revisions

22 May

baltsun-beachguide-0522I am currently teaching an on-line class which includes discussion questions about REVISIONS. While my students’ answers are generally insightful and well thought-out, I have to say, they also make me snicker. Just a little bit.

Revisions are a normal part of the illustration process. The job is not over until the art has been approved, and often that involves making changes.

A common misconception among many students is that being asked to alter your art is a bad thing. On the contrary, requests for changes are coming from smart, savvy folk who have a good eye and can see things in your illustration that you cannot, because you are in too deep. You’re too close to the project and, admit it or not, are probably also ready to be done with it.

Your submission has to please not only your art director, but editors, publishers, and possibly others as well. A committee! AND, the image (especially if it’s a cover) has to work with a type. When your A.D. asks for color or placement changes, it is for your benefit, because she is doing her best to make the cover kick some serious derrière. So, don’t resist. Trust!

A few weeks ago I was contracted to make cover art for a section of The Baltimore Sun, which was published today—that’s the cover, at the top of this post. The job involved several rounds of sketches.

Round 1

The client provided a concept: a close-up of a lady at the beach with several items reflected in her glasses. The list of possibilities for the reflection was long, which made me nervous. I wasn’t sure how I could fit everything in such a small space, and make it read well.

beachSketches_1

I showed two options (top row) with some of the stuff on the list—fireworks and a family playing tug-of-war—in the background. In the two bottom options, I played with arranging the tug-of-war and fireworks with other items from the list (wine and sundae tasting) in the lenses. Knowing this was to be a cover, I left the top of the art fairly simple to accommodate the title, making a mental note to keep the value and color contrast up there minimal.

Round 2

After several days my A.D. (Tracie Rawson) responded. The folk at The Sun liked the idea of putting some elements in the background rather than in the lenses, but could I please replace the wine and sundae tasting with classic foods from Ocean City? You bet. Two new sketches:

beachSketches_2

Round 3

Response: Love the kid eating fries, but the branding has to go. How about kid eating fries on one side, and carousel or roller coaster on the other?
beachSketches_3

I made options showing the carousel, the roller coaster, and (anticipating yet another change) a roller-coaster/carousel combo. But the client chose the carousel.

Round 4

beachFinal_1After submitting the color final (with plenty of room on all sides for the color to bleed), Tracie asked me to take out the half-tone screen in the sky behind the lady’s head, and to zoom in the carousel in the lens and tighten it up.

Because I work in editable Photoshop layers, these revisions took all of five minutes to make—it was no trouble at all—and her request improved the art. Once she began placing the type she wrote back and asked me to move my signature to the area above the curl in the lady’s hair on the right. Again, a quickie task. Not a big deal. And, as you can see at the top of this post, the result is amazing.

working MOM

11 May

M-Day

Motherhood makes you ferocious. ~ Pat Benatar

Mothers come in all varieties. I happen to be a What-Do-You-Mean-There’s-No-School-Today? kind of mom.

It’s true. Because I juggle self-employment with motherhood, stuff falls through the cracks. Little details, like my son’s school schedule. When Gray was small, I often stood in his Pre-K’s empty parking lot staring at the locked door in disbelief. Now that he’s older (eleven already!) he generally tells me when school is out. But it’s embarrassing, showing up on the wrong day, or at the wrong time, for parent-teacher conferences and what have you. His teacher smiles but she can’t fool me, I know she is resisting the urge to raise an eyebrow.

Just this week, I couldn’t find a note that Gray brought home—something about needing money for a school picnic. Maybe I remembered reading that this was a cash-only operation. (It said that, right?)

I don’t carry cash. When notes from school come home requesting paper money, I have to remember to get cash back during one of my daily trips to the corner grocery store. Only we moved a thousand miles away from our friendly neighborhood Publix in August, and equally far from our long-time bank. Now the nearest market, a ten minute drive at least, is a mob scene. It’s hostile, quite frankly; completely devoid of Southern hospitality. I avoid it. And for some reason or other I never got an ATM card from our new bank. So even if I resumed my habit of frequenting the grocery store, cash would still be kind of a problem.Gray

Gray remembered needing six dollars on his way out the door to catch the bus. “I have to have it today, Mom.” He had that desperate look. A quick scan of house and car failed to produce my still-sleeping husband’s wallet, so I did what all mothers do: I dug deep. Remembering the stash of quarters I keep for NY State bridge tolls, I grabbed an envelope from my studio, filled it with coins, sealed it, and zipped it into his backpack next to his lunch, all within the span of fifteen seconds.

Problem: solved.

Shooing him out the door, I started the day’s work, taking hourly breaks to fold a thousand pounds of laundry, walk the dogs, and devise a dinner plan that did not involve a trip to the menacing grocery. I didn’t give the quarters another thought until Gray came bursting in at 3:30, his pockets jingling. A comedian like his dad, smiling nice and big, he exaggerated his steps so that I would hear.

“Dollar bills ONLY, Mom. But Mrs. H will take a check. She said, tomorrow is fine.”

WatertowerHis teacher thinks I am insane, but hey, Gray and I have a good thing going. We love, and he understands my predicament. In fact, he is a budding illustrator himself, and is quite prolific—we have an entire closet devoted to his lifetime body of work. A scrappy free-lancer, Gray scored his first paid assignment from my publisher Duopress at the tender age of eight, creating art for on-line activity pages in conjunction with some of the books I was illustrating at the time. Click here to see his stuff for Doodle New York, and Doodle Chicago, the latter which he made when he was nine (scroll down to the bottom of the Chicago activity pages to see Gray’s work).

________

No matter what kind of mom you are, you deserve a break. Hop on over to the free stuff page at duopressbooks.com. There are tons activity pages to download and print, all for free. Become a fan on facebook and sign up for duopress’s newsletter for more fun ideas. Set out the markers and crayons, and getcha some tea and cookies. Motherhood is tough, and so are you! You are also loved, Mom, and you are not alone.

internships

13 Apr

internSummer is coming: coconut-scented sun screen, road trips, and… internships!

I have worked with many interns over the years. Sometimes the process has been wonderful—mutually rewarding. But (*sigh*), not always. Here are a two basic tips to help get your internship off to a great start, and to help you get as much as possible out of the experience.

1. Understand Your Position as the Intern.

I cannot overemphasize the importance of this first step. When screening candidates for an internship position, occasionally I get the feeling that the potential intern is interviewing me. Of course, when considering an internship you need to know the logistics of the situation, and you will have legitimate questions about the tasks involved. But the first question you should ask any potential employer is, How may I help you?

If an individual or company is looking for interns, it’s probably because they are overly busy and need someone to handle simple, time-consuming tasks in order to free up employees who have more pressing responsibilities. They are not looking for young people to mentor, nor are they offering an apprenticeship. This is an INTERNSHIP. Sure, there is an element of altruism involved, but it is unlikely that anyone would take on an intern simply for the sake of educating the intern. Show up with a list of “demands”, and you may as well wave a red flag. Instead, approach the situation realistically. Know and accept the facts: the work will more than likely not be glamorous, but, no matter what you’re asked to do—no matter how seemingly menial the task—you will learn something about the professional world, and the experience will ultimately be helpful to you. (Here’s an assignment from Professor Violet for any of you who are looking for internships: Watch The Karate Kid, and write 5oo words on the theme, “Wax On, Wax Off: It’s All Useful in the End.”)

Some schools require their students to complete internships for college credit. In other words, students are forced to find and complete internships for which they will be paid little to nothing, while simultaneously forking over tuition for the privilege. If this describes your situation and you see it as completely unfair, go punch a pillow or scream into your kitchen cabinet. Get it out of your system before having any kind of interaction with the people with whom you are hoping to work. Your school situation is not their problem. Be very careful not to let third-party resentment or bitterness color your working relationships. Over time you will forgive your alma mater, because if the course of study hadn’t forced you out of your comfort zone and into an internship (while a professor monitored the whole thing, on top of her already full work load) you never would have done it in the first place. One day you’ll look back and realize that whatever you learned during those six-to-eight weeks was valuable.

2. Work hard.

This should go without saying but alas, experience has proved, it has to be said. To maximize the benefits of your internship, throw yourself into any task that you are given. Always be on time, and deliver whatever you have promised. Take notes during meetings and follow up on them, but don’t get ahead of yourself and/or do anyone else’s job… that can actually cause a lot of problems. If you are working remotely, you will be monitoring your own progress, so be especially careful not to slack off. Your internship is probably fairly short, so you don’t have a lot of time to make a good impression, or to recover if you should happen to make any mistakes—so simply do what you’re told, and do it exceptionally well. Deadlines are sacrosanct, never to be missed. Be friendly and courteous. Remember, you are there to help, not to be helped.

On the off chance that, half-way through, the experience doesn’t seem to be living up to your expectations, don’t let your disappointment color your attitude. Stay positive and keep working hard. In general (and in keeping with Understanding Your Position as the Intern, above) try not to view your internship as a stepping stone to something better. If your goal is to be useful and to make a positive difference, rather than to get ahead, people will naturally want to help you get ahead. This may seem counterintuitive, but trust me, it’s the simple truth.

When I was in college I got a summer internship at which I worked extremely hard, and to the very best of my ability. That internship turned into a great job for which I was mighty well compensated. Through the internship and the job, I met a ton of wonderful people who helped me in a variety of ways throughout my career. Mind, it doesn’t always go that way, but you just never know. So be on your best behavior, and… be helpful!

NOOK: A String of Lovely Surprises

15 Jan

When Duopress called and asked me to narrate Nook books, I was completely surprised. You just never know what life will bring. Lovely Surprise # 1: “The Invitation.”

Zenkel Practice RoomA Yeti microphone arrived at my door and I got busy talking into it, and learning how to use Garage Band, Apple’s recording/editing software. Sitting in my home office, I made some sample recordings. The result was disappointing. It sounded as if I were reading children’s books from the bottom of a well… or, perhaps, near a construction site. The underlying hum was unacceptable. Lovely Surprise #2: “The Echo.”

My hero-husband (a new hire at Skidmore College) presented my dilemma to Professor Joel Brown, chair of the Music Department. Via e-mail, Joel invited me to use a practice room on campus. Lovely Surprise #3: “Northern Hospitality” (or, “Padded Room for M’Lady”).

As soon as I got everything set up on the piano of the elegant, acoustically superior practice room at Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, the campus ground crew’s Annual Leaf Obliteration Campaign started up outside, directly below the window. Perfect. Imagine the hum from my un-padded studio at home, times about a thousand. I called Duopress and offered to rush outside and whack them with my purse old-lady style, but my friend Mauricio talked me down. (“Please don’t do that, Violet.”) We decided to opt for patience. Lovely Surprise #4: “The Industrial Leaf Blower.” 

Joel BrownSeveral weeks after the recordings were finally wrapped up and safely in the hands of Duopress, my hero-husband took our family to Beatlemore Skidmania, a musical event at the Zankel, in which a variety of music students (solo artists and groups) performed Beatles songs. What. A. Delight. The final band to take the stage was comprised of profs from the music department—including, as it turned out, the esteemed Professor Joel Brown! His performance of Rocky Raccoon on the electric guitar was, well… electrifying. Especially for me, the old lady in the third row who was not only enjoying the music but also putting a face to the name. That’s him, on the left. Lovely Surprise #5: “Joel Brown, Literal Rock Star.”

Yesterday, Duopress called to tell me that the audio books are finally available. So there you have it, Class. Lovely Surprise #6: “Nook Books, Narrated by Violet Lemay.”

The moral of the story? Persevere! When you expect good things to happen, they will… and you’ll probably get to meet some really cool people along the way.

p.s. Again, Joel… Thank you!

____________________

Now available from Duopress at Barnes and Noble for the Nook:

3 covers

New York Baby (by Puck, illustrated and narrated by Violet Lemay); 123 Beach, A Cool Counting Book (by Puck; illustrated by Rey David Rojas, narrated by Violet Lemay; and My Foodie ABC, A Little Gourmet’s Guide (by Puck, illustrated by Violet Lemay).

 

enjoy the rain

28 Dec

Whatever can go wrong will go wrong, at the worst possible time and in the worst possible way. ~ Murphy’s Law

combustion*

Moments after receiving my very first really big illustration assignment — a semi-rush job — the phone rang again. This time, it was the supervisor of my (despised) day job calling to tell me to pack my bags, I was being flown to Baltimore for the weekend. The spread I’d just been assigned was due on Monday. But now, rather than happily spending the weekend in my cozy studio painting my first big splashy professional spread, I was going to be sitting in coach en route to Baltimore, where I had to work a silly trade show. Why, Universe? Why, why, why, why, WHY?!!!

My brain spontaneously combusted on the spot.

I packed my paint pots and my sour attitude and hit the road, completing the assignment in the wee hours at the Baltimore Hampton Inn. Did I make the deadline? Yes. Did the art look great? Well… yes! Did I enjoy the experience?

What kind of question is that? Of course I did not enjoy the experience. I should have been able to enjoy it, but Fate stepped in to make sure that I would be miserable instead. I was stressed beyond belief, and exhausted. If memory serves, I caught a really nasty cold on the plane coming home, so I had an irritating two-week reminder of the whole awful experience. Thanks a lot, Universe.

That was seventeen years ago.

Since then, Universe has not stopped trying to thwart my efforts to make my deadlines. All manner of interferences have cropped up. Exploding hard drives. Feverish children. Hurricanes. (Did you know, when you live on an island, you and everyone else on yours and all surrounding islands — and all residents of the state of Florida, to your south — are forced, at the mere threat of a hurricane, to evacuate, all at the same time, on the same highway? Even when you are racing against an impossible deadline, making art for a 32-page picture book out of cut tissue paper. Oh, yes.)

rain*

Last summer, while I was in the middle of a pressing four-book deadline, my family decided to move! On Life’s List of Traumatic Experiences, moving is number two, just below death of a spouse. It’s a big deal.

Did I make the deadline? Yes. Did the art look great? Youbethcha.

Here’s the million dollar question: Did I enjoy the experience?

Quite a bit, actually. It was tumultuous, but fun.

It’s taken almost two decades, Class, but I have finally accepted the fact that the world will never be a perfect place. Trouble waits around every corner. Here’s the trick: refuse to let it bother you.

It’s not sunny all of the time, so buy an umbrella that’s so cute you can’t wait to use it, and some adorable water-proof boots. Either that, or learn to enjoy getting wet.

One handful of peaceful response is better than two fistfuls of worried work.  Ecclesiastes 4:6, The Message (Eugene Peterson)

diamond v glass {opinions}

15 Dec

diamond*

Asking questions is a good habit, and it’s easy to do. The real work begins once you’ve gathered a bunch of answers. Sorting advice is tough, like distinguishing diamonds from clear Swarovski crystals. Everyone’s got an opinion, it seems, and often the opinions of people you respect conflict.

Students and new graduates struggle to weigh advice from their peers and professors, parents and professionals. I see it all of the time. Here are a few tips from your old Auntie Violet, to help ease your mind.

  • Only ask advice from people you respect. When choosing advisors, look for people who are doing, not just talking.
  • Especially in art, too many cooks spoil the stew. When you try to please everyone, you lose your edge, so stop trying to make everybody happy! Get comfortable with the fact that some people won’t like the decisions that you make. That’s just a normal part of life.
  • When opinions conflict, there are probably multiple legitimate options on the table. You can’t listen to all of them. Go with your gut.
  • When a variety of well-meaning people all give you the same advice, pay attention. Maybe you’ll still go the other way, but advice like that is worthy of consideration.
  • Making mistakes is a big part of the process, so don’t be stymied by indecision. Give yourself the grace to fail. And when you do, don’t beat yourself up. Nobody is right all of the time.
  • Always accept advice with appreciation and respect—even when you think it is terrible. The person who gave it is probably trying to help you, so be kind.
  • When ASKED for advice, take care with your response. Your words matter, a lot. They really do.

Here’s the crazy thing about advice: In the end, nobody can tell you what to do, because no one else IS  you! What worked for someone else (different personality, different circumstances) may not work in your case at all. Wisdom is earned, you have to fight to get it, and you’ll get a little scraped up along the way—so make sure to include some compassionate, Band-Aid carrying friends in your board room full of advisors.

I owe my success to having listened respectfully to the very best advice, and then going away and doing the exact opposite. ~ G. K. Chesterton

 

thank-FULL

21 Nov

When I was young, I free-lanced as a theater designer in NYC. My actor friends dreamed about landing roles in soap operas, because the work would be some kind of steady. The principle is the same in illustration: repeat business offers a glimmer of stability. Clients who offer regular work are the flying buttresses that hold up the cathedral of a successful free-lance career.

Regular jobs shape your portfolio, so the fit has to be good. Sometimes it isn’t. I had to walk away from one of the higher-profile jobs of my life (2 illos monthly for a prominent national magazine) because of artistic differences. Thankfully, all of my other experiences in this arena have been wonderful. Some of my repeat clients call every year or two, others much more often; no matter the frequency, I am grateful for each and every one.

I have illustrated an advice column for a nursing magazine for more than a decade (thank you, Lisa!), and am currently making covers for books 11, 12, 13 and 14 for my favorite publisher (fourteen books—thank you, Duopress!!). My friends at the Baltimore Sun (thank you, Jay!) have kept me busy semi-regularly for the past few years as well.

In future posts, Class, I’m happy to suggest ways to get and keep clients, but this is Thanksgiving!

Today I simply want to say, T H A N K   Y O U!

joy

14 Nov

“Whatever feeling, whatever state you have at the time of the stroke will register in the stroke.” ~ Robert Henri

Class, if you struggle in your work, we can usually tell. If you hate your topic, it shows. Love it, and we sense that, too.

Of course, illustrators don’t get to pick their paid assignments; that’s the nature of commercial art. Oh sure, when jobs are storming in it’s easy for an artist to turn down the ones she’d rather not do. I have often said no to illustration jobs—usually  because of an over-crowded schedule, but also, occasionally, because I didn’t believe in the content.

Alternately, sometimes jobs that seem wonderful can but turn out to be a headache. That can happen when the illustrator and art director end up having conflicting visions for the assignment or a basic personality conflict, or late breaking news changes the layout of the paper at the very last minute and the beautiful horizontal illo you’ve labored over for a day and a half is now vertical (seriously?!?) and you have an hour and ten minutes to make the change.

Anything can happen in the process of a paid job. You are hired to make the art, but your design decisions are trumped by those of art directors and editors. On the other hand, when you have time to make self-directed projects for your portfolio, you are in complete control. Use that freedom! Choose topics that make your heart sing, because you can! Create lots of what you do well, and of what you love to do. Sell your joy.

I made the above coffee shop image for fun years ago because I love coffee and coffee shops, and, at the time, I really enjoyed incorporating pattern into my work. My sweet friend Kim Rosen graciously offered a bit of art direction. (Future blog topics: collaboration / two heads are better than one / working with friends makes life fun.)

When I ask clients to send me samples from my website of the work they love and want me to emulate in the jobs for which they are hiring me, more than any other image, they send me the coffee shop. I’ve gotten a ton of work from this one image, including My Foodie ABC, the first of more than ten books I have now illustrated for Duopress.

Several years ago at a college illustration conference, Yuko Shimizu told us how clients began asking her to include elements from her personal work into paid assignments. A quick look at her amazing website shows this principle in action.

Use your personal work to develop as an artist, but also to attract work that you will enjoy doing. In other words, don’t make business art if you’d rather draw dinosaurs. As my friend Jillian‘s dad (Jimbo) likes to say, Do what you love, and you’ll always love what you do. We sense your joy in creating; use that pervasive sense of joy to your advantage.

Joy is highly attractive.

Darren & Jane

7 Nov

If you’re serious about pursuing a career in illustration, you’ve done your research. You know there are plenty of paid portfolio sites out there, and agencies, too.

Portfolio sites generate income for the people who run them. They are selective but are generally happy to take on new illustrators, because in so doing they make a profit. In exchange for an upfront or pay-as-you-go fee, they will display your work among many other portfolios, all under one roof. The result: one-stop shopping for art buyers. Most illustrators participate in at least one paid portfolio site. It’s a normal part of promotion.

Agencies are an entirely different matter. An agent represents the members of her group, handling contract negotiation and the bulk of promotion, for a percentage of any and all assignments that roll in as a result. Signing with an agent is the beginning of a business partnership. It’s almost like getting married.

Generally, it is far easier to participate on a paid portfolio site than it is to sign with an agent.

This is where Darren and Jane come in.

Class, meet Darren Di Lieto, creator of The Little Chimp Society and Hire an Illustrator!. Darren (who never sleeps, apparently) is also Anna Goodson‘s webmaster, which is where I met him. While repped by AGM for ten wonderful years, I sent desperate e-mail messages to Darren asking, for the bajillionth time, How do I log in again? and Why isn’t my image loading properly?

Despite this, somehow or other, Darren and I are friends—a fact of which I am very proud. Darren and wife Jane love illustration and illustrators, and have for the most part devoted their lives to furthering our cause.

The Little Chimp Society is a free illustration news portal. If you are not participating, you should! Creating a new piece of art for your website constitutes as news, so don’t be intimidated. Submit your story, and watch your site stats jump as a result.

Hire an Illustrator is sort of an anomaly in the realm of illustration portfolio websites. Like so many others— The Alternative PickDirectory of Illustration, IllustrationMundo and etc.—it is a paid portfolio site. HAI’s rates are manageable, even when you’re first starting out, which is great. But here’s the kicker: Darren and Jane offer the added benefit of sending out postcard packs to a list of clients—a perk usually provided by an agency, not a portfolio site. HAI will even handle the printing of the card for you. And, unlike an agency, HAI does not take a percentage of any work generated by direct mail.

In short, Class, we owe Darren and Jane a mighty, collective THANK YOU! Check out HAI and the LCS, and tell them Violet sent ya.

__________

Dear Jane: Thanks for your every edit to the posts I submit to the LCS, and for your patience and kindness over at HAI. As I have never seen your lovely face, I thought it best not to attempt a likeness in the above illustration. But oh, I know you are there. We all do.

sidestepping obstacles

31 Oct

Build upon strengths, and weaknesses will gradually take care of themselves. ~ Joyce C. Lock

Illustration is a tough business. Super-duper. When I teach illustrators who are about to graduate and face the real world — students who have had years to explore, practice, and hone a style — I ask them to assess their portfolios, and list their personal strengths and weaknesses.

Everybody excels here and struggles there, but not everyone is equally self-aware. Self-awareness is a sign of maturity. In a tough marketplace, it is essential for survival.

When you are honest about your strengths and weaknesses as an artist, you can become your best self.

Life coaches and business experts often instruct us to identify our weaknesses so that we can strengthen them. I prefer to spend time strengthening my strengths. It’s not that I’m lazy. It’s just that I know who I am, and who I am not.

We are creative people, Class. Let’s find clever ways around our personal obstacles.

I’ve already confessed my lack of skill when it comes to color. The easy way around this obstacle is to use existing palettes created by people whose color sense is better than my own. When I use a proven palette, there is no struggle evident in my work. I learn as I go, and make fewer lackluster illustrations in the process.

Nathalie Dion told a similar story to my class via Skype several years ago; she has kindly given permission for me to retell it here.

When she was a student, Nathalie struggled with perspective drawing. As a result she all but eliminated perspective from her artwork, a decision that impacted her style in a profound way. Mme Dion found a path around her obstacle, a decision which went on to pay big dividends.

In both cases — my struggle with color and Nathalie’s, with perspective — we imposed style rules on our work. When I add color to a drawing, I force myself to stay within the palette I have chosen. This can be challenging, but the results are exciting, because the limitation forces me to make choices that wouldn’t even occur to me otherwise. The same is true for my sweet friend Nathalie, whose self-imposed challenge forces her to find interesting and clever ways to suggest depth, with limited use of perspective.

Know your weak areas and use them for good. Some obstacles are put in your way to make the path you travel more interesting.

__________

The Big Breakup (above), by Nathalie Dion. Nathalie is represented by Anna Goodson Management, Inc. See her entire portfolio on Anna’s site by clicking here.