who have been at it for a few years still struggle daily.

What strategies have you used to manage your web presence? What’s worked? What hasn’t? How is it evolving as the internet landscape changes?

iPad Art

[flickr id=”5958273894″ thumbnail=”medium_640″ overlay=”false” size=”small” group=”” align=”none”]

I have been having a TON of fun lately drawing on my iPad. I’ve had my iPad for about a year now, but I’ve only used it to doodle occasionally. I finally decided to sit down and really see how far I can take a painting on this device. I’ve been very happy with the results.

Here’s a few more drawings I’ve made so far:

[flickr id=”5956661962″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”false” size=”large” group=”” align=”none”] [flickr id=”5956100761″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”false” size=”small” group=”” align=”none”] [flickr id=”5956093539″ thumbnail=”small” overlay=”false” size=”small” group=”” align=”none”]

I started a Flickr set where I can keep all my iPad paintings. You can go there if you want to see all my drawings so far, and others I may post in the future: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjvnJPN4
Read on for my answers to iPad art FAQs

Is It Time to Buy a Modbook? – UPDATE

Modbook Front

For some reason, I’ve been getting quite a few comments and questions about the Modbook recently. (The Modbook is a Macbook computer that’s been modified into a tablet computer. They are sold by a company called Axiotron.) Not sure why I’ve been getting so much renewed interest and curiosity lately – maybe a lot of artists are contemplating tablets with the release of the iPad. But anyway, I thought it was about time to post an update about my opinions and advice about the Modbook and clear up some things that I’ve said previously.

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Make Stuff (or What I’ve Learned By Creating Comics)

I was chatting with some fellow artists while painting on my Ustream show, and some interesting points came up. There was a lot of talk about self-publishing and strategies for independent creators. It’s got me thinking about my current work habits and what I’ve accomplished over the past year.

At the end of last 2009, I decided to make a comic. It’s not something I’ve done before and it’s still an industry that is very new to me. There are certain attitudes and strategies that are very different from my home in children’s illustration, and I have benefited greatly.

The most important lesson I’ve learned by creating comics:

Make stuff.

Comics are driven by independent creators. Artists in this field are constantly writing and drawing their own stories, printing them, taking them to conventions, and distributing them on the web. They don’t wait for publishers to acknowledge them or an agent to pick them up. They go out and create and make an audience for themselves. They make stuff in spite of day jobs and lack of money and hectic schedules. There’s a passion for creation that comics creators have that I don’t see very often in other circles.

I’ve never had such a rush of creativity and productivity than what I’ve had over the past year. I launched an ongoing webcomic (My Sister, the Freak) and made a short story (Frosty the Gourdman). I’ve come up with new picture book ideas and brushed off the old dummies that were collecting dust in my files. Making comics gave me the itch to make more stuff, and for that I have progressed farther than any other period in my career thus far.

My experience in the picture book industry was always an attitude of struggle. There’s constant talk of how to find an agent, what to put in a query letter, how to find the right publisher, wondering if the economy and technology is going to kill the industry altogether, etc. etc. I think children’s artists can take a page out of the comic artist’s book and concentrate more on the content.

No marketing trick is going to help you if you have nothing to show people. No publisher will pick you up if you don’t have a quality product. No amount of social networking saavy is worth anything unless you’re a creator that people want to network with. And the industry isn’t going to get any better if no one is making art and stories that the public can connect to and be willing to shell out hard-earned money for.

I’m definitely going to continue with the momentum I’ve got going, make more comics, and take what I’ve learned into my picture book goals as well. And for all you creators out there, I want to see more quality stuff being made. For that, you only need two rules:

1. Make stuff.

2. Show it to people.

The end.

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Digital Comics

Mstf on the Ipad

A Call to Comic Creators!

My iPad is way too empty. :(

I love my iPad, and I’ve got to say, it is the PERFECT device for reading digital comics. However, I’m having trouble finding the kind of content that I want to read, and that’s frustrating.

I’ve been experimenting with selling digital comics in my store. I want to see more comic creators jumping on board to do the same thing because 1) most of favorite comics are independently made webcomics, and I want more stuff for my iPad and 2) there are some serious problems with how digital comics are created and sold, and I think this is the first step toward fixing them.

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Improving Your Online Presence

Thoughts from NESCBWI 2010

Last week at the New England SCBWI conference, I taught a workshop called 10 Ways Artists Can Improve Their Online Presence. During the class, I talked about various ways and methods that I have used to market myself on the internet. As some of you might know, I have a blog, a Twitter account, a Ustream show, and a smattering of other online profiles in various places across the web. They have all helped me network with industry people, improve my artwork, learn about the business, and sell stuff.

In my workshop, I did my best to share some of the lessons I have learned along the way. These are some of the more important points I brought up during the conference:

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