Tuesday, November 27, 2012

the feeling of a job well done

As crazy as this sounds, it has been almost one year exactly since I was contacted by the Oregon Dairy Council to create a poster for their dairy princesses. Yes, this is what we call a long haul.

This project was not particularly difficult, and the client was great. Normally I would never have a project take this long, but since they weren't in a hurry, had many stakeholders and no real deadline, this project just took its time.

'Our Dairy Cows Send Their Best' is complete. Dairy princesses shout with joy, as your new teaching poster is refreshed with bright colors, engaging images of cows, milking parlors, bottling plants, shopping aisles and happy families.

Monday, November 5, 2012


I love color.

Personally one of the skills I am most proud of is my eye for color. I really love color and enjoy working on color harmony in my work. Years ago I had a fantastic teacher, Elsa Warnick, who taught Illustration at the Pacific NW College of Art. She gave us a project where we were not allowed to use black. It changed my life. Really.

I recall how I struggled at first to work without using black. Then it came to me and the colors started to sing and the absence of black was not an issue. I didn't need it at all. Much of my personal art does not contain black. I rarely find it necessary. I find shadows are much more rich without black.

Recently when I was finishing up the Oregon Dairy Council artwork I found that even though there are many colorful panels altogether, the colors don't fight. They are harmonious and exciting.

Thank you Elsa, I owe you a lot, but that lesson in particular will be with me always.

Monday, October 22, 2012


Out of the blue two months ago I got a phone call from a high school student who wanted to come 'job shadow' me for the day. The student wanted to be an illustrator. I said yes, but warned it would be a boring day.

The day came and low and behold she actually showed up. I tried to save a fun project for her to observe since really, a lot of what I do isn't exactly sexy. The project I saved was to create the storyboards for a Flash holiday card I do for Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt. I explained my project and we went through some of the 'how to'. Afterward, she had a selection of 20 questions for me and I gave the best answers I could give but after five minutes I realized this poor girl didn't stand a chance in the real world of professional illustration.

Why did I come to that conclusion so quickly? Mostly gut feelings, and experience. She was so quiet, she seemed barely able to make eye contact with me. But mostly I could tell there was no fire. She had no passion, she seemed as though she thought 'drawing would be a fun job'. I tried to share with her that drawing is only part of the picture. But honestly, the poor girl won't survive the brutality of the business, the countless "no's" that every artist hears. Not to mention the skills that no one tells you about in school.

Being a professional illustrator isn't about the being the greatest artist. It requires a host of skills. One is the ability to verbally communicate equally as well as visually communicate. We have to be able to talk to many types of personalities, about things we don't understand. We have to ask questions, good questions. We have to draw conclusions from answers, and deliver concrete solutions based on our gathering of information. It is part artist, part detective, with a good dose of business acumen.

While hosting this student I was reminded of what I already know. Being an illustrator is not just painting a picture, it is not all fun. It is methodical, it is strategic, it is explorative, and it investigative as well as being creative. I love what I do. However it has been a long road learning what the skills that make me good at what I do.

I wish I had had a real mentor who could have given me the shortcut to where I am. Although perhaps the fact that I have had to discover all of this on my own is what makes me the artist I am.

Friday, October 5, 2012

job review

Recently a friend was bemoaning a job performance review they had to endure. The friend was telling me how they hated the process. Their boss would sit them down, tell them how they were doing and ask for action items followed by whether they would get a raise. At first I sympathized because it doesn't sound fun. And then my friend told me how lucky I was to not have to go through job reviews. I agreed, 'Yeah, it is nice.'. Then it dawned on me.

I have job reviews constantly. I mean all the time. If I don't do a good job every time I take a project, that is my job review. Because the client won't want to pay me, let alone rehire me. Every time I start a new project for any of my existing clients, or a new client, I have to enter it as though it is the best and most important project I have. Why? Because each project IS a performance review.

Being a freelance illustrator/designer is one of the best jobs I can imagine. Being self-employed has many many perks, but don't you think for one minute that you don't have to go through a job performance evaluation. Consider it 'job performance on steroids'. But hey, you can take a three day weekend anytime you want!

Monday, April 2, 2012

professional artist means small business person

I have a college buddy who is also an illustrator. He is dead set on doing one particular slice of art. I commend him for his dedication. On the flip side he isn't exactly getting where he needs to go. We were texting the other day and he was venting frustration regarding this genre and his inability to break into it. My advice to him was this.

Being a professional artist is not about drawing all day. It is not about painting all day. To make it, you have two paths more or less. Of course there are variations, but for the most part this is what you got.

1) You are part business person, part accountant, part marketer, part artist. In this role you create your work, you reach out to potential clients, you nurture relationships and manage your money from work. You will spend more time on the business part then on the actual artwork. Sometimes that ratio will switch, but count on at least 50/50 for division of time.

2) You score an awesome rep who sells you for you. This rep does the marketing, the business of nurturing relationships, the accounting and all you do is draw or paint. I know, sounds sweet. But don't think this is free, reps need to make money too. Count on giving them 30% or more of what you make. If this sounds good, then by all means go find a rep. Oh, I forgot to tell you, it isn't easy to A) find a rep that will promote you as aggressively as you will, and B) getting a good, reputable rep to take you on means that you need a good track record of success or you need to have a style that they really need.

I could write multiple blog posts on reps, I will save that for later. But back to 'making it'. The two options above really are the two most obvious. As much as most artists do NOT want to be a business person, you really have to suck it up and find your inner-manager if you want to draw and paint for a living. You also need to take projects you may not find sexy and fun. And with those projects you need to do the best job imaginable. Each project is your chance to move forward, no matter how boring or dumb. I have had some stupid projects let me tell you. But, they all helped me grow in some way and were important to my business.

So, to any of you would-be illustrators trying to figure it out. Take a marketing class, take a business class, and go in knowing you will need to do it all. And if you score the world's greatest art rep, congratulations to you.

Monday, February 27, 2012

versatility should be an asset

Ok, I am onto something. Something that has been nagging me for, oh 20 years.

When I went to art school to study to become an illustrator the mantra that was drilled into each of our heads was 'Have a Style'. All of us illustrators worked to develop a look that could be our own signature. I must admit I struggled with that quite a lot because I like exploring, experimenting and I think different problems require different solutions. And I don't mean just visual imagery, but the look of that visual imagery.

Fast forward to my first experience getting an agent. What did she want, a 'Style'. Fortunately I did pay attention in college and provided a big portfolio of cohesive work. Did she land me jobs, sure, here and there including an 'almost' with Disney.

Now let's fast forward again but in the real world of making a living. My portfolio is diverse, I have so many styles, so many types of work, that if I were to go seeking an agent now they would think I have multiple personality disorder. But, and this is big, I am making a living now, without the help of an agent. And honestly I make significantly more than when I had an agent. Why, because I am versatile.

What really strikes me about this is something I have noticed in the last week or so with other artistic industries. Here are two glaring examples.
1) Project Runway ; who is lauded on the show? The designer who can design a ball gown, AND separates. Yes they may have a style, but they aren't a one trick pony. Sure they have a look that seems to be theirs, BUT seriously they are versatile designers who can apply it to the problem at hand.
2) The Oscars ; yes Meryl Streep won again. But why? Oh sure she is amazing and is always perfect in every role (except that one crappy action movie 20 years ago). However throughout the Oscars they frequently state the versatility as an asset. That the actors can play any role. The actors don't have a 'style' per se, and if they do they are 'character' actors.

I honestly think that being a chameleon is NOT a bad thing as an illustrator. It has served me well and has helped me be a freelancer for nearly 10 years. The best 10 years of my working life too. Let's celebrate style diversity, flexibility and variety, not look down on it. Versatile illustrators unite. Sure let's organize our art by similar looks, but by no means should we feel bad that we do a variety of styles to suit our clients needs.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

bids, estimates, proposals and expectations

I hate the time I have to allot to preparing bids. Mostly because it is unpaid. Since January I have prepared two bids for good sized projects. The first bid took a lovely month to resolve into a yes. The second took all of 15 minutes after I hit send to get a resounding 'the project has been canceled' which is a round about way of saying 'No'.

Here are a few thoughts on bids. Over the years I have learned that you don't give one price. No, it is much better to give a low, and a high. If you feel like you need even more slush room, give a mid-price too. You can't just give prices though. I find the best bid follows this simple outline:
1) Restate what you understand the customer wants. This is great way to make sure you understood what they said, and guarantees you are both on the same page.
2) Explain what you are going to do for them. Don't get into the particulars yet. This is a 'I am smart and creative and this is how I think my awesomeness will translate into money for you'.
3) Now state what the heck you plan on giving them for their money. This is where you get very explicit. I call out each piece, and how many revisions, how many sketches I anticipate, color rounds, whatever... this is the place where they find out if they are buying the stock or the upgrade. If you are going with tiers, and options, you can break this down further to include the 'stock' price and the 'upgrade' price.
4) Do you have style samples or samples in general you want to show them? This is a great place to explain samples, and then I usually stick them on at the very end of the proposal on a separate page.
5) Tell them how much this is going to set them back. Refer back to section 3 to callout the pricing for any variations you are giving them.
6) Terms. Do NOT forget this part. This is your safety net. You can explain payment expectations, and time requirements to guarantee you can deliver on your promise.

Ta da! Really not a complicated process, nor difficult. Just time consuming to ponder and regurgitate.

Good luck!

Friday, February 10, 2012

PR seems like a good thing

As an independent artist, I do all the roles of a small business owner. I promote myself, I do the networking, I manage Linkedin, try to update my site regularly, send thank you presents to clients for the holidays and of course do the work that pays the bills. I often think of buying a list from a reputable source to do direct mail or email or even cold calling potential new clients. But have not taken the plunge. I know from years of being in the business that PR is a good thing. I am too cheap to pay for it. Sorry PR people, I respect what you do, and maybe I just need convincing that the investment is worth it.

I will take free PR, happily. This week while working on a project for a client (the most awesome Sock It to Me Socks), I saw that my sushi sock design was highlighted last November in Seventeen magazine. Although Seventeen magazine is not my first choice for where I want my work seen, I am not going to complain. The good side is my design was chosen for the fashion pick, the downside is, no one knows it is my design.

How do I pimp this awesomeness? Of course I tweeted it, posted a twitpic, but there has to be more. Now I am blogging about it, but what else? Do I issue a press release? Or Lord dare I even attempt that? I will gladly admit that I can draw, but I am NOT a writer. Kudos to the writers out there. I will post it to my website, perhaps make a note on my Linkedin page.

But most importantly I will take pause and bask in the glow that I am a professional artist. I do make a living drawing and creating for other people. They find me, and they pay me to make things for them. How lucky am I? Thank you universe for the greatest job, and the teenage PR love.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

new year new projects new to-do lists

With every new year there is a moment of pause. Time to reflect on the last years work. This year I have a few big goals, big changes and revelations.

Numero Uno : Dump licensing. Seriously not worth the effort. If I count the hours spent generating art and submitting compared to the payoff - not worth it. Out with the dead wood. Besides, licensing seems more like a pyramid scheme than a legitimate way to earn a living. Well a living that you can 'live' off at least.

Numero Dos : Spend more time asking for referrals. I pride myself on being easy to work with, on time, and deliver a great product. My customers love me, and not in a weird way, but in a 'You just saved my bacon' sort of way. With that kind of relationship I need to ask for referrals. They know people, and if I can make their contacts look good, we all come out heros.

Numero Tres : Revamp the website and put the work that pays and is in demand at the forefront. Seems obvious but I get busy with paying work and the website loses out.

Numero Quatro : Be a better blogger. I know, I know I have said this before. Maybe not on my blog but in my own head. This year, more sharing of my work, my successes and my mistakes. What works, what doesn't, and musings along the way.

Numero Cinco : Be a better networker. I like people, I am chatty, don't mind meeting new people and make friends easily. Not to mention I like to snack and drink wine. Why am I NOT going to more networking events? I don't know either.

Numero Seis : Don't be ashamed to toot my own horn. I have been thriving (more or less) as an illustrator for the last 10 years, I need to stand up and shout about it and let people know without feeling all humble and embarrassed.

Numero Siete : Keep volunteering and doing good deeds. This isn't really career related but it feeds my soul and reminds me why I am alive.