Monthly Archives: July 2014

More Life with Subsurface Scattering

Subsurface scattering (SSS) is the phenomenon when light enters a translucent material and upon entering it the light scatters inside the material before either being absorbed or leaving the material at a different location. I know this sounds like a hard idea to grasp but it’s a good concept to keep in the back of your mind when painting skin or other translucent materials.


Subsurface scattering is mostly used in 3D applications, but I apply it when illustrating organic characters such as people. Adding a red tint to parts of the character such as the fingertips, nostrils, and ears really brings a character to life. SSS occurs most often when three conditions are met: translucent flesh, thin forms, and backlighting. Any organic surface where the light doesn’t have to travel very far to emerge out the other side is where this phenomenon occurs. Why do you add this additional color to these areas? Because of SSS many organic and inorganic materials are not totally opaque at the surface, so light does not just bounce off the top of there surfaces like it would in say a material like metal. Opaque materials allow light to enter the surface and once inside the light scatters around. As the light scatters around it takes on the color of whatever is inside the material. Finally, the light emerges out at a different location, but it projects a hint of the color of what is on the inside. For example, human skin is opaque. Blood is trapped within the skin. The light enters the skin. Then the light enters the blood and emerges out the other side with a reddish tint. A great example of SSS, hold up your hand in a dark room and using a flashlight shine the light back through your hand and watch how the light travels through your skin and gets scattered, taking on a reddish color.


Subsurface scattering not only occurs with skin but other surfaces like the skin of fruits, leafs, marble, milk and gels. Without knowledge of SSS photo-realism really cannot be achieved so next time you’re drawing keep in mind the principles of subsurface scattering and watch how your characters are brought to life.

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.

What to put in your Children’s Book Portfolio

Every now and again, I get asked the question, “What should I put in my portfolio?”.  So, I wanted to take a moment and share some tips and suggestions you might consider when putting together an illustration portfolio. Specifically, a portfolio of illustrations catering to children’s publishing; although websites and social media play an ever-increasing role in promoting your work, having a physical portfolio will still come in handy the next time you attend a nearby illustration conference or if you find yourself lucky enough to be given some face time with an art director. So let’s get started… First off, let’s get the basics out of the way; a typical portfolio should contain anywhere from 12 to 15 images, bound in a nice, clean, and simple, 8″ x 11″ portfolio. The thing to remember is this: showcase work and talent, so the portfolio itself should NOT distract or compete with the artwork. So rule of thumb …keep it simple! Be sure to include pocket at the back of the portfolio with postcards and/or business card for someone to take. Now for the most important parts of any portfolio, the ARTWORK! Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Order & Pacing: Typically, a portfolio should open with a sample of your best work! The point of this is pretty obvious, you want to WOW your viewer and grab their attention right from the start. Once you have it, it’s a matter of sustaining that interest throughout the entire portfolio. To achieve this, you want to space your artwork out evenly and build a rhythm between some of your good/solid pieces and some great/better pieces. And to end it on a high note, you’ll want to include another one of your best illustrations. Ideally, this will leave them with a lasting impression of your work, or even better still, leave them wanting more!Below is a quick diagram to better illustrate this. One thing you will notice is that depending on the quality and the number of pieces in your portfolio, as well as the fact that you will be constantly update your portfolio, we will have some variations, but the basic structure should still be followed.
  • Consistency of Quality: Your portfolio is only as good as it’s weakest piece. So if you have an illustration that you are not sure about, it’s best to leave it out. To a potential client, a weak piece will also have the potential of leaving a lasting impression, but for all the wrong reasons. Your portfolio should only contain your best work, so in some cases, less is more. So remember, even if it means a thinner portfolio, only include work that you are actually proud to show off.
  • Consistency of Style: Along with demonstrating a consistent quality of work, you also want to define a consistent style in your art as well. A big mistake you can make is filling your portfolio with work in several different styles and techniques. Below are several scenarios someone might decide to do this with their portfolio. In each case, first, I’ll give the rationale behind these choices followed by reasons why you shouldn’t.
    1. By showing a wide range of styles, there is a belief that you are showing the art directors that you are versatile and capable of handling multiple mediums and styles. Instead, what ends up happening is that you’ll leave them thinking, “What kind of art will I expect if I hire you?” And this is not what is desired.   
    2. By including a portfolio with different styles, you are hoping this will help you land more jobs because you are in essence casting a wider net. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that you are also diluting your portfolio in the process. So instead of having a full portfolio of 12 solid pieces highlighting your individual style, you are only able to show potential clients 4 or 5 pieces. This will make it more difficult for them to accurately assess your skills and make them reluctant to hire you.
    3. Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a filler. You might run into a case of simply not having the number of illustrations to fill up your portfolio. So you decide to round out the 12 pieces with an illustration that’s different just to bulk up your numbers. The thing to remember is that any capable art director will see right through this as well, which will lead to them to question your experience. And just as bad, this misplaced illustration will stick out like a sore thumb and disrupt the flow to the rest of your portfolio.

    At the end of the day, the person looking at your art needs to be able to associate your name with your work. So the clearer and simpler you make it for them and yourself, the better.

Continue reading

Going Digital

When I talk with other artists, one thing people seem interested in is my experience transitioning from being a traditional artist to working digitally, and any tips I might have for other who also want to make the switch.  The most important thing to remember for artists who want to go digital is that you are switching your medium, and just like if you were to decide to transition from watercolor to sculpted clay, there is going to be a learning curve.  This post covers the basics that traditional artists who are considering transitioning to a digital medium should know.

Why Go Digital?

Attracting new clients.  There are some clients who specifically want artwork layered.  This is only possible in digital programs.

Evolving your style.  As with any new medium, going digital opens up the opportunity to use new techniques and tools to create a new style and take your artwork in a new direction.

Changing your work process.  When I painted with watercolors, it was important that colors be applied in a certain way at a certain time, and so I needed a large block of time in which to work.  When I became a working mother with a baby, I hardly ever had a few hours straight to paint.  Going digital allowed me to work in smaller blocks of time – 10 minutes, 30 minutes….whatever the baby would give me.  I could work, save the file, and then come back to the piece at the next available opportunity.  There is also something to be said for not having to use up valuable time stretching paper or color-correcting scanned artwork.

The Tools

TabletsPick your pen & paper.  While it is possible to illustrate with a mouse or trackball, the majority of digital artists prefer to use a tablet and stylus.  There are two general varieties.   Tablets like the Wacom Intuos are like a mousepad that sits in your lap.  As you move the stylus across the pressure-sensitive pad, the cursor will draw corresponding marks on your main monitor.  This is an affordable option for those who want to try their hand at digital art to see if the medium is a good fit for their art.  These types of tablets are also nice for artist who may want to work primarily traditionally, but want to make edits/touch ups to their artwork digitally before sending to a client.  There are also tablets that allow the artist to draw directly  on the monitor/screen.  Ipads and similar tablets can be used in this way, but the most elite option for this type of tablet is the Wacom Cintiq.  This tablet, though expensive, is a highly pressure-sensitive monitor that sits in your lap or on the desk, allowing the artist to paint directly onto the screen in a very natural manner.  For those who want a more mobile option, Wacom released it’s Companion model last year, which is a combination Cintiq-laptop.

Pick your program.  There are lots of programs out there to use for digital art, but the most popular are Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, and Corel Painter.  Illustrator specializes in creating vecctor artwork, which is typically flat or gradated color, very graphic looking, and capable of being up or down dramatically without affecting image clarity.  Painter is a tool for those who want to create realistic painterly illustrations that mimic oil paints, chalk, pastels and other traditional media.  Photoshop allows for painting with a variety of brushes for different effects as well as image/photo editing capabilities.

Time to Learn

Traditional artists, particularly those not accustomed to scanning their own artwork, may find that they need to brush up on some technical knowledge.   For example, digital artists must know what file format the final images should be delivered in.  It is common for clients to want CMYK (color profile) 300 DPI (resolution) Tiff (file format) files.  However, some clients may have other preferences, and the digital artist should know how to set up their image to reflect these preferences before they start painting.  Digital artists also know that the colors on their monitor may not be trustworthy for print-correct-colors.  It is helpful to preview your artwork on a variety of monitors to look for any colors or values that are not reading correctly, or to compare the colors on your monitor to a Pantone color swatch book.  The digital artist must also understand file size, and be able to store and deliver large files in a way that is not inconvenient to the client.  It is not uncommon for a layered working Photoshop file to be over 300 MB in size.  Most email inbox can only take up to 100 MB total, so email is not a good way to deliver many 300 MB files to a client.  Luckily, there are lots of online file sharing services, such as Dropbox, that can help the digital artist get his/her artwork to the client.  Some of these services are free, and some are not.  Other artists have personal FTP sites related to their personal websites to deliver files to a client. Before promising digital art to a client, it is important to understand file formats and specifications, and to have a reliable method for artwork delivery.

Time to Explore

As with any new medium, an artist cannot master it overnight.  Some techniques that worked for the artist traditionally will carry over to the computer environment easily, and some will not.  And just like every oil painter works differently to create the style that he/she wants, the same is true for digital artist.  Every digital art program has brushes and settings that can be used to achieve different looks, and it will take time for the new digital artist to find the tools and techniques that are right for his/her own artistic method.  After talking to a variety of artists who made the switch, you can expect about 6 months of practice and exploration before finding your digital style and being proficient enough at it to execute an illustration project on a deadline.  Youtube has lots of great videos of artists working digitally and sharing their work method.  These resources can be great sources of inspiration for those who need a little help learning the many techniques available for constructing  digital art.

Time to Change?

While many new digital artists try to identify techniques and tools that will allow them to duplicate their traditional style on the computer screen, it can be an unexpected pleasure to find that changing mediums can also change and evolve your illustration style.   For me  experimentation has been the best part of working digitally. With watercolor, I was always playing it safe, particularly with colors, because one wrong brush stroke could ruin hours of work. However, in Photoshop, I am able to try out colors, lighting and textures on separate layers without risking losing hours of work. By having the freedom to explore, I have been able to diversify my colors, create more engaging compositions, and add scanned textures and patterns.  I also found myself eventually gravitating towards more textured brushes, giving some areas of my artwork the look of chalk pastels rather than paint.  This enabled me to achieve color layering and depth that I was unable to achieve through traditional means.  Once I let go and stopped trying to get my new medium to behave like watercolor, I became open to using new color application techniques that eventually took my artwork to a more satisfying place.  The image below shows one of my last watercolor images, my first successful digital illustration, and my current digital style.

DigitalArtProgressionI hope all artists who are thinking about making the switch to digital enjoy the process of learning a new medium and seeing where it takes their artwork!  Happy illustrating!

About the author

  • Jennifer ZivoinJENNIFER ZIVOINContributor

    Jennifer Zivoin has always loved art and storytelling, so becoming a children's book illustrator was a natural career path. Most of her illustrations are painted digitally, though she draws inspiration from traditional media. In addition to artwork, Jennifer enjoys reading, cooking, and ballroom dancing - especially tango! She lives in Indiana with her husband and daughter.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud 2014 Update Part 2 – Software

Last year Adobe did away with their popular Creative Suite traditional software sales model and change there model to a subscription service. Well it’s been about a year and now Adobe is updating their Creative Cloud offerings for 2014. When Creative Cloud was first released Adobe promised a trickle of releases to their software throughout the year. Well on June 18 2014 Adobe open the floodgates and dropped a ton of new releases on the creative community. On Monday (July 14 2014) we discussed all of Adobe’s new mobile offerings. Well, today we are going to be taking a look at their updates to their Desktop software for 2014. We are only going to focus on software that relates to illustrators, so sorry all of you After Effects, Dreamweaver, and Muse fans. Let’s get into it.


The first update is to their naming structure. Instead of just calling the entire service Creative Cloud they are now adding a year to each update. This year’s update is Adobe Creative Cloud 2014. While we’re talking about small incremental additions to the CC service Adobe has also announced the Creative Cloud Market. Think stock image library. On the Creative Cloud blog they called it “a collection of high-quality, curated assets for creatives by creatives. Now you can access a remarkable selection of vector graphics, icons, patterns, UI Kits, for-placement images, and more from your Creative Cloud Desktop app—all part of your subscription to Creative Cloud.” In my opinion it’s an interesting idea but we’ll have to see how the library grows with time but if you’re already paying for the CC service it can’t hurt to check it out.

Now on to the design software. All of the revisions to Adobe software lineup have added improvements to the design work flow and a performance boosts. All the new updates to Adobe Creative Cloud are available to existing CC subscribers for free and individual Creative Cloud memberships start at $49.99 per month for new customers, $29.99 per month if you own a previous version of the Adobe creative suite CS3 or higher (for the first year), and $19.99 for students. Your subscription profile has also been improved with better syncing between desktop apps and mobile apps as well as including stored files, photos, fonts, and preferences allowing your files to be seamlessly shared between applications. Adobe says of these new features “The new CC desktop apps, mobile apps, and hardware are tightly integrated through Creative Cloud services. This integration helps liberate the creative process by enabling users to access and manage everything that makes up their creative profile — their files, photos, fonts, colors, community and more — from wherever they work.” So what updates have been made to the software?


Adobe Photoshop CC 2014 – This new version of Photoshop seems to be more of an incremental update as opposed to the big release of last year. Photoshop is now on it’s 15th iteration so it’s more feature polish less innovation but altogether it seems like a welcome update. Whats new for 2014? Most of these additions will help out photographers not as much illustrators but let’s go through them anyway because some of them are pretty cool.

The stand out to me is a new feature called Focus Mask. Photoshop will now help you start a mask by automatically selecting the in-focus areas of your image. Focus Mask works great with portraits and other images that have shallow depth of field. Next Adobe adds to their filters with 2 new Blur motion effects. Use Path Blur to add blur along any path and Spin Blur to create circular or elliptical blurs that will help add a sense of motion to your images. Photoshop has also added improvements to content aware fill. They’ve also added a feature to Photoshop that InDesign has had for a while called Smart Guides. Smart Guides is a handy tool that shows you the positioning between elements in relationship to each other.


Adobe Illustrator CC 2014 – What does Illustrator CC 2014 have to offer for your monthly subscription Fee? Like Photoshop the additions to the new illustrator seem to be just more refinement. Adobe has cleaned up how the Pen Tool works so now as you draw your a line it will give you a preview of how the final shape will look before you commit. Another welcome addition is how Typekit helps your workflow with missing fonts. Now when you open a file that doesn’t have a font installed Illustrator will reach out to Typekit, download the font and install it on your computer making it available for all other applications. Lastly and maybe most importantly, they’ve added Live Shapes to Illustrator. You can now quickly modify rectangle corners, with independent control over each corner’s radius. You can scale and rotate rectangles, and Illustrator remembers your work— so you can quickly return to your original shape.

Adobe InDesign CC 2014 – What’s new? Honestly it doesn’t seem like very much over its predecessor but what they have done is improved the EPUB export features and honestly this one might be the most exciting for children’s book illustrators. Adobe’s site says about this new feature “Make interactive EPUB books with live text—such as children’s books, cookbooks, travel books, and textbooks—that are rich with illustrations, photos, audio, or animations. Layout and design remain fixed no matter the screen size.” They’ve added a few other minor additions like better tabs, and color groups but the EPUB of enhancements are, by far, the standout for me.

There you have it all the new additions to Creative Cloud 2014. If you didn’t read our first article about their new mobile offerings you can check it out here. If there’s anything you saw from Adobe that you thought stood out and we didn’t cover it please let us know about it in the comments.

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.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud 2014 Update Part 1 – Mobile

In 2013 Adobe released their Creative Cloud service switching from a traditional software sales model to a subscription based service. This switch did away with the much beloved Creative Suite software bundle which included Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, and many more applications.  At first consumers were unsure of this change to their favorite creative products but Adobe has stuck to their guns and on June 18th 2014 released a large update to their software-as-a-service offerings as well as a few surprises. On Wednesday (July 16, 2014) we will be going over the desktop software revisions but today we have a quick rundown of all the Mobile software updates Adobe has released.


First off and most interestingly Adobe has released hardware. The company that’s most known for their software has just released a new line of products to help your creative endeavors. Adobe Ink is a new digital pen that connects to Creative Cloud. Adobe’s fine-tipped, pressure sensitive pen is a three-sided hydro-formed aluminum stylus for iPad version 4+ or better running iOS 7. They described it as “lightweight and balanced for a comfortable grip.” The second piece of hardware is a digital ruler that works in tandem with Ink. Adobe Slide was created to enable precision sketches and lines. Again to use Slide you’ll need an iPad version 4+ that’s running the latest version of Apples mobile software, iOS7. Slide works by setting the digital ruler down on the iPad then the ruler marks will appear on screen. As you draw with Ink your digital lines will snap to guides giving you a perfect line. Ink and Slide come as a pair for $199.99. It’s seems like a steep price for something that is not integral to the creative process at this point but Michael Gough, Adobe’s experience design lead, disagrees saying “Sooner or later, the mouse and keyboard aren’t going to be enough,” and ”We’re trying to prepare ourselves.” It seems like with these new products Adobe is making a future play for when artists no longer use laptops and desktop computers and only do their work on tablets. Only time will tell. What makes this pair better then other styluses? It pairs with Creative Cloud so all your settings will be saved allowing you to start working on one iPad and switch to another and continue seamlessly between the two. The nice part is you don’t need to pay for a creative cloud subscription to use the pairing options. As of now Adobe Ink and slide only work with two Adobe iPad apps (Adobe Sketch and Adobe Line) but I’m sure more support is coming. If you’d like to read someone’s thoughts that have had hands on with these products check out this article from The Verge.


Speaking of software that these products work with, lets switch gears to the five new mobile applications. On a blog post on Adobe site they say “These are incredibly powerful apps that start to bring the functionality you get from desktop apps, to mobile.” How is Adobe going to accomplish this? Well, these new apps will have the ability to upload some of the more processor intensive functions to Adobe servers and do the hard work there. Let’s take a look at these five new free apps from Adobe (these descriptions all come directly from Apple’s app store.)

Adobe Sketch – Adobe Sketch brings inspiration, drawing, and your creative community together in one place. Capture your ideas as sketches and share them on Behance for instant feedback. Sketch gives you the freedom to find inspiration, explore ideas, and get feedback from trusted peers—wherever you are.
Grab Adobe Sketch from the app store here

Adobe Line – A modern approach to drawing and drafting, Line lets you draw straight lines, geometric shapes, perspective views, and more. Adobe Line reimagines traditional drawing tools like rulers, T-squares and shape templates for the mobile world.
Grab Adobe Line from the app store here

Adobe Photoshop Mix – Combine the power of Adobe Photoshop software with the convenience of mobile for a creative, easy-to-use photo editing experience on your iPad (see recommended devices below). Non-destructive photo enhancements, selections, the ability to cut out and mix images, and more; plus a Creative Cloud connected workflow for even more creative possibilities.
Grab Adobe Photoshop Mix from the app store here

Adobe Creative Cloud – Adobe Creative Cloud for iPhone and iPad: Your work, your inspiration, your creativity, with you wherever you go. Part of your free membership, this app connects your mobile devices to the Creative Cloud and unlocks new tools in your favorite apps. It also allows you to browse and preview your PSD, AI and other design files stored in the cloud.
Grab Adobe Creative Cloud from the app store here

Adobe Kuler – Adobe Kuler is a fun and simple way to capture inspiring color combinations wherever you see them. Simply point the iPhone camera at something colorful and Kuler will instantly extract a series of colors.You can share your themes with friends through Facebook, Twitter or email. You can also share the image that inspired the theme. And Adobe Creative Cloud members will find their Kuler themes instantly available in the Kuler panel in Adobe Illustrator CC or Adobe Ideas. You can also sync your color themes to the Kuler website where you can download the swatches for use in other Adobe products.
Grab Adobe Kuler from the app store here

There you have it, the rundown of Adobes 2014 products and mobile offerings. Check back for part 2 on Wednesday (July 16, 2014) where we look at the updates to their desktop software.

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.

What is Adobe Configurator?

Did you know Adobe makes a program that lets you make your own custom panels/palettes for Photoshop and in design? Well not many people do, so lets talk a little bit about Adobe Configurator. Adobe Labs offers the free utility for Mac or PC and give it a try, but if you’d like to learn more continue reading.


If you want to make a panel with all your favorite drawing tools like the brush tool, gradient tool, smudge tool, eyedropper tool and, a few of your favorite actions you totally can with absolutely no knowledge of coding. The above image was created in about five minutes and has all the Photoshop tools and commands I frequently use. It was super easy to create a custom panel and export to Photoshop CS6 or Creative Cloud (InDesign only supports CS6). Configurator made it easy to drag and drop tools, menu items, scripts, actions and other objects you might want quick access to in your own panel design.

How do you make your own panels/palettes? Honestly I’m still learning the software myself so I thought I would share a YouTube video from people with a bit more knowledge then I. The video below is from the previous version of Configurator but I think the fundamentals are the same.



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.

Adventures in Self Promotion

For freelance illustrators, self promotion is a necessary part of the business. Potential clients need to know about you and see your work if you want to get hired. For illustrators with agents it can work a little differently, but if you are  going it alone, a good consistent self promotion plan is key to growing your business.

Self promotion for illustrators is well covered topic, but I thought I would share my experiences in in the hope that some of my strategies will inspire you in your self promotion efforts. A bit of background so you know where I’m coming from: I’ve worked on and off in freelance illustration for about 10 years, but didn’t take it seriously as a career until 2011. That was when I started actively promoting myself and seeking out new clients and opportunities. I don’t claim to be an expert by any means, but here are some of the things I’ve tried, and my thoughts on their effectiveness.


Postcards are commonly seen as one of the better ways for illustrators to promote themselves. With so many online printers to choose from, getting postcards printed is fairly cheap and easy. Mailing them can be a little pricey, especially if you are sending out large quantities, so I am continually honing my mailing list to keep it just under 300 contacts – consisting mainly of art directors and editors. If there is more than one art director at a publisher, I’ll send it to as many as I can, and also to editors at the same publisher if possible.

Some of the things I’ve done to help my postcards stand out:

  • I have them printed at a larger size (5 x 7″). The increase in printing cost is minimal, and mailing the larger size costs exactly the same (from within Canada  – which is where I am based).
  • I always get them with rounded corners. I like the look, and this keeps them consistent with the design of my business cards too.
  • I use full color, full bleed art on both sides. I figure this doubles my chances that an art director will take a liking to at least one of the images. It also allows the opportunity to use two related images, creating a bit of a story from the front to the back. On the back I leave a less busy area of the art for the stamp, and just affix the mailing label right over the art. I’ve checked with the post office, and I’ve confirmed that this does not affect the mailing of the postcards. Sometimes a bar code is stamped on the back at the bottom, but I’ve been informed that there is no issue if the art is underneath the bar code. So far I’ve had no issues when mailing them this way.
  • I’ve also done variations where I list some of my previous books on the back alongside the artwork

ABOVE: Front and back images from some of my postcards

Seasonal Mailers

I send out a seasonal card each year to my clients and a small targeted list of art directors I would like to work for. Instead of a standard size card, my strategy has been to make an (11 x 17″) poster with a bit of a narrative to it.

My strategy for the posters is:

  • They contain a narrative that is hopefully engaging, so the recipient will at least read it
  • The poster shows the same character throughout (showing my ability to illustrate a character consistently in various scenes)
  • My aim is to make the piece something more than just a nice picture – something that’s hopefully fun and memorable enough that the art director will want to pin it up on their wall. If my poster is pinned up or saved, I consider that a successful mailer!
  • I also dress up the envelope – using my branded logo on the return address labels, incorporating some of the artwork from the poster, and adding a personal handwritten message. Little touches like this will hopefully make my envelope stand out from the slush pile


I received quite a good response from my last seasonal poster mailing, and this lead me to rethink my mailing strategy going forward. I’ve been sending out postcards 3 times a year for 3 years now, and I’ve had a better response from my one small poster mailing than almost all my postcard mailings put together.


ABOVE: My last seasonal mailer package. I included a red construction paper pocket that the posters were folded and inserted into for extra protection and for a bit of an exciting reveal

Larger Format Samples (ie: Posters!)

The response I got from sending a more comprehensive package to a smaller group of contacts was much better than my postcard mail outs. So this year I’ve decided to stop sending postcards temporarily to try out a different strategy:

  • I included a couple of posters and a few tearsheets. This was sent to a small, targeted list of 20-30 art directors/publishers I want to work with, or I feel best suit my art style.
  • The first poster was from a series I had been posting on social media collecting some of my Kids characters – my aim here was to highlight my character designs and facial expressions
  • The second poster reproduces a picture book in it’s entirety on the poster- the aim here was to show my character consistency, pacing and composition skills across an entire book, and hopefully increase the likelihood that the poster will be read – since who can resist reading a picture book?!


I also dressed up the envelope and in these packages I included a letter and my business card paper clipped to the letter


ABOVE: A promotional mailer that includes tearsheets as well as 2 11 x 17″ posters

Thank You Cards

Maintaining a good relationship with your existing clients is just as important as trying to gain new clients. You’ve worked hard to get your existing clients, so you want to do everything you can to nurture that relationship and keep them thinking of you when they have a new project.

One of the little things I like to do is to send a handwritten thank you note after a project is completed. It’s quick and easy to do, but a little personal gesture like this can mean a lot. I regularly have little 4 x 9″ cards printed with some of my artwork on them, and a space to write a small note. I then just pop them into a regular business sized envelope.


ABOVE: Sample of a “thank you” card I send to clients once an illustration project is wrapped up

This wraps up the short summary of my promotional strategies over the last few years. The key is to keep sending samples out on a regular schedule, and always be open to trying new and creative ways to get your work out there!

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.

Photoshop Fireworks for the Fourth

For the Fourth of July I thought it would be fun to show you how to create some fireworks in Photoshop. There’s a ton of different ways to make fireworks but here’s a few tricks and filters you can use to create some quick digital fireworks. Watch the above video for the entire process of how I created the fireworks you see below. Have a happy and safe Fourth.


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.