Portfolio Critique Dos and Don’ts

Back in March I had received my fourth professional portfolio critique. It’s been a couple months since then, but I needed to let the feedback settle in my brain before I started following the advice.

As always, I think back to my first conference and how much I failed myself then. Now… well I’m still a failure, but a better failure!

Here’s why with the Dos:

  • TAKE EVERY ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. It’s very easy to just take in all the criticism and get down on yourself. Quitting is easy, “I’m garbage because this ‘professional’ person says I am, might as well become an electrician like Pa said.” A lot of the critique is based off what that person likes and doesn’t like, not necessarily you as an illustrator.
  • GO IN WITH A SMILE. This sounds lame but it actually worked for me. If I’m smiling and being social, a lot of that heart clenching tension dissipates. Smiling and talking gets me ready to be open minded and prepares me for change. Try it.
  • DRESS NICE, BUT CASUAL. I was rocking a nice sweater with a lacy tank top beneath, maroon colored jeans, and cute brown boots. All was comfortable to wear and I looked like a real human that could possibly be in public!
  • BRING YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST WORK. Sounds obvious, but it helps if you feel good about what you’re bringing to the table. If you don’t, you need to do more work or just have a short portfolio. Feedback might actually be good for you if you are not satisfied with your work, it helped me a year ago when I felt awful about mine.
  • RESEARCH YOUR CRITIQUE. Courtney Pippin-Mathur gave me my portfolio critique. I chose her specifically because she worked in watercolor and digital mix, which is what I was doing. I also liked her cute style. The rest of the illustrators there had a bit of a realistic style and were mixed media for the most part. I wanted someone who worked with what I was trying to work with, and the feedback I got was very helpful because I took the time to look at her website.
  • COMMUNICATE WITH THE ILLUSTRATOR. I mean, join in their rambling about your artwork. Sometimes asking questions can help guide the one critiquing you. Lets face it, they’re human too so helping them will help you. Even if it’s just simple questions such as, “What are my strengths? Should I be working in this medium? Am I ready to look for an agent?”
  • WRITE DOWN WHAT THEY SAY AFTER THE CRITIQUE IS OVER. Sometimes it’s okay to jot down notes, but make sure you look like you’re paying attention. It’s good to write some more after your critique so you can look at it later. (later that day, later that week, two months from then…)
  • SEND AN EMAIL THANKING THEM. I was bad and didn’t email Pippin-Mathur. I emailed my manuscript critique though! But still, email them. It’s good to do that. I shall email mine next time.

My first critique went horribly and it had me crying in the shower for an hour after.

Here’s why with the Don’ts:

  • DON’T GO IN THINKING YOUR STUFF IS GOOD. Unless it is of course, but if you’re new to this field you probably aren’t quite there yet. Even if you are good and you go in thinking that you’re good but the one giving you a critique says they don’t like something, this could possibly lead you to…
  • IGNORING ALL ADVICE BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU KNOW BETTER. Everyone can improve. EVERYONE. If there is something off with your work and you choose to ignore it, like I did with my messy backgrounds for forever, your work will suffer for it.
  • DON’T NOT SAY ANYTHING. Silence is second worse compared to cutting off the critique with your arrogance. I practically said nothing my first critique and that just built tension between the us and it led to me tearing up. That got awkward. Don’t do it.
  • DON’T OVER DRESS, BUT DON’T WALK IN WITH JEANS AND A T-SHIRT. Okay I didn’t really do this one. I mean, I had jeans and tennis shoes on but at least I had a sweater that didn’t look too bad. You’ll feel better if you look better though.
  • DON’T TALK BAD ABOUT THE ONE GIVING YOUR CRITIQUE. I’ve never done this but I’ve read pretty bad blog posts and it just never looked good to me. It just looked butt hurt.
  • DON’T THINK ABOUT YOUR CRITIQUE AND RUIN THE WHOLE DAY. This is the most challenging one. Its one thing to anticipate your critique and prepare yourself. It’s another thing to stew over a bad critique for the entire weekend and ruin the experience. Take your notes, store them away, and come back to them once your mind has cleared. Maybe get drunk that night and go see a friend who knows nothing about the field, but don’t stew in disappointment.

And that’s all I got! I wrote this blog post because I decided to do something that was suggested in my critique. Apparently I succeeded in last years goal of practicing line work because that was one of my strengths with, actually, my traditional pieces. So she wanted me to recreate some images that were digital in watercolor and here’s one she suggested.

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These are so different, but I like both! I was told to move away from digital but I’ll take that with a grain of salt. 😉

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Conference Notes

This weekend’s MD/DE/WV conference, “25 and Still We R(ev)use” was a success!

I’ll share the experience that I had as much as I can. I can’t share ALL my notes because, well, I encourage other writers/illustrators to go to these conferences and hear from agents, editors, speakers, other authors and illustrators for themselves.

At first I got lost in the building. I don’t really know why I got lost, the place wasn’t that big, but I still found myself wandering back and fourth to find the volunteer spot. Eventually I found it of course with the help from the staff and another lady who was ALSO lost and volunteering at the time, which I found out later that she will be the new illustrator coordinator for the MD/DE/WV SCBWI if I’m remembering correctly.

As kind of a side note I’ll say that volunteering is a great way to talk to people if you have social anxiety like I do. When you volunteer you act as a group working toward a similar, simple goal. Being put to use is also a plus.

Technical problems began the keynote speaker session. You know, mic and the slideshow clicker problems. Luckily James Ransome got past that pretty quickly and went on to tell a little about himself:

  • The quote he kept using was “I feel like a lucky so and so” when speaking about his journey to becoming a known illustrator. Quite the journey it was!
  • Has a drawing table from high school which was used a dining room table at some point. (My scribbled notes say “Damn! That must be a sturdy table to last this long!”)
  • He’s created all kinds of different artwork from sports illustrations to children’s books to christmas designs made into bags and cards to landscape paintings. Basically he just wants to create whatever he can in whatever medium he feels like it at the time, which is great in my opinion!
  • A lot of his art inspiration comes from fine artists like Degas, Matisse, Kerry James Marshall, Diebenkorn, and John Singer Sargent to name a few.
  • He loves football.

At this point I had my volunteering time as a walk in critique timer. I feel like this was one of those fated moments that could potentially further a career, but I’ll write about that later.

The “In the Trenches” talk was a good one, mostly for the quotes:

  • When dealing with an agent you don’t want anymore for whatever reason, “Don’t be afraid to leave” advice from Leah Henderson.
  • “Get agented with someone who matches your personality” and when dealing with rejection and stress “Drink wine, eat chocolate, and have a support group” from Courtney Pippi-Mathur.
  • Maria Gianferrari says to “Give yourself a day to wallow” after a rejection.
  • John Micklos Jr says to “develop thick skin” in this business.
  • From my personal notes I wrote that one needs to find an agent that’s more excited about your project than you are because you won’t be able to make a good relationship with your agent if they are not excited about your work (duh!)

I don’t want to spoil too much of Leah Henderson’s “What to Think About when Writing Cross Culturally” so I’ll just write the one thing that stood out to me. When asked about too much censorship, she said something along the lines of “it’s not about censorship. It’s about being aware of blind spots that make their way into the book.”

The best advice overall that the conference gave:

  • A good story brings out an emotional response, laughter, anger, sadness, hope.
  • A good story has STRONG CHARACTERS THE READER CAN RELATE TO.
  • When talking to an agent/editor/author/illustrator/basically anyone human with a different cultural background than you, please don’t “accidentally” be racist, like speaking Japanese or Chinese to an Asian American who doesn’t speak that language…
  • Write from the heart, don’t write fads. Fads go out of style.
  • Allow yourself to cry but don’t allow yourself to give up.

And that’s it folks! I think this conference was more successful to me personally than last years and I’ll soon write about that as well. Again, I suggest writer or illustrator to go out to conferences like this. 🙂

 

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Jump In! 

 

 

 

The Thing About Portfolios…

It’s here!

The conference starts tomorrow! (well it starts today but I have to work so… can’t go.) I’m of course doing everything last minute (like usual) and I finally got my portfolio together.

Every time I get a professional portfolio critique I go through a bit of anxiety (no, a lot of anxiety) and become extremely indecisive of what to actually show. So I go through the list:

  • What subject matter do I want representing my art? I draw fiction kids stories so a lot of my work has a bit of a whimsical atmosphere with kids in it. Sometimes animals and sometimes robots too…
  • What medium do I want to represent? I have two styles. One is digital, one watercolor. I draw everything by hand so a lot of the drawing stays similar (woo hoo!) I also have some black and white pieces that I love making.
  • Can all these images together tell a story? I usually split images by paint, and I kind of did that this time too. The difference is the story I was trying to set up. The viewer starts with a lonely robot saying “hello.” Gradually more characters are added with each piece, as if more are joining the portfolio party. I end with the robot (Bucket) being fixed on by her creator as a way to say good night folks!
  • Which pieces are the strongest? This will always be up for debate, but I chose my most recent robot story as my strongest pieces so I begin and end with them.
  • Is the drawing consistent? This time I think yes.

 

There is also a list of DON’T DOS that my first portfolio, shown below, unfortunately did:

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  • DON’T MAKE YOUR PORTFOLIO INTO A LITERAL STORY WITH ONLY ONE CHARACTER AND A WEIRD CHANGING BEAST. This was my first mistake! A portfolio needs some diversity in characters and story telling.
  • DON’T HAVE LIKE TEN DIFFERENT MATERIALS. This portfolio would have made any publisher/agent/what have you confused as to what exactly they’re getting from you. BIG mistake.
  • DON’T TURN YOUR PORTFOLIO CASE TO THE SIDE. I’m such an idiot. I didn’t have a landscape portfolio book so instead I just turned a vertical book horizontal.
  • DON’T HAVE TONS OF EXTRA PAGES IN THE BACK OF YOUR PORTFOLIO!!! I had one of those that you couldn’t take out the pages. I was so poorly prepared…
  • DON’T ONLY BRING 9 IMAGES!!! Okay you need between 10 and 15 images, 9 is way too low haha.
  • DON’T TEAR UP OR CRY. I was almost bawling by the end of that critique, but I got much stronger after that initial blow. E.B. Lewis probably felt sorry for me. In the end I gathered myself, took a picture with him, and got a signed book. I guess I redeemed myself?

The next step is to take what I learned from the don’t do list and apply it to the next portfolio:

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I got a little better, more diverse with characters and story, more pieces, stuck with digital and mixed media. Still, I needed work on drawing, line, and most importantly, tightening up the compositions. I look back at this one now and realize a lot of these were incomplete…

 

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This is my newest portfolio. I stuck with digital and this time I found a love for watercolor and I’ll stick with it. I think I’ve gotten somewhat better, certainly cleaner. I focused on drawing, lifework, and cleanliness like the last critiques suggested.

Now on to another critique and hopefully a better body of work!

The Thing About Postcards 2

I’ve done it!

I mean it took me forever but yay I made a new postcard design!

There were a few more things that occurred to me while making this design:

  • BLACK AND WHITE BACK. While color on the front and back is tempting, creating a black and white design on the back is cheaper (awww yeah!) and it’s also a good opportunity to show your viewer a sample of your rendering or line work.
  • ILLUSTRATE YOUR OWN FONT. I mean you don’t have to, but if you can, why not? It shows another skill you could potentially use.
  • MAKE SOMETHING POSTCARD QUIRKY. What I mean is design something like the little square spot for the stamp to go in. I’ve also seen illustrators add lines for the address. Ultimately this is a good opportunity to show awareness of the space the image is in rather than just slapping on a pre made image on a postcard. I’m not saying that that’s bad, just perhaps a missed opportunity.
  • ORDER EARLY!!! I procrastinated because I didn’t know exactly what I wanted for a postcard. I was also designing a business card and working on portfolio images for my critique. Now I’ll have to pay extra for shipping to get here on time and it will be expensive. Luckily I’m getting taxes back…
  • MATCH BUSINESS CARD. Have a theme! This year’s theme is working on something with a tool. I know sounds kind of simple, but that’s what happened. I think the business card and postcard go with each other pretty well this year.
  • And last, BE AWARE OF THE CUT OFF SPACE AROUND THE CARD. I spent like a good hour getting the image below to the “safe” point so that nothing gets cut off to the point of awkwardness. I had to go back into photoshop multiple times for my business card so that the bee wouldn’t get cut off. Some of you will probably already be aware of this space but I’m just throwing it out there as a reminder.
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Front

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Back

 

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Business card

 

And that’s it! I’m *almost* ready for the conference next weekend!

The Eyebrow Lift in Art

What was that?

How did this happen?

What are you doing?

Why am I doing this?

What’s going on?

Where do I go?

What now?

The more I create artwork intended for kids the more I notice certain trends in my work. Among these trends is the slight eyebrow lift (well, the unbalance of eyebrow) my characters wear on their faces.

Why do I do this?

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Self portrait, why do I do this?

Well first of all children’s book characters NEED life, personality, exaggeration and, to put it simply, CHARACTER. For me this means to immediately draw an eyebrow lift as the eyebrow lift is an indication of question, wonder, skepticism, humor. It can mean a lot of different things depending on the situation of the story…

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The eyebrow lift can be a conversation with another character, a communication tool with just a look.

1.jpg                 Or the eyebrow lift can be a silent, personal contemplation of the next step in the story. “What should I do now” or “Where do I go from here?”

Even a grim realization that has no questioning can be made clear with a subtle lift of the eyebrow.

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Here  “It” comes…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or BOTH characters can communicate with eyebrow lift to show silent humor  conversation.

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Some might ask, “Why just focus on the eyebrow lift? There are other facial expressions that can speak without words too you know…”

Of course! And that’s another reason why I love children’s book illustrations is because of the facial expressions. The reason why I focus on the eyebrow lift is because of it’s unbalanced structure and it’s questioning. Kids at their core are curious and representing that curiosity with the slightest mark is beautiful.

In a way the eyebrow lift is a peek into my illustrator personality. Some artists are known for their color or light or maybe excellent drawing skills. Others might be known for their chosen topics. Character facial features is another indicator of style and I would love to gather all the illustrators that I know and love and research which illustrators use facial features as a unique indication of style as well.

For now, I’m simply pointing out trends in my artwork that I can latch onto and understand how I can make my work my own.

So… see you later? I guess?

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ReFoReMo Time!

It’s that time of year again!

The time where everything seems to happen all at once and you make too many promises to too many projects and then explode.

This also happens to be the time for ReFoReMo!

If you don’t know what that is, click on that link above for a more detailed explanation than what I give here.

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ReFoReMo is a full month of picture book reading and reading about other people reading picture books haha. Each day a guest speaker is posted on the blog and talks about a theme for your set of books that day. Some books are repeated because each guest speaker has a something different to say. ReFoReMo is a great way to analyze picture books and talk about what makes each book WORK.

I didn’t quite get to ALL the books last year, (there was around 100 books I think?) but I certainly got to most of them and the blog posts are always good. Oh, they end with a prizes too.

So go sign up… if you and your local library is up for the challenge. 😉

 

 

Then and Now

Have you ever had to start all over again as an artist?

There’s nothing like being told that you’re *almost* there, but not quite. That you’re *almost* to professional level, just not yet. Hearing those things do hurt, but it doesn’t hurt as bad as “throw this entire thing away and start over.”

I’ve had to start over and over and over again. I think most artists do…and most writers.

Starting over is part of my process. Destruction and creation.

This time I didn’t start over, I just applied the suggestions given to me to three pieces I did last year. By doing this I got to see the mistakes I made more clear, helping me understand a bit more of why I’m “almost but not quite professional yet.”

I enjoyed working on this piece tremendously so when the response to it wasn’t what I expected, I had to take a step back else I was going to throw the file away in disgust:

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Then

All I did was clean the image up and focused on the line work a bit more. It’s a bit better.

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Now

This one I had for my postcard, but now I can’t stand to look at the postcard anymore…

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Then

I still am working on some things, but at least it looks a lot more clean…

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Now

This next one I got a good response from both critiques, but I still cleaned it up a bit.

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Then

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Now

This will be the last time I go to these pieces. I’m still adding them in my portfolio because they represent the type of art I want to create, but I need to move on and hopefully become a better illustrator.