The Art of Art #hashtags 2019

Instagram is such a great place for artists. It’s an amazing visual platform for you to get out and share your artwork. But the hardest thing on social networks is getting noticed. This is something I am fighting with myself. Working hard, posting every day trying to find people who appreciate my work. There’s a lot of things that go into this but one of the most important things I’ve found is using hashtags.

What’s a Hashtag?
This may be a stupid question to some, and a very important one to others. Here’s a brief rundown. Basically, think of a hashtag as a keyword or something people would search for. Formally the pound sign, the hash (#) sign is what starts a hashtag. It lets social media websites and applications, like Twitter and Instagram, know that you’re searching for a specific subject. Clicking on a hashtag on a social network lets you see a post that mentions the subject in real time.

So now you have something else to add to your plate, finding the right combinations of hashtags to get to your desired audience. What a pain. So I’ve started composing a list of hashtags to use and I thought I’d share them with you. But there’s a few more things I think you might need to know before getting to the list. Things that I didn’t know when I first started using hashtags. If you’re just looking for the hashtags, scroll down just a little bit farther to find them. Here’s a few more tips that I found helpful.

30 hashtag max per post on instagram
I didn’t even know this was a thing until I went crazy and started hashtaging everything. You can only use 30 hashtags per post on Instagram. Instagram will give you a notification when you’ve used to many. But just because you can use 30 hashtags doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Some people frown upon you using too many hashtags and what the right amount to use is highly debated. My suggestion would be to test how many works best for you. That’s not a very good answer but it’s kind of a case-by-case basis. What your audience responds best to.

Where to put your hashtags?
When I first started using hashtags I filled up my caption section with a ton of hashtags. It wasn’t very pleasant to look at and honestly it looked like I was spamming the system. 5 to 10 hashtags in your caption section looks OK to me. If you’d like to add more you can always put your hashtags in the comments section of your post. It works exactly the same but doesn’t clutter up your image. Once you’ve posted your image you can go back into the comment section and continue adding more. Honestly, this looks way better than a caption with 30 hashtags in it.

Keep your tags relevant
I find myself doing this all the time. Over analyzing if a hashtag is correct for what I’m posting. For instance, a popular one that I like to use is #wip (work in progress). I use the tag when I am still working on a concept doodle but want to share my progress. So if I’m posting final artwork it’s not a relevant tag. Just something to keep in mind when you’re sharing. 

Is there a place where I can find the right art hashtags for me?
Yes, there are several options on where you can find popular hashtags. You can search directly using Instagram’s search. Create a new post and start typing in a hashtag. As you’re typing Instagram will auto fill suggestions as you’re typing. Helpful thing about doing it this way is you can see how many other people have used the same hashtag as you. There are also a couple of websites you can use to discover more relevant hashtags. and RiteTag are helpful sites that can provide you with analysis and other related hashtags for what you’re searching for.

And now here are the hashtags that I’ve been using when posting my artwork. It’s not a perfect list but it’s a place to start. I’ve set them up nice and neat so that you can just copy and paste them into your post or just paste them into a Notes app so you have easy access to them next time you’re sharing your image online. Remember! Keep your tags relevant to what your sharing!

General art #
Here are some very basic hashtags to get you going. These are catchall art hashtags that pretty much could cover anything you’re posting online.
#art #illustration #drawing #draw #artist #sketch #sketchbook #sketchbookart #artsy #instaart #creative #instaartist #artoftheday #justdraw #wip #artlife #dailysketches #sketchdaily #sketching #artnerd

Instagram Artist #
Since Instagram is such a visual social network there are specific hashtags for artists who want to share their artwork only on Instagram.
#instaart #artistoninstagram #instagramartist #illustragram #illustratorsofinstagram #instapainting #artistsofig #artistsofinstagram #instagramart 

Digital art #
Digital painting has a huge following on social media so when you’re sharing artwork that you’ve created digitally here’s a few tags that are helpful.
#digitalpainting #digitaldrawing #digitalart #digitalillustration #digitaldrawing #digital_art #digitalsketch #digitaldoodle #digitalartist #digitalartwork #photoshopart #conceptdesign #characterdesign #tabletdrawing #tabletpainting

Traditional art #
If you’re into keeping it old-school here are some hashtags for those of you who take your sketchbook everywhere.
#sketchoftheday #sketchbook #sketchbookart #sketching #sketchbookdrawing #dailysketches #sketchdaily #justdraw #practicedrawing 

Comic Art #
There’s a ton of comic book fan online. Here’s a few hashtags that are used to find people interested in comic book art.
#comicbookartist #indiecomic #comicstyle #sequentialart #digitalcomics

Visual Development #
The entertainment industry is a huge market. There’s a ton of people out there interested in the artwork that goes into the artwork for video games movies and television.
#conceptart #conceptualart #conceptual #conceptdesign #visualdevelopment #characterillustration #characterdesigner #characterart #characterdesign #characterconcept #gameart #videogameart

Using hashtags on social media is a great way to increase the viewership of your artwork. Lots of people who would never see your work can finally get a chance if you use the right hashtag. It’s a great way to build your following and potentially a good way to get new eyes on your work. I’ve personally gotten several new clients from social media – People who would have never seen my work if I wasn’t sharing my art and tagging it to target the right viewers.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Creating a Square Up Online Art Store

I’ve been sending out invoices to clients using Square for years now. It’s easy to use and they only take 2.75% for online transactions. It’s not great to lose additional revenue, but it’s really efficient. My clients can pay via credit card and I get my payment within 1 to 2 business days. But when most People, me included, think of Square they think of the company that gives you a little card reader for your smart phone so you can take orders at conventions or at small mom-and-pop shops. Most don’t mention that they offer a free online e-commerce platform for you to showcase your goods and services. The best part is you can create a store in just a few minutes and Squares only cut is the 2.75% transaction fee. With no monthly maintenance fees, this seems like one of the most cost-effective ways for artists to sell there work online. Other companies like Paypal charge 2.9% plus $0.30 per transaction and another online retailer, Etsy, charges a $0.20 fee when listing a item and a 3.5% transaction fee on the item’s sale price. When you’re dealing in low-cost items SquareUp seems to be a fairly cost-effective solution.


So how does this help me as an artist?

Well, I recently created my own online store using SquareUp. Last year I attended the Rose city Comic Convention here in Portland and many people ask me if they could purchase prints and other items from me online. Sadly, my answer last year was, no, but this year I’m ready to go. I found creating a stored with SquareUp to be fairly simple, but some of the more advanced options I used were a little more intricate. That’s what I’d like to talk to you about today, some of the more advanced options. Like I mention earlier, creating a store with them is easy. First thing you need to do is create an account with SquareUp. Once you’ve entered in all your information and linked your account to your bank you can begin creating a store. I found setting up a basic store to be fairly simple. The thing that took me the longest was creating the images and writing descriptions for all the items on my store. If you’d like to learn how to set up the store check out Squares help page for all the information.


Now that you’re all set up with your account and a store I’d like to talk to you about the more complex part of the store “Modifiers.” Modifiers, in the case of an art store allows you to do more customizable commissions. For instance, if someone would like a sketch with a single character in it there is a set price, but if they would like more than one character they can select a different option and the price will adjust accordingly.


To create a modifier, go to the Items tab of your online Square Dashboard. To the left of the word items will be a list of options. The second option is “Modifiers” select this tab. Once on that page click the blue “Create Modifier set” button. Now begin entering the Modifier’s information. In my case I entered information for having my patrons be able to select a different paper size. The options included 6×8, which is the default size, or I created two other options; 9×12 or 11×17. Each has a different additional cost associated with it. I did the same for characters and then clicked save. Go back to the Modifiers tab, click the “Apply Set to Items,” button and apply your newly created modifier to the items you would like it applicable to. When you’re finished, click “Apply to Items.” I created different modifiers for digital commissions and regular hand-drawn commissions Each having different layers of complexity. For instance, a digital commission would have a color option which adds quite a bit more cost to the commission. Once you’ve created all the options you would like, go preview your store. Make sure everything looks right and then start marketing it to your followers.


It’s worked out great for me so far, but I have seen a few drawbacks to this service. The first is that there’s no way to sell digital goods. You can sell the item and then email people a download code but other than that there is no other way yet. Another drawback is marketing. Other sites like Etsy will place your items in the searchable database where people can find them easily using the right keywords. Square doesn’t have such a function. The marketing side of it is left up to you. And the other drawback which I have not experienced myself, but read about online was that Square can sometimes freeze your account. For more information about these occurrences, my suggestion would be to do a web search for them.

So far my experience with Square’s online e-commerce site has been really good. The system for setting up the store was very easy and since I was already using their service most of the account setup was already done.

You can check out the store I created and the Modifiers I made at

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Schoolism Live San Francisco 2015 – Day 2

After an amazingly full day one at the Schoolism Live in San Francisco, day two began with me running behind. The BART, Bay Area Rapid Transit, doesn’t run on its normal schedule on Sundays so I was late arriving at the conference. Instead of being 10 rows from the front I ended up being three rows from the back. Besides being in the back of the auditorium it looked to be a great day at the conference with some great presenters. The agenda for the day went as follows;

Day 2
TBA with Iain McCaig

Wesley Burt (9:00am – 12:00am)

Day two began with Wesley Burt and for this workshop he focused on Drawing Characters. He began his talk about drawing characters by walking us through some of the projects he had work on and the characters he had designed for feature films. He showed us some of his character designs for Cobra Commander for the new G.I. Joe movie. He also helped design some of the new Transformers in the fourth installment of the movie franchise as well as many other images (Thor, Batman Arkham origins, and The Sims 4). His demo also walked us through his illustrative process. It was amazing to watch him draw characters. He did it so effortlessly it seem to flow so freely out of his hand. He did several rough sketches and finally settled on a anthropomorphic cat creature.


He spent probably about half of his three hours getting the under drawing just right. He talked about using basic shapes to design his characters like circles, squares and triangles. Once he had his under drawing to a place that he liked, he quickly began coloring it by using the hue and saturation adjustment to swiftly color his drawing. While he was drawing, he also shared some of his process while working with clients. Normally the first round he sends the client is 4 to 6 rough sketches of the character followed by a round of revisions and his third round is normally a colored image. He continued to talk all the while finishing up his drawing. Check out the images below to see how it turned out.

Image snagged from Wesley’s Tumblr

Karla Ortiz (1:00pm – 4:00pm)

After lunch was Karla Ortiz, concept artist for Marvel Film Studios and clients like Wizards of the Coast, Ace Books, and Tor Books. Her presentation on character illustration began with a PSA. She has a problem with cussing so “if you have a problem with that get the F*#! out”. I didn’t, so I stayed. Once she got into her presentation she had a lot of “Things to keep in mind” like when creating a character illustration remember; the Face, Posing, clothing, presentation and light and location. She had many slides with “Things to keep in mind”. One of my favorite things that she said was “Art is a puzzle”. Most people don’t think of it this way, but I do and it made me smile.  Other good tips included; when a person is viewing your artwork they will normally focus on the face and then the hands. So be sure to get those right.


For her live demonstration she began with a mad libs that went something like “the blank huntress of the blank tribe is out hunting for food for her pet blank“. These blanks were filled in with Morgana, Mushroom and Bear cub respectively. She, unlike the other presenters, already had her under drawing completed so that we could see her coloring process and how she renders her image. She also used a lot of reference images but unlike the other artists she uses models for her illustrations. In this case she had a friend model the position she had in mind for this drawing and took several photographs of her standing in this pose. While she was rendering, she talked about the brushes that she uses in Photoshop. She uses a standard round brush, a round brush with texture and a square brush. While she was drawing she also played with the brush angle and roundness quite a bit.

Another thing that she talked about was artist injuries. Apparently she had been working herself too hard and hurt her wrist. The injury she suffered was a Repetitive strain injury (RSI). As she was drawing she had several warnings pop up on her screen telling her to stop and take a break. She gave us the names of this software – for Mac it’s call RSI Guard. Although she told us the name of the Windows equivalent, I don’t have it written down in my notes.

Iain McCaig (4:30pm – 6:30pm)

The final presenter of the day and conference was none other than Iain McCaig. He had quite possibly the best name for his presentation out of everybody with – TBA. I’m not sure why he named his presentation this but I’m pretty sure it’s because he wanted to keep it top secret. His workshop was probably the most lively and interactive of the bunch. Iain began by talking about his career and all the projects he’s worked on. The most interesting of all of these was his recollections of the Star Wars prequel movies. He talked about how he came up with the design for Darth Maul. George Lucas had challenged him with coming up with a new character like Darth Vader but not Darth Vader. Mr McCaig began designing new versions of the Sith Lord. He showed these ideas to George Lucas and none them stuck (Image below on the left). So he went back to the drawing board and thought about the most evil thing he could think of, a clown. He put a picture of a clown up on the screen. Everyone laughed. But then he explained how he took the face paint from a clown and instead of making it white he made a black and took the red cheeks and place them all around the face. The final design of Darth Maul is the image on the right.


I really enjoyed this story because it set up everything he wanted to get across in his presentation. Take something that’s already established and turn it on its head. He gave several more instances where he had applied this in his own career. He was asked to redesign fairies for Peter Pan but didn’t want to use the insect like fairies that had already been established. So he used lionfish as an inspiration for his fairies in this version of the story. Which leads us into the interactive portion of his presentation. We were tasked with redesigning an established franchise. He gave us several options to choose from, the room voted on which one they wanted and the rest of the workshop was spent fleshing out this new idea. The old franchise we were tasked to redesign was Beauty and the Beast. The first thing we needed to do to reimagine this property was to change the genre it was in. The room voted again and we settled on a horror movie set at a high school. We would shout out ideas and he would quickly sketch them on an overhead projector. The final story went something like this; Beauty, a boy who was the lead singer in the high school band, goes passed a haunted house and hears beautiful singing. The boy goes in and the beast, a girl ghost, is sitting there singing. The young boy falls in love with the girl’s singing but she won’t let him leave unless she takes him to the prom. That’s all I can remember. It was quite funny. Iain McCaig didn’t grow up in the United States, so the crowd had to explain to him what prom was and most of the concept of high school. His talk went over it’s time by about 40 minutes but I don’t think anybody wanted to tell the guy who created Darth Maul to stop. His presentation ended in a rush with him selecting two people from the audience that best represented beauty and the beast and he quickly drew them.


Main takeaways from this conference. Every single one of the presenters made it very clear that the foundation of your drawing is the most important thing and where you should spend the majority of your time. With out a good foundation you can paint like crazy, but you’ll still end up with a flawed illustration. Another thing I noticed is that every single one of the presenters did their paintings in Photoshop. Not that this is that’s strange it’s just I expected there to be a little bit of variety in the software used.

Overall this was a very good conference. Very inspiring and a lot of good information. I tried to share most of the memorable tips but there was definitely a lot more information given. I will definitely be attending next year.

Since I’m a Schoolism Alumni I can get you a small discount. If you’re interested follow the link here to get the discount code.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Schoolism Live San Francisco 2015 – Day 1

Today, July 18th, I was able to head to downtown San Francisco to go to a live Schoolism event. This workshop featuring some pretty amazing artists. I got a two day pass for this conference so I was able to learn from some icons of the entertainment industry. The weekend agenda went as follows;


Day 1
STORY ILLUSTRATION with Helen Mingjue Chen

Day 2
TBA with Iain McCaig

The first day began at 9 o’clock and I walked in about 20 minutes early. I got checked in and picked up my swag bag which had a water bottle in it and a few other Schoolism items. The event was already starting to fill up, so I found a spot about 10 rows back and got ready for the first workshop – Story Illustration with Helen Mingjue Chen. Helen began her 3 hour lecture by walking us through her career so far. From her start at Disney, working on movies like Wreck-It Ralph, PaperMan and Big Hero 6, and into her current position, as an Art director at Paramount. From there, she walked us through a short presentation on what she thinks about when telling a story through illustration. It was a good talk with a lot of good information. My big take away from this workshop was that you need to think of your illustrations for movies as quick reads. The moment you’re depicting will only be seen for a few seconds so the viewer needs to get the information you’re trying to tell in a very quick amount of time. The example she used was if someone had just passed away and you wanted to show the loneliness that the person is feeling you would put them in a room by themselves with all the loved ones old possessions surrounding them. A spot light from the door would highlight the character casting everything else in shadow.


Then she moved on to the live portion of her workshop where she did a live drawing of an environment scene that she came up with right on the spot. It was an image of two cities. One was upside down in the sky and the other was below. The city on the bottom was fairly normal but the upside down city in the sky had lots of Gothic cathedrals and felt much more old timeie. I thought for her just coming up with the image right off the top of her head it turned out well, but she didn’t seem to be particularly pleased with it. However, she did do a really cool trick when creating the lower city. When she created her perspective grid, the vanishing point was right in the middle of the image, and then she said she likes to “cheat”. Opening a new document she began drawing simple shapes that depict the city as if you were seeing it from the top down. These were just rough square shapes but when she put them back into her illustration she adjusted them to fit her perspective grid. It just gave her a starting point for her to quickly rough out the city. For me I’ve always had a hard time creating large cityscapes and this seems like a great way to get the illustration started quickly. I mentioned this to another attendee and they looked at me like “You don’t know that” so maybe I’m just a noob but, I thought it was a helpful tip.


She began working on the top city looking up plenty of reference for different Gothic cathedrals. When that was done she quickly ruffed out a character for the foreground and began adding lighting.

Next up was an hour long break for lunch and after that we returned to hear Ryan Lang talk about Color and Lighting for Illustration. This talk was similar to the first, but Ryan began his talk with a short YouTube clip that he said describes his illustration process. Here’s the video.

Similar to the first presentation, Ryan walked us through his career taking a look at movies he’s worked on like Disney’s PaperMan, Big Hero 6 and Wreck-It Ralph. Then he began walking us through a short presentation about his thought process for creating an illustration. This presentation had several very solid tips. He didn’t want to go as far as calling these rules but more like guidelines that you should keep in mind. In his talk, he said that most illustrations he creates are done in five values of gray or less. The guideline he gave was; 0% black, 30% black, 60% of black, 80% black, and 100% black. Another good tip he gave was if you look at the Photoshop color picker the left side of it is all gray. The top starts at a pure white and the bottom left half is 100% black. Anyone can see this just by looking at it but what he talked about that I hadn’t heard was about the other three sides. The bottom half is 100% black but the top half runs from white being in the upper left-hand corner then moving to a 50% value in the upper right corner. Of course you can change the color of this but I didn’t realize that the top right-hand corner was essentially 50% of a value. Then moving down from the upper right corner down to the lower right the value turns to 100% black. I never thought of the top right hand corner as a percentage of grays because the color changes depending on what shade you want.


Once his presentation ended he began showing us several images that he was going to use as reference for his live drawing demonstration. These images were of destroyed buildings which he was going to use as reference for a giant Mech standing on top of them.


He began his image by finding the lightest light of his drawing and the darkest dark and began roughing in the rest of his shades of color. Ryan did his value studies in color which I hadn’t seen before. Most people I’ve seen do their value studies working only in grays and adding the color later but Ryan worked differently. Doing his value studies in color. He worked on the rough value study for the better half of two hours and then finally began refining the image for the last 60 minutes. The image turned out really well. Ryan seem to be a pretty funny genuine guy. He turned his robot into a turtle mech which got a pretty big laugh from the crowd.

Snagged from Ryan Lang’s Instagram

The day began wrapping up with a half hour break and then the final presenter of the day was Nathan Fowkes. My mind was struggling to find room to hold any more information but Nathan had every intention of filling every last braincell I had. Which wasn’t a good thing, because I don’t know if any of you have ever heard Nathan Fowkes talk before, but this guy has a lot of knowledge to share. Which lead to a lecture that had a lot of information in a short amount of time. His lecture was about pictorial composition. He began this workshop more like an art history class and talked his way through old masters and how he applies what he learned from them to his own work doing visual development for movies. The majority of his talk was about unity with variety; big vs small, hard vs soft, dark vs light, active versus passive and saturated versus desaturated. Next he talked about how everything you see is made up of hue, saturation and value. The end of the presentation finished up with Nathan showing several videos about how you can take one illustration and change the mood of it just by changing the lighting. For instance he created a castle illustration and changed it to feel six different ways. The first was a very iconic lighting scheme with the light shining through the spires of the castle. Then he took the image in a different direction moving to something that was much more moody like a zombie film.


He then reworked the image to have a storm blowing in. To accentuate this he added a lightning strike hitting one of the castle’s towers. Finally, he finished up with a bright sunny “my little pony” version of the castle. I wish I could remember more about this presentation but my mind was on overload at this point. Sadly my notes didn’t really help. My brain and my hand weren’t communicating anymore, so they were just illegible scribbles.

Day one wrapped up with a group photo and a whole lot of really crammed brains.

Since I’m a Schoolism Alumni I can get you a small discount. If you’re interested follow the link here to get the discount code.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Blog Post to Audio File

Yesterday, I found something great using my Mac. I normally find many great articles online about how to improve my art – Everything from how to better market myself to a new trick in Photoshop. The problem is I never find the time to actually read these articles. I always open the post in a new tab in Safari with the best of intentions of going back and reading the article, but I never seem to find the time. So yesterday I had about 15 of these tabs open and was just about ready to close them all because I knew I was never going to read them when I had a thought. What if there was a way to convert these articles into an audio file that I could just listen to. I love listening to audiobooks while I work so this seem like a great idea, but how to do it. It turns out it’s easy, if you’re on a Mac.
On a Mac all you need to do is select the text you want read, using speech to text, and then click on the text holding the Control button. The normal control options show up and if you’re using OSX lion or higher in the dialog box will be a option called “Services” and under services will be another option that says “add to iTunes as a spoken track”. Click the option and another dialog box will pop-up asking you what you would like to save the file as, which voice you would like to use, and where you would like to save the file to. Click save and after a few seconds the text you had selected turns into a audio file inside iTunes for you to listen to at your leisure. I know the voices in OSX aren’t perfect to listen to, but it’s one way to get the information without having to sit down and find the time to read all these articles.


A few things to keep in mind when trying this. It needs to be an Apple application. I’ve got this trick to work in Safari, Preview using a PDF and TextEdit. I’m sure there are many more ways to do this but these are the Applications I use in my own personal workflow. I haven’t been able to try it in all applications, but I did try in Google Chrome and this option was not available when I selected the text. There’s probably a PC way to do this as well but since I’m on a Mac I haven’t done the research. If anybody knows of a way please let me know in the comments or write you’re own post, it’s fun.

I personally will use this for all the art articles I want to read, but when I told my wife about it she was super excited about using the same trick for all of the sites she frequents as well. I guess the Internet is full of loads of other information besides artist blog articles, who knew.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Creating a graphic novel: Thumbnails to Finished Art

My new all-ages graphic novel is now live at To give a little bit of insight into my process, I thought I would share some of my sketches and show the stages I go through in creating the artwork.

1. Writing/thumbnailing

I start with a story goal in mind, a short written outline, and a loose series of plot points that I write out on a plot diagram. Since I’m very much a visual thinker, the meat of my writing process involves thumbnailing out small sequences of images. I create scenes organically as I let the pictures lead my thought process on where a scene is going. I fill many pages with scenes and snippets of scenes. Then I go through them all and refine and combine these small scenes into thumbnailed pages as the story fits together in sections. This is a lengthy push and pull process, and I find this method helps me stumble upon a lot of interesting scenes and sequences I may not have thought of if I was writing words with the more logical side of my brain. As I thumbnail I also jot down little bits of dialogue in the margins, but sometimes the visuals will give me a good indication of the story at this point without getting overly detailed about dialogue. In the end, I eventually end up with a rough story pieced together from these small thumbnailed pages. At this stage I do a lot of moving of pages/scenes around, adding dialogue, and adjusting things until I’m happy with the story.


2. Penciling

Once I have the thumbnailed pages – these are usually drawn very small at 1.25″ x 2.5″ – I scan them and place them into Manga Studio. (See this blog post for details on how I set up my story and pages in Manga Studio). I enlarge the tiny thumbnails to actual page size, and then draw my pencils on a new layer using the thumbnails as a loose guide.

The following is a step by step process for two pages…

Hand drawn thumbnails:


Pencils in Manga Studio. All dialog and word balloons are placed at this stage:


Inks in Manga Studio:


Pages are then exported and colour flatting is done in Photoshop:


Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:


And that’s basically my process.

Also wanted to share some of my working/concept sketches. Here are a few cover concepts:


And the colour artwork for the covers. The cover I ended up using was the one on the far left:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:


Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:


Concept artwork:


I hope you enjoyed this behind the scenes look into my process.





About the author

  • Chris JonesCHRIS JONESContributor

    Chris Jones is a Canadian based children's illustrator. He has always been interested in telling stories visually, and his colorful style focuses on humor and expressiveness. A graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD), he has illustrated for several magazines and educational publishers. Chris is inspired by good music, good books, long walks, and generous amounts of coffee. Chris is a member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Posting schedule change to OUaS

Hello Dear Readers,

On August 22, 2013 I put Once Upon a Sketch on hiatus and in January we brought the site back with some wonderful new contributors. These new contributors were all willing to share their knowledge and experience with our readers. I personally enjoyed reading what they had to write each week and their posts not only inspired me but also helped me to become a better illustrator. I didn’t know how long we could keep this new format going with so many new factors involved and so many contributors. As the months have gone by people have become more and more busy and have had less time to contribute to the site. Bringing us to now when we no longer have enough contributors time to continue our normal output of posts each week. We knew we would not be able to keep up this format forever but tried to keep it going as long as we could. We knew there might be a day when we would have to make some changes to the site and that day is here. As of today we will be no longer posting twice a week on Mondays and Wednesdays and moving to a format that’s a little bit more sporadic. I will continue writing one post a week which will be posted to Once Upon a Sketch as well as my personal website. With the other contributors busy schedules they will be adding in their posts as well but it won’t be as structured as before. When they have time to write a post they will put it up both here and on their own personal sites. We are also playing around with some other ideas to keep our content fresh. Once we figure out these new ideas we will share this information with you.

Of course all the content that has been created on the site will continue to stay up for a long time. I hope people continue to use this site as a resource and it continues to help people grow and become better artists.

Norm Grock

Highlights from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference

Over the weekend of September 12-14, Nashville Tennessee hosted the Midsouth regional SCBWI conference. The faculty included editors, agents, and art directors from a variety of publishing houses plus writers and illustrators from the kid lit world. I always sound like a broken record but I really think joining and participating in SCBWI conferences are a must for illustrators trying to break into the kid lit biz. From all my pages of notes here are my top 5 from the sessions I attended:

1) Pay attention to all your characters and love your villain. Don’t relegate the secondary characters in your story to props. This was from keynote speech by Gennifer Choldenko, author of Al Capone Does My Shirts. From an illustrator perspective this means give the secondary characters just as much detail and expression as the main character.

2) Every tweet is in the Library of Congress. Whoa, what? This was from a session on social networking and building your brand with literary agent, Lauren MacLeod. What does it have to do with an illustration career? It means what you tweet could literally last longer than what you say or write anywhere else. Just something to keep in mind as we network online.

3) From Workman publishing director Daniel Nayeri’s session on “How To Make Interesting Art” I wrote down “nearly everything is art but not everything is interesting.” Nayeri urged artists to determine for themselves what the conversation of our age is (consumerism? sensationalism? meta-theism?) and have our art inform one side or the other of the conversation. This session was intense, almost like a college art and philosophy class. Now that I’ve had a week to mull over my notes I believe this goes back to the concept of ‘voice’ in art. Is for own voice shaped enough so that your art looks like no one else’s?

4) On Sunday I attended a panel with agent Rosemary Stimola, author illustrator Amanda Driscoll, and editor Kelly Delaney of Random House where they discussed the spark and creation of Driscoll’s debut picture book Duncan the Story Dragon. While little of the text changed from acquisition through edits, Delaney urged Driscoll to push Duncan’s character through some extreme changes. Duncan started as a more “traditional” looking dragon but evolved into a more childlike character, which resonated with the story better. In a study in editorial revision, almost every page of the original dummy was changed dramatically… but for the better. Another thing I noted from this panel was that one of reasons Stimola was initially drawn to the story in order to offer representation was that she appreciated the real world solution to the problem even though the characters were magical creatures.

5) My last session was with Simon and Schuster art director Lucy Cummins who discussed “How To Get Work, Agented Or Not.” The number one thing she looks for in illustration submissions are memorable characters. Postcards are still a great way to get the attention of an art director, and they don’t get as many as some illustrators might think. Cummins mentioned that she is always looking to add to her to go-to stable of artists who are excellent draftsmen – they can draw anything. And, it bears repeating, they never miss a deadline.


Read more about other sessions panels at the conference blog. Publishers Weekly also covered the conference for Children’s Bookshelf. Check it out here.

About the author

  • Mary Reaves UhlesMARY REAVES UHLESContributor

    Mary Reaves Uhles has created award winning illustrations in books and magazines for clients such as Cricket Magazine Group, McGraw Hill, Magic Wagon, and Thomas Nelson. Before beginning her career as a freelance illustrator, Mary worked as an animator on projects for Warner Brothers and Fisher-Price Interactive. A PAL member of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, Mary calls Nashville home and spends her free time behind the wheel of the family mini van.

Add Photo Adjustment Layer in Photoshop

In this video I give you a quick tip about adding a photo adjustment layer to my illustration, when I’m just about done with my image.

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

    Having grown up on the shores of Maui, Hawaii, Norm has always had a love for drawing. Since leaving the Islands’ beautiful beaches and landing in Oregon he went to college and received a degree in graphic design. Now living in Beaverton, Oregon, Norm has been working as a full-time graphic designer and illustrator for the last 12 years. He has spent countless hours perfecting his craft as a freelance illustrator working on several children’s books, a few video games and creating numerous educational products. His ability to draw has given him the chance to do the thing he truly loves — Create.

Thoughts on Creativity Inc

Before reading Creativity Inc by Pixar President Ed Catmull and Amy Wallace I wasn’t entirely sure what I could learn from a book written for creative leadership. I love Pixar and all they create but learning how their company runs didn’t really seem appealing to me at first. Well it turns out I was wrong. I learned quite a lot about my own creative endeavors as well as some thought provoking tips for life. Mr. Catmull has devoted his life to learning how to build not just a successful company but a sustainable creative culture and he shares his knowledge with the readers. Catmull’s purpose for writing this book is to not only to tell, but also to teach through his learned experiences. He talks about how he has seen many creative companies go off the rails and he wonders why? How does one build a successful company with a sustainable creative culture? He asks these questions and gives his answers to why.


Creativity Inc: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration is so much more than just a book for managers, it’s a wonderful tale of how Pixar was created while intertwining Catmull stories of how he became a manager himself and helped build Pixar in to the household brand that it is today. The book begins with a very young Catmull and his inspiration from Walt Disney. From there he explains how he gave up on his dream of becoming a feature film animator. Making the most of his talent in math he studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah. After finishing at UU he moved on to work at Lucasfilm and finally came full circle to his boyhood dream of working at Disney. Catmull tells an engaging story of how he fosters creativity at all the companies he’s worked at. “If there are people in your organization who feel they are not free to suggest ideas, you lose. Do not discount ideas from unexpected sources. Inspiration can, and does, come from anywhere.”


If you’re reading this post, I’m assuming that you’re a creative person and you’re interested in how the creative process works. Well this books process is broken up into four parts: “Getting Started,” “Protecting the New,” “Building and Sustaining,” and “Testing What We Know.” Throughout all of these sections he focuses not as much on the process, but more about finding the right people. It seem’s to me that this is more of the process at Pixar than anything. Be flexible and give creative people the ability to do what they do. Personally, I wish more companies had this motto but at least for the companies I’ve worked for these values are a little hard to come by. The book is not all about the Pixar process, it also gives fun insights into their movies like, did you know that the first plot for the movie Up revolved around a King that lived in a floating castle and his two sons were vying for who would be the next to sit on the throne. That’s nothing like the movie I saw. So how did they get there? Well, Pixar has A group of people called the “brain trust.” The brain trust is a group of Pixar’s most trusted creative people who get together every 3 to 6 months to try to work out problems with their movies. The movies are presented and this brain trust gives their suggestions on what is working and what’s not. I’d love to be a fly on the wall in these meetings!

The most poignant thing that I took away from the book is “Don’t wait for things to be perfect before you share them with others. Show early and show often. It’ll be pretty when we get there, but it won’t be pretty along the way.” That’s a quote straight from the book. I wrote it down because it really speaks to me. It’s something that I don’t do in my own creative process and need to begin to incorporate. Another quote that I loved is along the same lines, “if you seek to plot out all your moves before you make them—if you put your faith in slow, deliberative planning in the hopes it will spare you failure down the line—well, you’re deluding yourself. For one thing, it’s easier to plan derivative work—things that copy or repeat something already out there. So if your primary goal is to have a fully worked out, set-in-stone plan, you are only upping your chances of being unoriginal.” I hate to just copy this quote and be unoriginal, but there’s so much truth behind these comments I can’t help but want to share them.

My main take away from Creativity Inc. is that Ed Catmull is a very smart guy. He and Amy Wallace have written a brilliant book with tons of insight into the creative process. It’s amazing what Pixar has accomplished and it’s fabulous to get a look at there creative process and how they foster creativity. I personally listen to my books and I can’t wait to start this one again.