Tag Archives: illustration

Health & Happiness

24 Jul

draw wellIllustrating children’s books is a dream career, but drawing all day every day for months at a time can take a toll on the body.

In my twenty-plus years as an illustrator I’ve experienced an array of ailments, all of which were surprising, inconvenient and painful. Also: completely preventable. If only I had known, people. If only I had known.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Rather than wasting my mistakes, in the spirit of prevention, I thought I’d write a series of posts about illustration health hazards.

Protect Your Money-makers

Xray 1

If you spend tons of time clicking away at a keyboard, mouse or track pad and your wrist is not at an ergonomically agreeable angle, you may have experienced the tingling and numbness of carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS). Try raising your chair, resting your feet on a box (necessary with higher seat), and buying a mouse pad with an attached wrist support. Not enough? Become ambidextrous! Training my non-dominant hand to perform simple tasks, including most of my non-artistic clicking, helped me out a lot.

Until.

A few years ago I abandoned traditional media and started working digitally. Millions of brushes and effects are now at my disposal, all created with my trusty Apple Pencil – and all created using the same motion. All day, every day.

For months.

Hello, Tendinitis

xray-2.png

Not to be confused with CTS, tendinitis is distinguished by pain. The under-side of the thumb and wrist can feel tender, achy, and over-worked. Bending the hand back sends lightning bolts through the forearm, forcing amateur yogis like me to attempt one-armed downward dogs—a practice fraught with perils of its own.

The symptoms of tendinitis are worse when the sun goes down.  In fact, it was in the middle of the night when I first realized that my hand and wrist—which had been sore for longer than I care to admit—were more than merely tired. I was jolted awake by an innocent mid-sleep stretch which caused not only pain, but also a horrible creaking in my forearm. It was as if the stretchy stuff in there had crumbled like an old rubber band.

Not a good feeling, people. Not good at all.

And you thought illustrating children’s books was all puppies and fairy dust. Ha!

Hello, Stretches

stretch

Luckily, help abounds. Youtube is full of videos that teach many helpful stretches to ease and even cure tendinitis. I found a few stretches that worked so well for me, I made them part of my daily routine. Now, every hour I break for fifteen minutes to stretch my wrist and rest. Bonus: Leaving the desk at regular intervals benefits the demeanour as well as the wrist—and nurtures creativity, too!

Hello, Gloves

Tommie CopperWhen I started complaining about aches and pains in my hands several years ago, my amazing husband sprang into action and bought a pair of Tommie Copper compression gloves. Many experts dismiss the healing properties of copper and magnets and all of that; all I know is, the glove helped. A lot. Maybe it’s just the compression, or the simple fact that wearing a glove helped warm my perpetually ice-cold hand.

fur folded

After adopting the glove as my work uniform, I bought some Thinsulate fingerless gloves, and also a pair of frivolous furry ones, but both were failed experiments; warm, sure, but too puffy on the palm-side. The puff and fluff restricted my range of motion, making it impossible to draw. A shame, especially about the furry ones—which seem very “War and Peace” to me. I was really hoping those would have worked, but… nyet.

oliver twist

When my sleek Tommie Copper gloves went missing for a few weeks last winter I snipped the fingers off a cheap black knit pair, which turned out to be a quality substitute. I still wear my “Oliver Twist” gloves when I’m at my desk during the chilly months. They work great!

Hello, Brace

braceWearing a brace designed to restrict range of motion (rather than designed for compression) has helped me quite a bit, too. Drawing while wearing the brace is impossible, but it’s the perfect way to keep my wrist properly aligned while sleeping.

Hello, Doctor

Xray 4

In addition to stretching, my doc prescribed OTC anti-inflammatories and recommended using ice-packs before bed. All of this has helped not only my wrist, but also my street cred. Between the fingerless gloves and icepacks on my hands at night, I’m feeling a lot like a boxer. 🙂

If you’re suffering with work-related pain in your hands or wrists, get professional help.  Talk to your doctor, see a physical therapist, and do your prescribed stretches. You’re an artist and you want to keep creating as long as possible. Take good care of those beautiful hands!

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Violet Lemay is not a doctor. Rather, she illustrates and sometimes writes books for children. You can see her work by clicking here.

 

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delicious irony

3 Sep

Last February I was busy making art for several duopress books, including  Yummy Food Doodles, which, at long last, is available in bookstores. Hooray!

YFD_Cover_Med

This is an exciting announcement deserving of fancy hoopla, but all I have to offer is a blog post—so I thought I’d take the opportunity to share a little about me, my association with my favorite publisher duopress, and this project’s history—in celebration, and just for fun.

ficus

first, a bit about me

My husband, who is extremely witty, likes to compare me to a ficus.

He hugs me and says, “My ficus.” Sweet, right?

Don’t be fooled. A ficus is lovely, for sure, but aesthetics factor only slightly in his analogy. As a rule, the ficus is so delicate that its leaves pop off whenever you move its pot. The ficus is super-sensitive, and that is his point.

We’ve been together for nineteen years, so I can’t exactly argue. To know me is to love me, and he loves me very much, despite my finicky nature. My skin is sensitive—I can’t be anywhere near poison ivy, oak or sumac without breaking out in a rash. It’s true, I don’t even have to touch it. Poof! Rash. My eyes are sensitive—no bad art, please; it keeps me up at night. And my stomach—my poor, poor stomach. About my gut, I could write a book.

Technically I have I.B.S., a title I avoid because it connotes all manner of disgusting imagery. Frankly, I feel that is nobody’s business. (If you want our friendship to continue, don’t make that into a pun.) After years of trying to come up with a better descriptive for my bad digestion, “sensitive” is the only word that sticks. There are entire groups of food that I have to avoid, and I don’t eat much of anything in a single sitting. I can’t, because I have a sensitive stomach. That’s all anyone needs to know. It’s annoying, and maybe even a little sad, but as far as medical issues go, at least it can be easily managed. And unlike most of my peers, I don’t have to worry about cholesterol. As a result of my health problem, I am actually super healthy! Kind of ironic, don’t you think?

and now, about the food books

Here’s another dose of irony: The girl with a sensitive stomach is developing a habit of making art for books about food. (Another topic about which I could write a book: God’s sense of humor.)

Violet InterviewThis is a still shot of me trying to make a video promo for My Foodie ABC, the first book that I illustrated for  duopress. (By the way, I hired a film student to help with that project. After months of struggling he wasn’t able to deliver, which made my stomach lurch and gave me an opportunity to practice forgiveness.)

and, the author!

My Foodie ABC was written by Puck, who is actually Mauricio Velázquez de León. Puck writes specifically for kids, but Mauricio writes specially about food for Saveur magazine, the late Gourmet magazine, and the food sections for many Lonely Planet books (including the upcoming The World’s Best Spicy Food). Yum!

MF_C-E

My Foodie ABC is charming, educational, and will definitely make you hungry. I made the art and also laid out the colors, textures, patterns and scans on every spread. Whenever I open it, my sensitive eyes are delighted. We did a great job with that book.

placemats_bookNext came My Foodie ABC Placemats, also penned by Puck. The placemats book was equally beautiful; as a bonus, it was interactive. Recently My Foodie ABC Placemats went out of print, which is sad, but it paved the way for duopress’s hugely successful DOODLE book series. duopress has produced eight DOODLE books, with more on the way.

So, that about brings us up to date.

8 doodle books

Yummy Food Doodles

YFD_Cover_MedAs I mentioned earlier, last winter, we made Yummy Food Doodles: words by Puck, art by me, and design by Charla Pettingill. We’ve been promoting it for a while because the book debuted at Book Expo America in NYC last  spring and has been available on-line ever since, but it is now available in bookstores—an announcement worthy of hoopla, indeed!

Click here to get a copy for your favorite foodie today, or, better yet, order it from your local bookstore! And… bon appétit!

pasta

collaborate

26 May

ISS_Cover

A while back, after having made several books together, my publisher friend Mauricio Velázquez de León (owner of duporess) invited me to a Skype lunch. While he sat at an outdoor cafe somewhere in Baltimore with a tasty-looking sandwich, I ate a salad in a Savannah Panera, and we talked about this and that.

Before he let me go, he asked what made me tick, artistically—a very interesting question that threw me off guard, and really made me think. I love to draw cities, and kids, and animals…. but if there was one thing we weren’t already doing that made my artist’s heart sing, it had to be SHOES.

During the rest of that Skype lunch and for a long while after, we talked about shoes, and how to make them into a book. We shot ideas back and forth leisurely for quite a while (one year? two??), and then somehow or other “The Shoe Book” made it onto a tentative production schedule. We were actually gonna do it. So, I had to write it.

love_lossNow, I’m not a writer, I am an illustrator, but I can string a few words together in a pinch. With a vague idea in my head based on the amazing classic Love, Loss, and What I Wore, a book I had read years earlier, I spent a week or two typing up a charming little manuscript. Mauricio called the draft “lovely” or something to that effect, and, despite my bent toward self-deprication, I agreed with him. It was a lovely manuscript. (In keeping with my amateur writer status, it was largely auto-biographical—so predictable!) But it wasn’t a book for duopress. Not yet. After thinking about it for a while, he came back with suggestions.

Duopress publishes innovative books for curious children. “The Shoe Book” had to be an innovative. Maybe even interactive. My original manuscript was very nice, but there was nothing innovative about it.

I started over, converting the words into an activity book. Letting go of my original approach wasn’t easy, but I trusted Mauricio and forged ahead, trying to combine his ideas and requirements for the project with my initial inspiration. The result was more than a manuscript for an activity book, because it had a voice: there was a story, told by a little girl. Her name changed a few times but eventually became Isabella. Page by page Isa shared not only her love of shoes, but her obvious love for her family and friends, and for the process of design.

“The Shoe Book” was becoming not only innovative, but special!

partySCANWith a working manuscript I made some art samples, including this painting. Although this watercolor didn’t come close to making it into the book, it helped me find the look of the book. Just part of the process.

Mauricio and I went back and forth revising the manuscript too many times to count, making changes even as I was up to my elbows in ink chasing that drop-dead-absolutely-final art deadline. It had to happen that way, because the book was innovative—something totally new and different—and every spread generated more creative ideas. Input from duopress’s copy editor, distributor, family friends, and our beloved designer Charla Pettingill also helped form the final product.

The result: Isabella’s Shoe Studio, which will be available this fall. We will be promoting the book this weekend at Book Expo America.

My name is on the cover, but Isabella’s Shoe Studio was most definitely a group effort, a true collaboration. The project evolved,  and we rolled with it. What a pleasure.

__________

The story about how this doodle storybook came to life has two morals:

First, for publishers: Get to know your team and encourage them to explore their passions. You’ll be glad you did. (It may interest you to know that Mauricio only owns 3 pairs of shoes, and two are exactly the same! If he hadn’t asked what made me tick, it’s doubtful that duopress would have a shoe book on the horizon.)

Second, for my fellow artists: Don’t be afraid to collaborate. Good ideas can always be improved, and they may die if they aren’t allowed to be shaped by smart people who are in the position to do something with them.

__________

It’s better to have a partner than go it alone. Share the work, share the wealth. And if one falls down, the other helps, but if there’s no one to help, tough!

Ecclesiastes 4:10, from The Message by Eugene Peterson

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.

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.

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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.

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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.