Thursday, February 25, 2010

For What It's Worth No. 14

Times are tough, budgets are tight and illustrators find themselves with fewer and fewer ways to promote themselves in a meaningful way. We know about this firsthand as we're facing an ever increasing problem recruiting illustrators to fill our advertising sections in the magazine, and our problem isn't unique all print publications have seen a dramatic drop in advertising support. So when I'm told by someone I can't afford to advertise I want to say you can't afford not to. This is not a time to hunker down and lay low this is a time to promote in any and every way possible, paid and non-paid. I know it's a tough decision to make but by laying low illustrators are making it more difficult on themselves when times get better. Right now it's the safe bet for any art director to use people he or she already knows, if you're not out there letting them know you exist the ones getting the work today will be the ones getting the work tomorrow.

So you may say to yourself here he is just being self-serving, just like every other publication he's looking for ad buyers. Of course I'm always looking for illustrators to take that next step to promote themselves in our magazine but I'm here to tell you that you must find ways to promote yourself other than just putting your site up and hoping someone will find you. There was a talk last week at the Society and while I agreed with 90% of what was said about promoting yourself I disagreed with two statements. The build-your-site-and-they-will-come approach for those just starting out in the business and the avoidance of sending emails to art directors.

I'm afraid I've heard the build-it approach from way too many entrepreneurs in my past days as an ad exec and creative director. Too many people new to business believe so strongly in their product or service that they are convinced everyone will be flocking to their door starting day one. It just doesn't happen. Somehow you have to get the word out about yourself. As illustrators a non-proactive stance does nothing to build your reputation or to gain awareness of your talent. You must think of yourself as a brand, how is your talent different from every other illustrator? why should or would an art director commission you for a project? By just setting there waiting in cyberspace you're doing nothing to gain visibility. Or to get work.

There is a strong misconception that art directors are actively perusing the web for illustrators, it's just not the case. Art directors in the New York area certainly may have more time to spend on projects than outside the city but even they won't be spending time looking for new illustrators. And outside the city they are all too busy with ongoing projects--I'd be working on four or five projects at once while my New York counterparts may be only working on one or two. But we all had creative briefs to look over, meetings to attend, research to read, presentations and the like that can eat up pretty much any and all days. So don't think you can just sit idly by waiting for the phone to ring or the you've-got-mail chime. Go out there and generate some buzz.

Now is an excellent time for established artists to explore new directions, do self-generated projects, create a whole new body of work, just be sure to share those with art directors, The only caution I have is that if you feel your style has shifted significantly then you need to consider adding a non-de plume to avoid any confusion out there.

You're short on cash, what do you do to promote yourself? You use email blasts at least once a month to announce new projects, show new personal work, promote a show winner...whatever that makes relevant sense to use to promote yourself. As an art director/design director I am constantly being sent email blasts from photographers from around the world, however very few illustrators are using this method.

The nice thing about emails is that it doesn't interrupt the day of the art director or art buyer, they can read it whenever they choose to. Many times I'll grab all the photographer's emails and drop them into a separate folder to look at later. Many times I will look at an email when something else is uploading. It makes it so non-intrusive that it makes good sense to send emails out. Just don't send out too many a month, once or maximum of twice a month makes sense. But be consistent, don't do it one month and forget the second. Mark it down on your calendar, make it the second week of the month and send it out on a Wednesday. And make it personal, address it to the person you want to reach, use their name in the body of the email. Remember the desktop--virtual or physical--of any art director is littered with briefs, layouts and stacks of mail--you have a better shot at getting noticed with an email than you do with a tiny postcard.

Entering shows is another perfect way to get in front of art directors who are serving as part of the jury, an inexpensive and tried-and-true way of getting noticed. Send out quarterly promotions, but make them special, not just a postcard. Every art director knows when they get a printed postcard that you've done a mass mailing, it just doesn't make it special. Shrink your list every so often to a smaller number and send out something original.

So start an active promotional campaign. I know what will happen if you don't promote yourself, nothing. I do know if you promote yourself you at least have a shot at getting work.

SPD Winner: 3x3 Issue 13 Cover

We just got word that our cover for Issue 13 is a winner in this year's Society of Publication Designers 45th annual competition, the brilliant cover illustration by Nick Dewar. With over 5,000 entries this year, 3x3 came out a winner--this makes seven out of eight years that 3x3 has been in the winning column; in 2008 our cover for Issue 9 by Ward Schumaker was even a finalist for best cover of the year. Nick's cover was also honored recently by Communication Arts magazine.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Behind the Cover: The Anniversary Issue

This posting is a bit late in that the New Yorker anniversary issue has already appeared but this video provides some insights in the decision to do multiple covers for the issue. You'll hear from Françoise Mouly, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomine, Dan Clowes, and Ivan Brunetti as they discuss the concept behind a special four-part cover for the February 15 & 22 2010 Anniversary Issue.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lunch with Yuko Shimizu

We had Yuko Shimizu over for lunch at the studio yesterday, Yuko has been so busy we've had to postpone our lunch several times. Not only with the business of illustration but also in a new move to her new apartment, fortunately as she says it was only 12 blocks away from where she was renting and still a decent commute to her studio in midtown. And not too far a subway ride to our studio. Her first question upon arriving, would we like her to remove her shoes? We asked why and she replied "I always remove my shows, I'm Japanese". We must add this custom, the floors would be a lot shinier.

The first part of our meeting was discussing the work of the designer Marcel Wanders, new to me but she had already heard of his work but was not familiar with his new book I'd bought. I'd seen this wonderful profile on him on Ovation and became an immediate fan, in fact one of his vase trio is on my birthday wish list already.

I have to say I'm amazed at Yuko's story, growing up in Japan she came to New York with her parents when she was in middle school. She was one year shy of beginning her English lessons in school there so there was a language barrier when she arrived--which she had to overcome. Then after four years it was back to Japan where she finished her education, attended college--a advertising and marketing major and after graduating she started working in a public relations firm. Keep in mind she was not studying art, wasn't doing art commercially, she was working in an office. In speaking with her you can tell of the frustration of her job and the desire to do art. So what does she do? She picks up and moves back to New York and starts classes at the School of Visual Arts, having her college credits she was able to skip ahead two years and then onto the graduate program and in the end starting a very successful career as an illustrator. She traded an office for a studio and hasn't looked back.

Asked about her artistic influences at home, her mother was quite the seamstress and her dad evolved into a highly acclaimed calligrapher following his retirement from the corporate world. Looking at her work you can see the influences. And she's very interested in graphic design and design in general. Working on her new digs she's bent on saving up her money to buy the real designer thing rather than the rip-off.

Now she's back teaching at SVA, she's a tough taskmaster and tries to instill the sense of the real world of illustration in her classes. And she's always traveling whether it's for pleasure or to do a workshop or speak with student and professional groups.

Her exuberence is catching and she's a great storyteller which is also evident in her work. And she's downright funny, we were all in stitches!

Talking about work, with the new mortgage she's cut back her studio space giving up her large wall for drawing we'd seen in her feature in 3x3 but she says that it's time for a change anyway and has started drawing smaller. If she needs a large wall space, there's always her new apartment.

Our conversation continued over mealtime which had a vegetarian twist with a chickpea ragout, salad with homemade vinaigrette and the vegan chocolate cake we'd first tried out on Sean Qualls capped off with espresso. Then it was her back to her studio and us to ours. We were delighted to have our visitor over and get to know her a bit more on a more personal level.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Nick Dewar's Cover A Winner

We just word today from Communication Arts that the cover of Issue 13 done by the late Nick Dewar is a winner in this year's CA Illustration Annual 51 coming out in May/June of this year. We knew it was a winner the minute we saw the sketch we're pleased that the judges at CA echoed our belief. This is the second year in a row that 3x3 has been honored in CA, last year's winner was Martin Haake for Issue 11.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Lunch with Sean Qualls

We had the pleasure of having Sean Qualls over for lunch today; a number of Sean's children's books have been in our annual and Sean was one of our judges in last year's children's show.

A somewhat-native of Florida--he was born there but his family moved to a small town in southern New Jersey when he was three months old. Sean always liked to draw and become acquainted with illustration mostly through books and album covers--he had no interest in being a children's book illustrator, not then anyway. His high school art teacher encouraged him to take two classes his senior year, someone had seen the raw talent. He went to Pratt for a couple of semesters first as an art-ed major, dropped out of the illustration program transferring to the fine arts department and then had to drop out due to financial constraints. He had every intention of going back to school, took a job at the Brooklyn Museum bookstore and went about self-educating himself as an artist which was made easy since he was surrounded by books on artists and of course the exhibits in the museum.

That lasted eight years, in the meantime he was also self-educating himself about illustration, took a class at the SVA, invited critiques from Marshall Arisman whom he credits of giving him the best advice and anyone who would take a look at his book. He also developed his list, bought lists, sent out mailers, usually postcards done at the copy shop and waited for the phone to ring. It took a long time for that to happen. One senses the trial and error of an artist finding himself, the early work was influenced by Picasso's Red and Blue periods with layers of charcoal, acrylic and oils--many thought the images to be too much on the dark side but slowly the artist matured, his style evened out though Sean will admit he's not looking for perfection, he likes things to be on the gritty side. Other odd jobs followed whether it was working as a mover or working at another bookshop or being a tech manager, all the while building his book with eventual goal being a graphic novel, or editorial. It was almost out of the blue that he got his first children's book assignment--only one of the postcard mailings he did had a child on it--obviously an editor and/or art director saw something they liked and a career was born. Sean tells us that the process can take six months or more and expects to complete at least four new projects this year.

When speaking with the soft-spoken Qualls you sense a deep seated intensity devoted to his art and practice of illustration, while he may feel that he missed some of the tuteledge he might have received if he had finished his education, he has more than managed to overcome that obstacle by self-will and self-criticism. For someone so young he has the maturity of someone far older than his years.

Sean likes to keep his style less-than-perfect and what I see is the influence of Brooklyn itself on his work. The King's County melting-pot has always had a bit less glamour than Manhattan but a warmth that comes from cheerful hellos from our neighbors. There's no slickness or high-fashion to Sean's work, it is of the people, for the people.

A vegan, we had to modify our menu to include a veggie-burger made wtih kidney beans, oats,onions, spices and parmesan cheese with a side salad and chickpea fries that were out of this world. That followed by chocolate cake, again with no egg or dairy. Thankfully our snow had melted which made Sean's walk back up Prospect Avenue less of a trudge. it's always a pleasure to get to know the personal stories of artists and how that influences the work we know about them. Sean brought his new children's book, Little Cloud adn Lady Wind by Toni Morrison & Slade Morrison.
He lives right up the street from the studio in South Slope with his illustrator wife, Selina Aiko and his young children, Isaiah and Ginger.

We'll continue to watch Sean's growth as an artist, illustrator and hopeful writer.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Editorially Speaking

Nat Ives reported in today's Advertising Age that magazines' newsstand recession certainly isn't over -- but it seems to be lightening up.

Many magazine publishers now reporting circulation figures for the second half of last year are again posting declines, but in most cases those declines aren't nearly as steep as the plunges that came before.

This suggests, moreover, that the momentum may be shifting for the better. Newsstand declines had been getting worse -- progressing from a 6.3% slide in the first half of 2008, compared with the same period the year prior, to an 11.1% drop in the second half of 2008, and then to a 12.4% descent in the first half of 2009, according to the Audit Bureau of Circulations.

Declines returned in the second half of 2009 but decreased at many of the biggest newsstand sellers. Some titles actually posted gains, while others lost more ground than before. But the overall picture definitely suggests some brakes on the decline.

There are circumstances specific to each magazine or magazine category that could help explain the shift in momentum. Some titles, for example, faced reduced competition following a rival's closure. Sales in the first half also suffered from a dispute involving magazine distributors that disrupted the flow of some issues to the racks.

But the broad economic recession has been the chief culprit hurting magazines' single-copy sales, Mr. Porti said. "If you were a women's service magazine, you were competing against a gallon of milk," he said. "If you were an auto book, you were competing against a gallon of gas."

Let's hope this is a good sign for the industry and for us all.

Jean-Philippe Delhomme Talk

If you're in New York or the surrounding area don't miss a chance to hear and see Jean-Philippe's talk at Parsons tomorrow. Sorry for the late posting I just got word that he was doing this. Wednesday evening! At Parsons! Free!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Nick Dewar

I just heard the sad news about the loss of Nick Dewar. We just featured Nick in both current issues of 3x3 and Creative Quarterly. When I originally contacted Nick about the 3x3 article he warned me that he was headed into the hospital and that the recovery would be about six weeks--but he was anxious to do the article--and also the cover art--if we could wait til after the recovery time. We of course said yes, though we also offered to postpone the article until the following issue but he persevered.

Then when we were putting CQ together last month we decided to reach a different audience with his work and again he came through for us. We had no idea how serious the illness was, he never complained, never tarried and quickly helped us meet yet another deadline.

Working with Nick on the cover I was reminded by Nick that he was old-school using paint made by the Cartoon Colour Company on illustration board. In the digital age he preferred the tactile quality of paint on board laid down with a brush. In the opening spread of his article in 3x3 there's a picture of his computer, you'll see in the background a photo which Nick took of an apple on a tree in Ladahk, Nick told me: "I hung it over the computer to remind me that there is life away from the monitor". Another of his photos is the inspiration image he sent us for CQ, a photo taken in Thimphu, Bhutan during a festival honouring Guru Padmasambhava. "It is a photograph of a mother clasping her hands behind her back. Her child is sleeping in the folds of the cloth we see at the top of the picture." Nick told us.

His words to live by for our 3x3 Twenty Questions feature: "Life is short, filled with stuff, I don't know what for..." - Lux Interior. Lux, the founding member of the legendary garage punk band, The Cramps, died suddenly in February 2009, aged 62. I didn't think much about the words at the time, obviously I was thinking he had skirted something major but in fact he was reminding us of something we don't think about enough. Life is short.