All posts in Terms and Terminology

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.

Fan Art and Commissions – Legal or No?


One of the many ways that Illustrators supplement their income is to do commissions. The word commission in and of itself can mean any work that you take on for a fee. In this specific instance though we are generally speaking of work that you take on from a client that is for personal and not commercial purposes. This means that the client is looking at the work more as something to add to their personal collection (put on their wall) rather than publishing or reproducing in a commercial or publicly available format.

Commissions of this nature generally cater more to the clients favorite characters, ideas or scenarios.  Someone may ask you to draw Superman fighting Capt. America or Bilbo fighting Link from Legend of Zelda. This type of work is very common within the comic book /convention industry. At comic conventions you will often see artists drawing their renditions of a fans requested favorite character for a fee. The problem that can arise from this is that when characters are asked for that the artist or fan don’t own the copyright or trademark to you can run into some shaky water.

Image Pencils by SpiderGuile Inks by Wilson Williams, Jr.
all characters are owned by Marvel Entertainment

So if you are entertaining going into this aspect of illustration for additional income, I advise that you do your homework on the legalities of doing so. Even at conventions their is always the possibility of a being approached by the lawyer representing the copyright owner of a character you are selling. For your own safety approach every aspect of your work with as much knowledge as you possibly can.

As a starting point I ran across a great video that lays the groundwork for doing commissions and the legal and copyright issues that may arise. The video features Josh Wattles, a copyright expert and current professor and employee of DeviantArt. Enjoy his video where he goes over copyright and the implications it may bring.

Free or not so Free Fonts?


I posted an article a while ago that went into a number of places online that you can search and download various fonts for free. Here.

Well I am in the process of creating my own children’s e-book as well as finishing up my first exclusive e-book with Julia Dweck called, “Mary Had A Sleepy Sheep.”  (Achem, be sure to like our fan page on Facebook.) The publisher made sure to tell me that any font I used had to be licensed for commercial work. Believe it or not, this was the first time a publisher had even mentioned that as a requirement. At the beginning of my process I had researched and looked on my favorite free font sites and found the fonts that I thought would work best with my book. I’d paid no attention to the lic. status of those fonts. Uh-Oh!

So what does licensed for commercial work mean?

It means that people who create fonts have just as many rights to their work as any other artist. A font being up for free doesn’t presume that you can use that font in any way you choose. Just like artists only sell certain rights to publishers or clients for their images, the same is true for designers who create fonts. In general most fonts that are free give you the right to use it for personal purposes. Which means it should only be used and displayed, not sold. Some designers will want credit cited if you post or display any works of yours that have used their fonts in them. While others hold no such requirements.

Licensed for Commercial Work means that the designer has given you permission to use their font in for profit or commercial purposes. The stipulations for this, again, can vary from designer to designer. Some will want credit given while others may ask for a small donation. All of this is done of course on the honor system.  You are still able to download the font but not adhering to what the designer has asked can result in you being in a copyright infringement situation should you be caught. So tread carefully. In most instances the designers instructions on how and when you can use their font gets downloaded as a text file with the font itself as well as being displayed in some way on the site that you find and download it from.


Unfortunately I have yet to find an easy way to search font sites to only find ones that are lic. commercially. (Nothing like finding the perfect font and realizing that it’s only licensed if you buy it outright. This can cost in the hundreds of dollars depending on the font.) Luckily on the front page of  FontSquirrel they’ve compiled a list of what they deem as the best free lic. fonts to download. Many of which would be suitable for a children’s e-book. So get to bookmarking and enjoy!

Starting a Texture Library with

cgt001 is a great resource to find photo textures for your images. None of these photos will win any photography competitions. The images are, for the most part, flat and evenly lit and have straight on camera angles. And that’s the point. You add the interest when adding them to your illustrations, 3D models, logos or graphic design projects. I’ve started to build up my own personal texture library from stock photo sites and other free textures I’ve found around the web. It’s been a long expensive process and now that I found this site I feel like a sucker for paying for textures. Trying to find nice high-quality images on the internets has been the most challenging part. But has a large selection of high-quality images organized well for you to download for free. Continue reading

Children’s Book Layouts-Self and Separate Ended


Whether you are creating a dummy, just got an assignment or are a writer testing out your page breaks, it’s a good idea to be familiar with how picture books are structured and layed out.

Now, most of you know that a standard book is 32 pages in length. But not all of the pages are for your artwork. Generally only 24-30 are images with the remaining pages being used for end papers, dedication pages, the half title page, title page or copyright page. The placement of the extra pages can vary from book to book depending on the art direction and how the illustrator may want to integrate them into their design.

In a 32-page picture book, you don’t actually have 32 pages for your story. You only have 24-30 pages since 8 are used for the book ends, copyright and title.  24 pages translates to 12 spreads (an illustration that spans the two opened pages in a book).

There are two different types of format layouts for a picture book;  separate ended (colored ends) or self-ended.

Over on  Editorial Anonymous they posted a great way to immediately know the difference between the two.  As well as a very informative explanation of how and why publishers have come to use these formats.  (Definitely worth checking out!)

Go to your bookshelf.  Grab a few picture books. Open one to the first page and grab the first two pages you can hold between your fingers.

Are the two pages made of two different kinds of paper? You’re holding a separate ended book.

 Are the two pages made of the same kind of paper? You’re holding a self ended book.

I did the experiment and came away with two books.

Pingo, written by Brandon Mull and Illustrated by Brandon Dorman is a separate ended book.

The Best Birthday Party Ever written by Jennifer Larue Huget and Illustrated by LeUyen Pham is a self ended book.

A separate ended book has what we call end papers.


End papers are the colored papers that are inserted between the front and back cover and the book block. Thus the other known name for the format of colored ends.
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Spreading Your Wings-Toy Design-Part 3

Past Articles:
Part 1
Part 2

At this point you have an idea of the standard procedures your job will take. You also have an idea of what to include in your portfolio.  So the next question is,

What other skills are necessary to be qualified to do this?

The other skills you will need will depend largely on what specific categorie of toy design you are attempting to do.

But one definitive skill you will need is the ability to understand and then communicate effectively a 3 dimensional concept.  Some may think that a shortcut for this is knowing a 3D program like Maya or ZBrush. But most people hiring will forego skill in those programs for an artist who is capable of accomplishing 3d conceptualization by traditional means.

Artwork is copyright Chris Lauria see more of his work here


The same can be said of having physical sculpting skills.  Are they a benefit to you and your employability? Definitely.  Can developing those skills be beneficial to growing your 3D drawing skills?  Absolutely.  Feel free to logically pursue artistic aspects that you feel can enhance your skill sets. Also remember that there is a stage in development that the artwork is sent to a sculptor to create the prototype of the toy. If you are sufficiently skilled in this art form, you can apply for that type of position.  But at the end of the day know that your 3D drawing skills are weighed the most heavily in terms of hireability.

Continue reading

Spreading Your Wings-Toy Design-Part 2


Last week we talked about the fact that the same skills it takes to conceive of and create a children’s book bleeds over into other related fields.  (See article) These related fields are also potential employment and freelance possibilities that we should consider exploring. In this day and age it can be beneficial to be as diverse as you can. Many of us can attest to how hard it is to find work. So being able to look at other employment opportunities that don’t lead you too far astray from your general interests may be a smart option to explore.

Also know that this is meant to be a basic overview. A jumping in point. This is what you would use to get your foot in the door at an entry level position. The art of developing toy lines and the specifics in regards to production and manufacturing can take a lifetime to learn.

If Toy Design sounds like a possibility to you, then the first question you may have is;

What do toy designers do?

As with any job that involves creating a product of this nature, the creation of a toy does not rest solely in the hands of one person. There are many positions and jobs that encompass the creation of a toy from concept, to sculpts, to the final product.  The portion that overlaps the most with what a Children’s Book Artist does is the initial conceptual development phase. This will focus us mostly on the 2D portion of toy design.  At this stage being able to sculpt may not be required but can extremely beneficial to the realization of your design. This would not only be beneficial for you, but for your potential employee as well. Since your final product is going to be an actual 3D object rather than a 2D one.

Artwork is copyright Chris Lauria see more of his work here

Continue reading

Spreading Your Wings-Toy Design-Part 1


A lot of Children’s Book Artists are struggling with finding work. A part of the problem we surmise at OnceUponASketch is that maybe those seeking work are limiting themselves to Children’s Books when they most probably have the beginnings of skills that encompass more fields of expertise than they realize.

One of those potential fields is Toy Design.

A few years ago, I was asked to design a toy for a local company. I was told that I needed to draw a few options and send them in to the art director. They would select the one they liked and then ask me to draw it out in a turnaround. Not sure what a turnaround is?  It’s something like this:

Image Copyright Krisha Moeller 2008

Basically you take your character as designed and draw them in a fixed position from multiple positions; front, 3/4 front, left side, 3/4 rear, back and right side (especially important if the character is not symmetrical).  Once drawn and approved these would then be passed to the sculptors in China to then use as models for the sculpting of the actual toy.

To say I was intimidated would be an understatement. But in the process I realized that what I was doing wasn’t that unfamiliar to me. Usually as Children’s Book illustrators we get the script from either the writer or editor.  From it we come up with the look and feel of every character in the book. Their height, weight, clothes, hair color, etc.  Also their toys if they have any, their rooms, cars, buildings, creatures. The list is extensive. Very much the same as what I needed to do for that particular  toy.

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Children’s Market Terms and Terminology 1

One of our ongoing initiatives will be to provide meaning for terms and phrases that are local to the Children’s Market. So from this point forward we will go into some of those terms and what they mean. If you have specific requests feel free to e-mail them to us!

One of the first set of terms that confused me was the varied Book Market classifications. Many publishers listed the markets of books they published and I wasn’t sure what the words meant exactly. Trade and Mass Market most notably. So they will be first.

Above is cover to Hardback Trade Edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.


Trade Books– Books released to the Traditional (trade) Markets are generally directed almost exclusively to Bookstores and Online markets for sale. In most instances this is a books initial public release and would be a precursor to being released to the larger Mass Market depending on sales numbers of the book within the Trade Market.

Trade Books are often printed in smaller runs, on higher quality paper and binding in a larger format. While it is frequent that you will have a hard cover with a slip cover for a Trade Book, this is not always the case. First run Prints of Trade books can also be softcover but the quality of these books is still generally at a higher grade than what is used in Mass Market Books.

Because of the better quality the book is also generally more expensive, which also contribute to its smaller customer base. They are usually sold on shelves with either their covers out or their spines showing.

Trade Books are also the version of a book that you will most often find being used by Libraries for their patrons. This is due in large part to the sturdier format that makes the books more able to stand up to many uses and reads by multiple Library patrons.

Above is cover to Softback Mass Edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling.

Mass Market Books– As the name implies these books are directed at a larger (Mass) audience and consumer base. This is accomplished by making it available in more outlets to consumers, as well as making the books smaller and cheaper for purchase and personal convenience.

While trade books are available in bookstores and online. Mass Market books are more commonly found at the checkout counter of your grocery store, drug stores, gift shops, airports and newspaper stands. They are priced cheaper to attract more impulse buys and purchases. Think small child begging at Mommy or Daddy’s feet for that Zora the Explorer Activity Book!

Mass Market books are generally paperback books printed on less quality paper and sized to be easy to carry in your pocket or purse. The production of Mass Market books also generally follows the release of the Trade version of the same book title. The Trade versions are usually of a higher quality paper, larger, more expensive, and hardback in nature.

Mass Market Children’s Books are very often tied into more popular books, licenses or characters. If you think about it in most of the outlets listed above for Mass-Market you are much more likely to find products from Licenses like Disney, Warner Bros., or Nickelodeon. However, it is just as likely that you’ll find classic best sellers like The Hungry Caterpillar, Where The Wild Things Are, and Goodnight Moon. Books that are so popular that they demand to be available to more customers.