Thursday, May 21, 2015

Book Covers Before and After Text

Every few weeks I do a roundup of book cover illustrations, showing them before and after the cover text was added on top. The cool thing about book covers is that they're made to work together with text, but they also stand on their own. Here are some great examples from some talented illustrators and designers.

Illustration by Jonny Duddle

Illustration by Kevin Keele

Illustration by Charlie Bowater

Illustration by Gaius

Illustration by Petur Antonsson

Illustration by Cynthia Sheppard

Illustration by Antonio Caparo

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Tips for Staying Motivated after Graduation

If you're one of the lucky few grads who have a job or clients waiting for you after graduation, you probably won't need this post. But if you're a student who's graduating without work lined up, you're heading into a tricky period that sometimes claims the careers of young artists before they ever get started.

After graduating, you will probably feel a slump in motivation and direction. I felt this myself after graduating, and I've heard it from other grads too. After all, finals are exhausting! It's ok to take a short vacation. Give yourself permission to not draw for a week without feeling guilty.

However, it is vital that you take steps to snap yourself out of this slump, and quickly. Otherwise your "vacation" will just extend for weeks or months, and it will be that harder to regain your momentum. When this happens to people, they stop producing, begin to lose their connection with the art world, feel guilty for not drawing, avoid thinking about drawing because it makes them feel guilty, feel inferior to peers who are getting work or winning awards and the whole situation becomes a katamari of despair.

This is when some people give up.

The way to avoid this post-grad slump is to keep drawing and stay connected. Don't get rolled up into the despair katamari! It will not turn you into a star!
  1. Set up your studio. If you're like me, your "studio" is just a laptop on a desk - a far cry from the eye candy on your "Dream Studio" Pinterest board. Still, do what you can to make it a place you want to be. Clean it, declutter it, recycle homework assignments. sell those textbooks. And, most importantly, put some artwork on the walls! This is now the studio of a professional, not a student.
  2. Draw what you want to draw. Rejoice - after years of drawing whatever your teachers told you to, you get to draw whatever you want! Go nuts! If you don't know what you want to draw, start with what you liked drawing as a kid. Keep drawing whatever feels good and makes you happy.
  3. Give yourself a personal project with definite goals and a deadline. Take those drawings you enjoy doing and shape them into a project for your portfolio. For example, try creating concepts for five characters, environments, and weapons. Or make a children's book dummy, design a deck of playing cards, or start a web comic with weekly updates.
  4. Listen to illustration podcasts. Listening to people talk about drawing while you're drawing is surprisingly motivating. Here's a list of illustration-themed podcasts.
  5. Post your artwork online. Whether you're trying to build up an online fanbase or get noticed by employers, posting your artwork online is essential. In addition to your portfolio website, you have to post on social media sites where people can easily find you and share your work with others. CGHub, Deviantart, Instagram and Tumblr are popular places to start. Don't wait until your art is "good enough." Just do it!
  6. Enter group shows, collaborative zines/anthologies and contests. A great way to find these are by following illustrators on Twitter and Tumblr. Light Grey Art Lab posts regular calls for art for their shows. Enter contests on Deviantart or the ArtOrder. Having a deadline and being part of a project with other artists will develop connections and keep you from feeling isolated.
  7. Attend conferences - as many as you can reasonably afford. In my experience, nothing has as much inspiration and mood-boosting power as a conference. Having that event on the calendar gives you something to look forward to. There are hundreds of conferences to choose from in the US - so ask friends with similar artwork which conferences have been most beneficial for them. If possible, keep your costs down by attending a local conference.
  8. Look into having artist alley tables at conferences or art fairs. This isn't everybody's idea of fun, but seeing people respond to your artwork in person can be really encouraging. Signing up for a table gives you a reason and a deadline to create new work. Start small - you will probably not make a profit on your first few shows. Consider them practice runs. To cut back costs, attend a local show and split a table with a friend, or start out as a table assistant for another artist.
As illustrator Howard Lyon put it, "nothing chases away fears like working hard."

Monday, May 11, 2015

Personal work: Storytime

My Mom homeschooled my brothers and I for several years. (Different amounts of time for each of us.)

I don't generally like to say I was homeschooled because when I do, people sometimes get all weird. They give me a side-eye and say, " was that?" like I just told them I was raised in a cult. One guy gave me a smug look and said, "oh, I'm sorry."

When I look back on being homeschooled, my mind is blown by how hard mom worked and how much creativity she put into making learning fun for us. Sewing us costumes, doing crafts, taking us to aquariums, museums and shows, cooking historical recipes with us, inventing games to help us remember our multiplication tables and state capitals. She DIY'd a huge teepee for our backyard when we were learning about American history. She turned the underside of our dining room table into a larger-than-life model of the inner ear. (Don't ask, it's too difficult to explain.)

But our favorite class was storytime, where we cuddled up on the couch with our well-worn blankets and Mom read aloud classic books, such as the Chronicles of Narnia, the Velveteen Rabbit, the Call of the Wild, the Diary of Anne Frank and the Island of the Blue Dolphins.

My dad would come home from work, see us happily bundled up on the couch, and shake his head with a chuckle, because his children lived in blissful ignorance of how lucky we were. We just assumed that everyone's school was full of love.

Thanks, Mom.

(I still hate math, though.)

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Illustration Podcasts

Listening to people talk about drawing while you're drawing is surprisingly enjoyable. Freelancing is an isolating job, but listening to art-related podcasts can feel a bit like sitting in a conversation with artist friends. (If you want to pretend you're hanging out together at a cafe, run Coffitivty in the background.) I've also included a few video series which I feel count as "podcasts" because they're just people talking.

To be honest, illustration podcasts are generally somewhat below-average quality. They tend to have poor sound quality and a lack of editing. However, you have to appreciate that these artists are putting their experiences and advice out there for free. Here are some of the better shows.
  • Chris Oatley's Artcast - my personal favorite, this upbeat and engaging podcast covers comics, animation, concept art, children's books and freelancing.
  • Chris Oatley's Paperwings - another podcast by Chris Oatley, this one with a comic book focus.
  • One Fantastic Week - a Youtube show where the two hosts discuss the day-to-day life of working artists. The focus is on fantasy art, selling at conventions, Kickstarters and personal projects.
  • Creative Pep Talk - this podcast feels like a heart-to-heart chat with illustrator Andy J. Miller over coffee. (He actually literally slurps coffee during the show!) Topics include finding your voice, staying motivated, and artistic growth.
  • Picturebooking - A podcast with in-depth interviews from children's book illustrators.
  • Jake Parker's YouTube channel - cartoonist and illustrator discusses interesting and insightful topics while drawing, such as thoughts on art schools and keeping sketchbooks.
If you're looking for more stuff to listen to, I've also created a list of my favorite non-art-related podcasts.

Do you have any art-related podcasts to recommend?

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Personal work: Giselle

A few weeks ago I saw Giselle performed by the Australian Ballet.

In the story, a prince disguises himself as a peasant and visits a quaint country village. He meets Giselle, a shy and charming peasant girl, and the two quickly fall in love. But when the royal hunting party comes through town, they spot the prince and reveal his identity - and the fact that he is engaged to a princess. Giselle dies of heartbreak.

The second act takes place in the forest at night. Giselle has become one of the willis, ghosts of heartbroken girls who emerge at night to dance. If a man stumbles into a group of willis, they force him to dance until he dies of exhaustion. The prince comes to the forest to lay flowers at Giselle's grave. The willis catch him, but Giselle protects him from their wrath until dawn, when the willis return to their graves. Giselle embraces the prince before she disappears.

Giselle is considered perhaps the most ballet of all ballets. The first performance was in 1841, and the version I saw was very true to its roots. The sets, costumes and staging all seemed quite traditional. The first act was all warm colors, smiling villagers and fast-paced, happy music. The second act, though, in the moonlit forest, was really magical. When the prince brought flowers to Giselle's grave, she appeared behind the gravestone, wearing a bridal veil and lit from below, which gave her a very ghostly appearance. I immediately thought to myself "I need to draw that!"

I did this doodle in my sketchbook one evening and thought it turned out well. This sketch was done in pencil, but the final drawing was done digitally using a pencil brush in Photoshop.

Next I took some extremely sloppy photo references. Notice the tidy bed in the background here:

That tidy bed was sacrificed to make a cape for my emo prince:

Here's a process gif:

By the way, I just now found out that yesterday was International Dance Day! Drats! Should have posted this a day sooner!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Interview with Katie Kath

I'd like to introduce you to Katie Kath, a rising star of the children's book industry. I consider Katie to be sort of my illustration sister, because we both won the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship in 2013, which launched both of our careers, and we got picked up by the same agency. Since then Katie has gone on to work with big names such as Dial Books, Penguin, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and others. But besides her professional experience, Katie has some great insights into success and staying true to yourself.

illustration by Katie Kath

What was your experience at art school like? Were you a star student?

I definitely had some professors with high hopes for my future, but I was never "that student" who won every award, took no prisoners, and was destined for gold-paved greatness. There were many of those students at art school, and while I was good at what I did, I never carried that reputation.

Tell me about the SCBWI Student Illustrator Scholarship. What made you choose to apply, and what happened after you won?

The SIS was something I stumbled upon, thanks to a flyer landing on a professor's desk. Per his suggestion, I submitted some work from a project I was doing for a class. I figured that I had nothing left to lose, being so close to graduation and being in the awkward place I was in my career. After I won the scholarship, an agent noticed my work, I signed with them, and I've been busy with illustration work ever since! (If you want the long version of this story, you can read more about it in the SCBWI Success Story Archives.)

illustration by Katie Kath

You've amassed quite a resume in the two years since you won the scholarship. Is being a professional illustrator everything you thought it would be?

I think it has been more than everything I thought it would be. I had always gotten the impression that illustration was a great but hard-knock-life, so to speak, and in a way it is, but perhaps being prepared for the worst has allowed me to concentrate on the many, many wonderful aspects of it. Yes, there have been some surprises, but I they have been mostly good surprises, like how art directors and editors are so willing to work with you and are always on your side.

What would be your advice to artists who are struggling to discover their own styles?

Never be a trend-chaser. Never concern yourself with what others are doing or what's popular, because in a few years it might just be unpopular. Do what you like to do, do it well, and your "style," your artistic soul, will come out on the paper, whether you like it or not.

What would you say to illustrators who want to get their foot in the door of the publishing industry?

People will tell you all kinds of things. They'll tell you that you can't do this or that. That you don't understand this or that. That people won't like this or that. While there is something to be said in trying to keep students and/or aspiring artists from not getting their hopes too high too quickly, I really have to ask, is there such thing as having your hopes too high? I think that low hopes are the easiest and most detrimental man-made road block you can put in front of yourself. So here's my advice: draw what you like to draw, attend conventions and conferences, make friends in the field, build a reputation for being polite, reliable, friendly, and punctual, and submit to lots of competitions. You never know where it will take you.

illustration by Katie Kath


See? I told you guys this was good stuff. Thank you so much for sharing your insights with us, Katie!

Blog readers, do you have any other recommendations for artists that you'd like me to interview?

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Helpful Links for Illustrators

Every few weeks I post a collection of links to articles about illustration, freelancing, and general creativity.

  • The End of the Line by Chris Tugeau- an artist rep explains how an agency works, what agents expect from their illustrators, and why sometimes they have to let artists go.
  • The Trick to Painting Light on a Bright Day by Karla Ortiz - a short and sweet tutorial on how to capture the look of bright sunshine.
  • Purposeful Progress by Dani Jones - Dani explains the concept behind doing something every day to move you forward - and how that brought her unexpected attention on social media.
  • How to Find Your Voice by John Hendrix - illustrator and art teacher gives a lengthy post on how to find your style, create your own content and construct a lasting career
  • Blogging 101 for Artists: Building an Audience by Kiri O. Leonard - one in a growing series of useful posts about blogging
  • Art for Exposure by Justin Gerard - an oldie but a goodie, Justin explains why someone who offers "exposure" usually can't deliver on their own promises.
  • Please Shut Up by Delilah Dawson - an author discusses how to most effectively use social media to promote yourself without being annoying.
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