Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hey Alicia, I've been following your blog and i did see you recommending CI website. May i ask you if it's worth to register there, i mean, do they...

...really do the agency work? I do realize that a good portfolio is what counts most. But I'm asking because 350$ sounds a lot if they actually don't try to help you to get jobs.

Well, sites like Children's Illustrators, the ispot, etc.. they don't do agency work because they are not agents. Those sites offer exposure. You pay to to be on their site and show off your portfolio.
You of course have to have your contact information there and should have a link to your personal website with more work as well.

Art directors and editors visit sites like that looking for talent. Sometimes they are looking for an artist with a style in particular since they already have the manuscript in hand. They can easily find them on places like these because it's quick, they can do advance searches regarding mediums, styles, etc.

Some sites offer that your work be on a book too. They send that book to publishing houses. Others go to shows like Bologna Book Fair, Frankfurt etc.. and promote artists work there. I know CI displays a big screen where they show images of artists' work.

Yes, online portfolio sites tend to be pricey. CI is one of the least pricey actually. I know it may seem like a lot of money but I always think of promotion as a must. Specially if you live far away from publishing houses.

Every artists is different. I am not saying everyone should advertise in places like that. Some artists just send out promo packages and postcards regularly. Other like to fly to NY and do portfolio drop offs and meet the people face to face. Advertising online helps in my opinion. If you can do all those things well great. But almost no one can so you have to pick some way to advertise and go for it.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

What is the best advice you could give someone (me) who is wanting to be an illustrator...

I think if you want to be an illustrator and break into this business you have to really work hard and never give up. 

Here is a more detailed "Do and Don't" list I think is important to follow:


* Believe in yourself and your art. If you don't like it people won't either. Trust what you do and try your best at it.

* Practice, practice and did I say.. practice? Draw a lot. From real life, from references in books, from your imagination.

* Try to find a style. This is not easy, I know. I'm sure people say it all the time like everybody knows a magic formula as to how to get one. There is no formula, but what I think is the best way to approach it is by practicing so much and closing your eyes and thinking what it is you REALLY want to draw. Is it animals? Kids? Pirates? Then do it... and after a while a pattern will appear. You'll see some similarities to them and that is the style emerging. Also I think that style is linked to what you enjoy the most doing.. Usually you have more confidence and a looser hand at that so the style will come easier through this.

* Read all you can about it. The art side and the business side too. Buy books and read articles in the internet.

* Subscribe to the SCBWI. It is a great way to learn about this business. Read the forums and ask questions. Try to attend conferences, you get to meet many interesting people in the field and learn from all the wonderful speakers.

* Work on a portfolio. When you "find" your style, work on having 10 to 15 really good pieces for your portfolio. Since this is a Children's Book Portfolio try to include children in it. No still life or anything like that. Try to tell a story with your illustrations and always include whatever it is that you want to be drawing because ultimately, you will be hired to do what ever to have in your portfolio.

* Take advantage of the internet. This is an amazing way to learn, meet people and be seen! I can't tell you the importance of this. Open a blog, make a website, take advantage of portfolio sites (free: Coroflot, CreativeShake -Paid: ChildrensIllustrators, Picturebook etc... ) and post your work there.

* When you have done all from above, then research in bookstores, libraries and the Children's Market Guide for publishers that meet your style. Look for books that speak to you, that you think have similar feeling or style as yours then find out what the submission requirements are for them and then send out samples of your work. Now don't SIT and wait after this because it will be a LOOOOONG wait. Instead keep reading, learning, drawing, making new pieces for your portfolio, blogging, practicing, experimenting and dreaming... never stop dreaming. I know this is what keeps me going.


* Don't skip ANY of the important steps in the "Do" section!
Just do it!

What would you say is a common mistake you see in some artist's portfolios?

Well something that comes to mind is the lack of storytelling.

If we are talking children's book portfolio here, and I assume we are, then I think it is really important to tell a story with your art.

 I often see many artist's pieces with wonderful characters, beautifully rendered but nothing is happening.

Sometimes the character is looking at the viewer as if someone took a picture of him or her and to me, that's another mistake.

 If we are talking illustration for a book and not the cover (cover is different) then I think characters have to interact with one another and have to give the feeling that they are unaware that we (the viewer) are watching them. That's what I do when I'm working on a piece, I always have that in my mind.

A good portfolio illustration has to leave you wanting more. Has to raise some questions.. why is the character doing that? What will happen next?

 To me that is the key to a great children's book illustration.

Hi Alicia, Do you still send samples to publishing houses? how do you promote your work , or your agent does it for you?

Hi there.
 I do. I think there are 3 basic ways in which we promote ourselves and they are all equally important:

1- Have a website to show all your work and contact information.

2- Have your work featured on good and known online portfolio sites like ChildrensIllustrators, PictureBook or Theispot for example.

3- Send out postcards to publishers.

I do all three. I also have an agent and that helps too. Even if the agent promotes your work I believe we still have to be out there and promote as well. Ultimately all my book projects, regardless of where they came from, are handled by my agent of course. But I think is extremly useful to be active promoting ourselves and always try to keep up to date with what is happening out there.

Every artists is different, this is just what I do. I do recommend however that you find ways to be seen. There is way too many talent out there and the competition is tough.

What's the value of an amazing portfolio if Editors or ADs can't see it?

Hi, i'm an aspiring children's picture book author and illustrator. How do you get started in the children's book market? My goal is..

.. to have a manuscript ready by July and I don't know where to start. I'd love any advice. Drawing and art is my passion!

First you need to start with your manuscript and this usually takes time.

You need to write, and rewrite. You need to aim your story to your target audience and make sure you are writing appropriate for them. You have to try to find a story that is unique and not told already since the market is so tough right now.

Editors are always looking for something fresh and new. Try to tell a fun story and not something that will teach kids a lesson. Always try to make the main character, be a kid or animal in the book, solve the problem on his own. If it's a picture book you might need to cut a lot of your text since most picture books have a few words. The less text the better.

When you feel your manuscript is perfect, then you need to ask yourself if you really are a great artist. I'm sorry to say, but if you are not, then you have far better chances of getting your story picked up by a publisher if you submit ONLY the manuscript.

Professional artists or talented people that really know how to draw can get away with trying to submit a story with illustrations. If you feel you belong to this group, then you need to work on a dummy.

 A dummy is rough book made by yourself, it can be very simple. Actually I suggest to try and keep it very simple. Just have the pages folded and stapled in the middle to make it look like a book. Then you submit it with sketches and the text in place. Do not try to make each page with a finished color illustration. This will take you a lot of time that will end up being a waste of time because chances are that the book will need editing. So just fill those pages with sketches and just have one spread (2 facing pages) with a finished illustration and maybe the cover too, if you feel like it. That ways editors can have an idea of how the book would look once it's finished. There is a lot of information on the web regarding dummies. Make sure to take advantage of this.

After all of this, you need to sit down and do a lot of research. The more the better. Look at publisher's websites. See what books they print. Look in bookstores and see what books are out there and what publishers prints book that your think are similar to yours, not in story but the type and feel of the book.

When you have some names narrowed down you have to see which of those publisher accept unsolicited manuscripts. What this means is they are willing to see your story without and agent sending it to them. If you have some names that fill this requirement then you can send your dummy to them. Always read their submission policy and make sure to follow everything they say. They receive tons of submissions and they tend to be very strict on these things.

You could also try to go the agent route and send your dummy to an agent first. If an agent likes it, they might ask to see more of your work and might be willing to represent you. The agent then submits your story for you to all those mayor houses that are impossible to submit on your own. Agents take cuts from your work of course and they will handle contracts, try to get you the best fee, etc..

Since you mentioned you passion for art, maybe you can try your route to getting published by being an illustrator first. For this you need to create a portfolio with 10 or more really great pieces that show you can draw kids and animals in different settings and display all kinds of emotions.

Make sure to have a website showing your work and then you can send postcards to publishers with your information and a link to your online websites. If they like your work for a particular manuscript they may hire you to illustrate it.

All this requires a lot of time and effort and getting published is not easy but it's not impossible either. If this is your dream, you need to keep at it. Work hard and don't give up.

Do you believe that, painting doesn't need an exceptional talent or education? Asking you these as a fan of children's illustration

Well, it depends.

If there is talent, then the education is not needed.
 However, if someone lacks the talent then an education certainly will help and be the base from which that person can grow and carry on.

Everyone can benefit from art education of course but I believe there are many artists with a natural talent that still make it big without it.

 The best thing to do is first determine if illustrating is truly a passion for you. If this is something you really want to do with your life then go for it! If you believe you are not well prepared and doubt your abilities to draw and paint then go to art school.

Draw, practice, read, get informed, look at life differently, draw, practice, observe in detail other artists' work, draw, practice, read the internet, ask questions, read interviews, open an art related blog, draw and practice.

If you think I mistakenly wrote "draw and practice" several times, well it wasn't a mistake. You really need to draw and practice, a lot!
 The drawing and practicing actually never stops. 
An artist evolves each and every day by drawing. It's the only way.

Do you have an agent? Would you recommend one?

I do have an agent. As far as recommending to have one, I think it depends on the type of person you are.

I believe there are two types of artists. The ones that like to be involved in all matters, that are somewhat extroverts, don't mind handling fees and asking for higher pay. That can keep track of clients when not paying on time and that don't mind handling contracts. 

And then there are artists that just want to draw. I'm in this group. :o)

I am very bad at negotiating and contract terms etc, so for me an agent makes perfect sense. I don't mind sharing a percentage with them because they truly earn it doing all those things I don't want to do. 

But if you think you can handle these things on your own then you can certainly be without an agent.

Children's illustrators can find jobs on their own without agents, no problem. Make sure you advertise on portfolio sites and send promotional postcards regularly. Of course, always have your work online on your personal website and make sure your portfolio is appropriate for children's books.

One thing that is important to know is this, if you are an illustrator and don't have any intention of writing and want representation, you might want to look for an artist rep and not an agent. Reps handle the educational market which is the bread and butter these days. 
So you could be busier doing ed work on a daily bases.

Art reps usually take a higher percentage than literary agents, around 25 to 30%, so you have to take that in mind as well.

 Literary agents usually focus only on trade and it's a slower process, but they take around 15% cut.

Whatever you decide to do, make sure to take your time choosing and agent/rep. Ask a lot of questions, they like this and expect it too. The agent-client relationship is a close and important one. You want to feel comfortable with your agent or rep and hopefully have a long lasting career together.

I love your work! I want to send my manuscript to publishing houses and would like you to do the illustration for my book

Thanks for the offer, very sweet of you but when sending your manuscript out to houses you really don't need illustrations at all.

Editors only want to see manuscripts. In fact they don't like writers to send illustrations (unless they are illustrating the book themselves). Editors will do the rest, like find a matching illustrator and take it from there. They are very good at that and have a sense of what works and sells.

I can imagine that sometimes is not easy for a writer to understand this because they see their story as their baby and I am pretty sure they had images behind those words when they wrote them down.

But you have to trust the editors, they know what they are doing.

I'd like to hire you to work on my self-published book

Thanks for the offer but I really don't take self-published projects. There are some artists who do, you just have to look around on the web and ask around on boards.

There are sites like Dragonpencil where you can find illustrators and they offer services for people wanting to self-publish.

If you are self-publishing and are going to look for an illustrator, I would suggest you find one that you think will match the style of your book. If it is a picture book then the illustrations are extremely important.

I recommend you research very well and the more you pay the better the finished product and the best chances to sell your book. Don't ever think that by hiring an artists friend, art student, or any artists for that matter and offering them a ridiculous low amount is a good idea.

Creating art is hard work and artists live by what they gain from jobs like this, so please approach this in a serious manner and offer the most you are willing to spend. You'll end up with a better book.

How did you go about getting an agent?

Actually I was lucky.

I was at a point where I thought I would start looking for representation so I started searching a few rep sites and suddenly I got an email from an agent interested in representing me. I took it as a sign.

After many emails and questions and getting to know a bit one another I decided to sign with them. 

I know this is not the usual scenario. But if you are thinking of getting one I would look online. Children's Illustrators already has a section with agents so it's easier to just click and go to agent's websites.

Look and see if you like the artists they represent. If you do, try to search on boards (SCBWI) and the blue boards to see if someone has posted anything about them and you can ask around.

If you find one that you like, try to see if you know any of the artists they represent and send them an email asking how it has been for them.

Then, I would read the agent's or rep's submission policies and go for it.