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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

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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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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
Follow me

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.

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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

Latest posts by Thomas James (see all)

 

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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Part Time Job, Full-Time Artist: Rethinking the Creative Career

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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Two years ago while I was attending a conference on children’s books in Singapore, I sat in on a panel that consisted of two writers and an illustrator. The one-hour long talk was about their journey and experience, and how they got to where they were, career-wise. When the Q+A session rolled about, I knew what I wanted to ask – it was at the back of my mind when I saw the slides of their journey and creative processes. It slid off my tongue: “How do you guys earn enough to do this for a living, since you only produce about 2 books a year?” 

The room buzzed a little, and murmurs could be heard. It turns out it might be a little sensitive – this topic about money. But I had asked in earnest, because their achievements were not to be scoffed at. However, it didn’t add up, because we all know how long it takes a book to get published. And was there a secret to holding out for a paycheque to cash out in the meantime? It wasn’t meant to put anyone down – I was just really, really curious.

Their answer? Both of them had part-time jobs unrelated to writing/illustrating. They were frank: they couldn’t possibly live off from their books (not at the moment anyway). They told the crowd that having a part-time job freed them of the pressures of having to rely on their books financially – which would ruin their experience of writing/illustrating one. 

It made a lot of sense. And I was thrilled that they didn’t sugarcoat the experience. They told the practical side of a story that not many people care to hear about. Maybe it ruins the perfect illusion – one that spreads the idea that artists are supposed to come out the other end, triumphant after years of struggling alone, working hard on their craft. Although some might find it a silly or even inappropriate question to ask (It’s too personal! No one wants to hear the negative stuff!), I felt it was important. And it’s a pity no one talks about it more within the creative field. 

Beyond the encouraging (and yet irritating) shouts of “Work harder!”, “You’re not doing enough!” and “You need to get out there more!” that’s ringing in the ears of every artists who has tried, failed and tried again, harder; it can mean so much. It means that the idea of an artist, sitting behind their desk, deep in the flow of creating work with no other obligations (financial or otherwise) besides their 100% focus on their art, might be a reality that’s not in line with what a lot of artists are facing. 

Yes, there is a percentage of artists who are able to do it full time, but they add a whole lot of other things to their repertoire too – some teach, some freelance on the side, and others pick up part-time jobs to substitute their income. Besides art patronage (which is harder to come by these days), there’s another way; one that’s not talked about more:  sponsorship. This article – “Sponsored” by my husband: Why it’s a problem that writers never talk about where their money comes from – is a really great article about how artists are doing a disservice to others by not being honest about how they got to where they are. Replace “writer” with “artist” in the article and there’s not much difference – we’ve all gotten help along the way. The question is how much? Was it through your own efforts, or by someone else? No one really talks about where their money comes from (or maybe there’s not enough frank conversations around it to begin with in the first place). 

Some might not need to make money from their art – for some, the love of process is enough. But for many, the financial lift from selling their work isn’t just about making a living. It’s a sign that they’re doing what they love – and are being loved by others as well. Call it validation. Or maybe the fact that it could signal the beginning of a viable business (and no, it’s not a bad word). It’s a value system that rings higher than just dollars and cents.

Taking on another job – part-time or otherwise, doesn’t mean that you’ve hung up your artist hat for good. It just means that you’re being pragmatic and realistic. Money pays the bills and keeps the light on. It keeps your fingers warm enough to move when the temperature outside is freezing. It keeps you from hunger and pain, and it buys you supplies needed for you to work your magic. Above all, having a bit of money ensures that your basic needs are met, so that you can focus on creating great things.

Taking on another job – part-time or otherwise – is also a great way to add another dimension to your work, particularly if you have interests that run outside of art that you can capitalise on. Or perhaps you’re merely taking on extra work to fill the the gaps financially, and are not really into whatever it is you’re doing to help pay the bills. That’s fine too. Whatever works for you. Just remember: if you start to have a strong, adverse reaction to work outside of your creative interests, perhaps it’s time to take a step back and re-evaluate the impact it will have on your art. 

It’s a fine line to tread. You don’t want to be too comfortable that you neglect your art, but you want to earn enough so that you can take the edge off from financial burdens. So what’s the best way to go about it? Pick something that you’re good at. Something that you can do quicker, or better than others. Do something that comes second nature to you (and I’m not talking about lying back on the couch going over Games of Thrones).

I know a few people (myself included) who look for avenues where they can separate their emotions from work. In other words, they are able to distinguish and remove themselves emotionally while completing the task at hand. For example, if you’re a designer during the day, you’ll be using up a lot of creative energy – which makes it a bit harder to squeeze out creative juice for your own personal projects come night-time. The goal is to find that sweet spot between your interests and also what you’re good at – which you might find has no relation to art at all. I’ve known artists who are also accomplished accountants, gardeners and even magazine writers (yours truly).

So throw out the outdated notion of being a starving artist. Keep your hands busy and get out there while you scale your creative heights. Find a job if you have to – so you won’t have to sacrifice your artistic integrity or worry about things like being too hungry to think properly or if you’re struggling to stay afloat under the constant pressure of being evicted from your home. You’ll be able to stay true to your voice and your goals, and enjoy the artistic freedom it offers you.

One caveat though: don’t let the need or want for stability rob you of your passion in the first place. 

It’s a fine line to tread, but that’s a whole different subject altogether.

[Illustration: Jean Jullien]

Posted by Amy Ng on 07/31/15 under artists,business,freelance
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Why You Don’t Need a Degree to Be an Artist

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.

Lim Heng Swee aka ilovedoodle

I like to challenge conventions and ideas alot.

And one of the topics that I can quickly get hot under the collar about is the topic of education. I think it’s a field that needs to be challenged, especially in this day and age where information runs freely and so abundantly. I’m not against the idea of learning. Far from it – I’m challenging the idea that learning needs to be in a formal environment, for a minimum of 2 to 3 years, learning about things that ultimately do not help you get to where you want to be.

You see, I get a lot of questions about pursuing a Masters degree, or even a diploma in a field that they love, i.e. art or illustration. And if you’re a student who knows what you want, and you have the means to go to a college or university, then by all means, go for it. But only IF you want to and feel very strongly about it and know what you want to get out of it. For the rest who don’t know what you want or can’t afford to go to college or university, then this article is for you. For those of you who don’t know whether to continue your education or not, then this is for you too.

I spent 5 years in a public university and graduated as a landscape architect back in 2004. I spent my life following a very predictable arc – primary school, high school, university, and then work. Only I didn’t work in the field that I graduated from. I felt that I didn’t belong, and after 6 months of intense internship where I gave it my best shot, I decided that I wasn’t suited to being a landscape architect. I hated the long hours, and the red tape that governed each project. I hated dealing with contractors and having my design torn to shreds due to shrinking budgets. And I hated AutoCAD with every fibre of my being. So much that I did my technical drawings manually (i.e. completely by hand) during my final semester when everyone else was doing theirs via computer.

So when I graduated, I turned to publishing immediately. What made me go to a publisher with nary a resume and no work history to prove my worth? Instead of focusing on what I didn’t have, I demonstrated what I could do instead. I wrote up an article and laid it out in Adobe Photoshop, to give an idea of the sort of articles I think should appear on the magazine. I got a callback for an interview and was hired on the spot as an editorial assistant. You wouldn’t believe the amount of push back I got from my peers and my parents about going for a job that required skills I didn’t learn in university! People said it would never work, and that no one would hire me – not without a Mass Communication or a journalism degree. I challenged it and proved them wrong. A few years later, I even went on to helm an architecture and design magazine as an editor; and even started a regional design magazine for a publisher. My years of education went full circle back then – my years of studying architecture and design made me very much sought after in the publishing industry.

Was my 5 years spent in university a waste of time? It’s hard to say – and I say this with the utmost affection for the time I was there. I probably might not have met my husband if I wasn’t there (he was a classmate). I’ve met wonderful teachers. But I’ve also found teachers outside the system by my own efforts. Maybe I was just lucky, considering how back then we didn’t have the choices that’s available these days. The internet was still in its infancy, and I was young and didn’t know where to look. So we followed along a very linear path – one that our peers took. And the ones that our seniors followed before that. I do wish however, that I could have cut the time I spent in university in half, although it wasn’t something that I could control. I wished that I had travelled more and explored student exchange options overseas. Maybe that’s it.

On the upside: I’m grateful for learning more about fine arts, design and the experience of working in a studio through my time in university, and for the friends I made along the way. I made sure I was in control of what I wanted to learn – I enrolled in a degree that taught me the basics of design and art, even though deep down I knew that I might not work in the field I studied in. The reasons for doing so was a little complicated – I didn’t have access to a lot of courses in public university, and I didn’t go to a private college because of financial restraints (I didn’t want to get myself or my parents in debt). I made sure that the lessons I learnt, however, can be applied to virtually anything I was interested in life.

And that’s what I want people to know.

That you’re in control of what you do. That you can choose to learn at your own pace and to create your own outcome. That you don’t need a title to define yourself – you’re better off focusing on the things you want to learn, rather than what you will call yourself at the end of a degree. That you’re no longer following a linear path – you have a wide open field at your disposal. And yes, that may be terrifying at times, but it’s also a very exciting time.

I set up the Pikaland blog in 2008 precisely because I didn’t know much about illustration. I wanted to learn more from the artists I saw online. I saw their work, and I devoured their bios and statements; and went looking for patterns in their work so that I could try to get a glimpse of why they chose to create the way they do. It was always about ideas, and not so much about their techniques.

For 7 years (it’s approaching 8 now!) I learnt on my own. I saw thousands of illustrations, read thousands of bios, artists statements and concepts; talked to hundreds of artists and learnt what I could about this unique career – one that has changed so much throughout the years. My personal accomplishments include being an illustrator, art director and educator. And I want to give back to people, and show others that it can be done. I took control of my own education, and I now I teach others how to do the same at a local college, and online as well.

And it’s the best feeling in the world – the thought that I could do whatever I wanted, if I put my heart into it.

I’ve come out the other side – still learning as I go along – and I’m happy to say this: so can you.

[Illustration by Lim Heng Swee of ilovedoodle]

Posted by Amy Ng on 07/24/15 under artists,business,freelance
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The Healthy Way to Compare Yourself to Other Artists

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

It can be dangerous to spend too much time comparing your own Illustration work to that of your fellow artists, but there are times when it can be beneficial to your art and your business.

I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves getting caught in the trap of unhealthy comparisons. It can be easy to find yourself looking at someone’s art and marveling at how much better they are than you, or how much more successful. This only results in feelings of doubt and uncertainty, which can wreak havoc on your creative output. If you find yourself in this situation, maybe it’s time to back off and return to your own voice and think about what is unique about you.

However, it is also a mistake to go too far in the opposite direction and close yourself off from your fellow Illustrators altogether, thereby passing up opportunities for personal, professional, and artistic growth.

Healthy Comparison

There’s no doubt that paying attention to your fellow Illustrators can be a great learning experience when done in moderation. There are so many things you can learn from the ways that other people communicate visual ideas, promote their work, design their website, etc.

Whenever you come across an Illustrator that inspires you, take a moment to think about what it is that’s grabbing your attention.

Have they tackled a topic in a way that you might not have considered?

Do they have a unique skill or technique that you can develop within yourself?

Are they running their business in a way that you can apply to your own situation?

Questions like these can help to turn simple admiration into a more studious approach that can make you a better Illustrator. No matter what level of experience or talent you consider yourself to be at, growth and education should be a regular activity, lest you become stagnant and complacent in your craft.

The important thing is to be mindful of the ways that you can take the things that you learn from other artists and make them your own without simply copying their approach.

Do you consciously study the work and practices of your fellow Illustrators? What are some things that you’ve learned by doing this?

Posted by Thomas James on 07/23/15 under business,freelance
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How to Be More Creative in the Age of Over-Inspiration

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.

Neil J Rook

Ah, the internet. What would I do without it? It’s a portal that bounces me from one wonderment to the next – an inspiring road trip filled with jaw-dropping illustrations and illuminating interviews, with sideshow attractions of fun video tutorials to community hangouts for every niche under the sun. The internet is the gateway to inspiration on demand, and it seems like the more sidetracked I get, the hungrier I get for more.

When you have a source that beckons with creativity and inspiration 7 days a week and 24 hours a day, it’s easy to be sucked into a loop. There’s always something interesting a mere click away. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in my predicament. In the age of Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter and the many infinite scrolling art & design websites (I liken it to a bottomless well of beautiful things just waiting to be discovered) – what does this mean for artists?

The National Centre for Biotechnology Information’s research in April 2015 has surveyed that the average attention span of people in 2015 is now 8.25 seconds, compared to 12 seconds in the year 2000. That means our capacity for holding attention is 30% less compared to 15 years ago – and it’s not surprising, given how our brains are hard-wired to crave new information; according to Bruce Morton, a researcher with the University of Western Ontario’s Brain and Mind Institute.

With each click leading to the next and the more information we devour, the novelty wears off quickly, and off we go in search of better, more beautiful, more interesting things. It’s nasty cycle that perpetuates itself; leading to a host of other problems like a lack of productivity (hey, where did the time go?), procrastination (just one more website!) and for some, the inability (or reluctance) to dive deeper; to analyse and synthesise the information they’ve already visually absorbed.

I’ve talked to college students who were confused by it all – there was no lack of inspiration, and yet they weren’t inspired. They grew up with the internet being a very big part of their lives, and yet they seem to be suffering from inspiration fatigue, and couldn’t understand why. One theory that I brought up was that perhaps they’ve been looking at what was already completed and done by other artists, therefore subconsciously they didn’t need to figure out the process for themselves (hey, since it’s already been done!) Replicating something visually without finding out the underlying thought process behind it all is just like skimming the water without knowing its depths. It’s also a little like eating junk food all the time, which tastes great but isn’t very good for you.

I recommended my students to try and be more conscientious of the information they took in. Instead of merely looking at the aesthetics of the many works of art in front of their screen before jumping to the next, how about they pause for a moment and focus on finding out more details about it instead? Dig through archives of the artist’s work, and perhaps catch a glimpse of their process. Maybe it works and maybe it doesn’t (the ails of over-inspiration runs far deeper), but the reminder to dig vertically instead of mindlessly pacing horizontally might just be a good start. I needed the nudge too as I’m sometimes guilty of the same.

It’s times like these that it’s useful to remember Charles Eames’ quote: “Art resides in the quality of doing, process is not magic.”

Maybe we don’t really need more inspiration. We need more doing instead.

[Illustration by Neil J Rook]

Posted by Amy Ng on 07/16/15 under artists,business,freelance
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20 Pieces of Advice from 20 Illustrators

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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2020-fin-ill

In preparation for her awesome upcoming online workshop Building a Freelance Illustration Business, Illustrator Salli Swindell decided to reach out and get some thoughts from other artists. The question was “What’s one piece of advice you would share with other illustrators?” This is testament to the fact that Salli is doing her best to make the workshop as useful and helpful as possible, and she has graciously shared the results with Illustration Friday!

Meet 20 artists below and read what they have to say! Also be sure to check out Salli’s educational and inspiring online workshop: Building a Freelance Illustration Business here.

Coming soon: Part 2 – Advice from art directors.

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Posted by Thomas James on 07/14/15 under art supplies,artists,business,classes,freelance,IF news update
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Elise Gravel :: author and illustrator

Alice Palace

Alice Palace

Alice works as a greeting card publisher, illustrator and designer from her studio in Evesham with her sister Lizzy (the studio manager) and their two dogs, Jemima and Honey (the distractions!).
Alice Palace

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Post by Alice Palace

Elise lives in Montreal and draws lots and  LOTS of wonderful monster characters – but the illustrations I love best are her children and animals…

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Take a look at her website

Posted by Alice Palace on 02/04/15 under artists,books,freelance
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a print designer named Aless Baylis

Alice Palace

Alice Palace

Alice works as a greeting card publisher, illustrator and designer from her studio in Evesham with her sister Lizzy (the studio manager) and their two dogs, Jemima and Honey (the distractions!).
Alice Palace

Latest posts by Alice Palace (see all)

Post by Alice Palace

Aless has just set up her own studio label called ‘This is gold’. Based in London, she is available for freelance surface pattern, illustration and childrenswear graphics. I love her characters…

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See her New Website

Posted by Alice Palace on 01/26/15 under artists,children's art,freelance
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