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The 5 Dirty Words of Freelance Illustration

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Thomas James

In our daily lives as freelance Illustrators, we experience both the joys and terrors of our unique creative profession.

As you probably know, freelance Illustration isn’t always unicorns and rainbows. Those are just the facts of life.

One of the redeeming things about this, however, is that we can often recognize the more common dangers and take steps to avoid them because they are usually pretty clearly defined.

Here’s my list of the 5 dirty words you’re likely to encounter in your day-to-day life as a professional Illustrator:

1. Spec work

This one likely needs no introduction, because you won’t be an Illustrator for very long before somebody solicits you for free work.

The more desperate you are, the greater the danger in falling prey to this trap.

Just know that it potentially hurts your business, so proceed at your own risk.

2. Exposure

The frequent sidekick to ‘spec work’ is the word ‘exposure’, because clients who want you to work for free often promise that your art will be seen and adored by millions across the globe.

If for some reason you didn’t recognize that a project is actually a call for spec work, then this secondary term will likely tip you off.

3. Theft

Another inevitability is that your work will be used without your permission at some point. In fact, posting your work anywhere online pretty much guarantees that.

It’s a frustrating one, but there are steps you can take to combat this sort of thing, and the online community of artists often comes together to join the fight.

4. Burnout

Here’s one that’s usually brought on at least partly by yourself.

As with all the other dirty words in this list, it’s inevitable, but a healthy dose of time off, a well-rounded life, and personal projects can do a lot to ward it off.

5. Slushpile

This term defines the overwhelming pile (physical, virtual, or otherwise) where your promotional materials may be buried by Art Directors amongst countless others sent by your fellow artists.

The only antidote is to create work so compelling that it stands out from the crowd and makes a lasting impression.

So there you have it.

A brief look at 5 of the prime offenders in the daily life of a freelance Illustrator.

Get to know them, avoid them, and defeat them when you can, but know that they will be back.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/31/15 under business
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How to stretch yourself

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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Latest posts by Amy Ng (see all)

Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

Here’s a secret about me: I love to exercise. Having been exposed to different sports training while I was in high school only made me love my body more when it’s in movement.

I’ve been on various teams: rhythmic gymnastics, volleyball, hockey, running, mountain climbing, and taekwondo – all at the same time. And when I’m not at school picking up a ball, I’m at home skipping rope and doing mat pilates. Early morning swim runs with my childhood friends remain in my memory as one of the fondest activity we get together for. Being in the water makes me feel as though I’m fully immersed in the moment – as though my body is one with all that is around me. Drawing feels very much the same way.

But age catched up. I found that I could no longer run without feeling it in my knees afterwards. I took cautionary steps to alleviate the pain, but after many years of following Mr. T along with his run, I’ve decided that it wasn’t for me. So now I concentrate on doing yoga flows and pilates stretches instead because it helps me open up my shoulders – hunching over my keyboard or Wacom tablet for long periods on end makes me feel as though a curled up ball of wrangled nerves at the end of the day.

With any yoga pose (or anything at all, really), practice makes perfect. But one particular pose has eluded me for many years – the yoga push up (also known as the four-limbed staff pose). For those who don’t know what a yoga push up is, it’s basically a push up but instead of your arms being the same position as your shoulder when you bring your body down, it’s instead at a 90-degree angle, with your upper arms running parallel to your torso, so that your body weight rests on the middle of your body instead of the top of your body (and your wrists are holding your body weight up at the middle!) I just read that last sentence and oh man, here’s a case when a picture tells a better story.

So I have lousy upper body strength it seems, and no matter how much I try, I fall flat on my face every time – never mind that just getting to that bit was a torture in itself. Imagine this: You’re ready to do a push up. You square your hands, resting your hands firmly on the mat. You take a deep breath, and hope that this time will be it – it’s the time you won’t fall flat on your face because your arms betrayed you. So on to the beginning of the descent – a few inches down – and oh boy! It’s looking pretty good so far. A couple more inches, and your upper hand begins to quiver no matter how tightly they’re tucked away at your sides. Your thigh begins to feel nervous, trembling at intensity of keeping the body parallel to the floor. And during that last pivotal moment when you’ve almost hit that 90-degree angle, your body gives way, and everything – your hands, thighs, torso and all – come crashing down in a tangle of limbs.

I thought to myself there’s no way that I could do it. Some muscles obviously did not get the memo that this is the one thing that is still on my list.

My poor yoga mat almost has an imprint of my face from the many times I’ve landed face first into it. But I still kept at it. Lately, I mixed up my routine a little and instead of letting myself fall, I allowed myself to go as far as I could without diving head-first into the mat. And then, right before I felt that familiar jelly-like feeling creep up my hands, I come up for a cobra pose (here’s what that looks like).

It felt really good. I did a couple more each time.

And today, I tried the yoga push up again on its own, and I was surprised at not landing on my face. In fact, my face was an inch away from the mat as my body balanced itself parallel to the floor. I blinked in surprise. I held myself that way for a few seconds – in disbelief. It was surreal. I did it. And then I did it again. It wasn’t a fluke!

My shoulders were hurting afterwards – as though I had worked out muscles I never knew were there in the first place. It was throbbing with a dull ache, warm to the touch and tight. I felt proud.

I believe that we never stop growing or stretching ourselves. The biggest takeaway for me from this whole exercise (pun intended!) is that it takes time to practice anything at all. Whether it’s yoga, drawing, or doing your own business. You might think that you don’t have it in you, but it’s all there. Every bit of it. You just need to find your way, and maybe you’ll fall down like I did (and I don’t just mean on the mat!) but you’ll soon find the strength you never had.

When that happens, it’ll just take you completely by surprise.

And then you’ll be proud you stuck it out.

[Illustration: Surrender, by fellow yoga-loving illustrator (and IF founder!) Penelope Dullaghan]

Posted by Amy Ng on 08/26/15 under artists,business,idea generation
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The Replacement Theory of The Illustration Portfolio

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

moustache_machine

Are you “building” your Illustration portfolio?

I hear from Illustrators all the time that they are working on “building” their portfolios. This generally means that they are focusing on creating more work so that they can present an expansive collection to Art Directors and other potential clients who visit their site.

Today I’d like to offer an alternative approach.

It’s something that I’m calling the Replacement Theory of Portfolio Design, and it involves making your portfolio stronger, not bigger.

Here’s how it works:

If you’ve just completed a new Illustration that you’re really proud of and want to include in your portfolio, chances are you would normally just add it to the mix. However, I suggest a different approach where you try to determine if there is another, lesser Illustration that you could replace with the new one, thereby strengthening the overall impression you make.

By repeating this step with each new portfolio-worthy piece, you will constantly be weeding out the least impressive work and adding a newer Illustration that makes a real impact.

I’m a firm believer that any images that don’t make an impact actually lessen the effect of the stronger work, so taking the “replacement” approach serves to avoid this by making each new addition elevate your portfolio to a higher level, rather than just a bigger one.

Of course, you’ll have more freedom to operate in this way once you’ve got a portfolio of decent size, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t start thinking along these lines if you’ve only got a handful of pieces to show.

In fact, I’ve just revised my own portfolio by adding 3 new pieces and removing 4 older works. I did this not only because I felt my newer work was stronger, but also because it reflects the type of work I’m actually interested in pursuing at this time. Even though this step has resulted in a smaller portfolio than I’d like, I feel that the work that is there represents my creative vision much more accurately.

The Challenge

With the Replacement Theory, I propose making the editing of your portfolio a regular, intrinsic part of your creative process, and of your business.

Naturally, you don’t necessarily have to remove your least impressive piece if it still adds a great deal to the overall presentation of your work, but it’s a useful approach to keep in mind.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/24/15 under business
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How Illustration Competitions are Judged

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

picture-1

[Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from our ebook Inside Illustration Competitions, which is available for FREE here.]

The outcome of an Illustration competition is largely dependent on the judges who view the work and decide which artists deserve to be recognized. Ever wonder how this jury is chosen and how they make these tough decisions?

Since so much depends on the subjective personal tastes of an Illustration competition jury, it’s important to pay attention to the list of jurors any time you’re considering submitting your work, and familiarizing yourself with who’s involved.

With the help of many organizers and judges of all the major Illustration competitions, I was able to get an inside look at what drives the method of assembling the jury.

Jury Selection

It is in the best interest of all parties involved to have a professional, experienced, and esteemed panel of judges to view the artwork and select the best of the best to be featured in the organization’s annuals, shows, and online galleries. In this way, the various competitions maintain their relevance in the industry, encourage a comprehensive collection of high-quality Illustration, and offer Illustrators the opportunity to have their work viewed by the top tier of their target audience.

In most instances, the jury is comprised of some combination of Illustrators, Graphic Designers, Art Directors, Artist Representatives, Educators, and other creative professionals who have made an impact on the Illustration industry. Potential jury candidates are often recommended by Illustrators or past Chairs based on quality of work, talent, years of experience, and standing in the field. In addition, judges are often assigned to vote in categories that are a good match for their particular area of expertise, whether it be publishing, editorial, advertising, children’s books, etc.

One interesting variation on this theme is the competitions run by American Illustration, which limits the selection to only Art Directors and others who are able to actually hire Illustrators.

Another alternative is practiced by 3×3. Because of it’s uniquely international focus, 3×3 makes sure that all judges represent different countries and tries to have one or more Art Directors and Illustrators from each of the primary illustration markets around the world.

Judging Criteria

One of the most intriguing aspects of the judging process is the criterion by which jurors are instructed to select work, or rather, the lack thereof.

Sometimes, the organization running the competition has an introductory meeting to outline the overall purpose and criteria of the selection. However, rather than instruct the jury with specific guidelines, most competitions rely on the experience and aesthetic sensibilities of the jurors involved.

Therefore, each judge votes along the lines of their individual tastes, with a focus on the effectiveness of the image, its ability to solve a visual problem or communicate an idea, its professional execution, and any other strengths they typically look for in a successful Illustration. Jurors are encouraged to take their time and go with their instincts while seeking out Illustration that reaches a higher level of excellence.

“We do not believe in quotas, we ask judges to select the very best pieces in each category.”

– Charles Hively, 3×3

“Jurors are encouraged to make brave choices and [select] images that represent the finest work from the year. Our goal is to recognize work not typically honored by other organizations and publications.”

Mark Heflin, American Illustration

Judges are asked to use their own judgment as to what constitutes creative excellence.”

– Patrick Coyne, Communication Arts

As stated above, due to this personal approach it can be very beneficial for an artist to familiarize themselves with the list of jurors involved, because it can potentially offer some level of insight when choosing which of their pieces to submit.

Voting Method

As expected, the actual steps involved in the scoring process is another area in which each competition is different. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of saying whether each Illustration should be “in” or “out”. Other times the judges are asked to rank each image on a scale of one to ten or some variation thereof.

Here are a few examples of the various voting methods employed:

“Jurors meet as a group and view all images. They first nominate images they like. From there, the nominated images are viewed and voted on individually by secret vote. It only takes one juror to nominate an image in the first round. It takes a majority or better in the second round to get into the book (usually 4-7 votes). All images that were nominated and then received at least 2 votes are presented on the website only.”

– Mark Heflin, American Illustration

“The first round, each Judge adds a dot to the entry. Second round, the judge’s team up to view entries that received the highest votes. Finally, the judges come together as a total group to discuss the final selection.”

– Scott Hull, Artist Representative & Juror

“The Art Directors Club does 3 rounds of judging. Each round is assigned through a point value system with the last round being a medal round.”

– Luke Stoffel, Art Directors Club

“In the professional and children’s show, each judge votes each entry in or out. In the student show, each entry is given a grade 0-4, 4 being the top grade. It takes a majority of votes by the judges to have a piece accepted into the show.

– Charles Hively, 3×3

Get your FREE copy of Inside Illustration Competitions here >>

Posted by Thomas James on 08/17/15 under business,call for entries
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VIDEO: My Process for Generating Ideas

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

if_ideascover

 

Illustration Friday Editor and Creative Director Thomas James shares his process for generating ideas for illustration projects. Send us your own process here.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/14/15 under business,community,freelance,idea generation,IF community,IF news update,illustration,resources,technique,tutorial / how-to
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Why drawing is a lot like gardening

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

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I started growing my own herb garden last year. 

They’re potted mostly, but that’s because with two jack russell terriers tearing away in my garden they wouldn’t survive on the ground for long. I was inspired by Jamie Oliver picking his selection of herbs straight out a pot when I re-watched past episodes of 30-Minute Meals – and I asked myself why can’t I do that? Supermarkets around me aren’t always stocked with herbs. Well the fancy ones do have them, but they’re far away and I really didn’t want to drive 30 to 40 minutes to a mall just to pick up a few sprigs of rosemary!

So I started my gardening journey by buying packs of compost and potting soil (because using the rather unfriendly looking reddish-clay earth we had in the backyard yielded poor results too many times to be a coincidence), and had plastic cups all ready to go for germinating. I bought seeds of herbs that I liked – and as with anything I start, I did it with gusto.

After I sprinkled over my seeds of sweet marjoram, dill, rosemary and sage – all in individual pots – and stuck ice-cream sticks with the plant’s name on a washi-tape (because markers on wood looks icky when it gets hit by water). I gave myself a pat on the back and stood back to marvel at my handiwork. Hurrah! Then the waiting began. I watered them everyday, and looked at them in the morning, and once again in the evening. Nothing. All that stared back at me was black soil. I had hoped for a glimmer of green to peek through. Nada.

I waited and lowered my expectations. I peeked in nonchalantly (and yet hopeful) for a week before I spotted something popping out from the fresh ground. YAY! A quick glance over my other 3 pots of herbs however, signaled a nay. Maybe they weren’t  ready to come out just yet? Maybe I got some bad seeds? Maybe the ants got to them in the middle of the night. Or slugs munched on them maybe? I don’t know. All I know was that my web browser history is ridden with gardening vocabulary, of the amateur sort, trying to figure out what went wrong.

Which got me to thinking. Creating anything – work, art, writing, etc – is almost like growing your own little garden. The same goes for businesses too.

You can sprinkle your seeds of imagination and ideas and be careful about them – judiciously watering them, feeding them, talking to them – but sometimes they don’t turn out the way you want them to. Which is why you spread them all around, in different pots, in different forms: through seeds, new cuttings, or the bulb of an old sprout. Some may take root and grow upwards, strong and tall. Others don’t take, and end before they can even begin. Some grow new shoots, only to be eaten by a passer-by snail; leaving only the barest of signs of being grisly eradicated before it could fully form.

And once you get these seeds on the ground, all you can do is wait. And water them. And wait again. And this process repeats itself as it grows; needing a complex combination of efforts to not only keep it stable, but to allow it to thrive and bear fruit.

It’s a nod to the universe in so many parallel ways – your labor of love is as complex, and yet while you can control a big portion of it, the rest is up to fate. One hopes for the best, and yet prepares for the worst. It’s a little dance in which you won’t know how it all will turn out; but one thing’s for sure: if you keep those seeds hidden, locking them away from soil and sunshine – you’ll never know how it all turns out.

So toss your seeds – your ideas, imagination and creativity – into the ground. Let them take hold and burst through the ground fresh and alive with hope. And what if it doesn’t turn out? Well, then it’s time to plant new ones.

Just remember to add water and love. And watch out for those sneaky slugs.

[Illustration: Lieke van der Vorst]

Posted by Amy Ng on 08/14/15 under artists,business,idea generation
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The First 5 Seconds of Your Portfolio Website

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

eternal1

In the first 5 seconds that an Art Director visits your website, they are making critical judgements about you and your work, for better or worse. That’s why it’s so important to give your landing page the attention it deserves.

How do you make a strong impression in the first 5 seconds?

This happens to be a question that I hear from a lot of Illustrators, which is understandable because your Home page is one of the most important parts of your website, along with your actual portfolio. After all, if you turn Art Directors off with a poorly designed landing page that makes you look like an amateur, they’ll go elsewhere quicker than you can say “Hey, wait! Come back!”

The way I like to think about the design of a landing page is to imagine that you’re an Art Director who has never been to your site before, and consider the impression that your website makes in the first 5 seconds.

Are you putting your best foot forward?

Are you showing off your greatest work?

Is your design clean and clear?

Is your style evident?

Are you making an impact?

What is the first thing the eye is drawn to? The second?

Asking these types of questions can be very worthwhile when designing (or redesigning) your website, because they can help you to take control of the way you “introduce” yourself to your new visitor.

An Outside Perspective

In fact, I would also recommend enlisting the feedback of one or more fellow artists that you trust, just as you might when asking for a critique of your work, because sometimes it can be hard to get an objective viewpoint of your own design. When asking for help, try to ask specific questions, such as the ones listed above, so that the criticism will be more useful to you.

Another enlightening activity is to visit the websites of Illustrators you’ve never seen before, and pay close attention to the way their Home page affects your impression of them. You might even want to have a pen and paper ready to jot down notes of the things that turn you on and/or off about their landing page. Then, you can apply these ideas to your own design.

Keeping Them Around

Remember that the Home page of your portfolio website, just like every other element, has a very specific job to do, which is to impress your potential clients, make them want to see more, and get them to your portfolio as quickly and easily as possible.

Spending a little extra time getting this part right can do a lot to help achieve these goals.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/10/15 under business
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Too many ideas and not sure which to pick? Here’s help.

Amy Ng
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Amy Ng

Amy is a teacher, writer and a self-taught illustrator. Her blog Pikaland, is popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce. Amy is also an adjunct lecturer at a local design college and has created online workshops for artists; teaching them how to use their unique strengths to create their very own opportunities. She believes that we each have a role to play and a story to tell –- and her personal mission is to help you discover what that is.
Amy Ng
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Amy Ng blogs at Pikaland, a popular stop for illustration lovers, students and artists who are looking for answers on how to find a balance between art, creativity and commerce.

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Indecisiveness.

It’s a very well known affliction that plague creatives – and I’m using the term creatives very loosely. It could very well mean entrepreneurs, who may have a pool of ideas to tap from for their next venture; or a designer who has a big sketchbook ready to go for their next collection or season. For an artist, it could come to mean experimenting with the use of various medias to come up with a series or even to redefine their personal style as they find ways to mix things up.

Creative people have ideas. Some have too many. Which one should I pick? Which one should come first? What if this doesn’t turn out well? What if I lose time on something that doesn’t work?

It’s an easy breeding ground for doubt and confusion, which can ultimately lead to paralysis.

I have lots of ideas. Some of them didn’t quite turn out, and some of them did. A few years ago I began to keep a sketchbook that listed out my ideas; I filled them with pages of pages of thoughts, comments, figures, sketches and with it, possibilities (although these days, instead of just using a sketchbook, I found that Trello is a great app in helping me sort out my ideas.) And it wasn’t just a continuation of one idea either – every other week I would come up with a new idea; or I would stew on a new idea and blend it with a previous one.

But no matter how many entries there were in my book, I was resigned to the fact that I only had two hands. I know myself enough to know that if I were to dabble in a few ideas, they would never turn out well enough for me to know if it was worth pursuing. So what I did was to just focus on one idea at a time – I owed the idea that much at least. To bring an idea to fruition takes time, dedication and effort; things that I knew would be scattered if I tried to juggle too many at a go.

It was still an experimentation none the less. But I choose to focus on one at a time so that I can properly document and figure things out as I move along. Is it working? Is it not? Can I do better? Do I want to keep doing this? Will I make a difference? I question the idea (and myself) constantly at every step of the way – much like a scientist who keeps a record of an experiment to see its progress.

And once you’re committed to the idea, you need to give it space and room to grow, to breathe, and a chance for it to live out its life. You’ll have to nurture it, see if it can stand on its own two feet, or if you’re lucky – to see if it could fly. But first, you’ll need to make a decision: which idea goes first?

The idea is simple: Pick one. Just one. And start from there.

A good friend reminded me once when I told her that I had trouble picking one idea, and she said this little gem of an advice that I carry to this day: “It’s good to have lots of ideas – this way we can execute them one by one until we’re 60. We’re all set for life!”

I’d like to think that it’s a great way to look forward to the future. Not everything needs to be done right here and now. It’s always prudent to save some of the good stuff for later. Don’t binge on everything at once. Take a bite, savour it, feel it, taste it and really enjoy the experience. Let it change and excite you. Life isn’t a buffet table for you to gorge on (although it can sometimes feel that way!) 

Here’s a couple of tips and reminders for those who are still indecisive:

Don’t let fear stop you from experimenting. And fear takes on many forms: fear of failure, fear of missed opportunities, or even plain old irrational fear.

Experiments always leads you somewhere, and often times it leads you down a path you might have considered before. Enjoy it and soak up the process!

Ideas on paper are just worth the paper they’re scribbled on – especially if you don’t start.

If you can juggle a few experiments at a go, by all means feel free to do so! Just be aware that if you drop the ball on one, the rest might follow – and you might not know what the outcome would be if you had focused on just one.

Consider that perhaps life is one big experiment.

That we’re all here just trying to figure out what works for us on many levels. Personally, physically, emotionally, spiritually, and artistically. Finding a way to be able to fuse them altogether somehow, or balance them so that everything is in sync – if only for a moment. 

May we never stop trying.

May we never, ever stop experimenting.

[Illustration: Tyler Spangler]

 

Posted by Amy Ng on 08/07/15 under artists,business,freelance
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How to Get More Children’s Book Illustration Commissions

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

 

72653 Illustration by Jennie Bradley

[The following is a guest post by Edward Burns, CEO of Advocate Art illustration agency.]

Screen Shot 2015-07-24 at 10.23.32Advocate Art, a leading children’s illustration agency is celebrating 20 years this year, Edward Burns CEO of Advocate Art gives some folio tips to illustrators wanting to win more children’s book commissions.
 
Look To The Movies For Guidance
It’s a fundamental fact that stories contain characters – just like a movie contains stars, supporting cast and extras. If you think of the story like a movie and the characters in your folio like a casting director would their roster of actors, it will help you develop them for… well, that next blockbuster!
 
Characters
So no big film is devoid of characters.  There are no films with just scenes and narrative – that would be pretty boring.  The same goes for children’s books. Ok, there may be a religious title with inspirational scenes and verse, but that is pretty much it. If you don’t have characters in your folio, there is nothing for an editor to pick –simple! Now be honest, can you imagine your characters working as stars in storybooks? Or are they really only going to make it as an extra? Unlike a casting director, you have power to create this cast, rather than rely on the acting skills of your clientele – lets do that!
 
Cast
In short you have to create a selection of characters that can be chosen for a variety of stories.  Main actors, sidekicks, the mum & dad and animals (both anthropomorphic and stylized).  The more genres you cover, the bigger your rostra of potential actors, the more films (stories) your folio will work for.  You may have seen that classic 80’s film called the Goonies? For me, that sets the benchmark for characters covered in most children stories. You have the computer geek; the hero; the overweight funny guy; the older sister; her friend; the sensible older boy plus good guys and bad guys mixed as all ethnicities. You see all the same stereotypes in kids films and cartoons from Madagascar to Power Rangers and repeated in animations of cats, dogs, zoo animals – you name it! The same goes for children’s books, let’s see that bad guy lion or the geeky koala for example or hey, draw them as people!

Cover the bases
Remember, you have to supply the whole cast.  A publisher won’t just pick you for the lead character. Your cast needs to encompass all the main characters. A quick trick is to do sheets of doodles, some finished, some just pencil outlines – say a page of monkeys. Another tip is to do a character line up – like a police identity parade.
 
If you want to do a book about “xyz” have it in your folio
Your cast can be stereotypes for sure, just like actors end up playing the same rolls or get typecast.  So if your dream is to do a fairy story, have some fairies on your cast, play to your drawing strengths. Build a cast for roles you want to illustrate or are good at.
We have illustrators who get work because they are simply good at illustrating Hispanic-looking kids, for example. Don’t forget though that each actor needs to be right on the money, there is a lot of competition! And please don’t kid yourself that having a princess in your folio will mean you get a fairy book, it has to be spot on. As an agent, I wait for the Art Director to say, “that’s the girl in my book” as he/she points at maybe the smallest doodle in the corner of a page of your folio.
I recently had an artist comment that it was odd that she was always being selected for period work like fables.  I said “Your joking right? Every person in your folio is wearing pantaloons!” I had a similar situation with an artist saying she was fed up with illustrating bible stories, we had to remove all biblical work from her folio and replace them with characters she wanted to do next.
 
Understand the other side
By understanding what an Art Director is going through to get an artist selected, you will understand why maybe your folio is not working for them. The typical selection process goes like this:-
The Art Director has a publishing meeting where sales marketing and the author are present; they want to see the suggestions for their new cute bear book, for example.
The editor will go in with maybe 6 illustrator suggestions.  Examples of their bears (not giraffes or pigs or fairies) – BEARS! And the right bear for the story.  It may sound a bit narrow minded creatively that they have to show a bear, perhaps sales don’t have the creative vision to imagine what your bear will look like from looking at a giraffe?!  Maybe there are too many bear samples out there for the Art Editor not to need to compromise. Most likely, they really want to nail it at the meeting.  The point of the meeting will be to definitively select the artist, that won’t be possible until the author says “That’s my bear in the story!”
 
“I’m very versatile, just ask me to do what you need”
It’s a classic line I hear from illustrators who don’t have the goods in their folio.  Ok it’s not their fault, often they don’t know what the “goods” are. When an Art Director is browsing your work on the web a) you are not there to say the line and b) why should they go to the effort and ask you? C) If you were perfect for the story, or liked bears, you would have drawn one by now!
Please don’t kid yourself that they will call you and ask you for a sample before the meeting of your bear, based on the strength of your giraffe.  They won’t have the budget for this so it will be a free sample and they don’t want you to terrorize them for weeks phoning them asking how you got on.  Only if they have prior experience with you will they ask you to sample. Folios have become a bit like menus in a restaurant, that’s your choice – the chief won’t do specials.

Characterization. Oscar winners
Ok, the characters have to be good at their craft, good actors, expressive facially and physically animated. They carry narrative from page to page even with dots for eyes and a half moon mouth, for example. It’s all the about the subtleties e.g. the tilt of the head, the turning in of a foot. I’ve seen the best illustrators work with films on in the background, even in the corner of their mac to guide them- Nicholas Cage transferred to a bubbly-headed boy. Show you can do it in your folio by setting yourself a narrative. For example, draw:
-girl is happy walking her puppy,
-girl looses puppy,
-girl thinks she knows where it is
-girl is happy she finds it.
 
Candid – natural well observed poses
Great illustrators are great actors; they understand human movement and poses. You may have a great eye for colour, a great technique and be quick but if your characters are all wooden, like they have been jig-sawed from thick plywood and the arms are moved using pins, they won’t be able to carry the narrative. It’s like the difference between wedding photos when all the relatives are lined up and the candid shots taken by an 8 year old on her iPod.
A tip is to click away on your phone at your family and friends maybe one Sunday. Draw a giraffe as your grandmother looking surprised or laughing; or your young sister as she concentrates on a magazine, or your mum when she is thoughtful
 
Colour
This is a huge subject so I will bullet point the basics that are relevant for children’s publishing:-
    •    Production printing processes wash out colours.  Softness and subtleties are often lost. Bright colours are best, especially when pitching younger.
    •    Spend some time understanding colour theory.  Warm colours to cold colours evoke moods that will help bring out the narrative.
    •    Co-ordinate and complement colours. Again use the colour wheel to make sure they are in the same pallet.  Keep continuity between colours throughout a page to demonstrate that, but don’t have your whole folio using the same green – vary it.
    •    Limit your pallet on a folio page of samples to show you have a supreme grasp of colours. Muted colours can add a mood, especially in limited light, or if a scene is set with limited colour choices, like a green frog in a green pond in a green jungle, or a brown rabbit in a dessert etc. Besides, it can be very trendy to limit colours!
    •    Use fashion magazines to understand what colours are in.  Check out popular online fashion/shopping websites and even drop the pallet into your own pallet.  Art directors and then the Mums who buy the books for their kids, understand fashion and will make purchases based on what looks right or modern.
    •    Mix it up.  Why can’t a night sky be purple or grass be yellow?  By introducing different lighting into your work – vary the obvious.
 
My favorite website for colour us is https://color.adobe.com/create/color-wheel/ check it out, it will help you through this theoretical science!
 
Continuity of Character
It basically means- can the same characters be re-drawn? You have to prove you can do it with samples in your folio.  It’s one of the most basic and yet often the toughest skills of an illustrator, especially if you have a very naive style. If this is the case, then often there are only subtle differences between the characters. You don’t want the same character pulling the same expression but you also don’t want all the characters to either start looking the same or start drifting into each other.
My best advice is doodle with your character and then set in stone how your character performs, use this as the benchmark before you even start. Sometimes a publisher will want to do this with you – it’s called character development. And don’t be tempted to make changes as you work through the project – you are asking for a re-do!

Child friendly
Are your characters suitable for kids? There is a big difference between Disney or CBBC characters and actors in 18 plus movies. The same goes for Children’s books, don’t have them dressed in sexy clothes, or well developed physically, or too violent, or too scary. In short, no guns, thongs, big breasts, cigarettes or spurting blood. It sounds obvious but it’s so common for illustrators to have in-appropriate characters in a children’s folio. Sure, have them for other markets but not in this folio.
Some illustrators have a different site all together for adult illustration or think of a sure fire way of separating them on your site. There is nothing wrong with having young characters with attitude, hey kids hate “lame” stuff e.g. how the Brats are to Barbie. Having it in your main folio demonstrates that you are not right for this role, it is a big home goal.
 
How old should your characters be?
There is a rule that generally pretty much everyone is interested in themes that are aspirational to them, but not too aspirational – just the next step. This means you can put yourself into the main role ‘with a little bit of imagination.’  You could be the hero in Die Hard or James Bond or the girls in Sex in the City.  Now consider the target age for these stories, they are always just below the age of the characters.
When you are growing up, ‘aspiration’ can be simplified to just a few years older than the target reader, their big sister or brother (because they get to do more).  So a 3 year old likes to read about 5 year olds, 5 year olds to 7, 7 year olds to early teens and so on. Don’t go too far, being much older is scary and often un-cool. There are exceptions of course but on the whole it works, so bear in mind this when designing your characters, even animal ones.
The Children’s Book market is broken into board books (think pages that little fingers can turn), picture books for mums to read to children at bedtime, early reading, reluctant reading and chapter books with simple illustrations, plus graphic novels and reference books. In general, illustrated books occupy the much younger market.  So as a rule, keep your characters young, say 3-8 and you will be in the range.
 
Cute.  Are they are appealing?
Thinking like a casting agent again, your characters need to be attractive on the whole. Let’s see your Brad Pitt’s and Julia Roberts. The supporting characters can have more interesting faces and the bad guys…well, need to look bad!  Stupid guys stupid, clever guys clever and so on. But the most important thing is that the lead guys are attractive/appealing, even if they’re not human characters.  Sorry, I don’t make the rules!
 
Cool- up-to-date
If you are not an ‘A-lister’ you at least need to know who is and why. Stories are being re-illustrated all the time, just like films are re-made, so you have to have a style which was illustrated this year or why would you be chosen to refresh a book? It is a trend led-world and no one is more on top of trends than the target buyer of kid’s stories – young Mums!
You need to know what type of eyes are in, what type of outline (key line) textures, of register colours etc. Check out the new releases in your local bookshop – absorb but don’t copy.
 
Style
Your style is what makes you, you.  But it can be adapted and nudged to a degree, can’t it?  It has to have empathy with the reader’s age.  But also be on trend and decorative – maybe even have some sophistication for the Mum!  You need to get down to the child’s level at least and create work that they will enjoy.  Too trendy or arty and you can patronize the buyer and the kids won’t get it. (Sure some art directors will love it but I doubt it will sell so there won’t be a second!).  Naive characters work best when they are artistically aspirational to kids i.e. you could imagine that the most artistic child in the school could draw this way – i.e. within their reach aspirationally.
 
Compositions.  Set the scene
It’s the location or the scene that will literally form the backdrop for your characters.  Don’t have them all on white and avoid too many cliff-edge compositions (i.e. a foreground but no background to the scene, like they are on a cliff-edge.) Include scenes that can help carry a narrative, as in the girl in the park example above. Do take on popular themes e.g. fairies, trucks even classic tales. This is your chance to be the director of the film so adopt their techniques-
Interesting camera angles can really help set the scene.  Say the story asks for 3 rabbits cowering from a tractor; have the angle perhaps as if you are in the ditch looking up at the rabbits, with the huge tractor filling the page behind them. It will help the reader empathize with the rabbits, as if they are going to be crushed under the wheels. A bird’s-eye view can also emphasize when characters are all together in a circle or one character is on its own.
Silhouettes.  Use these for supporting characters when you want to emphasize a conversation in a busy scene.  The main conversation does not need to be in the centre – just sketching the other characters can work as well.
Split scene.  Use these if you have over-lapping narrative.  It may be too complicated for young children, but really exciting if the text (and Art Director) calls for it.
 
And finally
Look in bookshops regularly, don’t rely on just looking at other artists or agents web sites.  They can throw you a curve ball because you may be looking at a folio of an unsuccessful artist! Check out what is out there on the High Street, especially really classic evergreen work. But hey, it’s all in the movies as well – go for the Oscar!
 
Ed.
CEO & Founder
Advocate Art
– See more at: advocate-art.com/community

Posted by Thomas James on 08/05/15 under books,business,children's art,freelance,IF Kids,illustration,resources,tutorial / how-to
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What’s Wrong with Your Illustration Business?

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at thomasjamesillustration.com.
Thomas James

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Illustration by Thomas James

Whether things are going really well for your illustration business, or really wrong, it’s always a good time to take a look at what you might need to change.

Finding the Weakest Links in Your Business

First I’d like to suggest zooming in a little closer on just the “problems”. Try and figure out what might be standing between you and the success you envision for yourself.

What might you be doing wrong?

What isn’t producing the desired results?

Is anything draining your time and money without offering something in return?

What is stunting your growth as a professional artist?

Once you discover the things that are dragging you down, you can choose to either remove them or make plans fix them, as needed. This may mean anything from making changes to your schedule, revising your promotional strategy, or upgrading your portfolio. Whatever the issue, it can be very useful to single it out, separate it from the pack, and make some strategic decisions about how to make a change for the better.

Identifying “problem areas” of your business can help you to make immediate improvements and potentially free up some valuable resources, which can then be devoted to something more productive elsewhere in your business.

Repairing Your Business

The most important step in this process is to actually do something about the broken parts of your business that are holding you back. This means setting aside time specifically for the purpose of fixing all those things that you promised you’d get to at some later date.

This is one of those aspects of being a freelancer that seems the least rewarding on the surface. It’s not often desirable to think about the negative things, but it’s easier than it sounds, and if you take action now you’ll feel instantly better about where your business is today, and where it’s going. You’ll have less problems affecting your business, and less undesirable tasks filling up your to-do list.

Once you focus on the broken pieces, you’ll be able to turn your attention to the things that are working well, and maybe even make them better with any resources you might have liberated from the wreckage of past mistakes.

Posted by Thomas James on 08/03/15 under business
Comments Off on What’s Wrong with Your Illustration Business?

 

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