Monday, November 23, 2009

The finals for my dummy

The white 9 x 12 envelope was neatly laid out on my drawing table. Already inside was the painstakingly brief and witty cover letter and dreaded SASE. Finally, last Wednesday, I slipped inside the copies of my three finished illustrations, sealed it up, mentally muttered a small prayer and threw it in the passenger seat for the drive to the post office. After a whole month of work devoted to doing my best possible work ever for these images, I was amazed at how long the last hour of preparing them to mail took.

Of course I checked to make sure everything was inside about 216 times before I actually sealed it up.

So here they are, the three images, in consecutive order as they appear in Zoo in the Tub. It's the story of a boy who doesn't really want to take a bath. Joined by his basset hound, he lets his imagination get away with him and is visited by an ever growing gang of animals. But is it really his imagination that's doing all the splashing? (so please make the splash sounds as loud as you possibly can)

What does it sound like when four flamingos flop in the tub?

flip-a-ti-plash plip-a-ti-FLOSH!
plip-a-tiFLISH flip-a-TA-PLOOSH!

What does it sound like when five bison barge into the tub?

. . . . . . . . . .
If you want to see what happens next then make your own splash in the comments

Monday, October 19, 2009

a good reason to be busy

Just posting this update because I'm about to be working hard for the next few weeks: While at the SCBWI Southern Breeze Conference this weekend in Birmingham a representative from Eedrman's Books for Young People expressed interest in my dummy and suggested I work up some finals and submit to them. Sooo I'll be spending the next few weeks knocking out some awesome final illustrations to send away with it. Wish me luck!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Catching up between conferences and vacation

I've been quiet for about a month as I worked like a maniac to get my picture book dummy ready for the Mid-South SCBWI conference two weeks ago here in Nashville. More one the dummy later. I also worked on an illustration for the illustrator's showcase. The attending art director, Patrick Collins from Henry Holt, supplied two manuscripts and we were to choose a spread from one to illustrate. The two he sent were Don't Lick the Dog, a story about how dogs prefer to meet kids , and El Barrio, a discovery story about Spanish Harlem. I was the only illustrator who chose El Barrio, and I chose it mostly because I loved the images conjured up by the writer's words. Here's the spread I chose to illustrate:
El barrio is
Our Lady of Guadalupe candles,
syrupy sweet churros,
ice-cold paletas,
and a lemon-yellow fire escape as
tall as a city skyscraper.

(text copyright 2009 Debbi Chocolate, image copyright Mary Uhles 2009)

All of ya'll kid's book groupies can read the entire conference blog here

A couple of days after the conference the fam headed down to Gulf Shores for some much needed R and R. I'll upload some pictures and sketches in the next couple of days. Next up is the Southern Breeze Conference in Birmingham. I hope to have a finished piece from my dummy done by then.

Friday, August 21, 2009

One of my favorite spreads

I thought I'd post some more of the Saddle Ridge artwork. This is from Jack's Busy Day, a book about the day in the life of a ranch dog and his family. This is my favorite spread. One of the difficult things to keep in mind when designing a spread for a book is where the gutter (the space where the pages are bound) falls. I don't want to put anything important anywhere near it! So even though I may be working on a long horizontal composition, it's actually two vertical images because the action has to take place on the left and right sides of the page. In this spread I decided to put the cow's body in the gutter. I wanted to give a sense of drama, because this would be a really fast paced scene in real life. So I decided to put the viewer down right in the action, in the dust being churned up, to make it seem like the cow is coming right off the page at you. Here's my process:

I did several small thumbnails, just for approval, to show where the major "players" would be in each scene:

Then i did a tighter sketch, to get the expressions right. I wanted the cow to have the most personality in the picture and I wanted her to not look too happy about this turn of events:

The final. This scene takes place in the middle of the day, so no possibility of big dramatic ground shadows. I decided to shadow the cow's body, to let the contrast between her red and white hide and the shadow push her farther into the foreground:

I was quite happy with how this spread came out and will probably use it for promos later in the year.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

OK as promised....

.... a month ago I now realize by the date of my last post, I can now reveal the theme of Lifeway's 2010 Vacation Bible School series. It's a dude ranch! Saddle Ridge Ranch will ride into stores sometime next spring. Actually its still being worked on which is why I'm so behind on posting. But I'm taking a break from sketching out kids jumping through various activities to post a couple of covers:

Monday, June 29, 2009

wait for it, waaiiit for it.... the theme for VBS 2010

Every summer for the last ten summers I have had the great fortune of working with some really cool people on the Vacation Bible School curriculum from Lifeway. The themes for each VBS product is a closely guarded secret until it is released with much fanfare mid-summer. This year Lifeway has created a video blog get the hype going. Here's one of the funnier entries:

The theme is being released shortly and I will start posting some illustrations from the books I've worked on. Here's a hint about the theme.... I'm getting paid to draw horses! how cool is that!

stay tuned....

Friday, June 26, 2009

Recently overheard between Babysitter Becky and the Small Fry on a day when a pesky fly had invaded the kitchen:

Becky: "Hey Fry, where is the fly swatter?"

Small Fry: "Miss Becky, we don't give flies water"

Monday, June 8, 2009

Illustration Friday - Craving

This is an illo I created a long time ago. I still love the concept though the execution is a little dated. One of these days I may get around to re-doing it.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Has anybody noticed....

....that eyes are really freakin' hard?!

really! I just spent an hour drawing and redrawing the same set of eyes on three different characters in a book I just started. Geez louise I'd like to know how to EASILY draw the eyes of a kid turned at a three quarter angle and looking up or down. They always end up looking cross-eyed or like one of 'em should have a lazy eye patch! Anybody else out there have this problem?? what's your secret? Anyone else have a different thing that's really hard to draw? I sure hope I'm not the only illustrator who's being hung up on one annoying detail that drives my detail oriented compulsive perfectionist mindset to distraction. I've been both complimented on my eyes and advised to make them more expressive without making them bugged out. After I solve this problem I think I'll move on to something easy like settling the peace in the Middle East.

Here are the offending eyes as they were just scanned in for the art director:

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge Results

The real winner of my Picture Book reading Challenge was Small Fry. This week the weather finally turned warm, with the sun sifting down through the branches of the giant oak tree in our backyard, we rocked on the hammock and worked our way through about 40 picture books. Small Fry had his favorites that he asked for every night but when I'd ask "do you want Bubble Bath Pirates again or a NEW book?", the answer was always a new book! a new book!

To see the idea behind the Picture Book Reading Challenge and the original lists I pulled books from click here. I checked out our library limit of 25, plus chose several from Small Fry's and my own library. From those 40 books I piled up 4 in my Love It pile:

Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin: I was mildly amused by this book until the very last page. I thought it would just a typical "look we compromised and got along" lesson with cute illustrations .... until we see that the ducks really are not a neutral party.

Small Sister by Jessica Meserve: I just love this book (maybe because I am a little sister), I found it a couple of years ago at an SCBWI conference. The language is really spare, just one sentence on each page. Meserve's great story and images really capture what it feels like to seize power, both positively and negatively, as a little kid.

Duck on a Bike by David Shannon: The pay off of this book is the fabulous illustration at the end when all the barnyard animals get a shot at what just duck as gotten to enjoy. Just like Small Sister, I think this book perfectly taps into feeling of wishing you had someone else's toy and what you do when you finally get to play with it. There's no moral story here, just full on shenanigans.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst and Ray Cruz : This was the only classic on my Love It list and an anomaly because it doesn't have a twist at the end that was characteristic of my other faves. I love the language in this book. I really empathized with Alexander. On each page I kept hoping that his day would get better.

I also chose two runner ups. These two books I wanted to put in a pile labeled "I don't love it, but I really like it and maybe in time we can be more than friends."

Duck for President by Doreen Cronin and Betsy Lewin
The Rain Came Down by David Shannon

In both of the these books my favorite things are the illustrations. Lewin's parody of Duck in the pose of Nixon in the "weight of the world" photograph is really something. Shannon's image of a city street just after the rain stops is equally transporting. These illustrations do the heavy lifting in conveying the emotion of the story.

As a picture book creator what I learned from the PBR Challenge is that I really love books with a twist at the end and with a story that makes me say "oh yeah, i remember feeling that way." I also discovered that my own drawings directly benefitted from reading several books right before sitting down at the drawing table. The few nights I was able to sketch for myself after putting Small Fry to bed, my sketches were more dramatic, more vibrant and the basset hounds and alligators of the book I am working on jumped faster off the end of my pencil than they usually do.

The books that did not make it into my Love It Pile were still good. One similar problem that I had with them was a less than developed ending. I can imagine this is incredibly hard to do when you only have 32 pages to work with. With my own story ideas I have kicked around, creating a developed ending that matches the story is the hardest part for me.

While its a cardinal no-no as a picture book professional to say "well my kid really loved this story, " I did find it interesting which books the Small Fry liked. His number one favorite was Bubble Bath Pirates by Jarrett Krosoczka, a story of bubbles, pirates and chocolate fudge ice cream why wouldn't a 3 year old boy love it? His other favorite was Granite Baby by Lynne Bertrand and Kevin Hawkes. I thought this was an odd choice since the book is kind of long but he was fascinated by the fact that these giant sisters could carve a stone dog. No matter where you are in the picture book world it is a great thing to see a child transfixed by a book. I think that as long as there is sun in the trees and a hammock, we will take the Picture Book Reading Challenge again and again.

To see some of the PBR Challenge readers visit these blogs:
Taking Flight
Kristi Valiant

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Picture Book Reading Challenge!

This week I'm taking on the Picture Book Reading Challenge as originally posted by Kristi Valiant here. The idea is to read as many books as you can, in one sitting, and then divide them into piles of ones that you are not that crazy about, ones that are OK and one that you LOVE. When Kristi originally did the challenge she was surprised to find that out of 60 books, there were only six that she loved. After reading her experience several children's book folk decided to do it as well and blog about our reading lists and the books we loved on April 30th.

if you are a kid lit creator (or even if you're not) and want to join us come on down! There is no specific list of books we are following although at the bottom I've written suggested lists to get you started. I pulled my own pile of books from these lists plus am adding several out of my own library as well as a bunch that just looked interesting as I was combing the library shelves last night.

If you are a creator of children's books then the real gem behind this idea is that it will help you decide which pile your own work belongs in - just as an acquisitions editor would - and then make improvements.

Here's some lists to get you started, see you on the 30th with the results of my Picture Book Reading Challenge!

Start with Fuse#8 countdown of the top 100 Picture Books
Then check these out:
New York Public Library's 100 best list
Amazon Best Books of 2008
A couple of random public library lists that are quite good here and here

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Featured on Illustrophile

This week I'll be the featured artist on the blog Illustrophile. Check out my feature here. I'm happy to be among the company of several other pretty cool artists in their archives.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Making sense of really bad things

A week ago, on Good Friday, our area of middle Tennessee was hit by some pretty ferocious storms. When one is in Tennessee and one says "ferocious storms" you can just go ahead and assume it was a tornado. My family watched the storms pass, staring at a TV screen, from a safe distance in a restaurant where we were eating lunch. Some other folks were not so lucky. In Murfreesboro the house of John and Kori Bryant and their 9 week old daughter, Olivia, was in the direct path of an F4 tornado. The news images of their house in the aftermath looked as if a bulldozer had scraped the house completely off its foundation. Not a stick of structure remained. Sadly, the tornado claimed the lives Kori and Olivia and left John in critical condition.

I do not know the Bryant family but I have been haunted by this story ever since hearing it. Maybe because I'm a mom of a brand new baby girl too. Maybe because I've been a new mom and remember the amazing joy that comes with the birth of your child and it seems incomprehensible that a family should experience such joy and such pain in such a short period of time. They should have had years of mundane moments, frustrating moments and boring moments - the stuff of real life - to live through before having to separate over the horizon. My heart aches for Kori's mom, who lost her granddaughter and her own baby girl; and for John Bryant, who is now facing a future he probably never, ever, imagined.

A memorial fund has been set up at Bank of America to help defray John's medical bills and the funeral costs for his late wife and daughter. If you are in the middle TN area and have heard about this family, you might consider contributing. You can do so on-line here. Yesterday I sat in the bank's drive-thru with a whiney Small Fry and a fussy baby girl, waiting to donate and thanking God for the millionth time that my kids were safely in the backseat.

I wish my donation could bring back Kori and Olivia, but of course it can't.

I wish it could have crystalized for me why such an awful thing happened to probably normal ordinary good people, but it didn't really do that either.

But at that moment it was the best I could do to make sense of such a terrible thing.
Please keep this family in your prayers.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Illustration Friday - Fleeting

I did this sketch tonight. Peace in our house with a three and half year old and a four month old is often fleeting.

Overheard in the last 48 hours around meal times, bath time and bed time, I'll let you decide which ones were said by child or parent:

"mommy, i'm having problems with daddy"

"if you don't sing to me i'll have to run around the house"

"if you want one more book you better spit that out!"

"hitting mommy was the right thing to do because you wouldn't let me throw the bunny at her head"

"that's a laundry basket not a baby trap"

"do not grab the baby by her mouth"

Monday, April 6, 2009

Picture Bookies Showcase Grand Re-Opening!

Check it out!


A few months ago I stumbled across the Entrecard community on an illustrator friend's blog. Not having a whole lot to do at the time and still being on maternity leave (which gives one license carte blanche to goof off on the internet) I figured what the heck and signed up. Now without going into a complicated explanation of what Entrecard is (click here for that) the short story is its a little gizmo that lets you advertise your blog on other people's blogs and vice versa. You earn credits by checking out blogs and writing your own posts and then spend them to buy you own adverts. You can approve or decline an advert. Its all freeeee.

At least it was until Entrecard figured out that letting the blogosphere swap binary code for advertising was not putting groceries on their table.

So they developed a paid advertising system whereby people buy credits to advertise on other people's blog. Now this is all fine well and good with the Fabulous Illustrator except when I signed into Entrecard this morning there is a list of about 20 paid adverts waiting to run on my blog. I scanned through the list, a lot of Etsy shops, a few get rich quick scams.

Went to put some laundry away. Came back 15 minutes later.

There are now 40 adverts waiting my approval.

Hit refresh.

There are now 60 adverts waiting.

holy moley these people are insane. I scrambled back to my e-mails from Entrecard where I vaguely remember reading that you can control these paid adverts. I find the setting that lets me limit it at least to my category (art-duh) and set about trying to approve or decline the pending adverts. After about 45 minutes of scanning blogs I realized that I have a life and I don't have time for this. I flirted briefly with the idea of setting standards like declining if I don't see the Entrecard widget on the blog but quickly realized I don't have time for that either. So I just started randomly approving and declining based on whether I like their blog button. Cool horse-head illustration, approve! Obvious sex-sells naked chick with laptop, decline. Cute kitten picture, approve! Lame 3D snowman with dollar sign eyes, decline. It's kind of like choosing a wine based on the label.

It seems blogs are lighting up about this all over the Entrecard community. I hope this new thing works out for the folks at Entrecard, and I really hope these paid adverts don't become just another virtual junk mail pile.

Friday, March 27, 2009

illustration Friday - Poise

I've actualy been meaning to post this for a little while and this week's Illustration Friday topic gives me the perfect excuse. I've finally finished Baby Sprout's name painting as mentioned in this post. And since the Sprout's name means to be graceful and beautiful which are characteristics of having poise, well then this goes nicely.

So without further ado:

I have incedently also been wanting to post my process for this painting. I really the tone of an image is the most important thing, you have to have dramatic lights and darks to make it come alive. This is something I'm always working really hard to get right, and it is often quite a struggle to keep track of all the tones all the way through to the finish. Too often I'll look back at a painting and realize that I could have pushed it just a bit darker here or there..... Anyway I knew it would be hard with this piece because it's a twilight-lit scene so before even starting the painting I basically did the entire thing in pencil first, on the board. Then I painted over it using my pencil shadows as a map. I took this picture mid-stream to show what I'm talking about:

It was a bit time consuming this way but it was much easier while painting to remember where and how dark I wanted shadows to be and where the lightsource was coming from.

This is what he gets for buying me a drink

As this March draws to a close I simply must post about an very important anniversary in my life. This week ten years ago, I met Jim Dear on the dance floor of Bar in downtown Nashville. The swing dance craze was sweeping the nation, or at least dusting up Music City, and we were both there to avail ourselves of some hep-cat moves like the Gap commercial. Him: tall, kind of goofy-cocky in jeans and wing tips. Me: black skirt, short artist chick hair, and bristling with the attitude that any guy I met in a bar had to be a loser.

Jim Dear had a bit of an uphill battle.

That night I drank the drink he offered (I don't remember what it was, in my less sophisticated days I drank a lot of Zima, perish the thought) and we danced a couple of times but that was all the action Jim Dear got that night.

However there we were again the next Friday and the next and the next... After a while I decided he wasn't really a loser, but it took a lot of persistence on his part and a wrong number on Caller ID (that is a whole other story) to get to the point where I actually took his calls. After that we became great friends and then best friends and then boyfriend and girlfriend. When I discovered he shared my passion for making fun of snooty people in trendy coffee shops, I knew he was the One. On an August night more than a year later he proposed on the stage of the historic Belcourt Theater. Obviously I said yes.

Ten years have passed since that night on the dance floor. The bar has actually closed since then. Ten years has brought us our share of good times and tough times. On our way to the hospital to bring Baby Sprout into the world, I told him this is what he gets for buying me a drink back in 1999. But one decade, one mortgage, two busy lives and two kids later I am so happy I danced with him that night. I picked the guy who, after work crap, whiney kid crap and late nights with a baby, still thinks I'm the girl he wants to buy drink for and get lucky with.

I got lucky indeed.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March Mailing Madness

If you are are reading this and trying to figure out how to start getting jobs as an illustrator, then I have three words for you:

the post office

What has that got to do with it? Well every illustrator out there sends postcard after postcard to art directors and agents and editors from all corners of the country (and a few in other countries) in an effort to get seen, to get their work in front of the right set of eyeballs that will land them the dream book deal or at the very least a piece of spot art that will pay the light bill this month.

The question is how do you know who to send to, and where do you get that information? Recently, while investigating my own options for increasing the quality of my contact list, I got some interesting answers from other illustrators and decided to write an entry about the illustrators number one source of publicity: the mailing list.

For starters, I asked around if anyone had ever bought a mailing. I polled about a dozen colleagues and all said no... (but they all wanted to know what I found out if anyone else did.) Then I posted some queries on a few illustrator boards asking for anyone to comment on whether they had bought a list. No one had, or at least they didn't admit to it. So I started asking how did you get your list, how big is it? What surprised me was that most illustrators responded that their lists were quite small. Alabama illustrator Elizabeth Dulemba said her list had peaked at two hundred names but now was about hundred of her favorite art directors and editors. Another answered that her list was about sixty names. On the other end of the spectrum Orlando illustrator Chad Thompson says he has close to a thousand names on his list. Thompson said he leans heavily on his mailing list, and admits that almost 100% of his projects come from regular mailings. My own personal list is not quite 300 names, a combination of publishing art directors and editors, agents, and agency designers.

So then I wondered - if no one buys lists where does everyone get their contacts? Again the illustrator community had some interesting answers. Elizabeth Dulemba responded that she studied a lot of industry news portals such as GalleyCat, Publishers Weekly, and Publisher's Lunch. Chad Thompson had good luck meeting art directors through some of the larger booksellers associations. Everyone agreed that the Children's Writers and Illustrators Market was a great resource but could become dated quickly. I've learned to follow the CWIM blog to catch updates. My own additions to the list were the SCBWI Market Surveys as a good resource for cross referencing, with the Edited By survey being a unique resource for seeing what kind of books might attract particular editors. Most illustrators were familiar with the mix of blogs and sites I mentioned in this post and everyone confessed to having to scramble to stay on top of changes recently.

With a hodgepodge of places to glean information from what should an illustrator keep in mind when putting a list together? Dulemba stressed research, "It takes studying to build a list like that, but it's much more effective." I've always googled any name I come across just to see what else will come up. With the wealth of social networking these days its not unbelievable to find that the editor you'd like to mail to is in a colleagues friend's list. Besides research, keeping it updated, of course, is paramount. "I learned early on that you'll waste a lot of stamps (for returned cards) if you're list is even a few months old." says Thompson, "There's always someone moving, closing or merging."

While all this sounds like (read: is) a lot of work, it pays off. Every art director I have spoken with references the piles of postcards they get in a day as place to find new talent. Of course you should make sure your samples are relevant to what a particular house is looking for, and make sure you send at least some samples with children on them. As elementary as this sounds, I've heard more than one baffled art director comment on the piles of cards they get with no children or friendly animals. And finally you should make that trek to the post office regularly. I'm currently mailing every other month mostly because I have an overstock of postcards and I hate to have them sitting around gathering dust. Most art directors say mail at least 3 to 4 times a year and I've found its a good idea to print cards ahead of time and have them labeled and ready to go. If a contact changes you can always re-label the card. That way if you do get busy with projects you won't let your mailing schedule slide. "Keep it up." says Thompson, "The more mailings you can do, the more often art directors can see your name and your work." He's right. With this kind of publicity it's a numbers game - the more often people see your work, the better you chances of finding a dream book deal.

Happy mailing.

ps. thanks to contributors Chad Thompson and Elizabeth Dulemba. Check 'em out.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Q and A with Online Portfolio Sites

For the article below, I researched the following sites:,,, (formerly and In addition to talking with members on their sites I sent a few questions to each site asking about how they promoted themselves and artists on the site. Dave Tabler of (Ispot) and Darren DiLieto of (Hai!) responded and their answers are below. I have also included some relevant responses from that I received from an enquiry posted to them a year ago when I signed up.

How do you promote the site and how often?
Hai!: we contact Art Directors and publishers directly, with Mailshot packs in the same way an agent would, but we are not an agency. 10-30 are sent out per week. The promo magazine (Hai!) is sent out frequently to all our contact and is published bi-annually. We do an open call to all members for inclusion, with 60 members making it into the mag.

Ispot: We've advertised theispot consistently with multi-page sections in Print and CA magazines for about 8 years now. We find the reach and shelf life of these magazines to far exceed anything we've accomplished with direct mail, which we still do occasionally, and we're able to get truly remarkable page rates from both publications. We also maintain an agile budget for international opportunities throughout the year. Any given month can find theispot ads in publications throughout the UK and EU, as well as Canada. For now, we are steering clear of Russia, China and India as they seem not to grasp the importance of intellectual property. When that changes we'll be there, too, as they represent a huge emerging opportunity. We've used the Google Adwords program since its inception, but are finding it to be somewhat bloated and overextended at this point. Similarly, mass emails are something we are much more wary of sending now that so many seem to be clogging inboxes lately.

Can you tell me where primarily most buyers on the site are(US or UK?) and in
what industry? What percentage are in the children's publishing industry?

Hai!: It's about 50-50 UK, US. Mainly editorial and advertising, but we do contact a number of publishers (30% Children's).

Ispot: Our traffic analysis indicates that the vast majority of traffic on theispot has always come from the US, which suits this industry well because the budgets here tend to be stronger.  As I mentioned above, that has not stopped us from making inroads into other markets, and foreign traffic spikes tell us when we've created really responsive advertising.  Our reporting software does not tell us precisely which industries are using theispot the most heavily, and our privacy policy (a very important feature to buyers) prevents us from collecting that data from visitors on site. The nature of our promotion extends across all design industries, which is what makes it such an interesting buy for any type of illustrator.  For example, artists who have always promoted themselves directly to specific markets such as travel or technology have been approached to illustrate for the children's market.  The cross-pollination works both ways, which means that children's book illustrators on the site can be hired to create advertising artwork in
their signature style.

How do you promote new subscribers on the site?
Ispot: Our "What's New" section features a slideshow that updates regularly with the newest artists on theispot.  As soon as a new artist's work goes up, we take a look at the Portfolio to see if anything jumps out as being problematic (such as corrupt files or unreadable thumbnail cropping.) At the 3-month mark, one of our staff of analysts will take an in-depth look at the Portfolio to determine what is working well and how the weaker spots can be improved.  The analysis includes keywording, image order, image presentation and suggestions for possible image replacement.  The subscriber receives direct, personal feedback and advice with an eye to making sure that their work is presented in the best possible way and that it can be found easily by the people who can use it.

How do you choose who is in the illustrator spotlight on the homepage?
Hai!: Once an illustrator as been on the site for a number of months, we then make random selection for the Q and A spotlight.

Ispot: Each illustrator is entitled to have an image in random rotation on the homepage.  They submit the file through their personal 'My Spot' account, and we format and upload the image manually to ensure that it presents that artist, and by extension theispot, in the best way possible.

Childrensillustrators: These are selected by our staff. All members are rotated on the homepage via the numerous image placements.

How do you choose which illustrators show up on the different parts of the site?
Hai!: The large and small images on the front page are random, the bottom left list is newest members, the illustrators page is last updated first and the show all illustrators list is alphabetical.

Ispot: The 'My Spot' section also has a Submit News option.  We encourage subscribers to keep us up to date on projects, awards and other professional achievements.  These can be posted up in What's New,  Art News and theispot blog with links back to the artist's Portfolio to encourage additional traffic from as many sources as possible.  We're proud to promote these parts of theispot, as they are a real testament to the power of good illustration.

Childrensillustrators: This is something we work hard on. employ several different methods of distributing traffic. The homepage rotates all members at random. Our talent pool acts in much the same way. The style / subject & medium galleries help the visitor to define their search. Our advanced search tool has a number of different options to assist the busy art buyer. The newsletter highlights recent projects our members have been working on. The portfolio directory can be sorted by alphabetical listing, geographic location, recently updated portfolios and new members. The published books section provides yet another access point, distributing traffic and presenting a range of illustrators.

Are there any kind of back-end tools to manage the profile i.e. can track how often images are viewed, what keywords are getting click-thrus to images?
Hai!: We don't use stats as they are misleading, because on any illustration site the main audience is other illustrators, no matter how hard we try to promote it to commissioning clients. So we rely on getting commissions being the only way to measure the success of the site.

Ispot: Yes, we have sophisticated tracking built into theispot to log traffic within the site as well as an option to apply Google Analytics to each Portfolio to gain perspective on a different set of data.  Buyers, too, have accounts with tools that allow them to bookmark and track their favorite artists on the site, create and share lightboxes and license images from the Stock part of the site.

Do you offer any other services besides a portfolio subscription i.e. stock art portfolio, mailing list discounts, gallery sales etc.?
Ispot: Theispot has a rights-managed stock section where artists archive their work for licensing and reuse.  We have fought hard to maintain pricing as close to assignment as possible so that this section of the site actually allows the artists' past work to support their commission careers rather than compete against them.  Our strategic partnership with AdBase custom list services offers ispot subscribers a 15% discount on their scrupulously maintained mail and email database.  And we encourage all of our artists to buy Tad Crawford's excellent book & CD combination, "Business and Legal Forms for Illustrators;" ispot subscribers are entitled to a 50% discount.

Online Portfolio Sites - Why, How, and Are They Worth It

As I mentioned in an earlier post, between the rearranging going on in publishing these days and the lackluster economy in general, many illustrators are looking for ways to keep up with their contacts and new ways to market themselves. I've noticed with the souring job market that more places are coming out of the woodwork to offer illustrators a path to connections and jobs. My own research into new marketing venues led me to the decision to write a post about on-line portfolio sites.

These days having an on-line presence is not an option. It is essential. On-line portfolios sites, such as or offer a searchable database of illustrators. Each 'member' is given their own personal portfolio page with different levels of image categorization and back-end management depending on the site. Besides the members' portfolio page, most sites also allow the members' illustrations to show up randomly on the home page and other pages of the site. The number-one most important thing anyone should understand about having an internet presence is this: the more traffic on a site/image/portfolio, the higher it will come in search rankings. Traffic can be greatly affected by changing the portfolio is some way. The second most important thing anyone should understand about having an internet presence is that usually no one searches past the third page of results, whether it's a google search or a search on a portfolio site. How does this affect your decision to advertise with an online portfolio site? For each site with which you create a portfolio, you have to maintain that portfolio or risk losing ranking. Sometimes this can be as simple as rearranging the order of your images, but illustrators that are uploading new work every week will always show up above an illustrator that uploads a couple of times a year. This portfolio manipulation has a snowball effect: As an illustrator manages his or her images to keep them high in search rankings, potential buyers then click through to those portfolios keeping traffic high, which insures that those images will come up again and again. Since all portfolio sites also allow members to post a link to the member's own personal site, this snowball effect will spill over to the illustrator's personal site if a buyer clicks through to their URL.

The Upside
Every illustrator I know (including myself) relies heavily on postcard mailers to get projects. Mailing is certainly important (come back next week for my post on that) but in an industry where small and mid-sized publishers often hire a third party designer to find an illustrator - without sending their file of postcards to that designer - it's important to be in many places at once. As a member of a couple of on-line portfolio sites for a few years, I have found the advantage to on-line portfolio advertising to be three-fold: First, and most obvious, you are getting your work in front of an art-buying audience. I've actually been contacted by designers hired by publishers to whom I have mailed for years, only to be told by the designer that they haven't seen those mailings but had seen the very same image on-line. While not every person surfing a particular site is a serious buyer, they seem to be great resources for studios that hire a high volume of illustrators in a year, such as those who work on children's educational products. While sometimes not the most glamourous products to work on, these kinds of projects are great for an illustrator trying to break into children's publishing by giving the opportunity to get practical hands-on experience illustrating a manuscript. In my personal experience these projects can also be quite lucrative.

The second advantage is the ability to get feedback on which image might be catching a buyer's eye. Some sites allow a potential buyer to attach an image from an artist's portfolio to an e-mail asking about a project, others have programming built in so that a member can track which of their images are getting the most hits. A few years ago I had an image of kids flying kites that was a real winner; over and over again I was contacted about a project with the buyer referencing that image as why they chose me. This created a great opening to find out specifically what a client might like about my work, and in turn I could apply that to future illustrations.

The third advantage is that snowball spillover affect I mentioned earlier. As you funnel traffic from an on-line portfolio site to your personal URL, that causes your personal site to rise on any search rankings. I like to think of this as the "you just never know" effect, as in you just never know when someone will find you and like you. An art director googling a baseball story, unrelated to art, comes across you because your baseball image has high traffic rankings. He finds you, he likes you, he bookmarks you, it's just a hop skip and a jump to a project. The i-spot tracks both image hits and keyword hits, an especially useful feature because you can adjust the keywords on your own domain to match, thereby increasing its chances of traffic.

Things to Consider
As with any marketing decision, you should keep in mind a few things before deciding to advertise with an on-line portfolio site. For starters, they are an investment with the yearly costs running from $200 to over $600. Some sites offer a free basic portfolio listing, but these provide few of the advantages and attract a host of less than professional artists, causing serious art buyers to shy away from perusing those listings. Time spent maintaining your portfolio on the site can be a drain. It's a good idea to set a schedule of regular maintenance for your entire online presence, both your personal site and portfolios sites. Before signing up with a site you should also query them about how the site is promoted. A site that is not advertising itself is not advertising you. Be sure you know enough about the industry to know where children's book producers are hanging out - virtually and in the real world - so that you will know if a site's marketing plan makes sense for the industry you are trying to reach.

The 64 Million Dollar Question
What everyone wants to know before they sign up for something is.... does it work? Do you get projects from these sites, is it worth it? I've talked to several illustrators both current and former subscribers of various sites about their experiences getting jobs and their answers were as varied as their work. Some people had gotten no work, others had said a site paid for itself within a few months. Of the two sites I have consistently advertised with, one has paid for itself several times over the course of my history with it, the other has not paid for itself yet but has yielded a small but significant number of high-profile contacts that I believe will be worth it. The one similarity I did find was that the artists with the most success had allowed more than a year for the site to work for them. Years ago in art school, a teacher told our class that he personally knew of art directors that waited to see if an illustrator appeared in a sourcebook for more than one year in a row to make sure they had staying power before hiring them. Therefore this teacher went on, if you plan to advertise in a sourcebook, plan to afford it for at least two years. I've always felt that this theory also applies to advertising with a portfolio site. My personal rule has been a 3 year window - if after 3 years I have gotten no jobs from a site I will drop my advertising. I have yet to have a 3 year dry spell.

My personal experience with online portfolio advertising has been a positive one. No illustrator should rely primarily on an online site to send them jobs but researched wisely and maintained diligently I do think they can become part of a successful marketing plan.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Lose Your Butt!! Cool contest at Market My Words

Check out this contest for a chance to win a customized website with marketing guru Shelli Wells from Market My Words. Shelli wants you to Comment Your Butt Off on her blog in the month of March. So get over there and - er - comment your butt off to win a website design valued at $1000. Even though i don't really need a website the Fabulous Illustrator is going for the bonus points just cuz! For complete rules click here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

My NEW Website

I've finally got the new design of my website to go live. Its a much more streamlined simple look, so that you may more easily admire my awesome artwork (self-effacing grin.)
Check it out:

Friday, February 27, 2009

Tracking them down

Anyone who is anywhere on the radar of publishing right now knows that the industry is taking its lumps with the rest of the economy. This has been particularly frustrating for those of us who spend time marketing their artwork (or writing) to publishers. Editors and art directors have been moving around and being let go at an alarming rate. Trying to keep up with this so that I can send out my own postcard mailers has been quite the internet scavenger hunt. Last night I finally pieced enough together to revise my own contact list and get January's cards in the mail..... only a month behind.

If you are doing the same thing, here's a list of rocks I turned over to find out who has gone where:
I started at Harold Underdown's Purple Crayon website.
Then I moved to Children's Book Biz News. This is Anastasia Suen's very informative blog, you do have to search the archives a bit, but on it I found this nugget from Publisher's Weekley: Where They can Be Reached Now.
I couldn't forget CWIM editor Alice Pope's blog
and I scanned back through my weekly PW Children's Bookshelf e-mails and checked Galley Cat. Now I'm waiting anxiously for the SCBWI Newsletter to see what the Publisher's corner says. I bet they could do a whole special edition of Publisher's Corner this time.

I also did a fair amount of Googling people's names just to see what I could come up with, and managed to find a few folks that way. As a parallel story to this I have been looking into buying a mailing list as just another place to get some contact names. Never let it be said that at any point in my career have I not done due dilegence in researching a potential market or marketing tool. So my research into lists led me to this conclusion: Not very many illustrators have bought mailing lists, but a whole bunch of 'em are interested in it. Just about everyone I talked to too who hadn't bought a list asked me to share what I found out. Well I'm still in the process of getting some list answers but when I do I will post it here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Taxes Schmaxes

This week I've been working on getting my/our tax info together. Its really all my info. Jim Dear's is a lovely simple W4 that comes all nice and neat, all the boxes filled in by somebody else. Mine is a manilla folder full of receipts and bill stubs that has to be sorted through, added up and recorded. And I don't even do the actual filing. Oh no, we have an accountant who's job it is to remind me of any deductions we may have missed. FYI for any other freelancers out there, especially those with kids - I've been delighted to learn that you can deduct all of your out-of-pocket medical payments. If you have kids in any kind of daycare you know those co-payments can really add up.

Sometimes seeing all these end of the year totals can be a bit mind boggling. For example, in 2008 I spent $671 on mailing costs! Good grief that's a lotta postcards. I do hope they all find their way into the hearts of an art director out there. Of course the one that always gets me is how much we spend on health insurance. Our total premium payments were over six grand, with my puny self-employed health insurance being about half that. The reason I say puny is that my deductible on that plan is the same as the amount I pay in premiums. Yet we keep this insurance around just in case Jim Dear finds himself in the unemployment line (and we are without the cushy state sponsored insurance that his job provides.) Crazy as it is, if I had to go out and buy my same insurance now it would be twice as much. Don't get me started on a policy rant but something has got to give in this country when it comes to health insurance costs. How many people are not following their dreams of entrepreneurship because huge insurance premiums for crappy private policies make them fear for the ability to take care of their families?

Most of us artists don't like thinking about our businesses as a business... we just want to paint. But every year as tax time rolls around it comes with a reminder that if we are not making money doing this, it's not a business, it's a hobby. So while I'm sitting here sorting through scraps of receipts and scribbled notes in my checkbook, I'll be thankful that while 2008 was not a financially fabulous year for the Fabulous Illustrator I do still have a business, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

I'll leave you with a list of some of the things you can remember to deduct in case you are looking for a way to bring down Uncle Sam's share:
• mileage (just remember you have to also have a count of total miles driven)
• local and state taxes (don't forget to deduct any sales tax or business license fees)
• homeowners or renters insurance (if it insures where you do your business you can deduct a portion of it)
• medical expenses
• day care expenses (unfortunately only a portion of this as well)
• membership fees for professional organizations (see another good reason to join SCBWI, and don't forget those conference fees)
(disclaimer: I'm an artist not an IRS agent, so be sure and check these with your own accountant. If you get audited its probably not a good idea to tell them you filed your taxes based on what you read on a blog.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Small Fry's first REAL drawing

I'm so excited, today after lunch Small Fry did his first "real" drawing! By real I mean he actually was trying to draw an object instead of just making lines on paper. Usually when i ask him what his drawings are he says "they're just drawings." But today he said "its a person!" And here it is...

He pointed out to me where the head and the hair was and the tummy and the toes were. I realize I'm biased but this is not bad for a 3 year old

I convinced him to let me scan this in before nap time. I think he was happy to avoid nap for a few more minutes.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Illustration Friday - Time

Story Time Passing

read to me mommy

When I think of "time" the first thought that jumps into my head is of time passing. Watching my kids I'm excruciatingly aware of this: I always think "they won't do that forever." It doesn't help that time can pass in the blink of an eye - one day you have a newborn the next day he's starting kindergarten - as my pediatrician recently told me "the nights are long, the years are short."

Here a boy asks his mom to read to him, but she sees that in the time it takes him to crawl into her lap he has already grown into a teenager.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Back at the drawing table and the Making of a Monkey Man

Well this week I'm supposed to be back at work. I've mostly been catching up on reading blogs, reading my daily digests from my Mid-South chapter of SCBWI, and making a to-do list. Two things on this to-do list are: 1) finish redesigning website and 2) work on Baby Sprout's name picture. On the first I had started on a new site design before baby was born, its been on hold except when I could work in bits and pieces between feedings. But now I'm almost done so stay tuned for an announcement of the new site in the next couple of weeks. I'm working on a "Books" page with covers of the books I've done and I've gotta work on some kinks with my hosting folks but then it really REALLY should be up by March. On the second to-do item: when Small Fry was born I had this inspiration to do an illustration of his name, not like illustrated letters but how I thought his name might be interpreted artistically. It helped that Small Fry's middle name was after a dear family friend we lost just before he was born and I was feeling very emotional about that and wanted to memorialize him in some way. His image turned out to be a more literal: with an image of a baby, an animal for what is first name meant and an animal for our lost friend.

So when Sprout was on the way, of course I knew I would have to do an illustration for her. Sprout is not named after anyone, hers is a "concept" name, meaning we just liked the concept of the name - what it means and where it is derived from. This turned out to be a bit harder to illustrate, than Small Fry's more literal interpretation. For the record here are both the Fry's illo and Sprout's sketch. Unfortunately I can't explain what these mean without revealing their true identities but if anyone wants to take a stab at what their real names are be my guest. FYI to those of you who know their real names keep your fingers off the keyboard.

This is Small Fry's:

This is Sprout's:

Both the kids have real Southern themes to their names, see if you can spot the Southern stuff in these. If anyone gets reeeeaaally curious about what they mean, e-mail me and I'll explain.

While I was not working a lot of stuff happened in the kid's book world including the announcement of this years Caldecott winner, The House in the Night illustrated by Beth Krommes. I was impressed that she works in scratchboard. I feel like this is a medium you almost never see. SCBWI held its mid-year conference in NY. Read the official blog here. And finally here's a really funny video shown by Jarrett Krosocka about life in the picture book bidness. I especially love the dream sequence at the beginning:

BOOK BY BOOK: the making of a monkey man from Jarrett Krosoczka on Vimeo.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

One month old Baby Sprout

As my "maternity leave" winds to an end I'm doing a couple more postings of Baby Sprout:
She does this really cute smile when she gets done nursing and I have been trying to catch it on camera but no luck yet, here's a couple of close-ups from those tries.

Here she is in my favorite baby outfit, given by my friend Jill. Big brother Small Fry would love to sit on the bouncy seat with her.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Introducing Baby Sprout

Baby Sprout made a grand entrance on December 18 at 2:17pm, 2008, weighing 7lbs and 19 3/4 inches long. Hello Baby!