Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tips for illustrators

© Copyright Alicia Padrón

I get emails and questions regarding how to go about illustrating for children. It's hard starting out, so many options nowadays, right? I get it's difficult at times to know which route to take or what should be the first step into the right direction.

Do I send single postcards or promotional package mailings? Do I really have to advertise on a portfolio site? Should I go to NY for portfolio drop offs? Should I get an agent? Should I attend a conference, is it worth it? Do I really need a website and how should it be? What should I include in my portfolio?

These are just a few of the questions people ask themselves starting out.

I try to answer emails whenever I have a chance and I also have a formspring page where people can ask me questions and I do my best to answer them. Here are a couple of questions I've answered there, you can check the site if you'd like to read for more:

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

Hmm, 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.

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 30% (edited: I mistakenly had 45% before, sorry) , 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 also recently found this wonderful blog from a talented illustrator, Jonas Sickler, where he gives great tips for everyone not just for people starting out. You should definitely check it out.

Always take advantage of the web, there is tons of valuable information out there! I know I never stop reading, learning and trying to keep up with what's new. It never truly stops, you really have to just keep moving along with it. Practicing, sketching and getting informed.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering who is that up there.. that's Ralphie, my website's tour guide. He's on a break. )


Kaili said...

Thanks so much Alicia! You made some great points that I need to work on and I really appreciate your advice! Back to working on the portfolio :) Kaili x

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for the great advice!

Alicia Padrón said...

I'm glad I could help a bit Kaili! Have fun with your portfolio :o)

You're welcome Coralmoon, and thanks for visiting!

Suzanne Del Rizzo said...

Great post Alicia, Thanks so much for all of the great advice! I didn't realize that Art reps take more of a cut then Literary agents. I would ideally love to illustrate and write Children's books, so that is great food for thought. :)
Thanks for passing on the blog info of Jonas Sickler too..I took a peek and he has some golden tips as well as some inspiring artwork!
A very thoughtful post that will be helpful to many that's for sure!
BTW I love how you have a character that "directs the tour" of your website- such a great idea and who can't resist such a cutie like Ralphie?!

Alicia Padrón said...

Hi Suzanne,

Yes, Art Reps take a higher cut and I believe is due to all the advertising they have do. They send a lot of promos several times a year.

If you want to write and illustrate then you should really try to find and agent though.

I thought Jonas work was fantastic too!

I'm glad you enjoyed this post Suzanne. Oh and Ralphie sends his love. :o)