Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Preparing for an art show: the booklets

Prepare yourself for the next installment in my Preparing for an Art Show series, a.k.a. "Kelley doesn't lighten her artwork before printing."

So far for my table at Spectrum Art Live, I have plenty of postcards to sell. My next goal was to create a little booklet of my artwork. I asked one of my longtime favorite illustrators, Julie Dillon, where she prints her art books, and she recommended PSPrint.

I ordered a pack of sample papers from PSPrint, and a week later a representative called me on the phone to ask if I had any questions. A sucker for the least amount of attention, I placed an order for 25 small, twenty-page, paperback booklets on glossy paper.

Getting all the details right for the layout of the book took me a surprisingly long time, probably a few hours. PSPrint worked with me multiple times in order to make sure I got the bleed right on the double-page spreads. They were very patient with me over the phone and email.

I ordered the smallest number of booklets possible - remember, I have no idea how many of these are going to sell, if any. Even this small order added up to more money than I've ever spent on my own merchandise before. "I sure hope these turn out well," I thought nervously.

About a week later the booklets arrived in the mail.

....and they were too dark. Dark enough that the low-key illustrations lost a lot of detail, and I just couldn't quite convince myself that it was ok. I was really crushed. This was my fault - I should have ordered a proof first. I've since learned to lower my computer monitor's brightness, and to lighten all my work before printing. However, even when I lowered my monitor to it's very darkest setting, it still wasn't as dark as the booklets.

I contacted PSPrint and they generously offered to reprint my entire order, with a hardcopy proof, for a small fee. I seriously can't emphasize enough how nice this company has been. I lightened my artwork, the proof arrived a few days ago, and it's exactly what I hoped for. The artwork looks juicy and bright on the glossy paper. The rest of the reprinted booklets should arrive soon.

If there are any unsold booklets after the show, I'll post them for sale on this blog.

I've made some pretty dumb mistakes over the course of preparing for this show. At this point I'm not sure I should be trusted to run an art table. Here's a video of me trying and failing to show you my booklet by turning the pages with one hand while the other hand holds the camera.

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Dead House Book Cover

This is the second book cover I created for the series of middle-grade books called Blackwater Novels. (You can read about my first cover for the series here.) The series is set in the south during the 1930's. In The Dead House, Rad lives a mostly carefree life of fishing, camping, and comic books - but the abandoned house downriver has been giving him strange nightmares.

When I asked author Allen Johnson Jr. what he wanted for the cover, he suggested the main character with his dog in the boat, and the Dead House in the background. So here were my three roughs:

(I'm still partial to rough #2.)

Allen then clarified that he wanted to depict a specific scene from The Dead House, where Rad is rowing down the river, with his frightened dog, during a thunderstorm, looking back over his shoulder, and by lightning-light just catching a glimpse of a ghost who is standing on the dock, partially obscured by shrubbery.

Did you get all that? Rowing. Looking over shoulder. Frightened dog. Haunted house. Thunderstorm. Swamp. Lightning striking into swamp. Ghost. Dock. Shrubbery. For a while I rocked myself back and forth in a corner of my room while I wondered how I was going to come up with a composition that could fit in all these elements.

An additional challenge was keeping the black labrador from disappearing in a scene that was necessarily very dark. I also struggled with establishing the boy as the focal point of the scene, when Allen emphasized that he wanted a very strong single lightning bolt in the sky - and huge lightning bolts tend to kind of steal the show, you know?

In order to enhance the creepy mood, I went with a green-and-purple color scheme. Check out that shameless use of rim lighting!

Another challenge - haunted houses, swamps and boats all tend to have muted, grey colors. However, middle-grade book covers need to be colorful. So I relied a lot on an unnaturally saturated sky and lots of pink tones in the boy's skin to bring some color into the piece.

As difficult as this was, it turned out to be one of my favorite illustrations that I've ever done. I suppose there's something to be said for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, even if it does mean a little time spent in a corner rocking yourself back and forth.

There are also 28 black-and-white chapter illustrations inside the book.

If you're interested in purchasing a copy of The Dead House, visit the Blackwater Novels website. (I do not receive any royalties from sales of the book.) You can also purchase a print at my Inprnt shop.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Preparing for an Art Show: the postcards

One thing that I'd like to sell at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live is postcards.

Printing promotional postcards is a regular occurrence in the life of a children's book illustrator. I was familiar with designing my own postcards, however I had no particular loyalty towards any of the printers I'd used so far.

I decided to go with VistaPrint mainly because I found a great coupon code - $100 off a $200 order. (The code is expired now, sorry.) I found my Vistaprint coupon code by Googling "Vistaprint coupon code."  I am not kidding. Before you place an order with anyone, Google for coupon codes. You never know what you might find. With this discount, I was able to afford a ridiculous amount of postcards - 450 of them, to be precise.

Don't worry, I'm not under any delusions about selling 450 postcards at a single show. In order to recoup my costs on the postcards, I'll need to sell about 90. I plan on mailing the extra ones to art directors for self-promotion, and hopefully selling the rest at more art shows in the future.

I had the postcards printed on recycled matte paper. The postcards arrived in the mail just a few days later. My high-key illustrations look very nice on the matte paper. However, I was unimpressed with the paper thickness - it seems a bit flimsy to survive being put through the mail.

However, my low-key illustrations looked too dark and lost a lot of vibrancy.

I called Vistaprint and told them I was unsatisfied with some of my postcards, and they generously offered to reprint those designs on their premium glossy paper for free. In my experience, darker illustrations tend to look better on glossy paper -which I should have remembered when I originally ordered them. The replacement cards arrived a few days later.

I don't know if this comes through in the photograph, but they look great, you guys. The colors are rich, and the paper is nice and thick. I regret not printing all my postcards on the premium glossy stock. Here's a comparison between the two; the glossy is on the right.

So as far as postcards go, I would recommend VistaPrint as long as you use their premium glossy paper. Also, lighten your artwork before you submit it. Their customer service was awesome too.

Stay tuned for the next in this series, which I should probably rename from "Preparing for an art show" to "Kelley forgets to lighten her artwork before printing." Learn from my mistakes, you'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

Printaholic is a handy website that reviews various printing companies and provides coupon codes. Here are their 2014 ratings for postcard printers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

More Art Scam Emails from my Inbox

From "Anton Potrzeba"
Hello,my company is planning to release a series of e-artbooks about digital concept art and digital illustration, and we are interested in comissioning pieces that would be used in the book as examples of concepts and illustrations present in the industry. Your style and works caught our eye and we would like to know if you are available for work.
We currently have the following slots available:
  • 4 human/humanoid character concepts
  • 3 creature concepts
  • 4 environment concepts
  • 3 vehicle concepts
  • 8 full-page illustrations
Specifications regarding particular slots will be disclosed later (it will be fantasy/s-f), however for now here are examples of what level of polish we are expecting: (here he posted some links to online concept art from a wide range of artists)

If you would be interested please reply with information about which slot/s would you be willing to take, your rates and estimated completion time. Please also include all relevant information about your usual process (ie. how often can we expect updates on the progress, how many thumbnails will we get to pick from etc.). We also would like to know what form of contract are you comfortable with. We are not really used to working with freelancers but I am sure we will be able to work out a form both you and us are happy with. 

Signs that this could be a scam:

  1. Never addressing me by name
  2. Never mentioning the name of his company
  3. Being vague about the type of work required
  4. Emailing me rather than emailing my agent
  5. I did a Google search for his name and email, no results
  6. When I asked him for more information, he never responded. So...that's fairly telling.

    From "Samantha Rowles" 
    Hi Kelley, I am not sure if you remember me or had a chance to meet me, I am Sam and worked in the design studio at Oxford for many years. I am currently working for Oxford in a freelance capacity and have been asked to Art Direct a big Reader Book submission that is just around the bend. 
    I would like to hear if you are interested in working on this submission to create some wonderful inside artwork for these young kiddies books. 
    Here are some details regarding the project:

    • these are Grade R RB books (these books will be used as a Big Book as well)
    • we are looking at an average of 6 AW per RB, and offering R500 per AW
    • some pieces will have bleed, will be a DPS or require white around (all will be specified in the brief)
    • Schedule will be finalised, but currently we are looking at a deadline for all AW completion Mid-May (I will plan it so that we will give the AW to you in batches to make the work manageable)
    • I will be your point of contact for all AW communication (feedback etc)

    If you agree to work on this with us, I will be sure to send you a pack at the beginning of the job containing the: AW brief, image references, AW sizing template, service level agreement, schedule.
    Once you have had time to consider the offer, please would you be kind enough to let me know the following:
    • are interested in taking on inside artwork for these books?
    • what capacity/amount of books you think you will be able to manage?
    • how soon would it suit you for me to you the 1st briefs?
    I sincerely hope that you will be able to work on this, I have heard nothing but good things about you and your work with OUP in the past.
    All the best
    Signs that this could be a scam:

    1. Emailing me instead of my agent
    2.  "I'm not sure if you remember me or had a chance to meet me" - kind of a strange way to open an email. "Maybe you don't remember me, possibly because we never met." And no, I've never met her.
    3. Strange use of acronyms - "AW" for artwork, "RB" for reader book, "DPS" for double-page spread. Also what is a Grade R Reader Book, or a Big Book? I do not know. Is she talking about early readers?
    4. Offering to pay me in South African Rand
    5. R500 is about $48, so even if this is legit I wouldn't do it.
    6. Mentioning my "work with OUP in the past," even though I've never worked with Oxford University Press.
    7. Oxford University Press, located in the UK, is the largest university press in the world. Why are they hiring freelance art directors from South Africa?
    8. As far as I can tell from Oxford University Press's website, they do not publish "young kiddies books."
    I don't know what these people want from me. Do they want my personal info, would they ask me for money, or do they just want cheap artwork? I tried to find out by emailing that Anton guy, but he never responded. Sad!

    Monday, April 14, 2014

    New series: Preparing for my first show

    This year I am going to have a table at Spectrum Fantastic Art Live, which takes place in Kansas City on May 9-11.

    I have never had a table at an art show before, and there's not a lot of information online about the nuts-and-bolts of running a table. So for the past few weeks I have been educating myself, researching blog posts, asking questions of art friends and nervously clicking the "order" button on batches of Kelley McMorris Illustration merchandise, not knowing if any of it is going to sell.

    So, why not document this journey on my blog? I'll share articles I found helpful, my experiences with getting an art book printed, how I designed a vertical banner and finally I'll tell you how the actual show goes. After the show I'll do a while financial breakdown of how much money I spent and how many items I sold. You can all learn from my mistakes!

    Have you ever run a table at an art show before? If so, do you have any advice, recommended blog posts to read, or printing companies you like? And if you live near Kansas City, please stop by the show and say hi to me!