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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 squareup.com/market/normgrock.

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
DRAWING CHARACTERS with Wesley Burt
CHARACTER ILLUSTRATION with Karla Ortiz
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.
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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.

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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 www.zoesparks.ca 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.

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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:

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

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Inks in Manga Studio:

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

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Final shading and highlighting in Photoshop:

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And that’s basically my process.

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

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

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Back cover/interior endpaper concept 1:

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Back cover/interior endpaper concept 2:

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Concept artwork:

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

 

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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.

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.

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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.”

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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.

Building a Portfolio Site using WordPress

When I first started my career I was working hard to manage extravagent websites to showcase my work. These sites were hard to maintain if you’re not a programmer, which I’m not. Luckily my brother is a web developer and is always happy to lend a hand but as his career has grown he has had less and less time to help out. I needed to find a new solution. So a few years ago I switched my portfolio site to a WordPress powered portfolio site. Now the WordPress content management system manages all my portfolio images, blog posts and my contact page saving me (and him) a lot of time and money.

For the most part WordPress (WP) is often thought of as just a blogging platform, but it can be used as a content management system. A content management system or CMS is a application that allows publishing, editing and modifying content, organizing, deleting as well as maintenance from a central interface. For me the WordPress CMS is easy to use, keep up to date and customize through themes.

Before we get to the WordPress side of things theres a few things we should go over to get your site up and running. First you’re going to need to get your self a domain name or URL. I recommend getting your own URL versus having a hosted site by say Blogspot. It looks a lot more professional and people notice if you don’t. For example my domain name is NormGrock.com. Having a domain name helps your customers remember where to find you on the Internet and gives your site a bit more credibility. You can grab yourself a custom URL at registrars like GoDaddy.com or Namecheap.com. There are many others but these are the ones I have used. Before purchasing you should hunt around for promo codes to save a few bucks. These companies always seem to be running promotions.

Once you have your URL you will need a place for your files to live on the internet so you will need a host. Basically, a host is a company that has servers dedicated to sending your web files when someone visits your site. This is something you could do yourself, but it requires much more time and effort. I’ve used GoDaddy.com for hosting but as with registrars there are many to choose from. You will need to sign up for an account with a web host so that your website files have a home. If you choose to host your site and register your domain at the same company your domain should be linked to your host otherwise you will need to update your settings to make sure they are properly linked. Doing this varies depending on your host and registrar though they usually have directions somewhere on their site. To keep things simple I suggest buying both with the same company.

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Now that all of that is taken care of, you should install WordPress on to your site. Many web hosts now offer tools to automatically install WordPress for you. However, if you wish to install WordPress yourself, this guide will help. Once WP is on your site its now time to log in and choose a theme. To log in to the admin area of your new WordPress website place “wp-admin” after your domain name, for example http://example.com/wp-admin. Once you’re logged into the admin panel you can upload a theme you’ve downloaded or install a theme directly from WordPress to your blog by using the Add New Themes option in the Appearance sub-menu. In this menu you can manage your themes, new installs, preview your changes, delete themes, activate, and update themes. The current active theme always appears first in the upper left corner. When you first install WordPress the WordPress Twenty Fourteen theme is displayed as the active theme. If you roll over the image with your cursor, a “Theme Details” button appears. Click it to see, along with the name of the Theme, the Theme version, and the Theme author, there is a short description of the Theme. There are many themes out there to choose from. Some are free and others are for purchase. I personally decided to buy a pre made theme to save myself some time and programming heartaches. It may have cost a little bit more but it was worth it. The site I used to purchase my portfolio theme is called ThemeForest.com. Again, there are many sites out there where you can purchase themes from. A quick Internet search will reveal most of them to you and the same goes for free WordPress themes. Be sure to use the keywords “Portfolio” and “WordPress” in your search. This is a very important step so you’ll want to take the time and find a theme that fits your needs the best. This will be the foundation for your portfolio site.

Once you’ve selected the theme for your site this tutorial becomes a bit more difficult to continue because their are so many themes out there and all of them are different. The best way for this section to continue is for you to read the instructions that came with your chosen theme and follow them to a tee. Most themes will allow you to customize them like uploading a logo, changing the background color, and add additional pages. Be sure to include an about page, Portfolio page, Contact page and a blog if you so choose. Keep your information simple and only share your best pieces and you’re on your way to building a great portfolio site.
Now that you’re up and running with your WordPress Portfolio Site, what should you put in your portfolio? Well we have a post that’s ready to answer this question for you. Check out What to put in your Children’s Book Portfolio by Donald Wu.

If all of this sounds like too much work for you There are some other options you can choose from which are free. I personally enjoy the flexibility that WordPress gives you to customize your site but here are some additional options if you’re interested. Read Which Free Online Portfolio Websites is right for you? here.

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.

Business 101

One thing I noticed when I started out as an illustrator is that there are lots of resources for the “fun” parts of the business – how to put together a portfolio, how to make promotional postcards, how to market to clients.  However, being an illustrator isn’t just about drawing pictures.  To be a successful freelancer, you must have a basic understanding of how to set up and run a business.  This means book keeping, invoicing, paying taxes, keeping track of expenses, etc.  I am sure that every artist has different tools and techniques for keeping their business in order.  I’m going to share a basic business roadmap for beginners who are ready to jump into this industry.  So, before you ever send your first promotional postcard to prospective clients….

Setting Up Shop

  • Name Your Business – Even if it is just “Your Name Illustration”, have a name.
  • Get a Website – This website should be “Name of Your Business.com”
  • Get an EIN – An Employer Identification Number is a number issued by they IRS which basically acts as a Social Security Number for your business.  Every time you work with a client, you will be required to provide that client with either your SSN or your EIN for tax purposes.  Having an EIN does several important things for you.  1)  It keeps you from having to give out your SSN to every client you work for.  2)  It helps keep your business and personal monies separate. 3) You will use it when you do the business income/expenses portion of your taxes.  You can apply online for an EIN through the IRS’s website.
  • Incorporate your business – Many artists operate as Sole Proprietorships, which do not require incorporation or an EIN (Although you can still have an EIN if you are a Sole Proprietorship).  However, you also have the option of incorporating as a single member LLC or an S Corp.  You should investigate the tax laws for your state for these options.  An accountant who specializes in small businesses can help with this decisions.  You can incorporate your business by visiting your state’s Secretary of State webpage.
  • Set up a business checking account – In my experience, it is important to keep your personal and business finances separate.  Many banks offer a free or low-fee basic business checking option for small businesses.

 

Setting Up Records

OK, so now you have a business set up, and it probably cost you a little bit of money.  As a business owner, you must have a method for keeping track of your costs as well as your invoices.  There are programs such as Quickbooks  which can help you do this.  However, I just use Microsoft Excel.  I have 2 spreadsheets per year.  One is called “20XX Expenses” and the other is called “20XX Invoices”.  On the “Expenses” spreadsheet I have columns for Date, Item, Vendor, Purpose, Cost and Payment Method.  On the “Invoices” sheet, I have columns for Invoice Date, Invoice Number, Client, Project Description, Completion Date, Invoice Amount, Invoice Paid Date, and Estimated Taxes.  So, every time I spend money for the business (gas to go to a conference, books of stamps, paint supplies, etc), I enter the date from the receipt into a row of my “Expenses” spreadsheet.  Every time a project is completed, I enter the data into the “Invoices” spreadsheet.  This is a basic, inexpensive way to keep track of the money going into and out of your business.  There are also programs you can purchase that can do this more efficiently, some of which can sync with your tax preparation software to make life easier during tax season.

Setting Up Invoices

When a project is competed or a billing benchmark is reached, you should send your client an invoice.  This can be mailed, or sent as a PDF to the client’s email.  It is a good idea to create a template document that you can use over and over again to send to your clients.  Your invoice document should include:

  • The name and address of your business.  This will be what you want the client to make the check out to.  So, since you want to deposit this into your business checking, whatever name/entity you are using on your business checking account should be what you use on your invoice.
  • Name and address of the client
  • Description of the project (Example – 16 full color illustrations for Name Of Book)
  • Invoice Number – So that you can easily keep track of which invoice is which
  • Invoice Date
  • Invoice Due Date – Usually 30 days after the invoice date
  • Amount of Money Due to be Paid

Your invoice template can be set up using programs such as Microsoft Publisher or Microsoft Word.

OK, now that you have your basic business set up, it’s time to start looking for clients and managing projects…..

Financial Flow of a Project

  • Marketing:  It’s time to send out postcards, buy ad space in an annual directory, hire some guy to fly over New York with a banner promoting your artwork….however you decide to market your services.  Pay for these marketing avenues with funds from your business account, and be sure to log those costs in your Expenses spreadsheet.
  • Contract:  Yay!  The marketing worked!  A client has sent you a contract, which will include the fee for the project, billing benchmarks, and may also include a place for you to list your SSN or EIN for tax purposes.  Give the client your EIN on the contract and any applicable tax forms they may need for you to fill out.  Make sure you retain a signed copy of the contract for your own records.
  • Invoice the Client:  You’ve reached a billing benchmark!  This may vary from project to project.  Some small projects may be billed once for the full fee after final art is delivered.  For many projects, 50% of the fee is due to the artist upon approval of sketches and the remainder due upon completion of final art.  For large budget projects that span many months, there may be 3 billing benchmarks: signing of the contract, delivery of the sketches, and delivery of final art.  These will be detailed in your contract.  When you reach a benchmark, send your client an invoice, and note the amount due, the date and other applicable information in you Invoices spreadsheet.
  • Receive your Money:  When you receive your payment for the client, update your records in your Invoices spreadsheet to show the invoice as paid.  Then deposit the check in your business checking.
  • Taxes:  It’s exciting to open the mailbox and find a check for that project that you worked so hard on, but remember, not all of that money is yours.  You will have to keep a certain amount aside for Uncle Sam’s taxes as well as money to keep in your business to fund your business expenses (that guy in the airplane wants to be paid, too).  To know how much money to set aside, you must know what income tax bracket you fall into.   You must know what your yearly household income is, and can look up your tax bracket online.  Whatever bracket you fall into, there is a corresponding percentage that must be put aside from every paycheck for taxes.  So, if you fall into the 25% tax bracket, and your project earned you $100.00, you must keep $25.00 of that paycheck aside for taxes, plus a little extra for your future business expenses.  So you may decide to keep $30.00 (30%) in your business checking for these purposes.  Your business taxes can be paid quarterly by using that year’s 1040-ES forms, which can be downloaded from the IRS.  If you pay estimated taxes quarterly, be sure to log this information in your Expenses spreadsheet so that you can reference this when you file your taxes for the year.
  • Pay Yourself:  After you have figured out how much money have to remain in your business checking for taxes and expenses, you can pay yourself.  Have your business write you a check (or transfer the funds, or whatever) for what is leftover after taxes and expenses.  This is your personal money, and can go into your personal financial accounts to pay for a big ice cream sundae to celebrate a successfully completed project.

 

There is a lot more to running a business than what is listed here.  Self employed business owners must know what appropriate fees to charge to clients, be familiar with what day-to-day costs can be logged as home office expenses when filing taxes, and in general be excellent record-keepers.  However, I hope that this walk-through helps those who are ready to set up shop in this industry do so a little more easily and with a few less bumps in the road to business ownership.  Thanks for reading!

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.

3 YouTube Drawing Channels You Should Check Out

The Internet has changed education so much since I was in school. It provides so many great resources for people to learn from.  Anything from home improvement to learning how to play the guitar can be learned. Almost anything is on the web. It can also help you become a better artist. One of the best places I have found to help me better my art skills is YouTube. There are so many channels out there dedicated to art it’s hard to find a good place to start. So here’s just a few of the YouTube channels I frequent to help better my art skills.

Proko TV – https://www.youtube.com/user/ProkoTV
We have talked about Proko on the site before but this content bears mentioning again. The site offers high-quality production and the amazing insight given by Stan Prokopenko, not to mention he takes art subjects and makes them pretty entertaining. Proko TV has instructional How to Draw videos. The drawing lessons are approachable enough for beginners and detailed enough for advanced artists.

CGMasterAcademy CGMA – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJKxFIEmsfDEs-B5F6IGoIg
CG Master Academy (CGMA) is an online community dedicated to helping artists develop and cultivate their creative talents. Filled with some of the best tutorials on YouTube, their online demonstrations will help aspiring artists in their goals of becoming industry artists.

FZD School – https://www.youtube.com/user/FZDSCHOOL
And finally, I enjoy the FZD School channel.  This channel is made by the instructors at FZD School of Design which provides an education in entertainment design. Even though this is partially an advertisement for their school it is a great resource for learning tips and tricks for creating production artwork. They talk about how to be a professional, what to put in your portfolio and many many other topics in these almost hour long videos. It’s a good source of inspiration for me.

These are just a few of my favorite YouTube channels. If you have any that you think should be added to this list please leave them in the comments and we can continue to add to this Post.

To Database or Not to Database – Organizing Your Contacts

For illustrators, building and maintaining a contact list for your marketing efforts is one of the most important things you can do for your business. Putting in the time and effort to build a highly targeted database of contacts is vital. To get your work seen, and for you to get hired – reaching out regularly to a targeted list of companies with whom you want to work is something you simply must do.

The software you choose for your database depends on personal preference. There are many contact relationship management (CRM) software choices out there – some free, some paid, many that are over complicated, and many with features you would never need to use. For myself, after looking at many of the options I settled on the simplest and most customizable choice – a spreadsheet. It’s simple, sortable, searchable, and exporting the data for labels or emailing is very straightforward.

The great thing about using a spreadsheet is you can customize the fields exactly the way you want. It’s easy to color highlight certain fields so you can get creative with color coding to help you track or remember certain details. You can set up drop down menus to select from pre-determined data. You can also set up additional spreadsheets in the same workbook – one for a list of publishers, and others for submission lists for picture book dummies, or lists for other contacts.

In my workbook, I have separate sheets for Publishers, Agents, and Picture Book submission lists (so I can track who I’ve sent to, who has responded, etc.)

For my main publisher list, here are the fields that I track:

  • Date of last contact (last time you emailed or sent a mailer, letter, etc.)
  • Status (Client, On file, Lead) – for this I built in a drop down menu with these choices built in so I don’t have to retype them when entering a contact
  • Newsletter (here I indicate if I have them on my email newsletter mailing list)
  • Category (Trade, Educational, Magazine) – again I use a drop down menu with these choices – I like to use these categories so I can group and sort contacts into sub lists to target mailings
  • Xmas Card (the last time I sent them a card and if they are on my card list or not)
  • First Name
  • Last Name
  • Title
  • Company
  • Address
  • City
  • State/Province
  • Zip/Postal Code
  • Country
  • Email
  • Website
  • Last Contact (here I keep notes on the last contact I had with this person)
  • Additional notes (here I note and submission guidelines, special considerations, etc.)

 

The key to maintaining your database is to regularly go through and make sure the information is still current (your database is only as good as the data that is in it). I like to break it into small chunks and try to check 10 or so records each week until I reach the end of the list, then I just start again, repeating the process.

Another really useful thing to do is to save your spreadsheet into an online file sharing service, such as Dropbox – this way you can have access to your contacts from any device are using. Even your phone if you need to check some information while on the go. Or, another option would be to build your spreadsheet in Google Drive – and again you could have it available to you on any device

DOWNLOAD:

I built my spreadsheet using Excel, and I am making my template available here for anyone who would like to use it as a starting point for their own list, or for reference. The template includes my main publisher list template, as well as a second sheet template for a picture book submission list.

–> Download my Excel template

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.

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