Archive for the ‘business’ Category

Create Alternative Income Streams With Your Illustrations

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
Thomas James

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Posted by Thomas James on 05/15/18 under business
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This Week’s Topic is Brought to You by Adobe Stock

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
Thomas James

Happy Illustration Friday, fellow artists!

We’re very excited to announce that this week’s topic of UTOPIA is sponsored by our friends at Adobe Stock, where you can submit your art for sale in the world’s largest creative community!

You can sell photographs, videos and illustrations on Adobe Stock, where designers and other creatives are looking for high-quality content in all subject areas, including technology, fashion, food, portraiture, lifestyle, architecture, beauty, business and more.

Becoming an Adobe Stock contributor is simple. If you have great photos, videos or vector content and you own all the rights, you can become an Adobe Stock contributor and start earning an income from the art you are so passionate about!

Click here to learn more about Adobe Stock >>

Posted by Thomas James on 05/04/18 under business
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A reminder about growth, learning and taking small steps by Sarah K. Benning

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
Thomas James

I was reacquainted with the work of Sarah K. Benning a while back through Instagram, and I was floored. And you can see why. The subject matter at hand combined my two interests – gardening and craft in the beautiful, intricate embroideries that remind me a little bit of 8-bit pixel art (also my favourite). All three of my favourite things all rolled into one? Yowza.

It’s easy to think (and I can almost hear gasps going) – wow – her work is amazing. Her skill is amazing. OMG plants. I have plants. Why didn’t I think of that before?! And yet, hers is a journey that is familiar to a lot of artists out there. She didn’t start out doing the kind of embroideries that you now recognise as her handiwork, plastered all over blogs and magazines. Like everyone else, she started out by experimenting and taking small steps.

I first knew about her work when she hand embroidered greeting cards and art cards and sold them on Etsy back in 2013:

Her work evolved to include embroideries in hoops in 2014, and as you can see from her pictures below, her embroideries also started to evolve in intricacy:

Towards the end of 2015, she started to experiment with more complex patterns in her embroidery, using her plants and cactuses as the main subject of her work:

While Sarah is trained in fine arts, she is self-taught in the art of embroidery.

From her About page:


Originally from Baltimore, she attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and received her BFA in Fiber and Material Studies.  Shortly after graduating in 2013, Sarah discovered her love for embroidery, a relaxing hobby she could enjoy while working as a full-time nanny. She approaches each piece as an illustration rather than a textile, often abandoning traditional stitches and techniques in favor of bold shapes, playful patterns, and contemporary subject matter.

Sarah’s embroideries often depict potted plants and her newest works position these potted gardens in interior spaces and pairs them with other textiles.  She approaches these pieces as illustrations, creating drawings in pencil directly onto the fabric before filling the image in with thread.  In this way, the thread becomes more like ink or paint than traditional embroidery, which accentuates the bold shapes, patterns, and color in the compositions.


While her earlier works (2013-2014) already showed a love of plants, cacti, and landscapes, her continuous experimentation in embroidery has allowed her to be able to execute more intricate and detailed compositions, such as more recent ones below:

It was gradual, and organic – as laid out in her FAQ page:


Where do you get your patterns and how do you transfer them to fabric?

I invent them! Drawing is a major part of my practice, so I keep sketchbooks of ideas, composition thumbnails, plant details, and textile diagrams to aid in the creating of my stitched works.  These sketches then come together as final designs by re-drawing them directly onto my fabric with pencil.  The underdrawing gets completely covered up with the stitching.  This process allows for a lot of revision and experimentation before I get down to sewing.

What stitches do you use and how can I learn how to do this?

I don’t always adhere traditional embroidery stitches and techniques, thinking of the thread more like ink or paint and inventing or adapting stitches as I go.  The one common embroidery stitch I do use is the satin stitch, which is how I achieve the fields of color that create the foundation of each element in my compositions.  The final and most fun stage to every piece is the surface pattern that creates all the detail in the plants, textiles, and pots.

My advice to anyone wanting to learn is to go get the basic materials (hoop, fabric, thread, needle, scissors) and just start experimenting!  My work has evolved over the past 3 years and is my full-time job.  Believe me, I didn’t start out sewing complicated things.  Be patient with yourself and have fun!


It’s easy to look at an artist’s success and think that they knew what they were doing right from the start. Looking through Sarah’s work, I’m not sure if she had any inkling that her work would evolve to be where it is right now. But what I see is persistence, evolution and a constant challenging of her craft. Her love of subject is already apparent even in the beginning, and they run like threads interwoven in the fabric of her progression. They’ve always been there, and it’s exciting to see where her experimentation will take her.

You can purchase her work from website (they sell out fast!), and follow along her journey on Instagram.


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.

Posted by Thomas James on 06/28/16 under artists,business,illustration,technique
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How to decide on events that are worth your time and money

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
Thomas James


Illustration by Matteo Berton

I recently went to Amsterdam and Berlin. The trip was mainly to attend Pictoplasma 2016 in Berlin, which I have heard so many good things about for the past few years. It was my first time in Europe. It was also the first time I sat in an airplane for 14 hours. It was exciting.

It was also scary.

Prior to my decision to attend Pictoplasma, I thought of attending the Asian Festival of Children’s Content in Singapore – AFCC (an event that I’ve been attending for the past 3 years, invited both as a moderator and speaker). But when I realised that I didn’t have to go this time round, I asked myself – where should I go instead? Maybe it’s time for a change, I thought. I’ve always wanted to go to Europe to see what it’s like. Pictoplasma is two months away, and by a stroke of pure luck, there was an ongoing promotion of cheap flights to Europe at the time. Fifty percent off the normal ticket price was a pretty good deal, I thought!

Once I started thinking, I then asked myself – what’s stopping me from considering other events? So I turned my focus on another event – the ICON 9 Conference in Austin, Texas. Both were within mere months from each other. I had to decide: Europe or the US. I could only pick just one.

I calculated the cost of accommodation, flight and meals for both to see if I would be able to afford the trip – and it turns the Europe trip was the one that I could afford. Tickets to the US were expensive (50% more), and to cut a long story short, I was able to take advantage of more cost savings that Europe had to offer – including a standing invitation from a lovely friend to stay at her apartment throughout the duration of my trip.

So Europe it was.

To be honest, I never thought that I’d be able to set foot in Europe so soon. For those who traveled often, it might not seem like a big deal but it was always something that I had dreamed of doing, but was something that I waved away as pure indulgence and was out of reach for me. Because it was so far away (14 hours by flight!) Maybe when I had more money. Maybe it’s a trip I should go with my husband. Maybe I should stick to Asian countries first – there’s quite a few that I haven’t been to. I’ve set up so many imagined roadblocks for myself that I hadn’t realised that I was holding myself back.

But you know what? Screw it. There’s only so much time I could waffle on about this, so I booked a flight, and bought a ticket to Pictoplasma two months before the event. I was really lucky because the stars all aligned for me in terms of budgeting. If you’re wondering how I did it – there’s no magic here. I’m as boring as can be:I took on more projects to defray costs. I saved up.  I’m a very frugal person, plus I don’t have other responsibilities beyond my mortgage and miscellaneous living expenses, so I am lucky to have been able to save up a fair bit for stuff like this. And if you’re a scrooge like me, you’ll know that it’s hard to let go, especially when things like this are right in front of you – even though you saved up just for it. It’s a complex, I know.

What if you’re thinking of going to an event? How would you decide if it was worth your time and money? I’ve been to my share of events – both in and out of the country to further my skills and open up my horizons. I’ve also learnt when to say no to opportunities that I felt were not the best use of my time. But like the above, I’ve also learnt to take risks and to just say a big huge yes. I used to get big pangs of FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out when I was first starting out. Having to say no would make me hyperventilate with fear at the thought of losing out on experiences, contacts and networking opportunities. These days however, I’m weighing the pros and cons of every invitations I get carefully before deciding if I should go. My heart doesn’t give off a weird, awkward twang anymore when I have to write an email to decline an invitation. Instead it’s more of a relief, I’d say.

So if you’re curious on how I’ve managed to stave off the ugly FOMO monster, here’s my personal checklist of considerations that I run in my head before I say yes to an engagement or event:

1. Return on Investment (ROI)
In a perfect world, you wouldn’t have to think about ROIs for when you’re attending events. In a perfect world, I’d love to say yes to everything and every event I’m invited to. But I have only one body, one mind (which I’d like to keep sane) and a pair of hands and legs that can only be at one place at any given time. You know how people make a list of pros and cons and then weigh it against each other? This is no different. What would you get out of the event? Are there other events that would be able to provide you with the same opportunities? Who would you like to meet? Could you email or phone them instead? Could you watch the rerun online later? Factoring the practical side of the equation will help you make a more informed decision.

2. Can I afford it?
Budgeting is a real concern when it comes to traveling; particularly when the event takes you out of the country. Would I have enough funds to get there and back? What about food, living and traveling expenses? What if I run into problems over there? Money, however, is an issue that can be settled if you have enough time. Most of the time, planning well ahead will afford you cheaper tickets (much like accommodations, where you can find better rates and locations to cut down on the need for commuting). Not enough funds? If you plan ahead, you can factor in your planning to get some extra money. Take on extra freelance work, or set up a stall or online shop. Hustle, hustle and hustle some more. Get a sponsor. Talk to people who might be able to benefit from your opportunity. Get creative – there’s only so much you can save, but your earning potential is limitless, especially if you do it thoughtfully and purposefully. Stay local – I usually opt to stay at an Airbnb or a local bed and breakfast whenever I traveled so that I had someone to consult when I was there – this time I picked Airbnb as it was on a short notice and having hosts who could give you tips on transportation and general tips is tremendously helpful especially when you need to orientate yourself quickly. When you’re there, pack your own lunch too to save money and time. Discover the local markets/grocery store – this makes me giddy with joy because I enjoy learning how to live and eat like a local.

3. Am I going for someone, or for myself?
I’ve been invited to events where I’d turn up as a favour to the host or invitee. And while some of these events have been great and I’ve come away from it inspired and energised; there have been a few that has made me regret wasting my time because I was trying to be polite. If you’re a freelancer or if you’re self-employed, you might get this guilt more often than not: should I go, or should I not? If I don’t go, maybe my client won’t give me more jobs. If I do go, there’s also the possibility that I might enjoy myself and learn something new. It was mostly the latter for me, luckily, when I was first starting out. I approached a lot of these events with an open mind and was ale to learn lots of cool things, form friendships as well as collaborations that has lasted until today. Remembering this point can sometimes bring up the FOMO monster again, but I’ve since learned to make better decisions.

5. Can you get your things in order before you go away?
Can your business still run while you are away? Can you get time off from work? Can you relax for a bit and not have to think about work while you’re somewhere else? Could you work while traveling? Do you want to? Or would you prefer to line things up so that you can clear your desk and pile ahead of time before you disappear for a few days (or weeks – it’s up to you!)

6. Can I also explore other things and places, and meet other people within the vicinity?
I love to kill two birds with one stone. For me to travel to Europe, I’d really like to max out my time there since it takes about 14 hours (not including layovers) to get there. Being the sort of person who likes to soak in a particular place for a few days (to get better acquainted, and fall in love with it) instead of being the harried traveler, the maximum number of big cities/countries I’d like to cover is no more than 2-3 at one time. I took 17 days to cover 2 countries, which has been a really nice pace – your mileage will vary though! In between, I made sure I had time to meet up and visit lovely friends who I’ve only spoken to via emails, which is a real treat! I also was fortunate to have a roof over my head to call home, hence I was able to stay longer without denting my budget. Recently, I time and plan my travels to also coincide with flea markets happening in the area – I love finding gems that won’t break the bank, while buying directly from local residents.

7. How much do you need/want it?
Sometimes things don’t make sense. You might not get everything you want from that just one event. Maybe it’s just a small chunk of knowledge that you’re itching to get. Maybe you’d really like to say hello to that hero of yours that flew in all the way from someplace far that would be see hell freezing over before you could get there (talk about meeting halfway, eh?) Life can be irrational sometimes. People can be irrational sometimes. And it’s okay. If you think that going to this event would or could change the course of your career or even life (hey, it happens!) then by all means, you don’t need people telling you what you should or should not do.

I won’t be the first to admit that when I want to travel, it’s not just because of work. Like the above considerations, there’s lots of things that go into a decision to get on an airplane, but one of the biggest deciding factor for me is also one that’s very subjective, and sometimes a little selfish. Very often, when I decide to go away by myself, it’s for me to clear my head or for when something bad has happened and I would need some time to process things through. I liken it to having new memories to replace the not-so-good ones!

Whether it’s to get away after watching my first dog die of cancer, or because I felt stuck; traveling – going away and then coming back – keeps me sane. The line “I need to go away” is one that I’ve used a few times when life knocks the wind out of me, and I’m very lucky that my husband and family understands my need to do so. Experiencing different sensory inputs and being in a new place, meeting new people and trying out things I don’t normally get to do – it refreshes and rejuvenates the way I can’t describe it. Yes, I do come back to the same situation at the end of it. My dog is still dead. My teeth issues are still there, waiting for me. I have work that’s piled up sky high. But I come back a different person, with new eyes. I’m itching to get back to work, sleeves rolled up and ready to go. And this alone makes going away worthwhile (in addition to all of the above reasons that I’ve mentioned).

And so I’m back from Europe. And you know what? I’ve built up the idea of visiting Europe so much that when I was in Amsterdam I kept touching the many bridges there while I was crossing the canals to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. I thought to myself: hey, it wasn’t that difficult to get here. It was doable. Yes, it took many years to save up for it, but it also took me the same amount of time to get over my money issues – let’s just say that I am so thrifty that Asian parents everywhere would be proud of me.

As for Pictoplasma? While it was a fun event, I doubt that I would go again in the future as an attendee. First, the good stuff: I learned a lot of new things, met some fantastic artists and made new friends. The bad? I thought the organizers could do better with the opening party and hosting better programmes in the evenings after the conference, so that everyone could maximise their time there, as there were quite a few people who flew in from around the world just to attend (eg. the ability to procure drinks at a bar does not make it a programme for me, really). I say this after having been to a few conferences that was managed a whole lot better in terms of giving attendees value for their money. But because I managed to cover most of the items on my checklist above in addition to the conference, I had a brilliant trip that’s worth so much more than attending that just one event.

So if you’re ever wondering about whether going to an event would be worth it, I hope the above checklist is helpful! For me, this trip isn’t just about Pictoplasma, or about going to Europe for the first time in my life; it’s also learning that nothing is out of reach. Yes, I consider myself very fortunate to be able to travel as it’s never lost on me that not many have the opportunity as I did. It might take you months, or even years (like me), but with the right planning, budget and timing, traveling outside your comfort zone is highly recommended to expand your horizons – physically, mentally and emotionally. 

Just don’t do it because you have FOMO.

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.

Posted by Thomas James on 06/06/16 under artists,business,tutorial / how-to
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How to cultivate good habits that will encourage creativity

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
Thomas James

Phoebe Summers

Illustration: Phoebe Summers

We’ve all given excuses before: I’m too tired, I’m too busy, etc. Whether it’s to avoid going for that run you’ve marked on your calendar, or to enter your studio during the weekends when you’ve already put in 40-hour-weeks at your day job – procrastination is a tough habit to beat.

As creatives, we live and breathe design – whether it’s graphic design, art or illustration. Our minds are constantly running background tasks even if we don’t know it. You may appear to be chewing your food silently, but the real fact is that you’re thinking about that art piece you saw in a gallery a week ago. Or what about that time when you had that family vacation? Your kids were running around having fun and the only thing running through your mind is work – yup, the one you left back at home. Such is the mind of a working creative.

But there is hope.

We wind up this way (yes, I’ve been there!) because we aren’t living in the moment. And while that may sound like it isn’t anything particularly serious, it’s a bad habit. And bad habits are one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done. One way that has helped for me personally is to introduce new habits – things that when done time and time again, will help you get back on the creative track.

So here’s what has worked for me:

Making a list

To-dos, grocery lists, or even things you need for your trip – you need to write them all down. Because if you don’t, it’s going to be hiding in the recesses of your mind, just waiting for the most ridiculous moment to pop up and remind you of its existence. And then you’ll forget. Yet again.

Our brains can’t cope with too much tasks at any given time. And when you load it with a task such as remembering X, Y, and Z, you’ll leave little room for the things you want it to do. Like thinking up rad new ideas or joining together ideas to form new ones.

So let it all out on paper. Write every single thing down so that you won’t forget and your brain can get some rest!

Having a routine

What gets your brain juices flowing in the morning? Coffee? A run? A shower? Do that. Sometimes it’s good to establish a routine, especially those that have worked for you before. By having a routine, it frees up a lot of time thinking about what to do – you’ve an automated schedule to run so that you can leave your imagination where it counts the most.

Doing nothing at all

When your body is reluctant to do something – listen to it. It’s trying to tell you something. Instead of just dragging your body to the gym (or somewhere else you need to be), stop for a moment and just take a nap. Or just lie on the couch and read that book you’ve been putting aside. Maybe what you really want is to catch that favorite TV show? Then just do it.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how refreshed you’ll be when you start listening to your body instead of going against it. We’re not recommending that you flake on your appointments all the time – but sneaking in some time for yourself – especially if you don’t do it enough – will save your sanity.

Limiting time on social media sites

Yes, you heard me. It’s a time sucker. And when you’re refreshing that feed of yours, think of the time you could have spent on other, more productive things – things that could improve your art, or figuring out a way to earn more income through your art. Besides, reading too much Facebook is depressing – definitely not something you’d want when you’re trying to be creative.

Limit your viewing to 5 times a day, or only check your social media happenings in the evenings. Or perhaps it can be a reward for when you’ve checked things off your to-do list. The point is, get things done instead of watching others get things done.

Looking up. Or down.

We always look at things that are eye-level. Supermarket shelves are stocked so that their popular items are placed at eye-level. But look deeper – up the aisle and down as well and you’ll be surprised at the things you find. Life is a lot like that as well. Inspiration is everywhere, the saying goes. And it’s certainly not limited to the scope of vision that we’re used to looking at. So Remember: look up and down wherever you go. Soften your gaze a little.

Writing down ideas.

Much like the above, you should write down any ideas you come across. Not just lists of things. Business ideas, ideas for your art, a new way of experimenting with your technique – all these should be written down because as we mentioned earlier, our brain can only do so much. And once you forget them, it might be gone forever.

I’ve kicked myself so hard because I had on many occasions, a great idea that I forgot to pen down. I would then spend hours or even days trying so hard to grasp or fill in the blanks. It was a waste of time indeed. And that’s if I can recall it again!

Revisit ideas and combine them to create new things.

Once you have a book of ideas, take some time to flip through it when you’re stuck. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find jumping out between those pages – because when ideas get together, the party is just getting started!

Doing the most important stuff first

Contrary to beliefs, your emails isn’t the most important thing that you need to do. So instead of firing up the Mail manager, you need to work on your work first. We get so wrapped up responding to things that we sometimes forget to create. So before you get sucked into the menial stuff, make sure to put your energy where it’s needed most of all – creating work that matters – before you start on the small stuff. Believe you me, it’s the small stuff that will suck the energy out of you before you know it!

Practice, practice, practice

All the above are simple measures to help you rein in your time. But without practice, you’ll fall into the same old bad habits that got you into trouble in the first place. So keep at them and you’ll find that all these habits will come naturally.

There you have it – my go-to list on creating new habits to encourage your creativity to flourish. Are these among the habits that you’re putting into gear post new year?

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.

Posted by Thomas James on 02/29/16 under artists,business,idea generation
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A better way to keep up with new year resolutions

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
Thomas James


Philip Giordano

Ah, new year resolutions. 

The long line of promises you make at the beginning of each year to be a better version of yourself than the year before. To eat healthier, to move your body more, to be more present. To read more, draw even more, and to be braver when it comes to asking for more.

It’s a good thing really, resolutions. So why can’t we stay on track past February? 

Because it’s hard to break 10 – or for the more ambitious among you – 20 habits in such a short time. 

Let’s face it. That long list of things you’d like changed or improved? They’re there because in reality it’s something you feel that you lack or aren’t paying enough attention to. And that’s really awesome because acknowledging them is half the battle won. The other half though, now that’s a real tough nut to crack.

It’s easy to write down faults you have and what you want to do to improve it. But faults, like habits, are hard to change. So what works?

I’ve stopped making resolutions 10 years ago. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow or change. Far from it. I quit my job, I took on freelance jobs, gave talks, taught at a university, learnt coding (among many other things), read more, and traveled more, etc.

Wanting to make changes to your daily life isn’t just filled with affirmations on how you pledge to be different. It’s about taking concrete steps, little by little, day by day to reach your goal. It’s unsexy. It’s tedious. It’s hard work. New year resolutions on the other hand, can be like bursts of positive emotions and hopefulness, Instagram photos with random inspiring quotes, and stuttered promises made when you’re drunk. Guilt and hopelessness sets in not long after.

So here’s what I recommend instead: make a to-do list.

Not some fancy schmancy list of life-changing resolutions that you tape to your fridge on January 1, where it stares at you every day when you wake up in the morning when you grab your milk – only to be taken down, tattered and stained with failure and regrets of not being able to tick them off at the end of the year. No more. 

Figure out what you want to achieve, then write down what you’ll do to get there. Heck, you can even omit writing out the big goals. Just write out what you’re going to do every little step of the way. I’m talking about the most boring, mundane things that will trick your body/mind to complete it. Don’t just throw up a big life goal without a plan on how you’ll get there – we all know when we don’t know where we want to go, we’ll just stay where we are. It’s comfortable. It’s nice. Change is hard. And we also know that if you don’t pencil things down (and subsequently tick them off), nothing is going to happen. Step by step is where it’s at.

So if you want to make a new resolution this year, do yourself a favour and start a to-do list.

You can thank me on 31st December.

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.

Posted by Thomas James on 01/07/16 under business,freelance,idea generation
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New Sketchbook Skool Class by Penelope Dullaghan

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
Thomas James

Screen Shot 2016-01-04 at 12.26.59 PM

“Illustration Friday friends, hello!
I wanted you to know that I am teaching at Sketchbook Skool for the first time! Sketchbook Skool is an online video course (or ‘kourse” as they say at Sketchbook Skool) that lasts six weeks and has a different teacher every week. We made more than a dozen videos in which I appear telling stories, sharing pages of my sketchbooks and doing some demos. Here’s a video trailer about the kourse
You can learn all about the Skool at their website,
During the week I am teaching, I will be right there with you, answering questions and comments and admiring the artwork you’ll share! It’ll be so fun!
One of the things I love about SBS is the wonderful, supportive community that has developed there. There are thousands of people from around the world, some are professional artists and illustrators, some are complete beginners, all collaborating and encouraging each other. It’s a great experience I think you’ll love, too!
Enrollment starts today and the kourse begins on January 15th. I hope to see you in klass!
As a special treat (and for the very first time ever) Sketchbook Skool is offering a 20% discount only to members of Illustration Friday — like you.  When you check out, just use the code: Pennyatskool2016 and do it soon — it expires on January 15th.
Can’t wait to begin!”
-Penelope Dullaghan

Posted by Thomas James on 01/04/16 under art supplies,artists,business,children's art,classes,community,Events,idea generation,IF community,IF news update,illustration
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Should You Use Watermarks to Protect Your Art?

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
Thomas James

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 12.34.26 PM

Do watermarks protect you from online art theft or devalue your work?

Let’s face it. Art theft is a reality. We see it happen all the time.

If you post your work anywhere online, you’re immediately vulnerable to those who want to grab it and use it for their latest article, T-shirt, company logo etc. It’s simply a risk you take by having an online presence.

Watering Down

Some Illustrators choose to protect themselves by placing “watermarks” over their image. This means that they overlay a copyright notice of some form on top of their Illustration to discourage others from using it without their permission, and in fact make it unusable at all.

The question is: Does this cause more harm than good?

As an Illustrator myself, I definitely understand the desire to protect one’s work. After all, the images you create are the lifeblood of your business, so why wouldn’t you want to defend yourself from online predators?

However, it is possible to go too far.

In my opinion, the use of a watermark degrades the experience an Art Director or other potential client has when viewing your work, which is the last thing you want to do. The value of an illustration, and an art buyer’s ability to appreciate it, all comes down to its visual impact, so why would you want to do anything to diminish that?

Even with the dangers of online art theft, I strongly believe that watermarks do more harm to the artist than to the thieves themselves. Furthermore, any persistent pilferer with a basic knowledge of Photoshop can easily remove the watermark from some images without too much trouble, so the benefit to the Illustrator is limited at best.

Finally, it’s important to consider the impression that this makes on your potential clients.

If you protect your images with watermarks, you may unintentionally convey paranoia, defensiveness, or unease, which just might make people uncomfortable, and deter them from contacting you to begin with. It’s not unlike the response you might get if you present them with a 10-page contract full of fine print and overstated legal jargon.

It’s simply not necessary.


Don’t get me wrong. Tracking down and stopping art theft is an incredibly frustrating activity, and it hurts to see your work being used without your permission, but I recommend thinking twice before using watermarks as a form of defense.

I don’t know about you, but when I enter a brick-and-mortar business and see security cameras at every turn, warning signs to “leave your bag at the desk”, and electronic sensors at the exits, I feel a little uneasy, even though I don’t plan on stealing anything.

Why would you want to do the same with your own business?

Do you use watermarks? Why? How do you feel when you see watermarks on an image?

Posted by Thomas James on 11/16/15 under business
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Why finding an agent can be a chicken and egg situation

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
Thomas James


Illustration by Mike Reddy

“The reason why I’m not getting work is because I don’t have an agent.”

I looked at her for a moment, and was deciding if I should tell her that if she’s not having any luck finding one, is because she should be focusing on doing something else instead. Like finding clients instead of finding an agent. I didn’t have that chance, because she continued to rattle off a long list of agencies that she’s contacted – all without luck, and so here I am.

It got me thinking. How many people out there believe that the answer to all their woes lies in getting signed up by an agent?

I bet there’s quite a fair bit who does. 

I’m not saying that an agent won’t get you work. I know they do. But I also know that a lot of times you’d have to show that you’re good at what you do (with actual paying clients) before they’re likely to take you on. Having a few people who know and have paid money for your work demonstrates that you have skills that people want. And when you have enough people who want to pay you for your services, you’re already in business. 

I’ve seen fresh graduates and a handful of self-taught illustrators scrambling to get representation, purely because they’re scared of what’s out there. Some of them would prefer not to talk about business or money because it’s a difficult subject and one that they’d like not to poke around even if they have a 10-foot pole. Handing all these important things off to an agent, while it’s convenient, does not detract from the fact that they’re better off learning about it at some point. And besides, that’s not what agents are solely for. 

Think of an agent as someone who can manage and find new avenues that you’re not reaching yet. They’re a treasure trove of connections and networking that allows you an insider’s peek at what’s on the table. Agents are great at negotiating contracts and getting you what you’re worth (or try their darnedest). What they’re not however, is a magical character who can guarantee you jobs and success just because your name is on their list.

Which leaves us with the chicken and egg situation:

If you have to beg and grovel your way to find an agent, you might not be ready for one just quite yet. Better to have them come a-knocking on your door (or invite them to see your potential with a well-crafted letter showing them who you’ve already worked with) when you’ve achieved a modicum of success through your own hustle, hard work and the right strategy.

And when that happens, you might just wonder if you need an agent at 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.

Posted by Thomas James on 11/12/15 under artists,business,freelance
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Is Your Portfolio Website Too Demanding?

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
Thomas James


Illustration by Thomas James

One of the most important things to keep in mind when designing your portfolio website is creating a space that is inviting and pleasing to Art Directors and other potential clients.

The best way to do this is to make your design as simple as possible while putting your work, and any other vital information, front and center.

You don’t want to do anything to detract from the quality of your work or place any barriers between your visitor and your bio and contact info. This can be a challenge when you try to balance this with a desire for a compelling and exciting design, professional branding, and a memorable experience.

One of the simplest ways to improve the flow and navigation of your site is to remove anything that “demands” anything of your visitor.

This means not making them have to work or think too hard when they’re working their way through your website and your portfolio.

To clarify, here are 3 things to avoid in order to keep your portfolio website from being too “demanding” of your visitors.

1. Extra Steps

You should remove any extra steps that might be required for an Art Director to get to your portfolio or view your work.

Some examples of extra steps are:

  • Landing Page that your visitor must click through to get to your main site with menu options.
  • “Portfolio” menu button links to multiple Portfolio categories, which link to more specific categories, which lead to thumbnails, which lead to images.
  • Portfolio images that open in their own window, requiring your visitor to go back or even close a window to get back to your main gallery.

By themselves, these examples aren’t necessarily deal breakers, but they can add up quickly to ask too much of your visitor’s patience.

2. Too Many Options

Avoid the temptation to over-segment your work into too many categories. Just like with the images you choose to show, less is more when it comes to the number of categories you wish to include.

Contrary to what you might think, people don’t want to be presented with an overabundance of choices to make. Too many categories means too much thought on the part of your visitor, which slows them down and degrades their experience of looking at your work. Take them straight to your image gallery as quickly as possible without making them work for it.

3. Poor Navigation

Making someone have to figure out how to make their way around your site is another way to make them work harder than they should.

Most of us aren’t intuitive web designers, so it can be challenging to get this right, but if you give navigation the attention it deserves, you’ll be less likely to confuse or annoy Art Directors.

Make No Demands

Whether you follow the specific examples above, the main idea here is to make sure you’re not requiring your visitor to do anything except enjoy looking at your amazing portfolio and keep you in mind for future projects. Anything beyond that just becomes a turn off.

Posted by Thomas James on 11/09/15 under business
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