Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Will You Critique My Art?"

I get asked many times each week if I can take a look at someone's portfolio, project, drawings, or paintings and give them a critique. I love teaching. I love giving critiques because it's a way I can help others and feel connected. I love being able to share what I've learned because I get such a high from working on a piece that's working. Probably the best thing about helping someone else with their art is watching them make new discoveries and epiphanies.

The problem is that I just don't have time to help everyone who asks. The internet has blessed me with more connections than I can possibly handle. I have my regular freelance workload and I often don't blog about them due to confidentiality agreements. I am usually working on a picture book - two right now and then there's my personal story writing/illustrating that I try to find time for and of course I'm also teaching both online and at the University and then there's blogging and my family who often get left out. I've been blessed with a wife who supports my daily sanity hikes (pictured above) to get away and clear my head but that leaves little extra time to help those of you who have reached out and asked for help.

So I have to say no to everyone to be fair. Please know that it's not because I don't want to - I love talking shop and sharing my thoughts on your work but most nights I don't go to bed until 1:00-2:00 am as it is. I have set aside time to help people through my new online SVS class because I wanted to be able to present material in a logical way and then work through a project.

Some have said, "Well I just need a few pointers so it won't take long." I've known people to make life altering decisions based on a few remarks. I take each critique seriously and realize that a few careless words could have a long lasting impact - so giving critiques when I'm pressed for time is a recipe for disaster.  I want to feel really good about what I think are the two or three things that will really make a difference in the artist's portfolio - which comes with careful contemplation. 

I also get asked to give paid critiques. Again, I don't have time but beyond that I really like the idea of presenting material through a class because many of the questions are answered through the material and then the critiques are better received and have more meaning.

I hope I have not offended anyone with this message and please know that I love getting your emails, letters, and comments! There just isn't enough time in the day for me to do everything I want to do.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Santa Pups Progress

I've been having such a great time working on my next book - Santa Pups by Jerry Pallatta - Scholastic. It's a very simple but funny story where Santa decides to try different breeds of dogs to pull his sled one year. These are the Mutts and they want to go in every direction! This has been such a fun story to work on! I even got to work in my dog Pooch! How did they know I'm such a dog guy? It's like the dog gods were smiling down on me when I got this assignment! I even got to work in the author and editor's dogs into a few of the illustrations! Working as an illustrator is so much fun because you never know what kinds of projects you'll get to work on from month to month.

I'm out of here - going for a walk with Pooch - later.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Climbing Out Of The Public School Dumpster

Imagine an alternate universe. A place where kids that are good at computation and reading skills are cute but are good for "elective classes" taking a back seat to the required art, drama, and music classes. Imagine getting in trouble for bringing home failing grades in drawing 1 and Choir but pointing out that you did well in math as a consolation. Imagine not getting into the college of your choice because your SAT or ACT scores were low in art. Imagine the disappointment on your teacher's face when you turned in bad drawings. How would you feel if you were told that your future earnings depended on how well you did in art classes? That your value to society was based on how well you could paint a portrait?

Isn't this what we're doing in public school? We only count the grades on a few subjects like English, math, and science and focus on the same skills for standardized tests. Being good at visual skills like painting but not being rewarded for it in school made me feel alienated from auditory learners. Of course I didn't know the difference between auditory, visual, and kenesthetic learners back then but I remember the feelings of knowing I didn't have the right stuff: unwanted, unworthy, inadequate, dumb, stupid, valueless, low, under achiever, disabled, incapable, and invisible.

I've worked for numerous fortune 500 companies, Illustrated 2 games for Hasbro, big publishers like Random House & Simon Schuster, hundreds of consumer magazines, been included in the Society of Illustrators, taught high school art, teach at two Universities, published ebooks and apps, started my own online video tutorial company, an online live class, and become an avid blogger. So my question is this: How can someone who regularly received below 2.0 GPA's in Jr high and high school achieve as much as I have in the past 20 years? According to my schools I was a failure - even though I was regularly cranking out artwork and excelling at playing the Cello.

I've been told by some that the reason I did so poorly in public school is that I was lazy. I can assure you I have never been lazy. Uninspired? -guilty. Bored? -guilty. -but never lazy.

I write about this on my blog because I feel that this is an issue we must come to terms with if we are ever going to truly support artists. I write about this to continue my healing process and to hopefully help those who find themselves in the same situation I was in - unwanted. Our current system selects for a few skills (reading & math) while discarding everyone else.

Everything we aspire to buy or experience like cars, phones, and movies has a creative component yet we do not teach creativity in school. The Washington Post reports that 54% of young people want to start a business yet we teach no entrepreneurial skills in public school. To become a master at anything we must fail over and over to improve yet our public schools do not embrace a failing forward approach - rewarding those who memorize the right answers.

I think of the poor souls like me who might have turned to substances or other means of coping with the feelings of their perceived inadequacies. I'm one of the lucky ones because I had parents who supported my desires to pursue illustration. I'm lucky because they had the means to send me to school. I'm lucky because I happened to attend a university with a great illustration program. I'm lucky because I married a woman who supported my crazy dream to become an illustrator. I'm lucky because every one of the 2,000 plus commissions I've received over the years has been a pat on the back.

I write this for my son Aaron - who's self portrait was graded with a BIG red "F" by his 4th grade teacher 9 years ago - all because he drew extra personality traits into his picture...because he didn't want his art to look like everyone Else's - apparently he understood art much better than his teacher.

Some have questioned my sanity in criticizing the very system that employs teachers and librarians who make up a large portion of my children's book audience. That I might be black listed for school visits - a substantial boost to author/illustrator incomes and book promotion.  (Isn't it ironic that the very people I feared in school have become a large portion of my audience?) Am I really going to bite the hand that feeds me? If you abuse a dog and it bites you back should you get mad at the dog or realize your mistake and change?

I could sit back and keep my mouth shut in hopes of earning extra income provided by the very system that ignored me -OR- I could do what I feel is right and speak up for the innocent children we feed to that machine every year. I've met parents with kids just like me who ask, "what should I do with my child who just wants to draw?" Should I turn my back on them in hopes of booking more school visits? I tell them to celebrate those passions that their children exhibit! Help nurture those skills and understand that the world may one day value their contributions much higher than the school system is allowed to for the moment.

I love presenting in schools because I feel that I might actually be able to make a difference in some of the budding artists in the crowd. My feelings towards the broken system do not prevent me from working within it's framework - just like many of the committed teachers who get up every day trying to make a difference in spite of having to teach in handcuffs. I hope anyone reading this will understand that I'm passionate about illustrating children's books, teaching, and helping people realize their potential in unlocking their talents and inspiring them to work hard to achieve their dreams.

If you don't have any idea what I'm talking about there are many great discussions online: Check out Ken Robinson and what Seth Godin has to say about this topic.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An Hour With Will Terry & Jake Parker

I know this is very short notice but today at 4:00 PM MST Jake Parker and I are going to be teaching a short lesson for FREE in Mark Mitchell's ONLINE classroom. Mark asked us to talk about our upcoming SVS online class and share a little bit of what we will be doing for our attendees. I'll be sharing an image presentation about creating dynamic depth "The Window into your World" and Jake will be doing a drawing demo in Photoshop.

To watch the presentation just click here on this link! I hope you have the time to join us! And thank Mark for his wonderful blog - How To Be A Children's Book Illustrator.

UPDATE: Here is the link to the recorded version of this class:

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Children's Book Publishing In A Nutshell

I am often asked, "How can I get my story in front of an editor?" I've always tried to answer as best I can without spending too much time on any one email - but in order to tell the story I really needed to spend a little more time. Now I'll be able to send this link!

Teeny tiny fantasy nutshell version:

You write a story - send it to a publisher - they like it - they hire an illustrator - your book is published - you earn enough money to buy a small island - the end.

Regular sized nutshell version:

An author writes a story instead of watching TV, reading a book, or hanging out with friends. He/she submits it to multiple publishers one at a time with a SASE. Rejection letters come one by one over X amount of time and they are kept in a binder by the author for score keeping. If the author is serious he/she is writing and submitting other stories while waiting for the rejection letter on the first story.

If the writer is un-agented the publisher probably won’t open the manuscript - or they will open it and send it right back with a form letter stating that they don’t accept unsolicited manuscripts. If the writer is agented or if the writer attended an SCBWI conference and received publisher submission stickers to put on the package the interns will open the package, read your story, and decide if they like it..

Interns you ask? What the? Yes - the sheer number of submissions is impractical for editors to go through. The interns are instructed to pass along anything they really like. If yours gets passed up to an editor they might read it...hopefully nobody walks into the editors office, phone doesn’t ring, or coffee isn’t spilled while your story is having it’s big moment with the editor.

If they like it they might do a little research to see if there is anything else out there like it. They don’t want to publish a book that’s just like someone else’s -  unless someone else's book did really well and then your book is exactly what they’re looking for.  If the research goes well they might contact you via email or phone to ask if you’ve submitted it to any other house. If you answer yes they might pass on it right then and there. The reasons would take many paragraphs to explain but if they love it more than their mother they might still be interested.

They might also pass on it if they don’t have room to publish any more books that year- even if it’s the best manuscript they’ve ever read. They might pass on it if books in your genre aren’t “hot” right now. There are an additional 100 reasons why the editor might love your book but send you a rejection letter. You will probably never know the real reason your manuscript is rejected. Sometimes the editors heart is broken over this.

They might ask you to make changes. This means they REALLY like it. Some unpublished authors are resistant to making these changes. This attitude will help them remain unpublished. If the author makes the changes they might take it to an acquisitions meeting. This is the meeting where the other editors are supposed to figure out reasons why they should NOT publish it. This is a safeguard to prevent dumb stuff from being published - so much for safeguards. If the other editors can’t think of good reasons that your manuscript is bad they might decide to send it to the marketing team. The marketing team is supposed to find better reasons why your book is dumb and why it should not be published. If the sales team can’t come up with any good reasons why your book will sink the company they might invent some. This is where the editors and marketing people fight over your book. This is where you wish you could be a fly on the wall. 

At this point they might decide to publish your book. They decide what time of year your book should be released and put it on their schedule. You get the acceptance letter. This is the movie quality moment where the skies part, your family gathers around you, all of you cry, there’s also probably a rainbow and you all go out to a fancy restaurant. While you’re eating - the editor contacts an illustrator like myself asking if I would be interested in making pictures for your book.

This is not quite a movie quality moment but still pretty darn cool - I take my family out to dinner but not as fancy as the author’s but most likely a cut above McDonalds.

Sometimes the first few illustrators turn them down and as weeks are burned up - the unlucky illustrator who gets asked last - gets that much less time to illustrate your book. You might be consulted on who they choose to illustrate your book if you have clout. If you don’t know if you have clout you don’t. You might be shown the first round of sketches but again clout has a lot to do with how far inside the loop you get to hover. Feedback is given to the illustrator from the editor and art director - not you. Once all the changes have been accepted by the editor the illustrator is free to work on the final renderings.

The illustrator and author are never introduced. There are many good reasons for this but the biggest is because some people are big fat stupid idiots and don’t know how to get along. There are many stories that support the buffer the publisher places between authors and illustrators. Some of them are funny - some of them are sad...some are funny in a sad way.

Once the final artwork is accepted and any changes are made the illustrator and author are finished. Usually the books are printed in China to save money. The books go for a boat ride to the country of origin and the author and illustrator receive their copies but are still sequestered. (Don’t tell anyone - I like talking to my authors over the phone when it’s all finished - I like people) This whole process can take anywhere from a few years to as many as 9 years. The 9 years is a great story from one of my friends but would probably take as long as I’ve already written to tell.

I wrote this in a snarky tone.

To be clear. I have a great relationship with many editors, art directors, and owners...or I used to :)  I wrote it this way because I often get asked: “I wrote a book - how do I go about getting it published?” I’ve left out so much and yet look at how many paragraphs I had to use for the nutshell version - AND this is from my perspective - if you picked 10 authors they would all have a different publishing story.

My point in all this is that you can’t expect to write one story and get it published. Most published authors received dozens if not more rejection letters on dozens of stories written over years of trying before they received their first acceptance letter. To become an accomplished writer is a lifelong pursuit - like a professional athlete. The person who wrote a story and wants to get it published traditionally is in for a lot of disappointment unless he/she is in it for the long haul of writing and submitting in their lifetime.

Publishing is a great amplifier for anyone who wants to speak to a large audience. Sometimes it seems like a cold machine. Many times you, I, and the guy down the street don’t agree with what gets published. Sometimes our thoughts are validated when books are remaindered 18 months after publication. Sometimes publishers know they have a hit before the book hits the shelves - and they’re often right. Sometimes it seems like editors are calloused, arrogant, and ego driven. Sometimes they have to be to get through the mound of work heaped upon them. They are a passionate group of people who love books and love their jobs. In fact I don’t think I know another group of workers who get up everyday so eager to get to work. I think they realize how special it is when an author hones their craft and tells a masterful original story but are equally annoyed when people do not spend the time and effort to polish their work.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Why We Don't Learn As Fast As Musicians

If you're enrolled in our "Illustration For Storytellers" class - FULL or LITE version please watch this is designed to help all of us accept critiques easier.

In this video I discuss why many visual artists in my University classes avoid my help, critiques, suggestions, and advice. I can't blame them because they have been victimized by our public school system. I realize that I'm generalizing but most US students are never taught visual art the same way they are taught music, dance, acting, writing, and sports. We get our writing assignments handed back to us with red marks correcting our mistakes in elementary school all the way through high school. We have been conditioned to accept right and wrong ways to use the English language so when we get to college we begin at a much higher level for writing classes than do incoming freshmen in art.

It's important to understand how we have wrongly treated the visual art student so that we might help them understand that letting go of their bad habits will liberate them and accelerate their learning. I give many examples in the video - if you disagree with me please watch the video first where I make my complete argument - but I do welcome your thoughts!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Online Children's Illustration Class - Update

Jake and I are so pleased that our FULL class has SOLD OUT - but we still have the LITE class available. We are humbled to realize that artists all over the world trust us to share what we've learned about creating illustrations for stories like children's books and comics. What is possible today wasn't possible only a few years ago and it is my belief that we will find learning online more and more common in the coming years. To think that we can broadcast from our little town in Utah US to anywhere in the world is mind blowing and proves that if you work hard and dream BIG you can do it! The little map above shows how spread out our current enrollment is to date - but it's still growing!


How long will I be able to purchase the LITE version of the class? We will keep the video only version of this class available until July 10th 2013- the last day of the LIVE class. If you want to watch all of these classes - get the details by clicking here.

What format will the LITE class be in? The LITE version of the class will be in an MP4 or WMV file or both.

If I buy the LITE class how long can I view it? If you purchase the LITE class you will be given a download link to have the complete video files on your computer for as long as you like.

Will I get any feedback with the LITE version? No - we produced two price points to account for the time we will spend with FULL version participants - the LITE class will deliver the recorded version of the FULL class without the critiques, class questions, draw-overs, and skype call.

What materials will I need for either the LITE or FULL class? The assignments we will give will all require drawing instruments like copy paper and pencils (or tablet with drawing program). Adding color to your assignment is optional. You could use Acrylic, Oil, Pastel, Watercolor, Gouche, Ink, or Digital. I advise my students to avoid colored pencil unless it's mixed with an aqueous media like Watercolor because it takes a tremendous amount of time to build up color while controlling texture. Most illustrators avoid it as a stand alone medium for this reason.

If you have any other questions pertaining to the class I welcome them and will add them to this list if they are pertinent to participants.