Category Archives: Thoughts & Advice

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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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!

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!

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?

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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An Artist’s First Impressions of the iPad

Ipad

You’ve heard the hype and now you want to know – what’s it really like to own an iPad?

I have been fortunate enough to be able to order one for myself and it finally arrived last weekend. Here is a super-sized blog post with all my first impressions and reviews. If you don’t want to read it, here’s a summary: It’s freakin’ awesome.

From what I’ve been hearing from you fellow artists and tech nerds lately, many of you have doubts, concerns, and criticisms and I try to address them all here. While I try not to sound like a complete Apple fangirl throughout this entire article, I do think some of the common crits that have been made about the iPad are making mountains out of molehills. Yes, the iPad is missing a few features; however, I believe the strength of this device lies in what it CAN and WILL do for creatives and their various industries. So yeah, I gush a lot. You have been warned. If you have further questions, please feel free discuss in the comments section.

Here we go…

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Why I Share

There are artists out there who are wildly afraid of sharing their secrets. If you have been following my blog for awhile, you know I’m definitely not one of them.

I’ve written plenty of painting tutorials, made process videos, and answered many questions directly while painting live on Ustream broadcasts. Am I afraid of giving away too many secrets? Do I worry about helping my competition too much? I’ve seriously considered these questions, and I have to say, no.

Let me tell you why…

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Artists and the Web

I recently made a guest appearance on a podcast by fellow artist Chris Oatley. Chris’s work includes freelance illustration, comics, and visual development for the animation industry. His podcast is called Chris Oatley’s ArtCast, and can be found on the web at ChrisOatley.com or on iTunes. I highly recommend you take a listen.

Chris contacted me a while back and we have been having an on-again off-again conversation about artists and the web ever since. Both of us share a philosophy of teaching, learning, and sharing, and want to encourage the same throughout the artist community.

I admire Chris and the work he has done so far. He has a blog where he shares his work and art in-progress, he is open and honest while talking about art in his podcast, and he also creates video tutorials where he teaches digital painting tips. He is absolutely dedicated to creating and sharing, and I can’t help seeing a kindred spirit in him.

In the episode of his podcast, we are joined by animator and motion graphics designer Paul Caggegi of The Process Diary, and we discuss the ever-growing importance of the web in the lives of artists everywhere in the hope that we encourage other artists to get started with their own web presence and creations.

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How to Find an Illustrator for Your Picture Book

Readingbook

This article is for those of you who have a great picture book idea, and are now looking for the perfect artist to help complete your vision.

I receive illustration inquiries from writers every month or so. Many times, they have questions about the book submission process and illustrators in general, so I thought I would address many of the common issues here, for both the writers and also the artists who receive similar requests.

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Artist Portfolios

Portfolio

Here is a question I received from reader Kyle:

What does a professional portfolio for possible employers look like? How many pieces of work should I use? How large is the physical portfolio? Do I take the physical portfolio into interviews or do I take in a resume and a disc with all of my work? Also, how did you go about shopping this portfolio around?

Truthfully, I don’t use a physical portfolio very often. My website does most of the grunt work, which is true for many freelance artists nowadays. The most an art director will usually see from me in terms of printed pieces are postcards and tearsheets. So if you haven’t already, BUILD A WEBSITE. They are extremely useful.

However… there are many occasions where you would need a physical portfolio, such as job interviews and reviews. Here is my take:

Art directors want to see ART. So do NOT make this more difficult for them than it needs to be! Keep the images neat, organized, and easy to see, and the presentation simple to browse through.

There is a tendency to over-think the physical presentation of a portfolio, as if the right amount of trickery or decoration will magically transform the the artwork. Just make it look nice and let the work speak for itself.

General Portfolio Tips

  • Follow any guidelines set by the employer to which you are applying.
  • Never use original art. Use good color copies/scans. Original art might get lost or damaged. Plus with the copies, you can make all the images a uniform size.
  • Include samples such as postcards, business cards, or tearsheets that you can leave behind for the employer to keep in their files.

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Just Draw!

081014doodle

Do any of these statements apply to you?

  • I have trouble keeping my portfolio up-to-date.
  • I never have new artwork to show.
  • I’m behind in my postcard mailings.
  • I can’t paint/draw as well as I’d like.
  • I often get stuck in a rut and don’t know what to paint.
  • I haven’t created any good paintings lately.
  • Most of my sketchbooks are only half-full.
  • My blog hasn’t had a new post in weeks.
  • I am having trouble coming up with ideas and staying creative.
  • My work has stopped evolving/improving.

etc., etc…

Well, here is your solution…

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