Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First time Con Set-up notes:
Last week I received and email from an artist who will be setting up at his first convention in March, and was curious if I had any advice about setting up and exhibiting. Friends of mine suggested that this might be a topic and reply worthy of sharing, so here goes. (And I apologize for the lack of visuals that tie into the text...instead, enjoy spot illustrations from the Mouse Guard RPG)

-Pulling the trigger
First off, I'd like to start by talking about getting to the step of exhibiting at a convention. I would never be where I am now if I hadn't plucked up the courage and reluctantly parted with some cash and set up at the Motor City Comic Con in October of 2004. If you want a career in illustration or storytelling, I recommend exhibiting in an artist alley at least once if only for the experience. Like anything, you learn by doing (not thinking about doing something someday) and even if you are unsuccessful at your first show, or first several shows, hopefully you will have learned and grown...or perhaps you will be successful right out of the gate!
Obviously, if this is your first con, you are going to need to put out a little bit of cash for some supplies like a portfolio some printing, and a table cloth...but I'll get into that stuff as we go along....just keep in mind, you can start small and build your con supplies up with a small budget. And price out a conventions that works for you. There are big expensive shows and smaller shows. There are shows with a comics-only focus and shows that are multi-media extravaganzas or pop-culture themed. Think about your audience and your budget.

-What is your goal?:
If you are ready to exhibit (or you think you might be) you will want to have a good idea of what you are trying to accomplish. There are lots of different types of jobs in comics: drawing/coloring/inking/writing for a big company & established characters, doing work for hire for private collectors, doing work for hire for several publishers, drawing/coloring/inking/writing your own material, or some combination of all of those. Knowing what your goal in work is can help you direct your attention for what to focus on for your table and conversations with patrons & publishers. The set-up of a creator trying to launch their own book is very different from a creator who is looking to knock out 20 commissions in a weekend, and is also very different from the creator who is selling prints of their own concepts to try and get attention from art directors.

-Your best foot forward:
Make your booth approachable and nice as possible. You WANT people to come browse your goods and work, so make it easy for them.Gather your BEST work to display in a portfolio or on the table. This is work that shows off who YOU are...not who you can emulate. Just like a good portfolio shows a clear message and focus, so should your table. Some conventions provide a table covering, but it's worth the effort to get your own tablecloth (it can set your table apart and even be a design choice depending on color or material) For the tablecloth, fabric can be cheap at the fabric store if you shop smart, but you can also use a flat bed sheet. And if you can manage have 2 table cloths...one goes on the table under your merchandise, the other is draped over the top of your stuff at the end of the night to prevent things from wandering off while everyone else closes down or before the con opens the next morning.

-Vertical display space:
Try and make sure your work isn't all just flat on the table surface. Either with signs or racks or frames to display some of your work/books/prints/etc. upright, you will want to have something vertical so someone walking down the middle of the aisle can see what you have to offer without having to be directly over your table. You can buy little book easels or plate racks, but it's also easy to copy their design and make your own out of chipboard or cardboard on a budget. Some conventions also provide a backdrop, but most don't. I think IMPhotographics has the best deal on banners for your table, but if you are budget conscious, you can improvise your own. For my first sign, I took a large B&W dithered bitmap file to Kinkos, printed it out on their blueprint copier and mount it to foamcore and displayed it behind me on an easel ($40 total supplies & printing)

Make sure every bit of info you want people to have is easy to get. Some kind of sign (or banner) saying who you are is a must. Some conventions provide a cardstock name plaque, but not all do. Everything you plan to sell should be marked. You can price everything individually with tags or little signs, or make up a con-menu sign that covers everything (prints: $10, sketchbooks: $15, commissions: $80...). If the work in your portfolio is for sale, make sure the prices are easy to find. Customers should know what the prices of your items are without having to ask.

-Items at several price points:
It's a good plan to have several price point opportunities for customers. Not every person who comes up to you has $40 to spend at your table, but they might part with $20 or $5...or...they might be wanting to spend $200...you never know, so try and offer something for everyone. This also helps in making back your table fees...it's hard to make the investment back selling $1 buttons or $3 comics (even if you sell bunches of them) but several $10 prints and a few original art or commission sales can make a big difference. To vary up the price offerings you can play with the sizes of prints. Most print shops will offer a good deal on 11" x 17" prints, so in addition to offering that poster-size, think about printing 4-6 smaller prints on a single sheet of 11x17 and trimming them down. Items like comics & small prints can be in the $3-5 range, with larger prints & sketchbooks going up to $10-15, and commissions and original art being more than that (figuring out what to price your originals for is a whole other conversation)

At your first con new business cards printed can be your freebie, but if you have more budget or are further on in your exhibiting you can also try bookmarks, postcards, stickers (though some cons ban them) or buttons once you get a feel for your market and what you are willing pay for free items. The items should have a way to contact you (a URL, an email address, your name, or bare minimum: the title of your project). To prevent blowing through too many of these items you paid for, you can offer them only to people who stopped and showed interest instead of just having them on the table marked 'free'.

-The right sales approach:
Don't be a pushy seller. Everyone's pitch and technique is different and finding your style may come easy or take some trial and error. I advise saying hello and greet everyone who stops by (which also means making eye contact), but don't go too much further pushing unless they show more interest or ask questions. Think of it as having a conversation with the customer rather than a sales pitch. I hate being hit over the head with a full explanation of someone's project & all the prices are & what items are which the minute I walk up to them. You should be proud to talk about your work and to take the opportunity to explain it, but you will turn more people off than you attract doing a hard-sell or carnival barking people over to your table.

-Accept credit card  payments if possible:
A few years ago, you could get by without accepting credit payments, but that has changed. I'm now seeing that I would lose a good number of sales if I didn't accept them. Square is an app and device for android or iOS devices and Paypal offers one too. The benefit about both of these devices is that you can use it on your phone's data plan (not just wifi) and you have no annual/monthly merchant fees. If you don't have a device that can use either the reader or app, but can access your email, you can ask a customer to paypal you the payment on their device and you can confirm the payment was sent by checking your email.

-Commissioned work:
Figuring out the pros and cons of varied commission policies is a whole post on its own ...but I'd say the best advice I can offer is to plan ahead: What do you charge for them? (Is the amount based on size, a number of figures, media used), What you are willing and not willing to do per commission? (certain subjects/themes off limits? Backgrounds?). As you do more conventions your policies may change, and you may also need to devise a method/order for how/when you accept the requests (first come/first served? limit per customer? new list every day? pre-orders?) You will want to have answers ready (not necessarily written out on a sign) for sizes, options, pricing, etc. when asked and not try to figure it out on-the-spot.
Make sure you have materials you want to use to do commissions (paper, the right pens, pencils, color tools). If you are getting more requests than you planned, consider losing a little profit by overbooking yourself and offering to ship the finished art back to a customer after the convention. Commissions are a great way to build up a client base that may not yet be familiar with your work.

-Copyrighted characters & ideas:
Strictly speaking, you could be in violation of copyright laws by making a profit on any character/concept/or logo you don't own the rights to. A great deal of artists in Artist Alley do sell prints, commissions, and sketchbooks containing characters they don't own, but most do so at the risk that they could be busted. Some may have arrangements with the publishers of those characters because of their work history/contracts with them, others are just too small of a target for a publisher to take legal action. As an artist whose career is based on a creator owned book, I'm more interested in promoting my own ideas than copyrighted characters, so I'm biased...but my rule-of-thumb is that I won't sell printed material of anything that I don't own the rights to; however if someone commissions me to do a one-of original of a copyrighted character, I'll accept. If your goal is to get work drawing for a big publisher and you need to exhibit some of the work showcasing your understanding & skill at drawing those characters, it's fine to show, but I'd avoid selling it.

-Dry run table layout:
Measure out a place on your dining room table or even on your floor that matches the table space in artist alley. Try a few different table arrangements for all your items. Make sure everything fits and that it's arranged nicely to your liking. Avoid set-ups where your products overlap each other or look cluttered like a  second-hand store. Once you have a layout you like, it's easy to snap a photo of it and use the photo as reference during table set-up.

-Be yourself
Don't try and be someone you are not...and this goes for your artwork too. Offer up information about you or your work or your technique when asked. If someone asks you something you don't have an answer ready for (freelance work, rights questions, price breaks, etc.) It's ok to say "I don't know...let me think about that and get back to you".
Don't be self deprecating or apologize for your work...(especially if you are having your work reviewed by an editor/publisher...just listen and answer the questions you are asked) being humble is one thing...coming off like a sad artist who doesn't belong is another.

Smile, be nice, and enjoy the con & meeting people. It's a fun experience!

  Watercolor Wednesday: In case you missed last week's Watercolor Wednesday pieces, here they are for a closer look. First up is a Moon & Sun pairing. I painted the moon first and then decided it would be fun to do a 'day' companion piece. I went back and forth on whether to sell them individually or as a set. I opted in the end for them to be a set.

Second up are the Beatles in Sgt. Pepper gear. I struggle with drawing humans anyhow and getting likeness is a tricky task to boot, so in my fear of making this simple watercolor wednesday into more work than pleasure, I abstracted the layout so that the Beatles themselves were absent and only their hair & clothing (and John's glasses) remained.

2013 Appearances: 
Emerald City: March 1-3
Fabletown Con: March 22-24
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
Albuquerque Comic Expo June 21-23
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Stained Glass:
Last week's post about the 2013 bookplate got me thinking about sharing my experiences working with stained glass, both in real life and illustrated. As I mentioned last week, I've cut glass for my own projects before (many of which I cut in an under-the-stairs cupboard in my post college apartment to keep the glass debris out of my living space) and knowing how glass cuts certainly has aided me when wanting to draw stained glass correctly or make my own patterns. This experience is some of that type that I advise all creatives to pursue: Something out of your direct trade or comfort zone that, in the end, will make you better at your trade for having branched out (even if you fail at it). Working at Materials Unlimited (the Architectural Antique store I was employed by when I started Mouse Guard) helped me a great deal in that regard too. Not only did it push my knowledge at craft and how things were made (and therefore ways things must and must not be repaired) but also a visual vocabulary of aesthetics & design through several centuries and regions....but I'm digressing...back to my feeble attempts at glasswork.

Real Stained Glass Work:
In college I inherited a great deal of stained glass scraps from a very large window that was removed from my childhood church. The window was taken out in the 60's but the fragments were stored & saved, and parted out. Among the pieces were two round still assembled windows with some disrepair. I wanted to learn how to repair them, so as gifts for family, I started making my own designs out of the other scraps. I bought more glass to get the right colors and textures for my projects, but made sure that almost every new project had some pieces of the church glass in it too. (to the right: a sewing sparrow for my Mother)

I started, rather boldly, with portraits of family members. I used pictures of them and photoshop to try and break their features into simple shapes. Along the way, I had to make changes, cutting what was one piece in my design into two, because the original shape was too complicated to cut by hand from a single piece. Once each piece for the design is cut (scored & carefully cracked is a better way of describing it) they are all edged with an adhesive foil tape. The foil edged pieces are re-assembled like a non-locking jigsaw puzzle, and then soldered together. (below are the portraits of my Father, Mother, and Paternal Grandparents). 

After doing a these (and a few more) flat image projects, and not feeling ready to tackle the round windows in need to mending (which also use a lead came in between the glass instead of foil), I started doing more free-form glass pieces. I had a rough pattern for the pieces, but didn't always adhere to it, knowing I'd have to make modifications for the overall form not to be flat. I made a few types of leaf suncatchers (seen below). The first shown is made up of many 5 piece maple-looking leaves and soldered together into a tumbling mass. The second piece shown is a large single leaf where the veins of the leaf are formed by the solder joints and every piece in between was a different color of glass. On that piece it also meant that every joint was an opportunity to have the shape bend in a 3rd dimension.

I have still never gotten around to repairing my round windows (they happily sit on the dining room window ledges...but I have used their design & color scheme in several pieces since...

Illustrating Stained Glass:
This spot illustration (done for the Mouse Guard RPG hardcover rulebook) is of one of my round church windows. I've also used this design in Jasper Bunny's front door in my children's book Snowy Valentine. In this instance, I didn't have to know much about how glass cut, or what shapes were possible, or what colors would look best, because I was simply copying the design...but having seen that window every day with light pouring through it made me feel much more confident about how to render the color.
I've created some window illustrations on my own and others I've used existing windows as jumping off points, modifying what I needed to make the glass special about the subject.

Season chapter header in the Mouse Guard RPG
The outer edges are based on real windows with new center patterns designed by me for each season

Muppet Snow White cover for BOOM!
This window was a photo edit of an existing window to make a round design

From Winter 1152 Epilogue.
A window based on Jane Irwin's pinup from issue 6

 FCBD 2011 cover
Modified existing design to include painted & fired areas representing the three items from the story: talon sword, shell shield, & snake venom

page from Black Axe #5
For this room, I designed eleven past matriarch windows using an arch design from a historic window, but modifying the majority of each window for the matriarch's figure & symbolism

Jim Henson's The Storyteller pinup
The window serves as a story cue in itself to a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale called The Tinderbox

I use stained glass in these covers, pages, and pinups, not just because it looks cool, but because of what else it adds. Stained glass windows evoke a sense of history, of mood and atmosphere, they help me tell a story and add a weight to the importance of the setting. If the glass is more than design and has a subject matter, you know that within the story it appears in, that subject is important...otherwise no one in the fictional world would have taken the time to make a window commemorating it. 

Watercolor Wednesday: Here is another look at last week's Watercolor Wednesday pieces. First up is a crow in shabby clothing. Have I ever mentioned I like talking animals as subjects?
While painting this guy I thought of depression era folks who just carried on and made due with very very little. I came up with a little reason for his checked scarf (it also serves as a way for him to carry his meager lunch) and the two talks of wheat in his hat (his last two bites of food, always saved atop his cap for his son & wife)

The other painting from last week was an apple. Just because. 

2013 Appearances: 
Emerald City: March 1-3
Fabletown Con: March 22-24
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Bookplate Process

Like last year, I'll be offering a new bookplate this year. For those who aren't familiar, a bookplate is a small decorative card that is pasted into the inside front cover of a book from your personal library that distinguishes itself as yours. For last year's bookplate I did a relief print to create the image. This year I designed a stained glass window. And though I've done stained glass work before, I didn't make a real window to create this image. Here was the process:

While viewing stained glass in churches and cathedrals on a recent trip to England & Scotland, I got the idea to use that imagery for the 2013 bookplate. When I returned home and started searching for more imagery for inspiration, I found this section of a window in the Church of St Andrew, Temple Grafton, Warwickshire, England of a Templar Hospitaller. I liked the arched & architectural framing around the figure's head & the title at the bottom. So, I essentially stole those elements when making my own design.

In Photoshop I mocked up the elements from the Templar window that I liked using line tools with a thick stroke to emulate the lead came that holds stained glass windows together. The mouse knight was first sketched in my sketchbook and then added and cleaned up for the digital layout. I added in a few patterns & designs to the layout. I decided the circles around the mouse's head would be stylize stars instead of the Templar's flowers.

Having working knowledge of cutting glass came in handy. There are certain shapes it is impossible to cut glass into by hand. While inking the lead came design onto bristol (using the digital layout above as a guide on my lightbox) I kept those shapes in mind, breaking complex glass areas into multiple pieces with another came line. To emulate the painted and fired look for the mouse, his armor, & other elements, I returned to the lighbox and on a separate sheet of bristol, drew the 'painted' details in with pencil.

After scanning both the inked lead came artwork and the penciled 'painted' artwork, I was able to combine them into one image. I kept the 'painted' layer separate from the lead came layer because I wanted to be able to come back and tint and lighten/darken those areas without effecting the lead came layer. With both layers set to 'multiply' (a photoshop layer blending mode that allows new layers beneath these to be visible in the white space) I could start 'coloring' the glass piece...

But I didn't want to do my standard coloring techniques to emulate the look of glass. I've done that a few times in the comics, but for this piece, I wanted it to look more like a real window than an illustration of one. I took photos of some of the antique stained glass in my home as well as glass scraps I have from my childhood church. Using the photographed swatches, I populated the glass-less voids of my design, tinting, fixing value levels, and adjusting tones as I went.

Here is another look at the final result sans-bookplate text.

 The bookplates will be a signed and numbered edition of 750. I'll be debuting the bookplate with this artwork at my first comic convention of 2013: Emerald City Comic Con in Seattle, WA the 1st-3rd of March. Sometime after that, we will be offering the 2013 bookplate in the online store

Watercolor Wednesday: In case you missed last week's Watercolor Wednesday pieces, here they are again for a closer look. Both of these were just for the excuse of painting characters that were odd looking and distorted. The one to the left I called the 'Mutton Chop Guru'. Originally I was going to have the pattern in the background originate from his lips like he was exhaling some poetic lines & symbols, but opted for it just to be background instead.

The other guy, simply titled 'newspaper hat' was some amalgamation of characters from Alice in Wonderland, Wind in the Willows, and perhaps a Roald Dahl book or two.

2013 Appearances: 
Emerald City: March 1-3
Fabletown Con: March 22-24
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cursed Pirate Girl Piece Process

As many of you know, I'm a big supporter of Jeremy Bastian's Cursed Pirate Girl comic series. Jeremy's work is AMAZING! and I was honored when he asked me to contribute a new piece for his hardcover collection with Archaia. The new collcetion has a section at the end called "The Royal Portraiturist". Jeremy wrote quotes as though they were eyewitness descriptions of Cursed Pirate Girls deeds, then Jeremy chose a group of artists to draw those descriptions.

I was given the description: "This little girl fought, and those fine swordmasters the king bought, the ones said to be unbeatable...well they wee made out to be naught but frilly baboons."

Because I was going to be drawing a lot of humans (unusual for me) I started by taking photo reference. I took a picture of my oldest niece as CPG, and multiple photos of myself. Unfortunately, it looks like I deleted the original untouched photos of her in Ugg boots grimacing at unseen foes & gripping unseen swords. I do have this embarrassing grouping of photos I took of myself reacting like scared "frilly baboon" swordmasters.

 Because Jeremy's characters often have distorted anatomy and exaggerated features, I used the 'Liquify' tool in photoshop to warp the photos I took until I liked the characters that were emerging. I had to alter my niece as well. I made her head much larger in proportion to her body and altered her arm and hands a bit too. The composition of the swordmasters was arrived at by just moving around the various photos until they pieced together in a way that everyone was shown. I drew & inked the final piece based on this distorted layout.

Here is the final inked piece, which I'm very happy with. Because this piece was going to be printed in black and white, I needed to make the piece 'read' without color. To make sense of the figures and their costumes, I focused on strong contour lines to define their outer form and a well distributed group of textures & grey densities. (I've talked about making grey patterns before to help define 2D spaces in my Inking Grey post.)   After finishing the piece, I developed some backstories for the various swordmasters and their swords and fighting styles.

Here's a closer look at CPG and the Swordmasters:

Cursed Pirate Girl herself. I tried not to stray far from Jeremy's design of her

The Dandy & the Dwarf.
The Cultist

The Retired Gruff

Jeremy's hardcover collection of Cursed Pirate Girl is available now at your local comic book shop & bookstore. Jeremy also recently opened an online store for his hand stained prints: http://jeremybastian.bigcartel.com/

Watercolor Wednesday: In case you missed last week's Watercolor Wednesday pieces, here are all three in one image for a closer look. When I worked in the Ypsilanti antique store called Materials Unlimited I saw a lot of antique keys. Reading the Locke & Key series has awoken my appreciation for the beauty of keys both in their design & fabrication, but also in their symbolism. When I drew them out  (and I'd originally intended to draw more than 3) I added ribbons & labels so that I could 'write something clever' on each one. After the three were painted I gave they the attributes of Faith, Hope, & Charity and decided I didn't need to make another single key.

2013 Appearances: 
Emerald City: March 1-3
Fabletown Con: March 22-24
C2E2: April 26-28
Spectrum Live: May 17-19
Heroes Con: June 7-9
San Diego Comic Con: July 17-21
*more 2013 dates coming*

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