Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Perfect Example for "Newbies"

Every now and then, I get a wild hair to venture out into the publishing world and see what's really going on. I skip merrily along, hoping that my new adventures will be an improvement on the last, yielding pleasant results and restoring my faith in the industry as a whole.

I imagine myself being yet unjaded, the perfect picture of wide-eyed innocence. After all, who knows? There are new experiences yet to be enjoyed, right??

Hold on partner, not so fast...

In my last post, we discussed self promotion. It's a necessity if you want to find work and keep the money rolling in to pay the bills. Heck, most of us would be happy if we could make enough (using only our artistic talent) to just buy groceries! But such is not usually the case, and talent has NOTHING to do with it. It's all about the "vultures".

Usually this image conjures up an ugly scene, one of giant, grotesque birds. They are circling above a decomposing corpse of something that once contained life, something that was full of wonder, something that was once new and unspoiled. Something now broken and as black as the hideous things that feed upon it.

There are people out there waiting to pounce on you, hoping to find you in your weakest, most desperate moment. They lurk in the shadows, waiting for the innocent, using every means possible to lure in unsuspecting victims. Their favorite meals are the naive, full of spirit and sensitivity. Those yearning to please and prove their worth, only to be spit out, used and wasted.
Still with me? Good, I'm glad you're paying attention. This darkness is not my usual approach. If you know me, you know I'm almost always the optimistic one in the crowd, with my cup half full. But today, someone reminded me of what can happen if you can't see or don't know the warnings. I thought I'd share the reality, with the hope that it will shed some light on yours....the new kid on the block.

The scene; Craigslist.

Cartoonist/Illustrator Needed (New York)

Skilled cartoonist/illustrator needed for a new children's book series. Please email the art director at with samples of your work and your online portfolio information. If considered a candidate, you will be contacted within a week with further details on the project and a request to provide a few specific samples based on our main characters.
Strict deadlines. Moderate pay from first-time author.

Compensation: paid-contract

The truth is, this is a typical advertisement for a work-for-hire illustration project. It is very vague on purpose, baiting readers with the possibility of further work (new children's book series) if they're chosen. It also mentions that you'll be working with an "art director", something that most newbies dream about. It mentions that samples will be requested, but avoids the fact that they will be unpaid "spec" work. It lists the pay as "moderate" when, in fact, it's well below industry standards. It mentions a contract, lending to it's presumed credibility.

But wait, it gets better....

After sending them a response, along with my website portfolio address, here's what I received. Please note my comments inserted throughout.


Based upon samples viewed of your work, we believe you are an excellent candidate to illustrate our upcoming children's book series!
Notice, they're still throwing in that word (series). This is to be work for hire with payment offered for each completed book as well as limited royalties. A more precise explanation of this contract is listed below. If these terms are agreeable to you, please read on.

$15 per completed page, (excuse with royalties of five thousand ($5000) per book . Royalties terms: $.25 (twenty-five cents) per Book sold for the first Twenty Thousand (20,000) Books sold.

So, for a 24 page Children's Book, which consists of 22 full color, ready for print illustrated pages, they're talking a total of $330 dollars. If this book were to be done for a traditional publishing house, the pay would be possibly ten times this amount! With regards to royalties, the way this is worded, you will only get .25 cents for each book sold. Who's going to sell this "first-time" author's book? Most likely, the author. So who's going to buy it? Most likely it will be friends, family members and people attending his/her author workshops! Remember, he/she will have to sell at least 2000 books for every $500 the illustrator receives.....what are the odds? I'll tell you....SLIM!

So, if that all sounds good to you, please do the following before 12:00 am this Monday, August 31 (That's this Friday at midnight).

Attached you will find illustrations of our two main characters.
Okay, so let's ask ourselves, who's art are they ripping off? We are very happy with them and would like to maintain their essence as much as possible, if not completely replicate them. RED FLAG! Can you say, COPYRIGHT INFRINGEMENT boys and girls? If you can successfully mimic this style, that would be terrific and probably ideal. And also THEFT! If however, you are inspired to ad your own twist or style, then feel free to do so. The quality of your work I have seen thus far tells me that this may yield a pleasant result. Like I said though, we're very happy with what we have. I'll bet, since they most likely didn't pay for it! I'd describe it as a cross between Disney and anime. (If you'd like to submit a couple styles, that's fine). They should both look about 5 years old. Whatever you choose, here's what I need you to email us before this Friday at midnight:

One fully finished and colorized illustration of a lush, mountainous and tree-filled landscape with a few buildings in the midground. Also, in the background, midground and especially foreground I need to see 3 "clones" for each of the two characters attached to this email (totalling 6 "clones.") These "clones" should be drawn in various action poses at various angles (profile, top-side profile, upshot, back w/turning head, twisting bodies, jumping, running, etc.). The purpose of these "clones" is to demonstrate your ability to create various dynamic images and angles, while maintaining continuity of the characters' appearances. This comment made me wonder if they even LOOKED at my samples, which contained a child in various poses to prove my ability to draw with continuity.
This submission of your work WILL NOT BE USED for publication, profit or promotions in any way. I wonder if they said this to the artist they are ripping off? The sole purpose of this submission is for me to gauge your ability and compatibility for our book series. He couldn't tell from my portfolio? Why did I bother sending the link? You WILL NOT be compensated for this submission. WOW! BIG surprise!
8X10 jpeg please.

Please understand that this and all deadlines are final. Late submissions will not be considered. The earlier you can submit this work, the better. Both quality and turnaround time are crucial to this project.
Typical, they are always in a hurry. They want you to ignore your instincts, make a hasty decision and go for it!

Upon viewing your submission, I will contact each of you... With this statement, it becomes clear that you are competing with other artists, who all received this exact same letter....and YOU thought you were special! let you know my thoughts and thank you for your time. Our top artist choices will be contacted for telephone or in-person interviews (depending on where you live.)

After that, one artist will be offered the position.
And that person will probably be asked to copy YOUR submission!

Computer skills are a must. Please note these skills with your submission (Photoshop, Illustrator, In-Design, Web Design, Flash, etc.) Final illustrations for this book must be submitted as digital files meeting specific requirements for the printer which are yet to be determined.

Thank you very much for your interest in our project. It is very close to our hearts....
AND their wallets! Please respond to this email as soon as possible to let us know you will be submitting the sample explained above before this Saturday. This comment explains why they think each illo is only worth $15.00! At the time of this correspondence, this deadline was only 1 day away! They believe that a professionally rendered illustration, fitting their description could be sketched out, cleaned up, tweaked, painted and formatted overnight!

And now for my response......

Dear Sir,

Thank you for considering me for this position, but I must decline your offer. Respectfully, I feel that $15 for full color, full page illustrations that include elaborate backgrounds is ridiculous. To offer a professional illustrator such a small amount is a clear indication that your company has no concept of the time-consuming work involved. It is insulting.

Even though the characters you need are simple, creating professional looking backgrounds is not. Good composition, balance, and character and text placement is a complicated matter. It requires a great deal of time and consideration. In order for me (or any other illustrator) to create quality images that one would be proud to associate themselves with, it would take much more time that you are willing to pay for.

Given today's wages, $15.00 per hour is less than most illustrators will consider. The amount of time necessary to produce your request (from concept sketches-thru change requests-to completed, full color images ready to print) would far exceed this as an hourly wage.

To quote $5000 in royalties is misleading. It looks nice in print, but seldom pans out. The illustrator's compensation is left entirely in your hands, with no guarantees of proper marketing and nothing to ensure the successful sale of 20,000 copies. Even the sale of several hundred copies would not be compensation enough for the task you are proposing.

This contract may look good to amateur illustrators, who cannot do the math, have low self esteem and are desperate for payment and exposure of any kind...but it is really an elaborate way for you to lure the naive and innocent into uncharted waters, while you reap the rewards for their hard work and talent!

Remember, you get what you pay for. Maybe you'll find someone in India or China...I hear they work cheap there.

Please note; although you will remain anonymous, I will be posting your proposal and my response on my blog! One of my personal goals in life is to inform and protect my fellow illustrators from deception by unscrupulous and unprofessional companies or individuals. Although you have been up front with regards to compensation, newly emerging illustrators need to witness and understand that their talents are deserving of a fair wage.

This proposal is a perfect example of what's wrong in the current publishing market today.

Thank you, Lisa J. Michaels

As you can see, follow-thru is not an issue for me. If you are a new illustrator, or even someone like me who's been around a while, I hope this post has alerted you or reminded you how easy it is to be taken advantage of by clever bottom feeders. They are a dime a dozen, and getting smarter by the minute.

I wish I could say that this adventure was pleasant, but at least it yielded something for your consideration. Now,....I'm off to refill my cup and search for my rose colored glasses.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Self Promotion

I'm happy to be back with Part 2 of "Increasing your Illustrating Odds". It is my sincere hope that these postings will help those who are just starting out, redirect those who have lost their way, and refresh those who have become weary from the daily grinding of graphite that seems to lead nowhere. Chin up my friends!

Creating an image

In my opinion, the question of the day should always be, "What should I be doing?"
A lot of illustrators never have lift off because they refuse to think long-term. They think if they put themselves out into the world, the work will find them! That's the farthest thing from the truth. You must consistently lay the ground work for tomorrow by living the life of a successful, working illustrator TODAY!
  • Create a portfolio of your work, and add to it weekly.

  • Create a professional looking website portfolio, which contains only your very best work to date. You may want to consider having two separate portfolio websites, one for graphic illustration and one specifically designed for showing your Children's Publishing illustrations, like illustrator/graphic designer Aja Wells. Your websites should be kept separate, for a plethora of reasons!

  • Always keep a stock pile of ideas on file, and take time to replenish it constantly. You may be working on a paid assignment when an awesome idea for a Picture Book floods your mind and gets your blood pumping! Stop for a minute, and jot down highlights to help refresh your memory later and then place the note in your "ideas" file. When you have completed your paying assignment, you'll have great ideas waiting in the wings. Soon, you'll have a reputation as someone who never misses a beat, and is constantly in creative motion, like my friends, Ginger Neilson and Cyn Narcisi!

  • Develop a daily routine. Get up and dress as if you're going to work! It will remind you that you are a professional, even when you don't have a paying assignment.

  • Use your assignment-free time wisely. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself when paying jobs seem to keep passing you by! If you were sitting in an office, would your manager allow you to sit around and whine or would he/she tell you to get back to work on finding new ways to bring in clients?

    Free time is opportunity time! It gives you the chance to update your websites, help other illustrators, try new techniques and mediums, take on-line classes, or create that dummy-book you've been longing to work on! It's an opportunity to do ALL the things you don't have time for when you have a PAYING job with a deadline!

  • Keep a calendar nearby. Schedule time each week to look for more work by sending out samples, postcards, and resume's.

  • Always have six irons in the fire! Yes, that may seem like a lot to juggle, but chances are, five will either get turned to dust or put on hold.

  • Keep excellent records of places where you've applied, what you sent, and who you addressed it to. (I keep separate folders for each project.)

  • Avoid illustrating books for new, self-publishing authors. (authors, please refrain from sending me hate mail! I acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule.) The truth is, most can not afford to pay you as a publisher would. They have no concept of the time involved in illustrating a picture book, and most rely on you for every step of the production process (extremely time consuming).

In the end, you will average about $3.00 for every hour you painstakingly put in, hand-holding your client through each dramatic hurdle towards completion. When you're done, you'll have invested tons of precious time (that you can't get back) in a book that the author must then self-promote to family and friends. Most never see a bookstore shelf, and it is seldom considered a publishing "credit" by the publishing business. Don't make the mistake of thinking, "Well, it'll help me to build my portfolio" (I've heard this a hundred times). You can do THAT on your own, using common sense and all that you've learned instead of taking art direction from an author who knows nothing about illustrating books! The illustrations you produce on your own will be much stronger and more challenging, just ask my friend Sam Kirkman!

  • Pay it forward. You will find that professional illustrators are a caring, sharing bunch! You'll receive an abundance of help along the way, so be prepared to give back, like illustrator Gina Pfleegor. Gina has given me countless lessons in "illustrator etiquette", jumping in with much needed assistance whenever I hit bottom. (Yes, even I need a pep talk now & then!) You'll gain a good reputation and you'll make connections that you never dreamed possible.

Don't ever be cocky or stingy with information, experiences, or lessons. It will come back to bite you when you least expect it! Mr. Murphy's law almost guarantees that you will find yourself in the same on-line critique group with someone you ticked off! What if someone you slighted gets published and you need their help someday? You never know how the chips will fall, so BE NICE!

There are many websites to help you with the process of getting illustration assignments and knowing what to do when it happens. None of them compare to a live person, who is willing to walk you through this difficult (and sometimes scary) time. For this reason, I strongly emphasis joining the SCBWI, critique groups, and creating personal contacts.

Blogs have become one of the greatest ways of meeting other illustrators. You can learn about their process, their current projects, and their personal journey. Some of my personal fav's are; Kelly Light, Becky Driscoll, Wilson Williams, and Sherry Rogers (to name but a few).

Twitter has also become a popular tool for keeping up with and participating in the community of children's book illustrators. I highly recommend you try your hand at both, as a means of getting people to visit your portfolio website. Traffic to your site can lead to freelance opportunities that you don't have to spend time hunting for, leaving you more time to do what you love most, drawing!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Increasing your Illustrating Odds-Part 1

Every other post or so, I like to discuss a bit about this biz we're in. There are so many new illustrators trying to find their way. They have so many questions, that trying to answer them all individually often eats away enormous amounts of my drawing time. Yet, remembering how it felt to be the new kid in town, makes me inclined to do my best to try and help. So here goes kids....everybody paying attention?

Quantity vs. Quality - Where to Begin

There are thousands of talented illustrators, but successful ones have something more than talent, they have tenacity and perseverance. Here's a few things I recommend to help you get started.
  • Find your own style. You don't have to be the best illustrator in the world, but you must be original. It's okay (and smart) to learn several techniques, but stay true to yourself and don't attempt to copy someone else. Do your best to be your best, and your own unique look will emerge on it's own. Although this generation is leaning towards the production of more computer generated images than ever before, the children's publishing industry still seems to prefer "traditional" illustration techniques. Don't be shocked if you're asked to do illustrations in oils! You'll consider it if you want the job bad enough!
  • Keep working at improving your work. Hone your skills and look for ways to get the desired results faster. Once you start getting assignments, you'll find it much easier if you can knuckle down and work quickly.
  • Do your homework; keep on top of industry trends.
  • Build connections in every way possible. Network with other professionals. Learn to recognize who they are by asking questions like, do they have a great website?
    Have they been published? Are they getting the assignments you're only dreaming of ?

  • Be careful how you spend your time. Don't fall into the trap of giving away the farm. Your time is precious and must be protected. Once you're off and running, people come out of the woodwork looking for guidance. Helping newbies can be very rewarding, as it reinforces what you know...but it can be creatively draining as well. Decide how much time you can afford to spend "giving back" and then stick to it.

  • Join critique groups on line and in person. Listen to the feedback from other professionals. Critique groups make you accountable for creating new work everyday, and they are a great source of inspiration.

  • Surround yourself with positive, supportive people. Drop those who aren't. If you can't, re-evaluate what you are getting from the relationship. Are you sabotaging your own success?

  • Join the SCBWI. It is THE best resource available!
  • Build a diverse portfolio before you build a website. I've seen too many websites that contained every piece of work the illustrator has....all six of them! Either that, or they have a huge body of work, many of which should not be on the website. Your website portfolio should be a statement. It should say to the world, "This is who I am and what I am capable of doing for you." It should contain your BEST work to date, not every piece you've done since high school! A great portfolio should contain images that editors and art directors are begging to see. It's not about showing off your work to friends or your Aunt Martha. It should contain images of children and animals, scenes with diverse backgrounds, outdoor & indoor scenes, close ups and interesting perspectives, etc. AND, it should have black & white illustration samples as well as color.

Okay class, that's it for today. Next posting, we'll discuss "Self Promotion", so if you haven't got a clue where to start... stay tuned!