Friday, March 27, 2009

illustration Friday - Poise

I've actualy been meaning to post this for a little while and this week's Illustration Friday topic gives me the perfect excuse. I've finally finished Baby Sprout's name painting as mentioned in this post. And since the Sprout's name means to be graceful and beautiful which are characteristics of having poise, well then this goes nicely.

So without further ado:

I have incedently also been wanting to post my process for this painting. I really the tone of an image is the most important thing, you have to have dramatic lights and darks to make it come alive. This is something I'm always working really hard to get right, and it is often quite a struggle to keep track of all the tones all the way through to the finish. Too often I'll look back at a painting and realize that I could have pushed it just a bit darker here or there..... Anyway I knew it would be hard with this piece because it's a twilight-lit scene so before even starting the painting I basically did the entire thing in pencil first, on the board. Then I painted over it using my pencil shadows as a map. I took this picture mid-stream to show what I'm talking about:

It was a bit time consuming this way but it was much easier while painting to remember where and how dark I wanted shadows to be and where the lightsource was coming from.

This is what he gets for buying me a drink

As this March draws to a close I simply must post about an very important anniversary in my life. This week ten years ago, I met Jim Dear on the dance floor of Bar in downtown Nashville. The swing dance craze was sweeping the nation, or at least dusting up Music City, and we were both there to avail ourselves of some hep-cat moves like the Gap commercial. Him: tall, kind of goofy-cocky in jeans and wing tips. Me: black skirt, short artist chick hair, and bristling with the attitude that any guy I met in a bar had to be a loser.

Jim Dear had a bit of an uphill battle.

That night I drank the drink he offered (I don't remember what it was, in my less sophisticated days I drank a lot of Zima, perish the thought) and we danced a couple of times but that was all the action Jim Dear got that night.

However there we were again the next Friday and the next and the next... After a while I decided he wasn't really a loser, but it took a lot of persistence on his part and a wrong number on Caller ID (that is a whole other story) to get to the point where I actually took his calls. After that we became great friends and then best friends and then boyfriend and girlfriend. When I discovered he shared my passion for making fun of snooty people in trendy coffee shops, I knew he was the One. On an August night more than a year later he proposed on the stage of the historic Belcourt Theater. Obviously I said yes.

Ten years have passed since that night on the dance floor. The bar has actually closed since then. Ten years has brought us our share of good times and tough times. On our way to the hospital to bring Baby Sprout into the world, I told him this is what he gets for buying me a drink back in 1999. But one decade, one mortgage, two busy lives and two kids later I am so happy I danced with him that night. I picked the guy who, after work crap, whiney kid crap and late nights with a baby, still thinks I'm the girl he wants to buy drink for and get lucky with.

I got lucky indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March Mailing Madness

If you are are reading this and trying to figure out how to start getting jobs as an illustrator, then I have three words for you:

the post office

What has that got to do with it? Well every illustrator out there sends postcard after postcard to art directors and agents and editors from all corners of the country (and a few in other countries) in an effort to get seen, to get their work in front of the right set of eyeballs that will land them the dream book deal or at the very least a piece of spot art that will pay the light bill this month.

The question is how do you know who to send to, and where do you get that information? Recently, while investigating my own options for increasing the quality of my contact list, I got some interesting answers from other illustrators and decided to write an entry about the illustrators number one source of publicity: the mailing list.

For starters, I asked around if anyone had ever bought a mailing. I polled about a dozen colleagues and all said no... (but they all wanted to know what I found out if anyone else did.) Then I posted some queries on a few illustrator boards asking for anyone to comment on whether they had bought a list. No one had, or at least they didn't admit to it. So I started asking how did you get your list, how big is it? What surprised me was that most illustrators responded that their lists were quite small. Alabama illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba said her list had peaked at two hundred names but now was about hundred of her favorite art directors and editors. Another answered that her list was about sixty names. On the other end of the spectrum Orlando illustrator Chad Thompson says he has close to a thousand names on his list. Thompson said he leans heavily on his mailing list, and admits that almost 100% of his projects come from regular mailings. My own personal list is not quite 300 names, a combination of publishing art directors and editors, agents, and agency designers.

So then I wondered - if no one buys lists where does everyone get their contacts? Again the illustrator community had some interesting answers. Elizabeth Dulemba responded that she studied a lot of industry news portals such as GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, and Publisher's Lunch. Chad Thompson had good luck meeting art directors through some of the larger booksellers associations. Everyone agreed that the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market was a great resource but could become dated quickly. I've learned to follow the CWIM blog to catch updates. My own additions to the list were the SCBWI Market Surveys as a good resource for cross referencing, with the Edited By survey being a unique resource for seeing what kind of books might attract particular editors. Most illustrators were familiar with the mix of blogs and sites I mentioned in this post and everyone confessed to having to scramble to stay on top of changes recently.

With a hodgepodge of places to glean information from what should an illustrator keep in mind when putting a list together? Dulemba stressed research, "It takes studying to build a list like that, but it's much more effective." I've always googled any name I come across just to see what else will come up. With the wealth of social networking these days its not unbelievable to find that the editor you'd like to mail to is in a colleagues friend's list. Besides research, keeping it updated, of course, is paramount. "I learned early on that you'll waste a lot of stamps (for returned cards) if you're list is even a few months old." says Thompson, "There's always someone moving, closing or merging."

While all this sounds like (read: is) a lot of work, it pays off. Every art director I have spoken with references the piles of postcards they get in a day as place to find new talent. Of course you should make sure your samples are relevant to what a particular house is looking for, and make sure you send at least some samples with children on them. As elementary as this sounds, I've heard more than one baffled art director comment on the piles of cards they get with no children or friendly animals. And finally you should make that trek to the post office regularly. I'm currently mailing every other month mostly because I have an overstock of postcards and I hate to have them sitting around gathering dust. Most art directors say mail at least 3 to 4 times a year and I've found its a good idea to print cards ahead of time and have them labeled and ready to go. If a contact changes you can always re-label the card. That way if you do get busy with projects you won't let your mailing schedule slide. "Keep it up." says Thompson, "The more mailings you can do, the more often art directors can see your name and your work." He's right. With this kind of publicity it's a numbers game - the more often people see your work, the better you chances of finding a dream book deal.

Happy mailing.

ps. thanks to contributors Chad Thompson and Elizabeth Dulemba. Check 'em out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Q and A with Online Portfolio Sites

For the article below, I researched the following sites:,,, (formerly and In addition to talking with members on their sites I sent a few questions to each site asking about how they promoted themselves and artists on the site. Dave Tabler of (Ispot) and Darren DiLieto of (Hai!) responded and their answers are below. I have also included some relevant responses from that I received from an enquiry posted to them a year ago when I signed up.

How do you promote the site and how often?
Hai!: we contact Art Directors and publishers directly, with Mailshot packs in the same way an agent would, but we are not an agency. 10-30 are sent out per week. The promo magazine (Hai!) is sent out frequently to all our contact and is published bi-annually. We do an open call to all members for inclusion, with 60 members making it into the mag.

Ispot: We've advertised theispot consistently with multi-page sections in Print and CA magazines for about 8 years now. We find the reach and shelf life of these magazines to far exceed anything we've accomplished with direct mail, which we still do occasionally, and we're able to get truly remarkable page rates from both publications. We also maintain an agile budget for international opportunities throughout the year. Any given month can find theispot ads in publications throughout the UK and EU, as well as Canada. For now, we are steering clear of Russia, China and India as they seem not to grasp the importance of intellectual property. When that changes we'll be there, too, as they represent a huge emerging opportunity. We've used the Google Adwords program since its inception, but are finding it to be somewhat bloated and overextended at this point. Similarly, mass emails are something we are much more wary of sending now that so many seem to be clogging inboxes lately.

Can you tell me where primarily most buyers on the site are(US or UK?) and in
what industry? What percentage are in the children's publishing industry?

Hai!: It's about 50-50 UK, US. Mainly editorial and advertising, but we do contact a number of publishers (30% Children's).

Ispot: Our traffic analysis indicates that the vast majority of traffic on theispot has always come from the US, which suits this industry well because the budgets here tend to be stronger.  As I mentioned above, that has not stopped us from making inroads into other markets, and foreign traffic spikes tell us when we've created really responsive advertising.  Our reporting software does not tell us precisely which industries are using theispot the most heavily, and our privacy policy (a very important feature to buyers) prevents us from collecting that data from visitors on site. The nature of our promotion extends across all design industries, which is what makes it such an interesting buy for any type of illustrator.  For example, artists who have always promoted themselves directly to specific markets such as travel or technology have been approached to illustrate for the children's market.  The cross-pollination works both ways, which means that children's book illustrators on the site can be hired to create advertising artwork in
their signature style.

How do you promote new subscribers on the site?
Ispot: Our "What's New" section features a slideshow that updates regularly with the newest artists on theispot.  As soon as a new artist's work goes up, we take a look at the Portfolio to see if anything jumps out as being problematic (such as corrupt files or unreadable thumbnail cropping.) At the 3-month mark, one of our staff of analysts will take an in-depth look at the Portfolio to determine what is working well and how the weaker spots can be improved.  The analysis includes keywording, image order, image presentation and suggestions for possible image replacement.  The subscriber receives direct, personal feedback and advice with an eye to making sure that their work is presented in the best possible way and that it can be found easily by the people who can use it.

How do you choose who is in the illustrator spotlight on the homepage?
Hai!: Once an illustrator as been on the site for a number of months, we then make random selection for the Q and A spotlight.

Ispot: Each illustrator is entitled to have an image in random rotation on the homepage.  They submit the file through their personal 'My Spot' account, and we format and upload the image manually to ensure that it presents that artist, and by extension theispot, in the best way possible.

Childrensillustrators: These are selected by our staff. All members are rotated on the homepage via the numerous image placements.

How do you choose which illustrators show up on the different parts of the site?
Hai!: The large and small images on the front page are random, the bottom left list is newest members, the illustrators page is last updated first and the show all illustrators list is alphabetical.

Ispot: The 'My Spot' section also has a Submit News option.  We encourage subscribers to keep us up to date on projects, awards and other professional achievements.  These can be posted up in What's New,  Art News and theispot blog with links back to the artist's Portfolio to encourage additional traffic from as many sources as possible.  We're proud to promote these parts of theispot, as they are a real testament to the power of good illustration.

Childrensillustrators: This is something we work hard on. employ several different methods of distributing traffic. The homepage rotates all members at random. Our talent pool acts in much the same way. The style / subject & medium galleries help the visitor to define their search. Our advanced search tool has a number of different options to assist the busy art buyer. The newsletter highlights recent projects our members have been working on. The portfolio directory can be sorted by alphabetical listing, geographic location, recently updated portfolios and new members. The published books section provides yet another access point, distributing traffic and presenting a range of illustrators.

Are there any kind of back-end tools to manage the profile i.e. can track how often images are viewed, what keywords are getting click-thrus to images?
Hai!: We don't use stats as they are misleading, because on any illustration site the main audience is other illustrators, no matter how hard we try to promote it to commissioning clients. So we rely on getting commissions being the only way to measure the success of the site.

Ispot: Yes, we have sophisticated tracking built into theispot to log traffic within the site as well as an option to apply Google Analytics to each Portfolio to gain perspective on a different set of data.  Buyers, too, have accounts with tools that allow them to bookmark and track their favorite artists on the site, create and share lightboxes and license images from the Stock part of the site.

Do you offer any other services besides a portfolio subscription i.e. stock art portfolio, mailing list discounts, gallery sales etc.?
Ispot: Theispot has a rights-managed stock section where artists archive their work for licensing and reuse.  We have fought hard to maintain pricing as close to assignment as possible so that this section of the site actually allows the artists' past work to support their commission careers rather than compete against them.  Our strategic partnership with AdBase custom list services offers ispot subscribers a 15% discount on their scrupulously maintained mail and email database.  And we encourage all of our artists to buy Tad Crawford's excellent book & CD combination, "Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators;" ispot subscribers are entitled to a 50% discount.

Online Portfolio Sites - Why, How, and Are They Worth It

As I mentioned in an earlier post, between the rearranging going on in publishing these days and the lackluster economy in general, many illustrators are looking for ways to keep up with their contacts and new ways to market themselves. I've noticed with the souring job market that more places are coming out of the woodwork to offer illustrators a path to connections and jobs. My own research into new marketing venues led me to the decision to write a post about on-line portfolio sites.

These days having an on-line presence is not an option. It is essential. On-line portfolios sites, such as or offer a searchable database of illustrators. Each 'member' is given their own personal portfolio page with different levels of image categorization and back-end management depending on the site. Besides the members' portfolio page, most sites also allow the members' illustrations to show up randomly on the home page and other pages of the site. The number-one most important thing anyone should understand about having an internet presence is this: the more traffic on a site/image/portfolio, the higher it will come in search rankings. Traffic can be greatly affected by changing the portfolio is some way. The second most important thing anyone should understand about having an internet presence is that usually no one searches past the third page of results, whether it's a google search or a search on a portfolio site. How does this affect your decision to advertise with an online portfolio site? For each site with which you create a portfolio, you have to maintain that portfolio or risk losing ranking. Sometimes this can be as simple as rearranging the order of your images, but illustrators that are uploading new work every week will always show up above an illustrator that uploads a couple of times a year. This portfolio manipulation has a snowball effect: As an illustrator manages his or her images to keep them high in search rankings, potential buyers then click through to those portfolios keeping traffic high, which insures that those images will come up again and again. Since all portfolio sites also allow members to post a link to the member's own personal site, this snowball effect will spill over to the illustrator's personal site if a buyer clicks through to their URL.

The Upside
Every illustrator I know (including myself) relies heavily on postcard mailers to get projects. Mailing is certainly important (come back next week for my post on that) but in an industry where small and mid-sized publishers often hire a third party designer to find an illustrator - without sending their file of postcards to that designer - it's important to be in many places at once. As a member of a couple of on-line portfolio sites for a few years, I have found the advantage to on-line portfolio advertising to be three-fold: First, and most obvious, you are getting your work in front of an art-buying audience. I've actually been contacted by designers hired by publishers to whom I have mailed for years, only to be told by the designer that they haven't seen those mailings but had seen the very same image on-line. While not every person surfing a particular site is a serious buyer, they seem to be great resources for studios that hire a high volume of illustrators in a year, such as those who work on children's educational products. While sometimes not the most glamourous products to work on, these kinds of projects are great for an illustrator trying to break into children's publishing by giving the opportunity to get practical hands-on experience illustrating a manuscript. In my personal experience these projects can also be quite lucrative.

The second advantage is the ability to get feedback on which image might be catching a buyer's eye. Some sites allow a potential buyer to attach an image from an artist's portfolio to an e-mail asking about a project, others have programming built in so that a member can track which of their images are getting the most hits. A few years ago I had an image of kids flying kites that was a real winner; over and over again I was contacted about a project with the buyer referencing that image as why they chose me. This created a great opening to find out specifically what a client might like about my work, and in turn I could apply that to future illustrations.

The third advantage is that snowball spillover affect I mentioned earlier. As you funnel traffic from an on-line portfolio site to your personal URL, that causes your personal site to rise on any search rankings. I like to think of this as the "you just never know" effect, as in you just never know when someone will find you and like you. An art director googling a baseball story, unrelated to art, comes across you because your baseball image has high traffic rankings. He finds you, he likes you, he bookmarks you, it's just a hop skip and a jump to a project. The i-spot tracks both image hits and keyword hits, an especially useful feature because you can adjust the keywords on your own domain to match, thereby increasing its chances of traffic.

Things to Consider
As with any marketing decision, you should keep in mind a few things before deciding to advertise with an on-line portfolio site. For starters, they are an investment with the yearly costs running from $200 to over $600. Some sites offer a free basic portfolio listing, but these provide few of the advantages and attract a host of less than professional artists, causing serious art buyers to shy away from perusing those listings. Time spent maintaining your portfolio on the site can be a drain. It's a good idea to set a schedule of regular maintenance for your entire online presence, both your personal site and portfolios sites. Before signing up with a site you should also query them about how the site is promoted. A site that is not advertising itself is not advertising you. Be sure you know enough about the industry to know where children's book producers are hanging out - virtually and in the real world - so that you will know if a site's marketing plan makes sense for the industry you are trying to reach.

The 64 Million Dollar Question
What everyone wants to know before they sign up for something is.... does it work? Do you get projects from these sites, is it worth it? I've talked to several illustrators both current and former subscribers of various sites about their experiences getting jobs and their answers were as varied as their work. Some people had gotten no work, others had said a site paid for itself within a few months. Of the two sites I have consistently advertised with, one has paid for itself several times over the course of my history with it, the other has not paid for itself yet but has yielded a small but significant number of high-profile contacts that I believe will be worth it. The one similarity I did find was that the artists with the most success had allowed more than a year for the site to work for them. Years ago in art school, a teacher told our class that he personally knew of art directors that waited to see if an illustrator appeared in a sourcebook for more than one year in a row to make sure they had staying power before hiring them. Therefore this teacher went on, if you plan to advertise in a sourcebook, plan to afford it for at least two years. I've always felt that this theory also applies to advertising with a portfolio site. My personal rule has been a 3 year window - if after 3 years I have gotten no jobs from a site I will drop my advertising. I have yet to have a 3 year dry spell.

My personal experience with online portfolio advertising has been a positive one. No illustrator should rely primarily on an online site to send them jobs but researched wisely and maintained diligently I do think they can become part of a successful marketing plan.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lose Your Butt!! Cool contest at Market My Words

Check out this contest for a chance to win a customized website with marketing guru Shelli Wells from Market My Words. Shelli wants you to Comment Your Butt Off on her blog in the month of March. So get over there and - er - comment your butt off to win a website design valued at $1000. Even though i don't really need a website the Fabulous Illustrator is going for the bonus points just cuz! For complete rules click here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My NEW Website

I've finally got the new design of my website to go live. Its a much more streamlined simple look, so that you may more easily admire my awesome artwork (self-effacing grin.)
Check it out: