Where am I going with illustration? Insights appreciated...

  • Hello wonderful community,

    I've been struggling for some time now trying to see what my future might look like in illustration. I'd like to hope that my work could contribute in some meaningful way in the art world, but I'm having a hard time gauging where I'm at style wise, which types of my art are marketable in what realms, and what areas I need to focus on improving.

    My goal is to do children's book illustration mostly, which I'm getting some experience with thanks to a current project. So far I only have the capacity to work traditionally. My struggle is being a full time mother of two and not seeing my parenting duties slowing down anytime soon. It makes work move forward very slowly.

    Here are the questions I'd love some help thinking through, if anyone has a moment to spare to offer your ideas or insights:

    1. Honestly guys, does my work have potential in the current children's book market? When I look at my stuff, I see art maybe good enough to print for a wall, or do an illustration job for the small publisher I'm working with now, but most of my pieces don't strike me as professional or polished. I'm exploring what could take my work to the next level. Environments? Values? Colors? Being more loose with my work instead of so tight? I know these are some of my weak points. Here's a small collection of work, though I've put samples below in this post as well: https://kathrynadebayo.portfoliobox.net

    2. My style seems all over the place. This has been intentional when it comes to the monthly contests here, so that I can explore different ways of creating. I like the idea of going with what is enjoyable when it comes to diving deeper into a particular style, but the marketability of what I do is also of interest to me (though not my primary focus). Everything I've done for the contests has been so much fun. Which style do you see as most compelling or "hireable" as a children's book illustrator? Or are none of these up to par?

    We've got graphite...
    a) 0_1544462273673_IMG_4803.JPG

    We've got watercolors and colored pencil...

    We've got acrylics, which I do the most of, but to me, these don't seem the most polished in the end...
    c) 2_1544462427783_IMG_4426.JPG 1_1544462427783_hidden-kathryn-adebayo.jpg 0_1544462427781_IMG_3161.JPG

    (And here's the oddball) We've got miniatures painted on beans...
    d)1_1544462638144_IMG_3411.JPG 0_1544462638143_IMG_3039.JPG

    1. My final question is about ways to start making progress towards more full-time illustration jobs while only having limited, and often sporadic, time available at this phase of life. What kinds of jobs could I do with the skills that I have, and not much time? I don't want to dive into something that I can't give enough attention to right now, but I also would like to build a foundation for the years to come when I have more flexibility (and energy). Earning some spare change would also be very helpful right now, though I don't have many ideas about how my work could do that.

    Thank you, so much, for taking the time to read this. Your insights are very valuable to me, no matter where you're at in your own journey. I'm up for honest feedback. No feelings hurt here.

  • @kathrynadebayo Hi Kathryn. Totally understand your place in life. The way I battle it, is to take the time to learn now that I have the time for it. Understandable you want to take your goals to a whole new level but if you're so unsure of where you are right now, why not take the time to study the stuff that's out there. Look at children book illustrators (compare alot of different styles and also look into pricewinning books!)Take some online classes where you want to get better at. There are so many online courses these days and the nice thing about them is that even if your spare-time is not in an overflow, you don't have to sit every day in class. It fits your schedule!

    Then later on when the children are older maybe the time has come for you, with all the stuff you've learned, to take it to a whole new level? Don't know if you can use this advice at all, but that's how I see it.

    Btw. Your art is great! You do have a broad style. Maybe you can go soulsearching and see what style fits you, where you feel comfortable with and improve that?

  • SVS OG

    Hi @KathrynAdebayo . Thank you for sharing your art. For me personally, I love your graphite rendering..the first image..considering you aim for children's books illustrations. You could also scan them & print them out for glazing with transparent mediums if color is required.

    I understand where you are coming from..I work in a few styles as well. I attempt rendering realism digitally, I have a line-art style with vibrant colors & traditionally I work with inks, watercolours & acrylics as well. I think the key is to do more works in a certain style for consistency & confidence :). Also, do you have a preference of a medium that you tend to enjoy more than the other mediums? I find that it's quite important to enjoy what you do as it shows up in the work.

    I suggest to keep working in a style that you feel the most confident in and produce more art in that style & work on the other styles/ mediums through experimentation with a rough timeline or schedule in mind. Another thing to consider would be how long a certain medium or style takes you to complete an illustration considering the business of children's book illustrations. The faster you work the more projects you can take up..if that's what you would like to do.

  • Hi Kathryn,
    All of your styles of art are beautiful, you're very talented, especially because you can work so well in lots of different mediums and styles.
    Personally, I think your graphite style and watercolour is more suitable for childrens book, maybe try combining the two?
    Are you familiar with Barbara Firth's work, she illustrated the 'Can't you sleep little bear?' books and your graphite style reminded me of her work as your characters are charming and i always love to see traditional illustration - digital is taking over these days! Maybe you could try using your watercolour style, but for your characters, add a bit more detail like you have for your graphite style? if that makes sense. That's the only that jumps out at me from your watercolour piece, i'd love to see your characters from the first example standing in the woods of your watercolour piece.

    I think maybe work on your style a lot more first, before jumping into illustration jobs, you want to feel comfortable with your style so you don't panic or get stressed when it comes to working with a client. Once you feel like you're comfortable with a certain style, then just build a good portfolio of an assortment of themes/scenarios/characters/fairy tales etc and you'll be good to go πŸ™‚
    You could always offer commissions if you're looking to earn a bit of money in the meantime, i imagine you'd get lots and lots of customers!

  • Also, look at Emily Gravett's work, she uses pencils and watercolour for a lot of her work, she does include digital elements nowadays but her early work is beautiful πŸ™‚

  • I really really really like your graphite image at the top of the post. I also looked at the link you provided and i think you have a great imagination and concepts while tackling important issues (like the one with the polluted ocean) and so on and you certainly know how to draw people and as i see it, pretty much everything. I subscribe to all everyone has already said, especially @hannahmccaffery. Your graphite pencil work above definitely reminds me of Raymond Briggs. I myself would continue with pencils, graphtie or color (even try limited palettes like 2 or 3 colors) and watercolor and keep working at it. I really like the way you bring the textures and values together and to an extent it even reminds me of the softness of Georges Seurat


    I would also work on more narrative pieces instead of standalones. I think your pieces do pack a lot of storytelling in them but it would be great to see how the same story unfolds with the smae characters over a few images. Maybe make it in series of 3 or even 4.

    Hugs and good luck with it all. You can possibly make the tiny paintings on lentils or beans into small trinkets or even small dioramas of sorts that you can sell on etsy or some other place. I found an artist once who made forest animals into tiny boxes and she made a career of that. Or put them into frames like this artist (look at the tinyart hashtag on instagram for example).

    Also, not exactly painting but omg so iny and cute https://www.instagram.com/supersmallstuff/

    Or you can make more with a theme and display them all. John Vernon Lord made 1x1inch drawings for an entire year and they got exhibited and there was even a challenge on instagram this october.. There are many ways to incorporate what you love


    Below i have included something i found on Advocate Art agency page as an advice for illustrator who want to have a great portfolio:

    "1. Diversity! - children's book publishers often look for artists who can offer a wide range of characters, themes, and scenery so it's important to make sure your portfolio consists of strong characters as well as strong scenery. It's great if you can offer up characters of various ethnic backgrounds and ages too in order to appeal to just about every audience. When it comes to themes, it's great to have a passion for specific content (for example, some artists are drawn to princess/fairytale stories), however, publishers are always interested in artists who are able to work in various themes and styles. If your illustration portfolio consists of too much of the same thing, it can start to feel redundant so be sure to mix it up with some strong characters, various themes, and various age ranges.

    1. Consistency! - alright so I know we just told you it's good to have a diverse portfolio, but being consistent is also important. Publishers want to make sure that the quality of work you produce is consistently strong and interesting. Also, when producing children's books, publishers want to make sure the characters are consistent from one page to the next so showing the same character in various poses and settings can show that you are able to reproduce the same character consistently.

    2. Volume! - a strong portfolio is typically not small. You don't need to have hundreds of artworks to have a strong portfolio, but having a small portfolio of 20 illustrations or less will also be a hindrance to your success. We consistently request new work from the artists we represent and encourage them to add as much new work to their portfolio as possible. If you have a portfolio of 20 strong images that's great but definitely keep it going! As an illustration agency, we are meeting with children's book publishers on a weekly basis and they are always looking for fresh new illustrations so if your portfolio has consisted of the same 20 images for several months, it's definitely time to churn out new work.

    3. Creativity! - so i'm sure it goes without saying that a fantastic illustration portfolio features some truly creative work. Art Directors view many portfolios on a daily basis so it's important to make sure yours stands out among the piles of art they look through. Everyone loves a good fairytale, but it's also good to break away and explore more unexpected themes. Incorporate unique perspective, or be a little funny - after all, children's books should be fun! Nothing is better than meeting with clients and watching them stop to laugh at a truly hilarious illustration in an artist's portfolio! Humor and unique perspective will make you memorable so be sure to have a few special illustrations included in your portfolio."

  • Quick and to the point: for me, your watercolor stuff looks the best/ most professional. I think the graphite will appeal more to most artists and your acrylic stuff looks to be more realistic and fine artsy; but for a more mass appeal, the watercolor work you have will be most successful. Just my opinion though.

  • Ooh yes, your work reminds me of Raymond Briggs too like @irina says πŸ™‚

  • The watercolour is lovely and appeals to me the most

  • SVS OG

    @KathrynAdebayo absolutely! I think your skill
    Level is certainly there. Your work is very beautiful. Now it’s time to create a portfolio that is a bit more consistent. Even if it does have watercolor and the acrylics in it, I think it needs to show more in each style. That way they know exactly how your watercolors are and how your acrylics are. They are both strong to me! The one with all the people (it looks like a people tree) and the girl with the bird. So beautiful. And the one with the little girl in the woods! Your work certainly fits in with the artists I saw at the kids sxhool scholastic book fair. Graphite is good, but I think lee mentioned publishers like color. So I would start with color images first. Fill in the gaps of your portfolio and you are well on your way!

  • Wow, thank you everyone for the replies. I think I tend to wonder a lot about my priorities at this stage of life when I really want to be a dedicated mother, but I also find that developing my art is helpful to my overall wellbeing. I want to be a useful human on this earth to people beyond the confines of my household, and I feel like illustration is a chance at that. Sometimes I need to be reminded to take a step at a time and not be too concerned if progress is slow... Also, to treasure my wonderful young children. Everyone who responded helped me think about that.

    Also, based on your thoughtful replies to my questions, here are some more reflections...

    1. This can be a time to focus on learning.
    2. This can be a time to build a portfolio.(though something in me doesn't like making things just for a portfolio's sake - they need to have at least a secondary purpose. So I'll have to figure that out...)
    3. Although graphite is fun for me, I think part of that is because color isn't involved. πŸ™‚ (Colors are hard for me.) I'd like to try diving deeper into watercolors and seeing if a more consistent style and body of work emerges.
    4. There are many artists whose work I should study and draw inspiration from. Thank you so much for drawing my attention to a few of them.
    5. There's hope for the future, and it's worthwhile to keep plugging along, even though it's a struggle to find my footing as both an illustrator and a parent. Now if only I could remember to tell myself that every day (and then have the strength to believe it). I imagine that other mothers feel me here. Best wishes to all of you!

    @Sas Thanks so much for reminding me that this time in life might have unique opportunities associated with its demands on my time. Even though I tend to think of it as an obstacle, it could be an excuse to really work on my foundation before building a serious career.

    @Darian First of all, I really like your work. Thanks so much for taking the time to leave your comment. You make some great points. I also like your idea of washing color over prints of graphite illustrations.

    @hannahmccaffery Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and suggestions with me. Yes, I love Barbara Firth's books! She's definitely an inspiration. I hadn't looked at Emily Gravett's work before (she has a really interesting website. πŸ™‚ ), so thank you for the suggestion to look at her style. I really appreciate your comment about being confident in a way of working before diving into big projects with clients.

    @irina Wow, thank you for taking the time to share all that you did with me. I found Georges Seurat's art really interesting, and Raymond Briggs has such a cheery feel to his art that it was great to spend some time perusing his work. Also, what awesome miniatures! My favorite miniaturist that I've come across so far is Lorraine Loots who creates a collection called "Paintings for Ants". https://lorraineloots.com/
    The idea of some narrative pieces showing the same characters is great, and I'll definitely work on that as you suggested. Thank you for the hugs and encouragement and the excellent portfolio advice. This has me thinking about what small steps I can take.

    @jcantwellart Thanks so much for your opinion. It seems like watercolor is the direction I need to push to see what doors open next.

    @DOTTYP Thank you so much for taking the time to share your opinion. I'm feeling more watercolor projects coming my way. πŸ™‚

    @Whitney-Simms Thanks so much, Whitney, for your suggestions. I think your advice about filling out a more consistent portfolio in one or both mediums is very helpful. Good call about Lee's comment on color. I remember something like that from the podcast, and I'm glad you brought it up. Sometimes graphite is fun because color isn't part of the process, but I need to push myself to get better at colors. Thanks again! Your watercolors are beautiful, by the way!

  • @kathrynadebayo said in Where am I going with illustration? Insights appreciated...:

    This can be a time to focus on learning.

    What i'm finding useful in the process of learning is keeping a learning journal. A notebook in which i write down my findings and insights i found or challenges i came across and how i think to tackle them during working on a particular piece (whether singular piece or a bigger project). It makes me more aware of my process and aware of areas i find difficulty in or anxieties about etc and i can also think of ways to approach things, or how to overcome blockages or how to organize steps etc. I find it very useful and it has given me lots to be aware of and think about. so my work can be more deliberate and not chaotic
    (i am VERY chaotic :)))

    This can be a time to build a portfolio.(though something in me doesn't like making things just for a portfolio's sake - they need to have at least a secondary purpose. So I'll have to figure that out...)

    One idea for that is to join a challenge on instagram or elsewhere. Like that you do get a brief and a tme constraing, you also have an audience and fellow illustrators working in the same time so you don't feel like you are working all alone on stuff and you also have publishing. #folktaleweek on instagram for example has been great, shorter than inktober for example or 356 days of art so it was challenging, fast and good to do. For me longer chanllenges are, well, challenging because it's easier to fall out from working on it and finishing it. A challenge also gets views so yay πŸ™‚ At the end of the challenge you also have a small series of something that can turn into prints on society6 or whatever. or become a springboard for a bigger book. you can also have a common theme or focus during a challenge. either a general story that the individual prompts are focused on or you can focus on a certain aspect. for example with inktober you can not do the prompts but focus on improving inkdrawing and working on drawing animals for example. or whatever.

    Although graphite is fun for me, I think part of that is because color isn't involved. (Colors are hard for me.) I'd like to try diving deeper into watercolors and seeing if a more consistent style and body of work emerges.

    A lot of art students in illustration are encouraged to work in a limited palette and experiment with that as well. start with monochrome, then do 2 colors, 3 colors etc. Also, in the same vein, lookt at the Zorn pallette (after the painter Andres Zorn). Lisa Congdon also had a huge project only with blue. Sometimes limiting ourselves and taking it slowly from small to big is useful.

    On Schoolism there's also a great course called Painting with light and color and it's fantastic. on SVS there are as well but i haven't managed to do one yet. After i move to my new home and have money again i definitely want to take on some courses on svs

    There's hope for the future, and it's worthwhile to keep plugging along, even though it's a struggle to find my footing as both an illustrator and a parent. Now if only I could remember to tell myself that every day (and then have the strength to believe it). I imagine that other mothers feel me here. Best wishes to all of you!

    ❀ ❀ ❀ All mamas are heroes. Best wishes to you too πŸ™‚

  • @irina I really like the idea of a learning journal. That could help me a lot.

  • SVS OG

    @kathrynadebayo I use the DayOne app for this. Everyday I export my work of working digitally or take a photo of working traditionally and make notes to
    myself about the work. Seeing the progress gives me a different perspective on it.

  • @demotlj oh cool, I'll have to look into that! Thanks for sharing your suggestion! I'm really intrigued by how other people stay organized and motivated.

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