All posts in Self Promotion

The Art of Art #hashtags 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

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

Creating a Square Up Online Art Store

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


So how does this help me as an artist?

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


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


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


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

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

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

About the author

  • Norm GrockNORM GROCKContributor, Founder

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

Highlights from the SCBWI Midsouth Conference

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

About the author

  • Mary Reaves UhlesMARY REAVES UHLESContributor

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

Helpful WordPress Plug-ins for your Portfolio Site

Now that you’ve got WordPress up and running on your site… you don’t? Well, this post assumes that you’ve read over our first post “Building a Portfolio Site using WordPress”. Now that you have read through that, let’s take a look at a few plug-ins that will help your site stay up and running. There’s a ton of WordPress plug-ins out there so I wanted to share the plug-ins that I use or have used on my own site to keep it running smoothly. It’s not good to use too many plugins for your blog and with there being so many plug-ins out there it can be hard to find the right one for you. There’s an amazing number of ways to add to your original WordPress installation so let’s take a look at them now.

If you’re not sure how to install a WordPress plug-in I found this helpful YouTube video to get you started.

Google Analytics –
While it’s not really a plug-in Google Analytics shows you the full customer picture across ads and videos, websites and social tools, tablets and smartphones. It lets you keep track of how many visitors are coming to your site and where they are coming from. This makes it easier to serve your current customers and win new ones. Once you’ve signed up for a Google analytics account there are many plug-ins that you can install to WordPress to give you a picture of the people who visit your site. One of these plug-ins that comes highly reviewed from other WordPress users is called Google Analytics by Yoast and you can find it here.

All in One SEO Pack
All in One SEO Pack is a WordPress SEO plugin to automatically optimize your WordPress blog for Search Engines such as Google. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s natural or un-paid search results.

Shareaholic adds an attractive social bookmarking menu and related content widget to your posts, pages, index, or any combination of the three. Shareaholic is a extremely useful and successful tool in getting your readers to actually discover and submit your articles to numerous social bookmarking sites. Full support for Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, Pinterest, and a shocking number of others.

Thank Me Later

Print Friendly and PDF Button
The Print Friendly & PDF button automatically creates printer friendly and PDF versions of your pages without the hassle of having to create a print CSS file. No coding, hacking or programming required. Simply install the Print Friendly & PDF plugin, activate, and choose settings for full customization. It also gives your user the ability to remove images and paragraphs of text, so they really only have to print exactly what they want.

nRelate Related
The best way to display related content from your site, and/or your blogroll. This ultimately leads to higher page-views for your site, and a better user experience for your visitors.

BackUpWordPress will back up your entire site including your database and all your files on a schedule that suits you.

MailChimp for WordPress
MailChimp for WordPress lets you create a highly customizable sign-up form which you can display wherever you want it to display using a simple shortcode, widget or template function. You can also add sign-up checkboxes to various forms on your site, like your comment or contact forms.

These are just a handful of the many plug-ins out there for WordPress. There’s a ton more to choose from and if you’d like to see some of WordPress’ is more popular’s plug-ins check out this link and if you use any other plug-ins that could be helpful to your fellow illustrators, leave them 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.

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 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 or 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 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.


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 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 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.

PSA – Facebook Messenger App has Scary Terms of Service

Okay I know this subject doesn’t really concern becoming or being an artist but nevertheless Facebook has become integral in to being an artist these days. From communicating with potential clients to just talking with other artists I find myself on it almost every day. It’s actually one of the ways our team at Once Upon a Sketch stays in contact. We have a Group discussion where we keep everyone up-to-date and when we are just communicating person-to-person we use Facebook messaging. Which brings me to why I’m writing this post. Like most of you I probably use Facebook mostly on my phone and just a little while ago the Facebook app required me to install a additional app called Facebook Messenger if I wanted to continue messaging. Some people might say well Facebook just spent $19 billion to buy a company called What’s App. Facebook must just want to get their moneys worth. This statement may be true but there seems to be a lot more going on if you dig into the terms of service accompanying this application. You may have already read about this somewhere else on the Internet but it needs to be reiterated since Facebook has now made this application required to use their messaging service. Here are a few of the permissions you will be giving up if you use the new Facebook messaging app. These are word for word from the Facebook messaging app terms of service.


“Allows the app to read data about your contacts stored on your phone, including the frequency with which you’ve called, emailed, or communicated in other ways with specific individuals.”
“Allows the app to access the phone features of the device. This permission allows the app to determine the phone number and device IDs, whether a call is active, and the remote number connected by a call.”
“Allows the app to get a list of accounts known by the phone. This may include any accounts created by applications you have installed.”
“Allows the app to call phone numbers without your intervention. This may result in unexpected charges or calls. Malicious apps may cost you money by making calls without your confirmation.”
“Allows the app to record audio with microphone. This permission allows the app to record audio at any time without your confirmation.”
“Allows the app to take pictures and videos with the camera. This permission allows the app to use the camera at any time without your confirmation.”

The list continues but this is just a handful of the choice quotes from the terms of service floating around the Internet these days. It’s worth pointing out that while these terms sound awful a lot of the permissions wording is taken straight from Android’s terms. FaceBook maybe just following the Android wording, just a bit of speculation to give Facebook some credit. Also, Apple iOS only asks for these permissions when a user tries to access one of these functions such as microphone access only being requested when a video/voice call happens. It still sounds like pretty scary permissions to give any app or company in my opinion. Especially a company who makes their money by learning everything they can about their users.

I had a friend over for dinner just the other day and she had unknowingly downloaded this app when her regular Facebook app prompted her to. I’m sure she blindly agreed to the terms of service like everyone does and didn’t even think about what she had agreed to. It so easy to do. It feels like you can’t do anything on the Internet these days without agreeing to something. So if your one of the one billion people who have downloaded this app please be careful. It may be nice to use a free application that lets you stay in contact with your friends but please remember the things you’re giving up by using it.

Source – Huffington Post

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.

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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.

What is #sketch_dailies

For those artists on Twitter you may have started seeing the hashtag #sketch_dailies popping up in your feed along side a doodle. Sketch Dailies is a community of artists that do daily sketches based on a common theme. Sketch Dailies began as a warm up for Isaac Orloff and his fellow coworkers at the game company Storm8. Isaac would send a group email with a theme and they would share their sketches. As this idea continued to grow they created a sketch_dailies Twitter account and within 24 hours had 200 new participants. It’s popularity continues to grow adding 1,000 new sketchers each day. There has been a wide range of topics so far from who’s your favorite Muppet to Harold Ramis to Thor. These topics are posted as inspiration and the idea behind it is to just get you sketching. Sketch Dailies is open to anyone no matter their background or skill level. Topics are posted on the Sketch Dailies social network pages like Twitter and Facebook, Monday through Friday at 11am PST. Saturday and Sunday are catch up days where artists can catch up on themes they may have missed throughout the week. There are no time constraints or limitations on topics. Artists are encouraged to work at their own pace but the Sketch Dailies site will try to keep the work they share as up-to-date as possible with the most current theme. A handful of images will be featured on their homepage.


If you’d like to learn how to share your artwork with Sketch Dailies or find out more about this new social media phenomenon check out the Sketch Dailies FAQs page.

If you’re looking for something to sketch and can’t come up with an idea head over to Sketch Dailies and see what the theme is and get drawing. Adding the hashtag Sketch Dailies to your artwork on your favorite social media sites might get you some new people looking at your work.

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.

Make it Work

I recently finished this new promo piece. This illustration will be included in the next promotional catalog put out by MBArtists.

The illustration was inspired by my son, who happens to be obsessed with trains at the moment. I wanted to share my process with everyone, so please follow along as I go from the initial sketch to the final illustration;


With any illustration, I started with the sketch.  This was done in Photoshop. At this point, I was still not completely satisfied with the background or the foreground elements. Typically, if this was for a client, I would make sure to resolve everything before moving on…however, since I was essentially doing this for my own indulgence, I decided to plow ahead and see where things would take me. One of the luxuries to being your own art director is that you get to explore and react to a piece as you are developing it. 

But before I moved onto colors, I duplicated my sketch layer. One layer, I left at the very top of my layer stack, this will be left invisible and set to multiply. This layer would only be turned on if I needed to refer to my sketch later on as I rendered. My second layer was put at the very bottom of my stack.With any illustration, I started off with the sketch. This was done in Photoshop. At this point, I was still not completely satisfied with the background or the foreground elements. Continue reading

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