Tag Archives: postcards

On Eyes, Portfolios and Postcards

Before I begin on the above-mentioned topic, I must share a forthcoming book that caught my eye on the ALA Exhibit floor.  It  made such an impression, I went back to savor the f & g’s (folded and gathered unbound page signatures, in publisher parlance), page-by-page, at three separate intervals.

It’s all in the eyes. They are wide-open and clearly shaped. And I love how those large eyes complement and balance the graphic shapes in all of  Christian Robinson‘s illustrations.

He makes his picture book debut in Harlem’s Little Blackbird: The Story of Florence Mills  (October 2012 from Random House).

Florence Mills was a celebrated African-American jazz singer, dancer and comedian (1896-1927). A major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, she was known for her stage presence and wide-eyed beauty. Her  talents were immortalized via songs by Duke Ellington and Fats Waller. photo of Florence Mills, "the Queen of Happiness"

During her short life, she became a sensation in America and Europe, and beloved in Harlem. No recordings exist of her voice, only descriptions: “. . . like a hummingbird”, “. . . full of bubbling, bell-like, bird-like tones”, “. . . a tempestuous blend of passion and humour”, “. . . strange high noises”, “. . . an enraptured bird.”    A fine dancer as well, some attribute her reluctance to make recordings to her strong preference for interacting directly with her live audience. Given it was the age before microphones, recording devices were rudimentary.

photo of Florence Mills

But back to Christian Robinson‘s work on Harlem’s Little Blackbird: I think an illustrator must pay special attention to the way they render eyes.

Eyes. It’s the first feature my own eyes rivet to, when perusing any illustration, so it helps when eye treatment is distinctive . . . plus they must echo other shapes that appear within the rest of the graphic composition. The result is memorable.

Title page illustration from "Harlem's Little Blackbird" (click to enlarge)

Title page illustration

Florence Mills was part of the Harlem Renaissance, which included Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, Fats Waller, and Eubie Blake. [click to enlarge]

Florence Mills loved interacting with her audience [click to enlarge]

Mills was also a terrific dancer

Mills was also a terrific dancer [click to enlarge]


A tangental note to my ART 40011 Class Alumni & Friends: It’s all about the right combination of shapes, sizes, repetition, and contrast plus judicial use of white space. Think Molly Bang. . . 

from "How Pictures Work", by Molly Bang

“…Contrast enables us to see…the contrast can be between colors, shapes, sizes, placement or combinations of these….Pictures — and human perceptions — are based on contrasts.” — Molly Bang, PICTURE THIS: How Pictures Work /  Illustration © 1992 Molly Bang


. . . which leads me to the subject of Portfolios. 

What do Art Directors and Agents look for in a children’s book illustration portfolio?

Let’s look at a sampling from Christian Robinson‘s on-line portfolio:

[click to enlarge]

For starters, since children’s books tend to be populated with people, you need to show people. Plenty of people. Especially kids.

And I mean full head-to-toe folks of all types, ethnicities, sizes, shapes, and ages. No cropping! Body language is of utmost importance in children’s books, not to mention graphic novels and wordless picture books.

They should be DOING things, not posing (unless they are part of the same army, as below), as if we captured an action shot without being noticed.

[click to enlarge]

Put your characters in situations where they are doing everyday activities. Capture an action moment that tells a story.

[click to enlarge]

Here is a commuter scene (above). Each person is drawn as a unique personality. Our eyes are drawn to the mother with gesticulating hands (they speak!) and her small child gazing back at her. Eye contact between subjects. Grouped people, seated on a bus. There’s a sense of place. Perfect!

[click to enlarge]

It’s good to have one close-up or head shot. But no more, unless you are strictly a portraitist.

Make sure to include black and white illustrations . . . .

Black and white illustrations by Christian Robinson from "Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens", © 2011 Zest Books

Black and white illustrations by Christian Robinson from Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens, © 2011 Zest Books [click to enlarge]

Your first illustrator job could be the interior text illustrations for a middle grade/YA novel (or a handbook for LGBT teens, as the above is). You have to demonstrate to the art director/or agent that you can do it!

[click to enlarge]

Check out the hands placement; the girl’s wistful smile; and the bird gazing at the girl. But the girl is not looking at the bird, but far far away. It’s a story!

"Cookies, please!"

“Cookies, please!” [click to enlarge]

[click to enlarge]The feeling of a neighborhood, with repetition of characters from another art piece (the mother and child from the “Cookies please” illustration).

Note how the people vary in size, from piece-to-piece.

You could an assortment of people in a boat...

You could fill a boat with an assortment of people… [click to enlarge]

Place people in vehicles, on animals, in another country...

Place people in vehicles, on animals, in another country…and add trees [click to enlarge]


Ooodles of poodles plus one… [click to enlarge]

Are your drawing skills not so strong with the human figure, but at ease with animals? Then fill your portfolio with varieties of dogs, cats, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bugs; groups of them, different sizes, shapes and breeds, in different situations. Many picture books have nothing but animals. Oftentimes, a story could be better conveyed with animals rather than people. Suddenly, a mundane tale becomes intriguing!

Make every picture tell a story. Note that Christian has dogs in his portfolio too (above).

Liberty flight

How about a world-renown landmark plus an airplane. . . [click to enlarge]


And some tall buildings . . . [click to enlarge]

. . . plus Josephine Baker with her leopard, Chiquita [click to enlarge]

Check out Christian Robinson’s blog here


Thinking about portfolio content brings to mind the role of postcards.

Should an illustrator create postcards of their work?

I’d say absolutely. Every art director I’ve encountered still pins their favorites over their desks for future reference. They could love your work, but don’t have the right project at the moment. But they’ve indicated they will keep you in mind.

Could they be using Pinterest? Maybe! It’s good business sense to have e-versions of such cards, with direct links to your website/blog and email. And as part of your email signatory. But I digress. . .

I’m not talking about sending hundreds of postcards blindly to a large mailing list culled from the SCBWI directory, addressed to “Art Director” or “Editorial Dept.”  This is a huge waste of time, resources, and paper, destined for the land fill.

Postcards make the perfect “ticklers”, or reminder when directed to the right person.

Or as follow-up thank yous to art directors or agents for their feedback.

At the ALA, I was delighted to come across the following series of postcards (at the Simon & Schuster booth) Marc Rosenthal created as promotionals for his newest release, I’ll Save You, Bobo, the sequel to the popular I Must Have Bobo.

They work as (a) reminders of the previous Bobo; (b) fun images to hang onto a bulletin board (keepers for clients & fans) ; (c) a clever series of sequential mailings; (d) hand-outs at book fairs and conventions.

Here’s the address side:

Here are the five variations of the reverse side:

6 | On using computers

Do you think every children’s book illustrator need to be computer-literate nowadays? If yes, what basics should they know in today’s market?

Melanie Hope Greenberg: By the way, both the owner and a chef at Superfine appear in the above image (#6).  Superfine is the award winning restaurant, gallery and performance space in the DUMBO neighborhood, in Brooklyn. The Superfine Dinettes star in my book.

Interview with owner, Tanya Rynd (the blue mermaid):

Julia Zaychenko: ‎^_^!!!!!! Super awesome, Melanie!!!!  Lovely to be of inspiration to you, and cheers to many more amazing projects integrating life and art to come! xo!

Melanie Hope Greenberg: @ Julia:  Thanks forever!

@ Everyone: It’s vital to have email. It’s an important online tool. Many job offers come in emails and I also get phone calls. I have a website that is a static billboard for my books, art, author visits. The website also connects to my blog. I really enjoy the blog format. I can control the context, and blogs are fluid and in real time. I can keep everyone up to date.

However, art directors are swamped with images. I believe an illustration printed on a postcard can be tacked onto an art director’s wall.  It’s a reminder that you are looking for work. Digital files go by so fast. Using both channels doubles the chances.

Got Story Interview Photo Album:

My website:  

My Blog is called Mermaids on Parade http://mermaidsonparade.blogspot.com/

Erin Taylor: I remember the conference in Omaha a few years back that you were at and your editor Tim Travaglini (hope I spelled that right) told all the illustrators that they needed a website, because if he liked our work he wanted to be able to look at more right away instead of mailing back a request and then waiting another few weeks.

I don’t know if all editors work that way but it made a lot of sense to me and I ran home and found someone to put together a simple site. I never send samples via email either, though — I think it shows I made a personal effort, to get a nicely printed postcard that I put a stamp on and hand-addressed, and I didn’t just send out a mass email to every editor and art director in the business.

MHG: Erin, so that is how we met, in Omaha! I loved that conference! I send both emails and snail mail postcards. However, email images are sent only after I have met that editor/AD in person and have gotten their permission to send.
This is not a one size fits all business. Each editor/ AD has their own personal preference. It’s always better to ask for what they want, make notes and follow through.

Erin Taylor: Yes, that was fun! I have only attended two of the SCBWI-NE conferences because they usually don’t have anything for illustrators. 

I get the Children’s Writer’s/Illustrators Market book every year and use a highlighter and a pen for notes next to the guidelines for publishers I’m interested in and also check their websites.

I did send an email w/ art attached to an agent because they requested it that way, but most of them want some other form of contact initially. 

How often do you update your website? Do you do that yourself of have a web design person do it for you?

MHG: I do not change the website often because I need to pay a webmaster. However, I use my blog as an extension of the website so that I can control it on my own anytime I wish and it’s free.

Erin Taylor: I had my old website taken down last year and hired someone new to make a new one. He did a horrible job, found out he was not really a professional web designer and was using a program from 1996. I was referred to another person in Arizona who said what I was wanting was simple and he could do it for me easily. I gave up after multiple times calling/emailing to get it finished. Now I have been waiting for another designer, a woman I knew in Atlanta, and it’s been two months. I’ve had addressed postcards with my site name sitting in my studio for several months and no site. That’s why I was wondering if you learned to do some of it yourself or had someone to do it for you.

MHG: I suggest this politely 😉   Dump the website idea and do a blog where you can feature your art and all your info. Stop waiting. Get a Google ID and use their Blogger template. I am a techno-peasant but intuitive enough to design Blogger on my own. You’ll be great:)  Send people to your blog every time you post 😉

Erin Taylor: I do have a blog, so when I give my card to people I tell them that they can view my newest art on there. The thing with the blogspot is if I want to show an editor/AD my best pieces they have to scroll through everything, there’s no way to do a portfolio with that site.

I have a lot invested in business cards/postcards/etc. with the name of a website that isn’t there. So I’ll have to toss all of it and start over- but I am frustrated enough with designers that aren’t following through that I want to do it myself. I will check out Google ID and their blogger template.  Glad you say it’s easy enough to figure out because I am also a “techno-peasant.”  🙂  Thanks!

MHG: On my blog I’ve created links on the sidebar to take me to the postings that I want others to see. Tag all your art postings together, then announce it with a link on the sidebar and send that link to your art directors. Best of Luck.

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Erin Taylor: Oh, great idea!  🙂

Joan Hansen:  Another idea might be to take a web design class at a junior college. I did that and learned Dreamweaver, so when I need to update my website, I don’t have to hire someone to do it.

Erin Taylor: That’s a good idea.  I actually have been trying to find a class like that. The community college in my town does not offer anything to non full-time students.  The same thing in Omaha (nearest big city.)  It would be nice if I could find a designer to come to my home and give me a few classes one on one.

Joy Chu: @ Erin: You might approach your community college teachers and see if they offer private tutoring. One of my former students — she teaches Photoshop, Illustrator, and Indesign at two colleges here in San Diego — teaches at an hourly rate (two hour minimum; 3 hour minimum if more than 25 miles away).

If you have your questions ready alongside a real project, it’s probably the optimal way to learn. And it would be on YOUR computer!

Erin Taylor: Hi Joy, 

That is a very good idea, thank you! 🙂  I have created all the pieces for my website myself in Photoshop, I just don’t understand how the coding works and putting it all together. I think it would be a good investment to learn these things so that in the future I could make all changes and updates myself and not have to rely on a designer.

Joy Chu: Take plenty of notes as your tutor demos the steps you need to execute. There will be a sequence, and you must echo them. It will seem oh so easy when you watch. But you’ll forget it all after the tutor leaves your place, if you don’t practice, practice, practice. It’s like piano lessons! If you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. . . . FAST.

Carmina Caballes: Look into MAT 125 at MiraCosta College, this beginning web design class is offered online so you can take it from afar.
 http://www.miracosta.edu/ Register early because the online classes fill up. Next semester starts in January.

Photoshop will make a web gallery for you. If you could figure out how to place it into a public folder available on the web, then you’ll have at least a gallery you can link to from your blog. In Photoshop, view File> Automate> Web Photo Gallery. I think in the newest version of Photoshop,  you have to do it through the Bridge application. Just look up “Automate” in the help section.

Joy Chu: Carmina shared a terrific tip! 

The Web Photo Gallery feature within Photoshop will generate an instant portfolio website for you. Simply fill one folder with your images — they should all be sharp & bright jpegs, RGB format, aprox 80 kb maximum file size (the smaller the better) for best results. Then go to the ‘Automate’ feature of Photoshop, and follow the prompts that request filling in all your contact information for your prospective customers.

JC: @ Erin: If you have a friend who has Photoshop, perhaps you can swap favors.

  @ Carmina: Hi!  Were your ears burning? 🙂 

Great tip about Miracosta’s on-line classes too. I’ve taken a few of them, and they are excellent.

JC :  @ Erin: Reread earlier posts. If you already have Photoshop, I’d try out Carmina’s suggestion.

Denise Hilton Campbell: Wish I’d been in on this from the beginning. 

It doesn’t take much to learn how to do your own web page. There are more and more do-it-yourself web design sites out there that are featuring more sophisticated templates. It’s a good place to start, in my opinion, until you learn the ropes.

There are also some free online tutorials to learn code and designing web pages. It does take a little time but it’s worth it. You can also change it or keep refining it as you go. It’s kind of addictive, actually.

 I agree with Carmina and Joy that Photoshop is the best place to start if you have a newer version.

 I’m developing a blog too and I’m finding I almost like it better than a website.

Erin Taylor: Thank you everyone for all of the great ideas on how I can get a simple site up for my portfolio! I checked on my Photoshop, and saw the web gallery option in the drop down list.  My version of the program is about five years old (ancient in computer years!) so hopefully it would still work okay.  And I will definitely check out those online classes, this is something I have wanted to learn to do for a while now.

Denise Hilton Campbell: Mine is ancient too, Erin. One of my goals this year is a new computer so I can upgrade all of my software. The older versions of Photoshop don’t have some of the bells and whistles of the newer versions, but you can still get something going.

5 | On portfolios

tile 5

You met with art directors at the Intensive. What did you learn from encountering them? Did they share tips for everyone?

Janis Marziotto: I’d like to know more about your process about working your illustrations into someone else’s story. How do you start? Do you let the story speak to you and whatever pictures pop into your head those are what you go with? As a writer, when I look at pictures, the pictures speak to me in words.

Melanie Hope Greenberg: At the SBCWI NY Metro Illustrator’s Intensive portfolio critiques were done privately with three art directors and an agent. I’m sure each illustrator gathered new knowledge and inspiration at their personal critiques. I took the opportunity to have a critique. Learned that my portfolio needs to always be updated. Don’t rest on my laurels. Show new work. 

I show picture book art on my website http://www.melaniehopegreenberg.com/art.html

I started a blog to keep adding new art. These illustrations are also for sale.

Joy Chu: @ Janis: When you experience a picture book, do you notice what the illustrator has done to enrich what the author has written? That is, what’s NOT mentioned in the text?

JC: @ Melanie: Did Laurent Linn indicate what he looks for on behalf of his publisher, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers?
MHG:   @ Janis, that’s an excellent question and Joy brought up something very important about the under layers of a story to transcend the text into silent stories. I am going to discuss this further in Question #7.

Either way, as author-illustrator or just the illustrator, I need to breakdown the text to a 32 page format. Books are printed in increments of eights.

 See my post at the Mermaid on Parade Blog to visually learn about my process.

MHG:   I was in Pat Cummings‘ class at the same time Laurent was teaching next door.  I do not remember that question addressed when Pat and Laurent came together.  I suggest to Google an interview with him and find out what he likes.

The good news is that I found the handout from that day. Here is what Laurent prefers: Send snail-mail samples of illustration, postcards are ideal. No email samples. 

Send to: Laurent Linn, Art Director, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, NY, NY 10020

JC: Aha. So what gems of wisdom did Pat share with you? I love the vibrancy of her art.

MHG: And remember folks… NEVER send original art, only reproductions that the publisher can keep on file.

JC: Thanks for that LL mailing tip, by the way.  
Adding to Melanie’s excellent advice on art samples: Make sure your sample fits neatly into an 8.5 x 11″ file folder. In other words, never send anything larger. And it should always be a reproduction, not an original. Each piece should have all your vital contact information.

MHG: Students in Pat’s class had homework to create art for their story. One at a time, each student displayed their illustration in front of the whole class to be critiqued. Pat discussed composition, character development, narrative arc, color palettes, child friendliness, text placement, among many other nuances that come up when illustrating a picture book. Very informative session. We all came away learning how to be better at this craft.

Judy Salinsky Oh… I have been reading every post, I am learning so much. Living in San Diego is a wonderful place and Joy’s class was so informative, wish we had more. I love this. Seems like many artists are “self-taught”,  hit-and-miss. Hopefully, I will get a hit someday. I wanted to post a THANK YOU to Erin for recommending  Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes: Volume 1: The Walt Stanchfield Lectures. Amazon offers a ‘Look Inside the Book.’ Oh my goodness, what a gem. Thanks so much for welcoming me to my first on-line discussion group, this is wonderful.

Judy Salinsky: @ Melanie: Will you ever do a workshop in California, or another one in New York! I would love to learn more!

MHG: Invite me to California and I am there!

Janis Marziotto: @Joy:  Yes, I do. In fact, as a writer, we are reminded that if our words don’t do a good job o conjuring images then we didn’t do our job. I think of white space when pondering your inquiry. Even if a book is just words, the white space speaks volumes as well. I was just wondering about Melanie’s process. Thank you.

JC: Glad you jumped right into the countdown, Janis. Let’s re-visit your query when we get to Question 7, as Melanie suggests.