An old one, and not suitable for this contest anyhow...but couldn't keep from posting it. Octopus are a recurrent thing in my illustrations (don't ask me why....).
After completing the 100 kids project, I wanted a portfolio-building trigger that has a shorter time-frame (it took me about 20 months to do the 100 Kids challenge) and focuses on more complex illustrations in groups of 3-5 related pieces. After much thinking and hesitation, I decided to set myself what I called a 3x3 Illustration Challenge
I rolled three story dice and committed myself to doing three illustrations inspired by whatever the outcome was, where at least one of the illustrations should be a full-spread image. I'm not committing to a time-frame, because there is too much going on and my schedule is getting very unpredictable, but I plan to roll the dice every time I have a slump.
Here is the outcome of my first dice roll....
It took me a while to figure out what to do with that, but I finally sketched three illustrations I'm quite happy with.
And one of them gave me this wonderful opportunity to draw a triceratops on a tricycle - which needed to be done just for the sound of it....
So, I'm going to bug you with the progress on this because, hey, I need some accountability!
If anyone is interested in joining in, I'll be happy to start a hashtag. Of course you can roll your own dice!
I was a bit concerned about the amount of time needed for this challenge, but I am now enjoying it a lot and I am very happy to have tried it out. I have to say @Will-Terry 's approach works really well. This is probably too cluttered at this stage - hope to tame it during color.
As my freelance business is picking up some, I wanted to share some marketing decisions I have taken in the past weeks - following dedicated conversations with my agent, other illustrators and art directors and my experiences both as art director and as freelance illustrator.
So this leaves me some money, time and energy to do other things, but what?
It seems more and more that the number one marketing platform for art and design is Behance. I was introduced to Behance by my designer colleagues, then got a crash-course from a children illustrator who swears on Behance as number 1 source fo business and set up an account more than a year ago....As I was tasked with finding a pool of illustrators for the agency I work for, I turned to Behance - and made all my picks there. Behance is curated, so an art director´s feed only shows what the editorial team thinks worthwhile - the result is that you only see excellent work. It is not Upwork, so you do have to go through the actual work of setting up contracts with the artist or the artist´s agents at their fees. It´s like an always updated, highly curated illustration annual. While you do need an Adobe account, I do not think you need to pay anything to use Behance.
As an illustrator, after one lackluster year (which still brought me a couple of leads, though they did not turn into jobs) one of my entries got picked by the editorial team for the (daily changing) “illustration gallery” and then I participated in a highly visible collaboration project. My Behance account got a lot more prominent, and, lo and behold, I have just signed a book contract with a company that found me via Behance. So it most definitely works! Behance has its spoken and unspoken rules, and it requires quite some effort to use it at best (layout and presentation are very very important on Behance), but this is one of the platforms where I am going to invest my self-marketing energy.
“Traditional social media number 1: Instagram. Instagram is turning more and more into a mini-portfolio site for creatives. After going through a couple of blogs and videos discussing just this, I decided to treat it as such. So I purged it of all the content that is irrelevant, deleted all work I am not proud of, changed the publishing strategy to honor the 3-column layout, updated my profile and switched to a business account (awesome analytics, direct links to your website on your profile and the possibility to do paid promotions). So far, the impact has been to bump the followers up by about 300 (without spending any money yet) - that was already quite interesting to see. As a note, I did two educational books earlier this year for a publisher that found me via Instagram. So that seems to work too.
Traditional social media number 2: Twitter. While Twitter seems awkward to use for art, the reality is that the majority of literary agents, editors, publishers and art directors “live” here. My agent and I got in contact via Twitter. There are regular “picture book pitch” parties on Twitter where publishers and agents tune in. The publishing world lives here, so if you are into publishing it seems worthwhile to invest in a well-curated Twitter account with regular, relevant posts - both with and without art. The big 5 art director I was talking about before mentioned Twitter as her place-to-go to find illustrators (sounds odd, but it is what it is).
One common thing I can say. Social media for self-marketing is hard work and eats up a LOT of time. But it seems to be working for me and many others, while other more “traditional” tools don’t - so I am going to withdraw time and money from creating address lists and invest more of it here. One thing I still do is focusessed e-mails to publishers I would like to work with - especially local ones, who are maybe not likely to go online to find artists.
These are my considerations from the last weeks and I share them not as recommendations but to hear your thoughts, experiences, opinions. I learned so much about this from other artists, so sharing further what I think or learned.
So, as I promised, here is what I brought home from the SCBWI winter conference. I also met @Naroth-Kean there - which was really nice! So please tune in if you want to add to this very subjective account!
What I got out of attending SCBWI NY:
Direct material outcome, i.e. A project, a contract a book deal - NO.
This expectation had been set right for me by other forums and blogs, including the excellent video by Will Terry, so I did not expect any of that to happen. When I booked the conference, I was looking for an agent. As I signed up with an agent in December, this was not a priority anymore: I would not exclude that it is possible that an agent shows a direct interest in you at an SCBWI conference: many are there just to look for new talent. However, the professionals coming to this conference where clearly there to discuss the art and business of children book publishing as a topic, and not to talk about work directly, so I very much doubt that any such conversations would happen there.
Contacts or conversations that may lead to a material outcome - QUITE POSSIBLE.
With two different occasions to display your portfolio (the showcase and the "art browse") and having distributed more than 250 postcards in three days, it is definitely not impossible that the right person with the right project had a chance to look at my work and may contact me weeks or months down the road. I have talked with a lot of random people, and some may have been art directors - who knows. What I found to be more difficult than I expected is talking with the faculty. They were all super kind and available, but were put under siege by lines of people after every seminar, so understandably tried to make themselves scarce in between talks.
Meaningful contacts with colleague illustrators and/or writers that may lead to further interaction. DEFINITELY! I was amazed by how easy it is to struck up conversations with other attendees. I am not the most comfortable person in approaching strangers, and I need my pauses of privacy to re-generate, but whenever I did mingle, I pretty soon ended up in an interesting exchange about anything from art direction woes to making a living as an illustrator of children books. I even met a person with nearly the same biography as me (she used to be a neuroscientist, I used to be a scientist in Pharma research), who is also thinking about doing scientific non-fiction for 4-8 years old. We exchanged contact information and I was very happy to find somebody with a similar background and aspirations to bounce ideas to when the time comes.
Actionable knowledge. PLENTY. With twelve parallel sessions, you always have the feeling you are missing out on something, and hearing less than what you need, but overall I learned quite a lot of very interesting stuff. The illustrator intensive was all about collaborations with art directors, so they showed a large number of case studies, which was incredibly enlightening. I attended three breakouts: one with Lucy Cummins (Art Director, Simon and Schuster BFYR) about the do´s and dont´s of contacting art directors - that was a witty talk with lots of new stuff; one by Kristen Nobles, who is currently building a new imprint for picture books at Page Street Publishing and is actively soliciting submissions ONLY from unpublished writer-illustrators. So if you are a new writer-illustrator, here is a publisher looking explicitly for you; The third one was on social media use, by Travis Jonkers. Lots of good stuff there too, and also pointers to a variety of bloggers and podcasts about picture books I did not know about.
Psychological impact. HUGE. I did not expect this, and was quite taken aback by how much these three days have changed my perception and attitude towards entering this business. First of all I realized how much passion is at work at all levels - not only the artists and writers, but anybody involved in publishing children and young adult books takes it as a mission and a responsibility towards the next generation. This is definitely energizing and contagious. Second, I finally got rid of the idea that there is a right and a wrong way to do children books. Or to do art, for that matter. I knew the diversity was huge, but to see it all grouped together in one place is quite a different experience. As a speaker put it: Picture books is not a genre, it is a form. So you can talk about pretty much anything, in any thinkable style and have a product that reaches the heart and soul of readers and is just perfect as is. That was a very important message for me, as I tend to obsess about "drawing it right" and "painting it right" and, I realize, would really profit from letting go of these technicalities and get to the heart of what I am doing rather than the surface. I am not seeing that it is not important to know how to draw and how to paint - the more you know the fundamentals, the freer you are to move in any possible direction your career takes you. But it is particularly important for me to stop thinking that somebody is judging every stroke and giving me a note at the end: art school is over, it is time to do art, not assignments.
Third and last and most important: nearly every speaker stressed the importance of being authentic. It´s not only about representation of minorities (though we had a lot of that), it is about conveying the message that only YOU can convey. As Dr Seuss put it, nobody is you-er than you. Or, as in the enormously inspiring keynote by Bryan Collier: "what makes you awkward is what makes you special". What an empowering message: don't hustle trying to understand what the market wants, or to fit your portfolio to some expected standard - strive instead to bring forward what makes you tick, what interests you, what you find important, your childhood experiences, and so forth. That message really cured me of the impostor syndrome that I sometimes (always!) feel as a career-hopper. The fact that I did not dedicate my whole life to art is, after all, not a weakness as I always thought, but a strength to leverage.
So, in essence, yes: I am happy to have attended and I think it was what I needed right now. I do not think it is possible to put a cost/benefit label to it (like whether it was worth the expense), but if it does not blow a hole in the budget, I would defnitely recommend atttending this or any other of the SCBWI events. Next year, the Tomie DePaola award will be substituted by another award format, and the prize will be attendance to the NY conference - so that may be a way to get the experience without the cost.
Continuing to experiment - and doing scary things.
I am doing mini-series of three illustrations for my Instagram channel. This week it will be socks monsters. The background came in by a lucky accident, and now I quite like it - but I am wondering if it is too much or just, scarily, the right thing for this piece.
I haven't posted art here in a long long while....and time for personal project in general is getting very rare.
However, I have this story I would like to illustrate - about a boy's adventures in a world of paper. I have been toying with it for a couple of months, trying to find ways to match the paper elements and the character. This past week I've had some free time and got really experimental - playing with collage, something I've never done once in my life.
So I'm not sure even if it works....It's so new for me I don't even know if I like it or hate it. Opinions, therefore, very welcome!
I am close to addicted to checking out other artist´s work - sometimes with manic attention to details that reveal the way they work - and it is always highly rewarding and inspirational for me. I am not a big Pinterest --pinner: I like more to look at a specific artist and all his/her body of work and learn from him/her for a while. So when I discover a new one that I did not know before I feel like a child at Christmas, and want to share my excitement with the world. Unfortunately there is nobody in my close circle that has any interest in this, so I thought I start a thread here, and if anybody makes a "discovery" we can share it here.
So here is one I first saw a week ago and is already impacting my work: Szymon Biernacki
He works for the SPA studios in Spain (Sergio Pablos Animation - Sergio Pablos has developed the concept for Despicable Me and sold it to Universal/Illumination). He has this super clean, nearly vector-like style (but he works in Photoshop) with a marvelous use of shape, colors and texture and nearly no rendering. He has three word-less videos online with his process and I have been watching and re-watching them a million times and already took two aspects of his process into mine - he has been a big wake up that I need to go a lot simpler with my rendering.
And another one I discovered today (still need to look more into his work): Somnath Pal, and Indian-based freelancer that works also traditionally as well as digitally. Great sense of pose and anatomy in very stylized characters (reminds a bit of Peter de Seve) and a nice use of light with limited rendering - definitely worth checking out!
I went to the Bologna Book Fair for one day last week and I thought I´d share my experience with the folks that are most into children´s books. Even though most of you are probably too far to plan to visit Bologna, I think what I experienced would apply to many other book fairs.
The Bologna Children´s Book Fair is not the biggest book fair but is the biggest fair dedicated exclusively to Children´s Books. There are about 1200 publishers and, I read, over 10´000 visitors per day. The publishers are there mainly to discuss the sales of foreign rights - and I was told not to expect to make any meaningful connection, as most of the people there are sales people.
Well, it turns out that a few thousand of the visitors are illustrators, though, so the publishers have made accommodations to interact with the illustrators too. There are several occasions during the week where one art director or editor from each publisher makes time to view illustrator´s portfolios. On the one day I was there, I managed to show it to four art directors.
Now, these are not the classical “portfolio reviews” (though there are those too - but it´s very difficult to get a slot) - you don´t get feedback on how to improve your work, you get feedback whether the publisher in question is interested in your work or not, and if so you get to exchange cards (which allows you to follow up later on). For me, this was exhilarating. It was the first time ever I got to interact in person with art directors at publishers and see their reactions.
You need a tough skin, I reckon. For one, you get a visual and sensory experience of how tough the competition is. The walls of the hall were literally covered from floor to ceiling with illustrator´s tear sheets - there must have been several thousands of them. The queues to the art director´s review slots were sometimes 50 people deep already half an hour before the appointed time.
Second, you need to be prepared for rejection. One of the ADs literally opened my book, said “Do you work digitally?” , and when I confirmed, closed it and bid me goodbye. That was a 10 second interaction after I stood in line for over one hour....Luckily it was not the norm - the other three were overall very positive interactions - the last one, with Bonnier UK, was exceptionally good.
Third, you need to have the courage to walk up and talk with the receptionists at the stands, which can be very intimidating for me. Some of the stands were gigantic, with dozens of busy people inside (the big 5 American publishers and some of the big European ones typically), but almost all accepted at least a card in the end.
The other benefit of something like this is that you get to see the sheer volume and diversity of the international children´s book business and you get to see the current catalog of each publisher physically on display. If I had had more time, it would have been a dream place to do market research and identify which publishers are a good fit for me. One day was a bit hit-and-miss. I´d definitely attend again and go for the whole week, with a much more strategic game-plan. After this experience, I´m considering going to Frankfurt as well, which is the other large European book fair, in October.
And I got to meet another SVS-per! @LauraA , it was great meeting you in person - thank you for the nice chat and making me feel part of a community!
Thinking about doing the "Design 100 something" challenge and focus on designing 100 kids....another crazy idea probably.
Well, this is actually for this months Character Design Challenge ("Aviator"), and also because I want to add some spot illustrations in my portfolio.
Before I submit, would be nice to know if you spot anything wrong or worth improving!
And the winner was....no 10! Actually a modified version of it, but very close.
I am now working on the first sketches, although the manuscript is still in a fluid state. I am sharing these with my agent next week, so would be more than happy to have some critique or suggestion. They are not in order: they are random pages from the book.
I do not really have time to do a color illustration....but the prompt inspired this image and I could not resist putting it on paper...so just a quick inking piece.
In case zoology is a long way in the past, the hermit crab finds and inhabits shells from other animals and often carries a sea anemone around in what is supposed to be a mutually beneficial relationship....
I put together this file for myself a while ago - I planned to print it as a poster but never did: maybe now that I found it again I will!
If anyone is interested, I can try to find a way to make it available - it is an Adobe Illustrator file though. And yes, it has 24 slots and not 20, but it was also not done for this exercise. The idea was to have it in my studio so as to know what I am aiming for....