Friday, December 27, 2019

Motherhood and Career, cont

Hey, long time no see. Nice of you to stick around.

I've barely blogged at all this year, and I'm sorry. I'm still drawing, still working, but the thing is that I had another baby.

In my post from last year called Motherhood and Career, I said this:
People ask me how I manage to “find a balance.” The answer is, I don’t so much “find a balance” as I do “manage to get through the day.”
If this was true for one kid, it's double true with double the kids. In my old post, I talked about how difficult it had been to adjust to becoming a mom, but how things had gotten better over time. I was able to look back at the dark valley and feel proud of myself for getting through it.

Well, I'm writing this blog post from another valley. It's been even harder, more stressful, more difficult, than the first one. And yet it's also less difficult because I've been through one before, and I know I can do it. One early morning at a time, one sleep regression at a time, one flu season and late-night deadline crunch at a time. Some days it's a struggle to even find the time and space to shower. Blogging has, to say the least, not been a priority, as much as I miss it.

I cling to the hope that, someday, I will look back on this period and feel proud of myself. That I will look back and see that this experience leveled me up in ways I couldn't perceive at the time.

If you're asking yourself, "why did you decide to have another kid, then, if it's so hard??" to you I say I DON'T KNOW. IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE TO ME EITHER. I guess I must find it worth it, on some level? My kids are pretty cute. One of them says funny things. And the other one has these amazing little chubby baby legs. And don't get me started on her precious little hands omg I can't even!

I realize this blog post is mostly incoherent. That's my point: things have been rough. My brain is, like...I don't know. Like those ratty, stained kitchen rags my husband uses to wrap tofu in before he presses it to get the water out.

What was I saying? Woah, it's already 9:30 PM! My bedtime. I should wrap this up.

If you take anything away from this post, please let it be this: if you know an artist who is a parent of young kids, know that they created their art through a haze of sleep deprivation and exhaustion. Take a second to let them know that you see them. That you see their art.

And if you ARE an artist who is also a parent of young kids: I see you. I respect you. You're not alone.

Happy New Year.

Monday, September 16, 2019

American Girl

FINALLY I can show you guys the project that occupied most of my time last year - a series of books from American Girl!!

I loved the American Girl books when I was a kid, especially the beautiful and realistic illustrations. Here's me and my Felicity doll, which I bought with my own allowance money, birthday money, and money from extra chores. My Mom sewed us these matching dresses!

American Girl has been a "bucket list" client for me since I became an illustrator, so when I was offered the opportunity to work on some of their books last year, I was thrilled!

This was, by far, the most complicated and intense project I've ever worked on. The books contain a combination of photography (by Chris Hynes and Blake Morrow) and illustration by me. I worked on six books, often simultaneously, collaborating with three different art directors. Not only did my drawings have to pass muster with American Girl's historical expert, but the faces and costumes also had to match the models in the photos, and sometimes the doll costumes and accessories as well. Major props to art directors Wendy Walsh, Jessica Rogers, and Riley Wilkinson for organizing what must have been a very complicated operation.

Deadlines were often tight, and working on so many books at once meant I had a lot to keep track of. On top of that, my toddler got sick a lot last year, so sometimes my only choice was to work at night, after she had gone to bed. I started making myself cups of coffee at 8:30 PM.

And then there was the time I caught the stomach flu the night before a big deadline. I finished the spread below in between rounds of running to the bathroom to hurl up my guts.

So yeah, it was quite the project, consisting of over 100 illustrations. Despite all the hard work, I'm very grateful that I was given the opportunity to illustrate for American Girl. Keeping my mouth shut about this for an entire year has been hard! I was so excited to receive my books in the mail this month! If you see the books at your local bookstore, send me a pic on Twitter, I'd love to see!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

In ImagineFX magazine!

About two months ago I wrote a blog post about using photo references, and it was shared around quite a bit on Twitter! Writer at ImagineFX, Tom May, contacted me and asked if he could use some of my photo reference examples for an article he was writing. Luckily I had two illustrations that I had the rights to and for which I still had the original photo references, so I sent them in along with some short quotes about using photo references professionally.

The article is in the September 2019 issue of ImagineFX, and you can order print or digital versions here. Thanks Tom May for featuring me!

Monday, July 15, 2019

A Year Without Summer

Earlier this year, Clubhouse magazine asked me to illustrate a historical article about the year 1816, also known as "The Year Without A Summer."

In 1815, a volcano eruption in Indonesia was so massive that it changed weather patterns all over the world. In the Northeastern United States, snow and frost occurred every month for a year, wrecking crops. This article was a short story about a family of Swedish-American farmers trying to survive the winter and keeping faith that the world wasn't just ending. (Which, I imagine, probably seemed like a reasonable hypothesis at the time.)

These illustrations were a lot of fun to do, especially the storm clouds in the first piece. I just received some copies of the issue in the mail. The print quality looks great!

I hope the readers of Clubhouse magazine enjoy the story. Thank you to AD Jenny Dillon for the assignment!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

The Wishner's Curse book cover

I created this book cover for author Camille S. Campbell. When Camille contacted me earlier this year, she told me that she found me through the writing website Storybird. Storybird is mostly used by students (children and teens), and occasionally I'll get an email from a Storybird user along the lines of "hi my name is kara i love ur art!! can u please make a drawing for my story thank u." (I genuinely love Storybird users, they're very sweet, can tell they're kids!)

Camille was different. She wrote emails like a business school graduate, and was willing to pay my professional rate.

Imagine my surprise when I found out that she was 14 years old! Clearly I was working with a prodigy, and she deserved nothing less than my best work.

My process for working with self-published authors is pretty similar for working with publishing companies. I'll do a little more explaining about my process, so the author knows what to expect and what I expect from them in return. (I often refer them to this blog, which is handy because then they can see step-by-step examples.)

Camille's book, The Wishner's Curse, is an Egyptian-based middle-grade fantasy novel. She described what she wanted to see on her cover: the two main characters looking like "a mystery-solving team," with the villain holding a sapphire amulet behind them, and a cave studded with "glimmering gems of many colors and golden dust." Here are the sketches I sent to her.

Camille asked me to combine two of the sketches, and to make some changes to the appearances of the main characters. Also, more sparkles!

From there I was cleared to go to final.

Camille described the illustration as "everything I ever dreamed it could be," which was a relief! I really didn't want to disappoint!

This was my first time designing an entire book cover, not just the illustration. Camille and I worked together on font choice and word placement, and I also painted a little landscape for the back cover.

I asked for a signed copy and Camille delivered! I'm proud to add this to my bookshelf.

You can buy a copy of The Wishner's Curse at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Thank you Camille for the opportunity to work on such a fun cover. Remember me when you're a famous author!

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Using Photo References

Recently an "artist confessions" meme went around Twitter, where artists confessed to various things such as not keeping a sketchbook or not understanding perspective. I noticed that a few people "confessed" to using photo references.


You guys.

If your style is the least bit realistic, then photo references are your friend. I use them all the time, for almost everything.

For Lifeway's Explore the Bible series

I think it all comes from this idea that artists are supposed to be just magically good at drawing everything. If you believe this, then learning that artists actually use tools to make our jobs easier can, at first, seem like cheating. Then, hopefully, you get over it. Especially once you're the one trying to draw a crowd scene under a deadline.

No one, even someone with a photographic memory, magically knows how to draw every single thing in the world. Using photo reference can help you learn to draw things outside what you can easily remember or imagine - or as art professors like to say, "expand your visual vocabulary."

Here's a collection of some of the photo references I've taken over the years, next to the finished drawings. Enjoy.

(Special shout-out to my husband who has put up with some very strange requests for poses over the years.)

For Scholastic' Ranger in Time series

Cover for the book The Third Kind of Magic 

For Scholastic's Real Stories From My Time: The Underground Railroad 

 For Scholastic's Real Stories From My Time: Titanic

For Scholastic's Real Stories From My Time: The Underground Railroad  

For Scholastic's Ranger in Time series 

For William Sadlier's curriculum 

For Scholastic's Ranger in Time series

For the cover of The Second Guard

For Scholastic's Real Stories From My Time: The Boston Tea Party

As I've said before - I'm a lazy photo taker and I don't tend to put a lot of effort into my costumes or fancy lighting. This is partially out of aforementioned laziness and partially because my deadlines tend to be pretty tight. But there are also professional artists who hire models, find costumes, and invest in nice lighting setups. Of course, not everyone has the time, budget, or space for that.

My advice would be to make use of what you have - use a bedsheet as a cape, or a broom as an oar. Get creative. Learn to love working with photo references, and you'll see an immediate improvement in the quality of your drawings.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

4 Portfolio Types

When I look at the portfolios of aspiring artists online, I notice that they tend to fall into four different categories:
  • the Beginners
  • the Students
  • the Nearly Pros
  • the Professionals
I've going to talk about the common characteristics of each portfolio type, and I'm going to show examples of each. I'm using my own art as an example because, well, I can't exactly post someone else's art as an example of a "beginner" or "nearly pro," can I? So I had a lot of fun digging back through the drawings I did in art school and even way back into high school! (Hope you enjoy LOTR fanart!)

Keep in mind that I speak from the experience of a book/editorial illustrator. Other career paths, especially studio jobs such as animation/concept art, have slightly different expectations for portfolios.

So let's talk portfolios!

The Beginner
A bit of this and that. You have an eclectic assortment of sketches and mediums, usually with a big dose of fanart and/or anime, maybe a few portraits of family and friends. Or, maybe you only have a few drawings, and they're all almost the same. Either way, you may have some skills but overall your work shows a lack of fundamentals: composition, anatomy, perspective, shading, color theory. Everything is generally rough and unfinished, and sometimes collected on random scraps of paper from notebooks and sketchbooks.

My advice:
Study the fundamentals. Your portfolio isn't bad: it's just a beginner's portfolio. At this point, there's not much I can critique or review, because my advice would always be the same: study the fundamentals. Sign up for some beginning art classes like figure drawing, chiaroscuro, color theory, etc, and draw as much as you can. I realize that sounds like shallow advice, but the only way past this stage is through instruction and practice, and that's the same for everybody.

Further reading for you: How to Start Drawing: 2 Do's and Don'ts

The Student

A good grasp of the fundamentals, but not a voice or a focus. Your drawings are clearly homework assignments, such as master studies, still lifes, portraits and figure drawings. Influenced by the tastes and requirements of different teachers, your drawings may vary radically in style. Besides homework,  you may also have a mixture of fanart, logo designs, t-shirt designs, tattoo designs, or portraits of friends and family.

My advice:
Focus and declutter. Clearly you've got some solid drawing skills, but generally those aren't enough to land you a job. Eventually you want to start transitioning from "student" to "professional," and that usually involves doing a lot of work outside of school. Invest time into researching different illustration industries, and consuming large amounts of published art from those industries. Start creating art that fits in with that industry's style. Once you've finished your fundamental classes, try to find classes that teach more specialized skills that are aimed at specific industries.

Further Reading for You:
Types of Illustration Careers
Wylie Beckert's "Creating a Targeted Portfolio Sample"
Options for Online Art Classes

The Nearly Pro

Characteristic features:
Promising, but an inconsistent level of skill and style. Some of your work shows the beginnings of an artistic voice and a good level of polish, but other drawings (usually older works) are less strong. Some of your pieces are clearly derivative of popular artists. You have lots of characters posing in front of simple backgrounds, or head-and-shoulders portraits of pretty ladies. You have a few anatomy problems here and there; maybe you avoid drawing hands, feet, or perspective.

My advice:
Keep going! You have some promising work in your portfolio, you just need more of it. Identify your strongest pieces, create more art in that direction, and start replacing the older stuff in your portfolio. Sheer quantity of practice will help you solidify your style and workflow, and will take you over that line into the realm of professionalism. Meanwhile, try to diversify your influences. Don't copy the style of any one or two of your favorite artists; look at many, many different artists and see what you can glean from all of them. Get personalized portfolio reviews, consider finding a mentor, and (like the student above) take classes that teach specialized skills that are aimed at the industry you want to get into.

Further Reading for You:
Tips for Staying Motivated
Options for Online Art Classes

The Professional

Characteristic features:
A cohesive style and consistent quality. Whether the art is client work, personal work, homework or fanart, it's all fresh and creative and drawn in your unique style. A variety of subject matters, perspectives, and compositions showcase your range of skills. If multiple mediums are used, they all show the same level of quality. You've presented everything cleanly, both in physical and digital format.

My advice:
Focus on networking and marketing. If your portfolio is at this level, then you probably don't need my advice. But if, by chance, you're not getting decent work, then you need to focus your efforts on marketing and networking. You're creating good art, now you need to get it in front of the right people. Who "the right people" are depends on your career goals, so that's something you'll have to research on your own. If your art is this good then once you start investing time into marketing yourself, it's probably not going to take long before you get a break.

Further Reading for You:
Escape Cheapskate Clients and Break Into Professional Illustration
Make Your Art Work
Does Online Popularity Matter?

(That nobody actually asked me but we can pretend)

So you're saying that my portfolio should look more like yours?
Not mine specifically, no. As you can see in the images in this post, over time my art became more complex, more realistic, and more colorful. But that's not everyone's path - some people's artwork may develop in a direction that's darker, more muted, more stylized or abstract. The point isn't for your art to look like mine; the point is that, however you draw, you need to develop consistency, in both skill and style.

How do I know what my style is?
Your drawing style is similar to a personality. During your adolescent years you probably tried on various personalities before time and life experience sculpted the personality you have now. Similarly, your drawing style is already a part of you, and only through time spent drawing will it solidify into something recognizable. (And both personalities and drawing styles will continue to change over time.) Experiment, keep drawing and have fun. Eventually you will find something that feels "right," that (to borrow a phrase) "sparks joy."

What if I want to work in multiple styles?
Definitely possible, but hard to pull off. You'll have to avoid the "jack of all trades, master of none" look. Your portfolio will need to show that you're able to work consistently in different styles - which means that you'll need multiple samples of each style, and they all need to be good. A tall order; but if you can do it, you'll be attractive to a wide range of clients.

What if I never went to art school? Do I skip the "student" portfolio?
The point of the "student" portfolio type is that it's mainly composed of art that imitates other people's styles. A student imitates their teachers. If you've never been a student, you're probably imitating artists you admire; they're kind of your informal teachers. This isn't bad, but it is something that you need to grow out of eventually.

What's your problem with fanart?
Often, when people draw fanart, they're exactly copying the style of the pop culture IP, or they're copying a photo of an actor/actress. This is fine if you just want to have fun, but that stuff doesn't do much for your portfolio. Most companies want to see something fresh and creative, not yet another Harley Quinn/BB-8/Deadpool/whatever character is popular now. If you want to do fanart, think about how you can put your own unique visual spin on it. (One big exception is if you're interested in licensing as a career. That means you would specialize in copying the styles of other IPs; for example, if Disney hired you to draw a Frozen coloring book.) Claire Hummel has a GREAT Twitter thread where she explains this better than I can.

Can I ask you for a portfolio review?
If your goal is to get into publishing, whether children's books or otherwise, then yeah you can email me. If you want to do something else, such as comics, animation, concept art, etc., then you would be better off asking a professional who works in those fields.


I hope you guys found that helpful! If you feel like your portfolio matches one of the beginner, student, or nearly pro types, don't let that get you down. Everyone's portfolio goes through all four stages. No one is born clutching a fully-formed professional illustration portfolio in their tiny baby hands.

If you're not where you want to be: keep going.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...