Thursday, December 27, 2012

A Visit From the Ghost of Christmas Past

Happy Holidays! It seems like a lifetime ago since I made the big leap to working primarily digitally but I recently got the chance to dust off my paints and brushes. I set up my neglected drawing table and did my best imitation of an artist again. It felt nostalgic in many ways but one thing I didn't miss was the pain it left in my back from all the hunching over...OUCH! This watercolor portrait was painted as a Christmas present for two special people so I guess the pain was worth it.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

How to Build an Illustration Portfolio

Every now and again, I get asked the question, "What should I put in my portfolio?".  So, I wanted to take a moment and share some tips and suggestions you might consider when putting together an illustration portfolio. Specifically, a portfolio of illustrations catering to children's publishing; although websites and social media play an ever-increasing role in promoting your work, having a physical portfolio will still come in handy the next time you attend a nearby illustration conference or if you find yourself lucky enough to be given some face time with an art director. So let's get started...

First off, let's get the basics out of the way; a typical portfolio should contain anywhere from 12 to 15 images, bound in a nice, clean, and simple, 8" x 11" portfolio. The thing to remember is this: showcase work and talent, so the portfolio itself should NOT distract or compete with the artwork. So rule of thumb ...keep it simple! Be sure to include pocket at the back of the portfolio with postcards and/or business card for someone to take.

Now for the most important parts of any portfolio, the ARTWORK! Here are a few key points to remember:
  • Order & Pacing: Typically, a portfolio should open with a sample of your best work! The point of this is pretty obvious, you want to WOW your viewer and grab their attention right from the start. Once you have it, it's a matter of sustaining that interest throughout the entire portfolio. To achieve this, you want to space your artwork out evenly and build a rhythm between some of your good/solid pieces and some great/better pieces. And to end it on a high note, you'll want to include another one of your best illustrations. Ideally, this will leave them with a lasting impression of your work, or even better still, leave them wanting more!

    Below is a quick diagram to better illustrate this. One thing you will notice is that depending on the quality and the number of pieces in your portfolio, as well as the fact that you will be constantly update your portfolio, we will have some variations, but the basic structure should still be followed.
  • Consistency of Quality: Your portfolio is only as good as it's weakest piece. So if you have an illustration that you are not sure about, it's best to leave it out. To a potential client, a weak piece will also have the potential of leaving a lasting impression, but for all the wrong reasons. Your portfolio should only contain your best work, so in some cases, less is more. So remember, even if it means a thinner portfolio, only include work that you are actually proud to show off.
  • Consistency of Style: Along with demonstrating a consistent quality of work, you also want to define a consistent style in your art as well. A big mistake you can make is filling your portfolio with work in several different styles and techniques. Below are several scenarios someone might decide to do this with their portfolio. In each case, first, I'll give the rationale behind these choices followed by reasons why you shouldn't.
    1. By showing a wide range of styles, there is a belief that you are showing the art directors that you are versatile and capable of handling multiple mediums and styles. Instead, what ends up happening is that you'll leave them thinking, "What kind of art will I expect if I hire you?" And this is not what is desired.   
    2. By including a portfolio with different styles, you are hoping this will help you land more jobs because you are in essence casting a wider net. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that you are also diluting your portfolio in the process. So instead of having a full portfolio of 12 solid pieces highlighting your individual style, you are only able to show potential clients 4 or 5 pieces. This will make it more difficult for them to accurately assess your skills and make them reluctant to hire you.
    3. Let's face it, sometimes you just need a filler. You might run into a case of simply not having the number of illustrations to fill up your portfolio. So you decide to round out the 12 pieces with an illustration that's different just to bulk up your numbers. The thing to remember is that any capable art director will see right through this as well, which will lead to them to question your experience. And just as bad, this misplaced illustration will stick out like a sore thumb and disrupt the flow to the rest of your portfolio.
    At the end of the day, the person looking at your art needs to be able to associate your name with your work. So the clearer and simpler you make it for them and yourself, the better.
  • Content: The next area I want to cover, I also feel is the most important, and that is the kind of illustrations you should showcase. So let's get down to the nitty-gritty...
    1. Children: Seeing that we are creating a portfolio for children's publishing, naturally, a huge majority of our time will be spent drawing and painting children. So knowing the subject matter will be crucial! From sad to happy, or surprise to shock, being able to convey children with emotion and life will be an important part to master. This means that your portfolio should not only cover a diversity of races, gender, and ages of children, but you can also cover a variety of situations and scenarios a child can relate to. 
    2. Animals: Aside from drawing children, in this business, you will also be asked to draw lots of animals. So in your portfolio, it would be beneficial to include some animals as well. This can be your more realistic and lifelike animals to your more anthropomorphic variety.
    3. Make Believe: Fairy tales and the fantastical play a big part in children's publishing, so it would be a natural choice to include them in your portfolio. However, here's a caveat for those who decide to illustrate a popular one, and that is the risk of it being generic or cliche. Personally, I feel that unless you can introduce something new to the table, or add your unique twist to a classic, I would stay clear of them. Instead, you should use the opportunity to show off your creativity, and imagine your very own fairy tale.  
    4. Storytelling: In children's publishing, a big aspect of what we do is tell stories with pictures, and so your portfolio should reflect this. Your illustrations should tell a story. The bulk of your illustrations should include work that shows a character or characters interacting with either their surroundings or with each other. You should limit posed, glamour shot or pin-up type of illustrations. In other words, focus on the illustrations you would find inside the pages of a children's book and not so much on the illustrations you would see on the cover. 
    5. Continuity: Another part of telling stories with pictures also involves being able to demonstrate continuity. So a good addition to your portfolio would be to include a couple of illustrations (no more than 2-3) that shows you can handle a series of sequential illustrations involving the same character(s).
    6. Licensed Characters: Lastly, this seems pretty obvious but you should definitely avoid using licensed characters in your portfolio. Unless you look really good in strips or bright orange, just stick to your own original work. Not only would you be coming across as unprofessional, this too, is another missed opportunity to show that you can be creative, by inventing your own original characters.  

    When deciding on the content of your portfolio,
    the best advice I can give you is to make the most of each illustration.  You are limited by the number of illustrations, so each and every selection becomes all the more important when trying to make a good impression. Be deliberate and even strategic about what ends up in your portfolio. A solid, well-rounded portfolio will show potential clients that you can do a job, and do it well.
  • Know Your Audience: Within children's publishing, there are a lot of niches, so it's important to know who you are showing your portfolio to. From educational, to religious, to trade publishers, each one of these publishing sectors have their own requirements and preferences. So do your homework and know what these clients are looking for, and then cater your portfolio to fit those needs.
  • Updating Your Portfolio: It's a good idea to keep your portfolio current. As your work continues to evolve and mature, so too should your portfolio. While some pieces remain staples in your portfolio, others will quickly be replaced. One thing to remember is to stay flexible depending on what's needed by the potential client. 
Well, I think I have covered just about everything! In closing, I just wanted to say that this business of illustration can be quite frustrating and challenging! Not only is the competition as high as ever, but add to that the economic climate of these past several years... things couldn't be more daunting for anyone trying to succeed in this business. Which is all the more reason you need to build the strongest portfolio possible to stand out from the crowd. And for those persistent and determined few, I hope this has helped. Good luck and I wish you much success!  


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Buy a Book, We'll Donate a Book!

In the spirit of the holiday season, I am proud to announce that I have partnered with Amazon Children's Publishing to donate my books to Worldreader, an organization that provides digital books to children in Africa. So from now til December 24th, if you buy my books, Shaggy Dog, Waggy Dogs or Principal Fred Won't go to Bed, or any other Amazon Children's Publishing title, Amazon will donate a copy to the program. Please check out the links below for more info. Thank you for your support!

Amazon Link

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Dog's Life News Article

My book A Dog's Life made it's way into the Oberlin News Tribune. Caroline Sherman, the author of A Dog's Life contacted me and mentioned that they were doing an article and our book and so I passed along my photo of Chip with the book.

Here's the link;

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Space Cadet

I'm back with my finished illustration! Fun piece! Overall, I'm rather happy at how everything came together almost effortlessly. And aside from opting not to give the boy a glass visor (which I thought covered his face too much), not much was changed  from the sketch to final. From the colors to the mood, everything just seem to work themselves out without much trial and error. Unfortunately, this doesn't happen often, when what you envision in your mind gets translated onto paper (or in this case on screen) the way you imagine. Oh, how I wish it did, it would certainly make for a less stressed out illustrator!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Out of the Closet

Here's a sketch for my new promo piece! Bit of a time crunch(as always) trying to get this piece done inbetween deadlines. Will post the final when it's done.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

MB Artists Meets Facebook

My agency, MB Artists Inc, has started a new page on Facebook, Come by and check it out! And if you feel inclined, give them a "like". Personally speaking, I always enjoy seeing what other illustrators are up to and this is a good way to stay connected to all the happenings of my MB Artists family.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A Dog's Life Indeed

Finally! My copies of A Dog's Life came today! And here to celebrate, is the star of the book, Chip.

                               ...Clearly, he's as ecstatic about his new found fame as I am!

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Can We Call it a Remix?

I recently completed work on two new tittles, I Love You Mommy and I Love You Daddy. Only this time, things were a bit different, I was asked to illustrate books that had been previously published. Essentially I was updating these books and giving it more of a current look. So I did some snooping and to my surprise, I found out that these previous versions really weren't published that long ago, 2006 in fact. And so it got me about 6-7 years, will someone come along and redo my versions?

Anyway, here are the old versions.

And here are mine.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

All in the Print

I recently got this in the mail! I've worked on countless number of educational material similar to this through the years but it's actually the first time a client was nice enough to send me a copy. Honestly, outside of my picture books, I only have a vague idea where my illustrations actually end up, so it's always exciting to see your work in print!

Here is my contribution to the book. It's a story called the Heron and the Hummingbird.


Monday, July 9, 2012

A Dog's Life

My Latest book, A Dog's Life will be out this September! And it is available for pre-order now on Amazon. Go get your copy now! Here's the link; Amazon Link

Monday, June 25, 2012

Painless Perspective

I came across this useful video on how to make easy perspective lines, so I thought I'd share it. I've never been one to go through the trouble of plotting out a perspective grid when I create my illustrations. I admit, it's a laziness thing, but with this, it pretty much does all the work for you.  

Monday, May 7, 2012

Iain McCaig interview

Really inspiring interview of illustrator and concept artist Iain McCaig,  who is popularly known for his concept work on Star Wars. The genuine passion for what he does really shines through as he talks about his life and work. I'm sure it must be a real treat to study under this guy. I especially like the way he describes digital media, that this "new technology is the traditional of the future". Definitely worth watching!

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Bella Vista Elementary School Visit

Hi all! A few weeks back I had the pleasure of giving a presentation to the kids at Bella Vista Elementary School about my career as an illustrator. Well more like actually presentation(s)! I had originally wanted to give a simple talk to one small classroom of kids, but somehow ended up into 4 presentations, all back to back, in an auditorium for about 8 classes. By the end of the fourth presentation I felt my voice getting hoarse from all my babbling. Nevertheless, it was a fun experience and I'm glad I did it.

Friday, April 20, 2012

In Living Color

...And here's how it turned out.

Overall, I'm pretty happy with how everything came together. There is a lot of fun stuff going on, but for me, I especially enjoyed rendering the robo-dino. It's not too often I get to embrace my inner geek, so whenever the opportunity presents itself, I try to make the most of it.

And here's the process I took to get there...

First, I always start with the most general, I blocked in all my major shapes with color. Here I am simply establishing the basic color scheme of the illustration. In the past, when I was still working with acrylics, this step would be a lot more difficult. I'd always have to worry about losing my drawing underneath layers of paint or simply having it washed away from the water in my brush. However, with Photoshop, this problem is no longer an issue. By keeping the colors in a separate multiply layer(Photoshop speak btw.), the lines would not be effected whatsoever, which gave me the freedom to throw color around with abandon. This freed me up to play and explore different palettes without worrying about getting my colors muddy since I could always edit if needed. Definitely a true plus in working digitally. Once I settled on something I liked, I could move onto the next phase.

This meant a quick pass on the main characters and elements of the illustration. I established a bit more of the form and detail to each of the characters, but my main priority was the boy's face. With any illustration I work on, the face is the most important thing, and a major hurdle, so I try to nail those down as quickly as I can. In many ways, this can be the most crucial stage in my working process, cause it can very well set the table on how the rest of the illustration will go. Usually, if I can't get a face to look right,  it meant I'd be fighting the piece the whole time, cause I'd have to go back over and over again trying to rework it. Luckily, in this case, the boy's face didn't give me too much trouble, and I was able to get him looking pretty decent at this stage. And having cleared this major obstacle, I was able to relax a bit moving forward.

Next I gave the background and ground a pass. At this point, my brain is on auto-pilot. There's not much thinking involved here, I simply wanted to fill the back area with "junk". This part took a bit of time, and was a bit tedious, but I felt it was necessary. Obviously, the quickest and easiest solution would have been to put in a blank wall there, but it also wouldn't have added anything to the illustration either. All the stuff back there helped to establish more of the story, mood and interest to the piece, so it was time well spent.

After that, I went back to the main elements in the foreground and gave them a second pass. I focused on the smaller details this time. I cleaned up all the edges and gave it a more polished look. At this point, all my major elements were in place and I had pretty much worked everything out. This is probably my favorite part working on an illustration, once I can visualize the final illustration, I can just zone out and make things look pretty. 

And finally, here's the finished illustration again. After taking a step back, I realized I needed to rework the boy's face and expression. Along with that. I added a couple finishing touches. The lighting effects here and there, as well the the random materials on the floor. All these helped to tie everything together. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Composition, composition, composition!

Next comes the fun part, and that is designing the actual illustration. For me, it starts with jotting down some quick thumbnails...
For me, there's no real set number of thumbnails I must do before moving on to the final sketch, I just keep at it until something jumps out at me, but on average, I tend to do about 5-6. With these, all I'm doing is working out possible compositions. These should be quick and loose, and I'm sure they look like nothing more than mere scribbles, but that's kind of the point. The last thing I want to get hung up on at this phase are the details. The main focus is to explore different perspectives and points of views until I get something I feel will make for an interesting composition. Once I make my choice, I can then start on my final sketch. .

This is where I start adding in all the details, and make things look "pretty". Next comes the color...

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Character Development Part 2

I'm back with a couple more sketches. This time, with the other component of my illustration. He will obviously be the main character of the piece. With his treatment, I kept going back and forth with the amount of fantasy I wanted to incorporate into his design. Part of me really wanted to go over the top with it and give him a steampunk edge, but with the illustration I have in mind, I thought better of it, and decided to root him more in reality. Next stage will be to put everything together and actually start on the sketch itself.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Character Development

Here are some sketches of a robot dinosaur character I did for an illustration idea. Here I'm playing with ideas and different looks for this character. I have yet to really settle on a specific look. I think I like pieces here and there from several, so perhaps the final rendition will be an amalgam of sorts. Though, I typically don't go to these lengths with all my illustrations (especially for just a single illustration), whenever I can, I'll make every effort to try and do so, cause I'm quickly realizing the benefit of it.  Since my goal is to push my character designing, I see it as a very necessary step in the process.

I have another character in need of designing, which means more sketches to come...

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The supremely editable medium.

It goes without saying that one of the big pluses of working digitally is the ability to make changes cleanly and quickly. Below is a great example of this in action; I created this illustration and showed it to my agent, and she suggested that I try and change things up and work with a new palette. And so, with just a couple simple hue/saturation layers, I was able to rework the colors and change the overall mood of the piece. The best part is that it only took about 10 minutes.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Children's Book Publishing with Matt Faulkner, Julie Downing and Andrea Brown

Just finished this insightful video about children's book publishing. Worth watching for anyone new (or not so new), and is thinking about coming into this field. They talk a little about submissions guidelines, book dummies, and other important things one should know. They also touch on the current state of children's book, and the hot topic of digital ebooks. Worth checking out.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

All aboard!

Welcome to my very first blog! After much procrastination, I have finally decided to start a blog! It is my hope that this will be a creative outlet for me to share my ideas and illustrations. I have tossed around the idea of blogging for quite some time but have never actually made the plunge, but now that I have...I hope this will be the swift kick in the arse that I need to take my work to the next level. My goal is to post here at least once a week(in theory anyway), with something hopefully worth showing or talking about. So without further ado...

I thought this would be a great way to start things off. Above is the mockup for my promotional catalog submission my agency will be putting out this year. The emphasis of this catalog was to showcase characters, and I think it accomplished this fairly well. There's a good variety of characters in the mix, although I would have liked to have squeezed in a kid or two, given that 90% of what I illustrate are kids. One would think that given this 90%, I would have been able to pull out just one kid from all the work I've done that I thought would work, but alas, for whatever reason, I found not a single one! Hopefully the potential clients who see this will put two and two together and realize that I can probably illustrate them as well...yeah hopefully.