You saw the sketch of this in my last post, so here is the full-color version. I illustrated this for a children’s book spread with an 8 x 10 inch page size. I’ve also included a version with the text mocked up so you can see how the composition has to allow for narrative text.
The creative process differs somewhat from artist to artist, but here is an example of mine. I’ve chosen the story of Little Red Riding Hood to work with to demonstrate my abilities in conveying narrative, action, emotion, and consistent character development in my illustrations.
These are different from some of my other sketches as these have been created digitally in Adobe Photoshop. So far, I think I like the digital process in my sketch work. I notice that as I go along, the sketches are getting tighter and tighter. That is fine for me for now as I don’t answer to a client on this one. Generally, of course, I would submit rougher sketches, much like the second image with Red and the wolf in the woods. I would get approval on that before moving forward with tighter sketches.
The VERY rough sketch below is an example of the first step in my creative process, using traditional pencil and paper. I scribble out these just to get a basic idea of what I might want the characters to look like and what scenes I might want to include. These are so rough that they would never be seen by a client.
Keep tuned in to see how the work progresses from here.
If you have been following my blog, you know that I’ve succeeded in getting my website up and going, and I’ve also developed tearsheets and a beginning marketing campaign to send out for initial publishing contacts. I feel good about what I’ve accomplished, and while I think my portfolio is pretty strong, all this time, there’s been this niggly little feeling that it could be stronger.
Now that things have slowed down just a bit, I’ve had a chance to re-evaluate my work and see where it could use some improvement–particularly in the children’s book department.
In my research, I’ve found that children’s book publishers want to see four main elements in an illustrator’s portfolio:
While I have illustrated children’s books before, and I accomplished those four goals in one style, I haven’t quite had the opportunity to demonstrate my narrative skill in the style that I’m currently pushing. In order to show narrative, you have to show you can illustrate a storyline. I don’t have a current “storyline” in the works, so I’ve decided to work with a traditional “Little Red Riding Hood” narrative.
Everyone knows the story of “Little Red Riding Hood,” so any publisher should be able to tell how well I can illustrate that narrative. There’s also plenty of opportunity for action and expression. I don’t plan on illustrating the whole story but maybe three or four action scenes. That should show my consistency in character, expression, action, and narrative.
Here is the first rough sketch. (I usually do my initial sketches with traditional pencil and paper, but this time I’m experimenting with creating my rough sketches digitally. This is my first shot at it. It’s taking some getting used to, but all-in-all, I think I’ll like the process.)
I’m going to add some more little animals showing alarm and fear, and I’ve also left room at the lower left to insert text for the story. This will be a two-page spread.
Digital media and communication technology have changed the way we live and work, and they have impacted the publishing and illustration industry no less than any other. But as important as digital is, it’s not everything—at least not yet.
While every illustrator promotes his work in his own way, one element of every artist’s campaign remains constant, and that is the need for physical tearsheets.
You might think that most publishers would prefer to be contacted by email in this digital age, but not so. Easily 90% of publishers’ listings request submissions of tearsheets and samples for initial contacts—and those submissions are to be made by mail, on real printed paper, not through email.
One of the best ways to find publishers who might be interested in your illustration work is through a publishers listing or directory, so get your hands on a copy of 2013 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market or 2013 Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market and start pouring through the pages.
When I received my first directories in the mail, it wasn’t long before colored Post-it tabs and highlighter slashes decorated the crisp new pages of my copies. I eagerly marked the listings of book publishers, art reps, and magazines in the children’s market that seemed most promising to me—publishers that I thought would be interested in my style of artwork. That alone took hours of research.
I put even more time into cross referencing those listings with live websites to double check submission requirements and contact names and to get even more information on the publisher. But it wasn’t until I really started reading the submission guidelines, and saw the requests for tearsheets and samples attached to every single one, that I realized just how much more work I had cut out for me.
Anyone who knows me knows I can be a bit impatient. I want the world to see my work, and I want them to see it today, so email is my best friend. But that immediacy rarely exists in the publishing world. In fact, the slush pile for most publishers is quite high, and you’ll be lucky if one responds within the three-six month window specified. That’s a hard pill to swallow for an artist who thrives on feedback (especially if you’re an artist just getting started).
But impatient or not, considering the 3-6 month wait between your first contact with a publisher and his response (if he sends one), you want to what is required to make sure his first impression of you is the one you want to leave.
The first thing I tackled when I realized the task ahead of me was developing my business collateral. That included my new logo, matching letterhead, business cards, mailing label and template for my tearsheets.
When developing your collateral, remember that it should be professional and consistent. Every element within the package needs to look like it belongs there. Think “branding.” My own “brand” needs to have a professional but somewhat generic feel. I wasn’t able to develop a logo utilizing my illustration style because I offer more than illustration services here at Amanda’s Creative Studios. My logo needs to work for all of the services I offer. Those of you who work strictly as illustrators will have a bit more flexibility with your designs.
Remember, repetition is the key here. The publishers will see your logo and brand across the mailing label, the business card, the cover letter, and the tearsheets. Then, if you’re lucky, he’ll drop in on your website, where he’ll again experience your logo and the other elements of your brand. Any subsequent mailings should also reinforce your brand. Then maybe when the next project crosses his desk, you’ll be one of the first artists the publisher thinks of.
Make sure you use professional quality printing for your promotional package. If you do some comparison shopping, you can find reasonable prices for quality printing. I ordered all of my materials online and received all shipments within 3-4 days.
When sending out the first contact package, including your tearsheets, you need to put yourself in the publishers’ shoes. Consider that they may have two-foot high slush piles to wade through and try to make their lives as easy as possible. Believe me, they’ll appreciate it.
It’s also important to keep track of to whom, when, and how each promotion went out. Did you submit through email or through snail mail? What samples did you send? When should you follow up with another promotional piece?
I use a spreadsheet to keep track of my promotional mailings and contacts. I designate separate, color-coded sections for magazine publishers, book publishers, toy and game industry, advertising agents, and artist reps.
I am not a fan of keeping records and tracking information, let me tell you. I don’t know many artists who are. But it is absolutely essential that you find some way to do this. You don’t want to send repeat mailings to already overwhelmed publishers. That’s one way to make an impression, but it won’t be a good one.
Here is a look at my tracking system:
It’s true that putting together this first mailing is a lot of work, especially if you don’t already have your business collateral developed or printed, which was where I found myself.
I had at least a couple of weeks tied up in developing my collateral, researching the markets and publishers, writing specific cover letters for each, and hand-picking the samples that I thought should go to each. I then had to set up all the address labels, check (and double check) spellings of names, make sure each cover letter matched up with each mailing label, and finally keep track of mailings and responses.
So is it really worth it? Absolutely!
The first mailing that includes your letter of introduction and tearsheets is like that first job interview. Every little thing counts. Competition in this industry is steep. If you take shortcuts, you’ll only undercut yourself. Talent will only get you so far—this industry is overflowing with talented artists.
Publishers want to work with professional, talented artists. Someone they can depend on for consistent style, performance, and quality. Someone who takes pride in his art and who will work hard to meet deadlines.
You simply must present yourself as the professional you are.
I just finished this editorial illustration for “Life+Dog Magazine.” I created this in what I call my Vectoresque style. I’ve been told (and I agree) that this would be a solid style for the toy and game industry. Hopefully, I can get a foot in the door there sometime soon.
The editor wanted something light and fun for this piece. This particular project was created as a lead-in illustration for a feature article. The article discusses fifty dogs, six of whom are illustrated here, who are “changing the world.” So these illustrations represent real pets belonging to real people. It was a bit challenging to get the Golden Retrievers to look different enough to be recognizable as two separate individuals, and some of the photos weren’t great to work from, but all-in-all, I think it turned out well.
Here is the sketch as well. You can see that the order of the dogs got shifted around a bit, as well as some of the wording. But that is the nature of the business.
I finally finished this illustration. This one was a bit of a challenge just because of the abundance of subject matter. It was created at poster size, so there was a lot of room for “stuff.” That being said, this is also the most commercial use of the “Celestial” style of illustration that I’ve done to date. I plan to continue creating for more commercial purposes. Again, I’m trying to get a more marketable portfolio put together, and showing how my illustration style can be used in specific venues is important.