Monthly Archives: April 2014

Spec Work, No Thanks

A little while ago a client asked me to work on a project with them. I quoted the job and waited to hear back, but the response I got took me by surprise. The response said:

“Please move forward with the project, but we will only pay for the work if we use it. If you do not agree to this, please let me know. Just wanted to make sure we are both on the same page.”

Well to be honest the response was not what I was expecting and left me a little upset. So I kindly wrote back:

“As much as I would like to work on this project with you, I can’t in good conscience work under these terms. I’m sure I will provide a wonderful service and you will love the work I create, but with this stipulation being in place it becomes too arbitrary to determine whether I will get paid for my ideas or not. If you’re willing to waive this stipulation I would love to work with you on this project.”

So I thought that was that and continued on with my day. Lo and behold within a few hours I heard back from this client and they were willing to waive their stipulation and send me a signed version of my contract as well as the first half of the payment for me to begin the project. I was completely surprised and caught off guard. I couldn’t believe that somebody a few hours ago had just asked me to work for free and just as quickly change their mind to get me to work with them. I guess the moral of the story is people will see what they can get away with and if they really want you to work for free they’re not worth working with.

There’s a term in the creative community for someone asking people to work for free, it’s called spec work. Basically, “spec” work, short for speculative work, is any work done for a client, completed or not, in the hopes that you will be paid for your ideas and time. So what are the risks of participating in spec work. Personally, I feel it devalues the work that you do. It says that you’ll do it for free and if you like it you can possibly pay for the work. Creative people are at risk being taken advantage of all the time. People who normally look for free work say things like “this is a great opportunity for you” or “this could make a great portfolio piece.” These days more and more spec work is wrapped inside a contest. “Illustrate this poster for us and we’ll use it for blank project.” People may see this as a way to get free ideas for their project and not have to pay for them. There’s nothing to stop somebody from taking your ideas to somebody else who will work for less and then have someone create it for them. Some Artistes may say that this is a lesser version of your idea if someone else creates it, but either way you’re not getting any value for your ideas. Please remember that your ideas are half of the process and that your ideas have value. It diminishes the true value of other people’s work as well. If these people continue to get away with getting free ideas then the value of the other Artistes work goes down too.

Not all “free” work is spec work. You can volunteer your time for a good cause or do an internship. These are different types of work that you don’t get paid for but you can get some type of credit for, which helps you out in other ways. For instance, an internship you get on-the-job training or if you’re doing some type of Pro Bono job normally you can negotiate some sort of credit line that will be added to the piece which in turn gets you a little bit of marketing. I personally suggest doing this for nonprofits or say a school district, somewhere that is not planning on monetizing your ideas. Just last year I created an illustration for a project that I thought was worth working on for free. A few artists were putting together a art book for another artist who has cancer. All the proceeds go to this particular artist to help take care of the medical costs associated with the illness. To me, this is a good reason to work for free. I will get credit in the book and I have become part of this community of artists but helping someone else in need is payment enough.

I know there’s been a lot of other articles written about spec work but my personal favorite is the position that the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) takes on this subject. This article also includes a good sample letter to send to someone that is asking you to do spec work. If you’re still interested after reading this article just search “spec work” on your favorite search engine and you will find plenty of information.

My message to you after having this experience would be please choose your “Free” projects wisely.

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.

Collaboration: Stretch Your Creative Muscles

What is collaboration? It’s a process where two or more individuals work together to achieve shared goals. Collaboration can take many forms, but for this post I’m mainly referring to an artist/writer or artist/artist partnership. Since the internet came along, collaboration has become more popular and a lot easier. With the barriers of geographical location removed, there are many more opportunities to find a partner you work well with.

I’ve made a point of collaborating on various projects for quite a few years and I’ve found that it has many benefits. I’ve worked on projects I would not have otherwise, and I feel it has helped me to grow professionally and creatively.

Finding the Right Partner

Finding the right partner to collaborate with is key. Ideally, you want to find someone you work well with, where each partner can focus on their respective strengths to create something unique, something different than either of you could have created alone. For a partnership to work well, both collaborators need to treat the relationship with respect and professionalism.

Here are a few of the key benefits I found in my experience with collaboration:


Working on personal projects is fun and exciting. But there can be times where you struggle with maintaining momentum. When working in collaboration there is another person invested in the process and outcome, and this can be a real boost to your motivation and energy level throughout a project. When someone else is counting on you to deliver your part of the work, it can really help you buckle down and just get it done.

A Creative Challenge

Working with a partner can help you break out of your comfort zone and grow as an artist. Your collaborator will have their own way of thinking, and you can be exposed to new ideas, subject matter, and points of view. All of this can lead to solutions you may not have considered otherwise, and often it can help you break through barriers in your own work.

Develop Relationship Skills

If you treat the collaborative partnership in a professional manner, you can benefit from gaining experience in a number of areas that will serve you well in your career. You’ll develop your communication skills, a sense of accountability for your work, the art of compromise, more patience, and a level of professional trust. All of these skills are very valuable when you are working with clients.

Build up a Body of Work

If you are sharing the workload with another person and each working in your areas of strength, you’ll have the opportunity to complete projects more efficiently than if you were working alone. And, if you are an illustrator working with a writer, perhaps you’ll be able to complete projects you may never have completed alone – especially if you do not write yourself.

Expand Your Network

While you’re collaborating you’re also building a professional relationship with another person. Good working relationships are very valuable, and building them over time through collaboration is a good way to expand your network. You never know where opportunity will arise in the future from those relationships that you have developed.

Cross Promotion

When you are working with a partner, you add their network to your own when it’s time to promote your projects. A bigger network means more exposure, and more exposure is always a good thing.

Is Collaboration Right for You?

Even if you prefer to work alone, it’s worth exploring the possibility of collaboration. It can open up a whole new set of opportunities for professional and artistic growth, as well as develop your skills in other areas.

If any of you reading this post have had any experiences with collaboration, we’d love to hear what you may have learned, or any tips you’d like to share.

Drawing Contest from Autodesk

If you’re age 13 to 24 and have a iOS, a android device, Mac or PC then you’re halfway to winning some fabulous prizes from Autodesk. Download the free Autodesk SketchBook Express app for your device of choice, then the only thing left to do is tell “My Story” using the SketchBook Express app. If this sounds like a good idea to you then join the “Live it. Sketch it. Share it.” design competition. Your story could be pretty much anything. A character you created. A moment in your life or something that symbolizes your culture. It sounds pretty wide-open to me.

If your image is selected by the judges Autodesk is offering some nice prizes. The prizes range from a Wacom drawing tablet, $2000 worth of art classes from Schoolism or have your work critiqued by Bobby Chiu. So who can enter? You must be 13 to 24 years of age and be a resident of one of the countries where the competition is available. For the rest of the official rules visit the contests page. The contest ends July 31. So you have around a hundred days left to get your Image submitted. Best of luck to you youngsters.

Part 2 with Susan Eaddy: Adventures in Hybrid Publishing

Let’s finish up our interview with clay illustrator Susan Eaddy as she discusses her current project and new opportunities in publishing.

Detail from My Love For You Is The Sun

Detail from My Love For You Is The Sun by Julie Hedlund, illustrated by Susan Eaddy


OUaS: You are in the middle of working on My Love For You Is the Sun, by Julie Hedlund, founder of the 12 x 12 Picture Book Challenge. The book will be published by Little Bahalia. Tell us how you first became involved with this project.

SE: I went to the Bologna International Children’s Book Fair in 2012. Sarah Towle, an amazing app expert & consultant gave Julie a consultation at the SCBWI booth. She told me, “Oh, you two MUST meet!” We had dinner together, and later met again at the LA conference where she bought Papa Fish’s Lullaby for her children. Julie had been in discussion with her publisher and her agent about this hybrid publishing model, and apparently her kids pressed her to ask if I would be the illustrator. I kept a blog about my Bologna experience; I think I may have mentioned dinner with Julie, but I had no idea where that introduction would lead. One truly never knows where an opportunity or collaboration will come from.

OUaS: The book is being published under the “hybrid” model of publishing. Most explanations of the hybrid model suggest that the risk is shared by the book’s creators and publisher – in this case that’s you, Julie, and Little Bahalia. Can you describe how the three of you shared the risk and how you will share the benefits once the book is successful?

SE: Yes, the advance payment is much smaller for this sort of project. ALL of us risk in putting a huge amount of work in the front end. I am madly working on the illustrations, Little Bahalia is designing and printing & positioning the book in the marketplace, Julie is not only the author, but the marketing guru, developing films, websites, and social media. It is a tremendous investment before the book is printed, but if the book sells well we will all do well.

OUaS: What has been your favorite part of working with this hybrid model? What would you do differently on your second hybrid venture?

SE: I have to say, working with Julie and Little Bahalia has been the best. We are all excited about the possibilities in this out of the box approach. And since it is a small group, we can brainstorm and be very creative in the process, without the sometimes kludgy experience of getting approvals from many people. Being small in this case equals being nimble, and we can publish more quickly. The whole process from contract to books in hand will take less than a year.

OUaS: What advice would you give a new illustrator who might be considering working with an author on a hybrid book?

SE: First, make sure you have a contract. Don’t just sign the first thing that appears to you, contracts are made to be negotiated, and make sure you feel good about your compensation, because once you have agreed to take it on you HAVE to do your best job. Secondly, if you plan to use Kickstarter or a similar crowd funding site, do your homework to figure out HOW to make it work for you. Julie has information about the process on her website. It really takes someone who is savvy with social media and networking to make a crowd funding project successful. I am naturally shy and am NOT good at that stuff. But Julie is great at it THANK goodness. So at least one of you in a hybrid project needs to be the designated marketing/social media guru. And of course, you have to have a project that you really believe in! Your passion will help you create work you can be really proud of!


Interior illustration from My Love For You Is The Sun by Julie Hedlund, illustrated by Susan Eaddy

OUaS: My Love For You Is the Sun is not your only book in production right now. You also have Poppy’s Best Paper coming out from Charlesbridge in 2015. What can you tell us about Poppy? Originally you wrote and illustrated it but then you and your agent decided to submit with a different illustrator, what’s it like to be the “writer’s seat” as opposed to the “illustrators seat” 

SE: Poppy’s Best Paper came out of a Children’s Illustration class I took with Robert J. Blake. I polished the manuscript and created a sketch dummy in his class with a couple of sample clay illustrations. I started submitting it but I kept hearing the same thing over and over…the clay is not really a good fit for this story. I agonized & re-did illustrations for YEARS. Finally, Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary asked me if I would be offended if they submitted my story with Rosalinde Bonnet’s illustrations. I looked at Rosalinde’s website, thought about it for about 30 seconds and said “Go for it!” Charlesbridge picked it up, and I have just seen the first round of sketches. I am THRILLED with her interpretation! I mean really, she has given Poppy a spirit and character that makes me laugh out loud. She TOTALLY gets her.  I know that Poppy is in good hands now, and and one of the best parts is that MY job is done! At least until the book is published, and then of course I’ll be working like crazy to promote it.

Thanks Susan for sharing your wisdom and beautiful artwork in both posts! Readers, take a look at Julie Hedlund’s video for the original Kickstart campaign below. You can also see the original campaign here and read Part One of Susan’s interview here as she describes working as a clay illustrator.

Amazon Acquires Digital Comics Platform ComiXology

Last week Amazon announced that it was acquiring the digital comic book distributor ComiXology. If you don’t know what is, it’s been called “the iTunes of comic books” by the New York Times. ComiXology is a cloud-based digital comics platform that offers a selection of more than 40,000 comic books and graphic novels across Android, iOS, Kindle, Windows 8, and their Internet web store. ComiXology was launched in July 2007 and now has deals with 75 different comic book publishers giving these companies a digital storefront to sell their content. Their ComiXology app has gone on to become Apple’s top-grossing non-game iPad app from 2011 to 2013.


They have had well over 200 million comics downloaded through their app as of September 2013. There have been several reasons for ComiXology’s rise to digital comics prominence, but none more prominent than their patented Guided View technology. Guided View has made reading digital comics a much better experience on digital devices. “ComiXology’s patent-pending Guided View technology allows readers to view a comic on a panel-by-panel basis suitable for mobile devices in a way that mimics the natural motion of the user’s eye through the comic” says the ComiXology website. Continue reading

3 Handy Illustration Resources

1. Figure and Gesture Drawing

Whether you’re a seasoned professional, a new student, or a hobbyist with dreams of becoming the next Jack Davis, figure and gesture drawing is important to practice to keep your skill levels up and to help you keep progressing as an artist. However, sometimes it isn’t always easy, especially if you aren’t in art school anymore, to go to a local figure drawing meet up when deadlines are looming. Thankfully, the kind folks over at Pixelovely have created a nice online replacement for those studio figure drawing classes that you can do right from home… in your sweatpants… with all those potato chip crumbs on your face… anytime you want. Its free too!


Here’s the link:

2. Facial Expressions

Grimace is a cool tool to help you reference facial expressions when you don’t have a mirror handy, to use yourself as a model, or can’t get your friends to make goofy faces for you to reference. Its got a nondescript cartoony face with sliders next to it that make the face change to portray various degrees of six common emotions. You can use two emotions together for even more emotive expressions as well. This resource is free online and there is also an app available for iOS mobile devices for 99¢. The only downside to this is that its pretty fun to spend a lot of time playing with the multitudes of different expressions you can get using the sliders. Don’t waste too much time though. I’m sure you’ve got a deadline right around the corner.


Here’s the link:

3. Color Palette Generator

For those times when you just can’t seem to get a harmonious color scheme and things are starting to look like a clown just threw up on your illustration or you’re going for a nice color scheme that you saw in a photo or piece of art online (Remember… Great artists steal!), DeGraeve has a free color palette generator just for you. All you do is find the URL for an image that has a color palette that you like, copy and paste it in, and… VIOLA!… a simple palette is generated in seconds to get you started on your next masterpiece. The cool thing about it is that it gives you a desaturated and a saturated version of each palette generated too.

Screen shot 2014-04-12 at 11.08.49 PM

Here’s the link:

I hope you find these resources useful. Now go make great art!

Your pal,
Kevin Cross

Award-winning illustrator Lynne Chapman explains her process for creating Jungle Grumble

Today we have two videos by Illustrator Lynne Chapman. In the first YouTube video Lynne explains how she Illustrates a picture book. Lynne gives insight into how she plans her illustrations with thumbnails sketches and also how she designs the pages in her book Jungle Grumble. Learn how she turns a page of emailed text from the publisher into line drawings. She also talks about the things she requests from the publisher before beginning her process.

In video two she explains how she creates different personalities for her animal characters and how she brings them to life. She explains how she uses photo reference to help her identify key features like making minor adjustments to the eyes to change the characters feel. She also talks about how she may have to draw the character over and over until she gets it right, I’m glad award-winning illustrators have to do that too. I thought I was the only one.

If you’d like to learn more about Lynne Chapman’s work you can check out her website or blog where she shares much more of her wonderful knowledge.

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 Spring Sale


Schoolism is an online series of art courses taught by award winning professionals. They present a great opportunity for those who are seeking to advance their skill sets in the various arenas offered. All self-taught classes from are $100 off right now through April 15, 2014 bringing the cost of the class down to $370. Check out the site and see what courses they have available! We have reviewed several of schoolism’s courses on OUaS and have found them very helpful. To read any of our thoughts on these courses you can find links to them below.

Character Design 1 with Stephen Silver (Critiqued Session)
Character Design 2 with Stephen Silver (Self-taught)
Gesture Drawing with Alex Woo (Self-taught)

If you do intend to take a course at Schoolism and you follow this link OUaS will receive a small portion of the purchase price that we can use on attending other courses and reviewing them for you.

Review – Schoolism’s Character Design 2 online class with Stephen Silver

Last year I took the second character design class offered by entitled Character Design 2 with Stephen Silver. This course was taught by Stephen Silver, a professional character designer working in the field of animation. He has worked on shows like Disney Channel‘s Kim Possible and Nickelodeon‘s Danny Phantom. Like I mentioned this is the second character design course I’ve taken from Schoolism and if you would like to read my thoughts on the first class you can read them here.


If you are not familiar with what is, it’s an online school with courses being taught by working professionals. The classes normally consist of nine lessons and each lessen is a prerecorded lecture with the instructor walking you through that week’s subject. Before you sign up you need to decide if you want to take a self-taught version or an instructor led course. Self-taught versions are a teach yourself at your own pace with all the videos being unlocked once you start. The videos are only available for 100 days with the Self-taught class. In the instructor led version of the class the class will start on a certain day and a new video will be unlocked each week as you move throughout the 14 week course. At the end of each lesson the instructor will give you homework and if you took the instructor led version the teacher will critique your homework. This feedback is normally a 10 to 20 minute video of the instructor reviewing your work and telling you how you could improve your technique. Each assignment normally has around a week to complete. The difference in price between these two options is significant with the self-taught class being around 500 dollars and the instructor led course being around 1000.

For me I have taken both the self-taught and teacher led versions and have found the instructor feed back to be great but pricey. So for Character Design 2 I took it as a self-taught class. My thoughts are only based on the video content and not the instructor’s feedback on the homework.


It also must be said that this class was touted as a stand-alone class that you don’t have to take with Character Design One. I partially agree with this statement but there were several times during the course where Stephen Silver referred back to Character Design One. To me it felt like Character Design One was a course that would give you a foundation of character design techniques and the second course continues to build on the foundation that Character Design One had set up. If you feel comfortable enough with the principles of character design you probably could hop right in with the second course. If you’re not sure, Schoolism says on their class description that if you’re not sure if you’re ready for Character Design 2 they will critique your portfolio and let you know which course is best for you. Continue reading