Monday, August 18, 2014

Afternoon Sketch Gone Too Far

Yesterday I started sketching for fun - a little line here- little line there - another character - wouldn't it look better with some value? - hmmm little more value....ok - I'm going to have to color this. So I lost a day (today) but had fun finishing this one! Available as a print here!


Monday, August 11, 2014


Jake Parker and I talk about his new BIG idea - World Art Drop Day - learn how you can participate and connect with people who appreciate art.

Monday, August 4, 2014

This One Goes Out To Art Teachers


This is a somewhat snarky post about those art/illustration students that exhibit behaviors counterproductive to improving their craft.  I've never had a student that's met all of the above criteria but a few that hit most of them. To set the record straight - I was this guy many times during my schooling in the early 90's. As school at the University is about to start in a few weeks I thought I would draw up this translator for teachers to get a laugh but more importantly to bring awareness to illustration students all over the world. We as teachers may not call you on your self destructive actions but know this: WE'RE THINKING IT!

I often start out my classes telling students what I think - when they do ________. It gets laughs and I see many of them squirm around in their seats realizing I'm not far off. I'm not the kind of guy who is going to call you out in class to embarrass you. I might make a light hearted joke to get my point across but I just don't have it in me to yell at you in class. Please don't mistake my lack of communication for ignorance, apathy, oblivious bliss, or that I'm unaware of what you're doing.

I've been around students long enough to know that when someone tells me how hard they're going to work on the first day of class it sends up a red flag. Too many of you who announce your future art victories have proven to be the laziest non producing students I've ever had. The students who sit quietly in the back are the ones that usually put up impressive work. There is a direct correlation between students who act the most defensive during critiques and the quality of their work. I get it - you're not ready to be taught. You're already feeling like you might not belong in this class so you go into defense mode. It's going to be ok. We'll work together to improve your artwork.

I'm hoping that my little comic up there might bring you to a level of awareness that will help us move forward. Just know that I know what you think I don't know about what you're doing. It's not fooling anyone - it's just delaying your education.

UPDATE - I got so many "why isn't there a positive slant?" comments, emails, messages that I decided to give them what they wanted! Here is the updated version below:




Monday, July 21, 2014

My Illustration War Stories!


In this video I share a few of my illustration nightmares working with clients over the years. There's no substitution for learning by experience - often sad experience :) ...sit back and enjoy my pain...

Monday, July 14, 2014

Don't let them CRAP on your ART!


Sometimes people crap on your art and they don't even know it. Sometimes they crap on your art and they know it but they think they're helping...and sometimes the angry, sad, and discouraged crap on your art because they want company - don't let them.

Many people have good intentions but because they haven't accomplished anything with their art - OR - they aren't artists they think they can help you by encouraging you to take a different path or quit altogether. The problem with taking advice from a non-artist is they don't understand what it feels like to create something. They don't understand the joy and emotional high you get from creating something better than you've ever created before. They don't understand that you will be depressed if you aren't expressing your creativity and working hard on improving your craft.

Words can inspire and words can kill your spirit. Surround yourself with positive people. Let them know that you're smart - you understand how hard it is to pursue a career in art - you don't need them to tell you about the perils - you need them to encourage you - if you need to take time off for a job or project that pays bills you'll do it without them telling you to.

Once in class I made some comments that I really thought were encouraging and the student I was talking to changed majors the next day. It might be for the better - time will tell and we each have a different journey but it reinforced the sacred responsibility we have towards each other. Be positive. Be helpful. Be an inspiration to your friends and they'll return the favor.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Gary's Place Got A Stared Review on Kirkus!

So excited to find out this week that Gary's Place our iPad story app written by Rick Walton received the coveted "stared" review on Kirkus! So exciting! You can check out the review and everything they had to say about the app here.


Monday, June 30, 2014

How To Get Past Artist's Block



I've been asked quite often how I get past Artist's block - you know, that feeling you get when you don't want to start or can't figure out how to start a new project. When you stare at a blank piece of paper and can't come up with anything that you think will make a good drawing. In this video I give my process for overcoming this paralyzing situation that happens to all artists from time to time.


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

SVS Summer School Critique Class


I created this image to keep my skills sharp and to announce our SVS Summer School Critique class. It's available for anyone of any skill level as long as they have taken or watched our "Creative Compositions" class. Most of the advice I give is design/composition related so I need class members to have gone through this class so we have a common language and understanding. The class will start on Tuesday July 15th at 7:00PM MST - then we will break for two weeks and meet again on Tuesday the 29th same time.


I'm limiting this class to 8 students to give ample time for each person. Students are welcome to have anything they are working on critiqued. There will be no assignments (best summer school ever!) so attendees will need to have a piece or two that they really want to polish ready to go for critique. It could be in the sketch stage or the painting stage. The idea for two classes is to receive feed back - rework or start over  - then come back for a final critique.


You can visit our store here where you can see the "Creative Composition" class as well as our new "Summer School Critiques" class.



Monday, June 23, 2014

Send This Video To Your Illustration Clients

I've been wanting to make this video for quite some time now. Often artists ask me to educate them on the best way to work with their clients - or they ask me the best way to work with a new, small, or start up client that don't know how to work with an illustrator. I made this video for just that situation. If you have a client that doesn't know how to work with an illustrator you may consider sending them this link...

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Playing With Brushes in Photoshop


Just having a little fun working with a few new brushes in Photoshop. When I get time I like to experiment a little. I used 3 custom brushes to make this image - I'm going to experiment more to make various "fur" brushes.


I'll explain a little about the brushes I used for this painting. First, I'm a rank beginner when it comes to making and using brushes and after doing this one I have ideas for better brushes to add variety to the fur.

The top brush is the standard air brush that comes stock with Photoshop but it has the texture settings I've explained at length in my online video tutorials - check out the links on the right side of my blog...

The middle brush is the stock airbrush with my texture settings but I squished it with the "roundness" tool at the bottom of the brush pallet. I used this brush for the grass.

The bottom brush is just a few large dots I made to simulate hair. I've used this brush a lot but would like to make some variation modifications.

All of these brushes have the "transfer" settings turned on to take advantage of the pressure sensitivity of my cintiq monitor.

I'll practice this more and do some sort of tutorial/post/video on these settings and applications in the future sometime.

Monday, June 9, 2014

7 Reasons Why I Can NOT Illustrate Your Children's Book



I'm flattered when I'm asked to illustrate someone's personal project - like a children's book. I should have put this in the video but I forgot. It really bugs me when people don't get back to me in an email that I've sent them and I don't want to ignore or give a short "no" to people who email me with requests. I know it takes a lot of emotional effort to reach out and ask for something like this. I made this video to be able to send out as a thoughtful response when people ask me to illustrate their children's book. I hope my answers make sense.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Working on an Indie Xbox / Playstation Game


A few months back I joined a 5 person indie team to create an Xbox / Playstation game. I can't release all the details right now but I'll share what I can. First - it's sooo much fun! Second - and it's really FUN too! We have two developers, an animator, musician, and myself - artist/art director.

This project has teeth - pun intended. It's a platformer like Braid, Limbo, Guacamele, etc. Hopefully we get ratings like those games too! The opportunity came as a chance to own a piece of the game - so if it sells well I'll get compensated - if it doesn't - I will have done a lot of work and learned a lot - been there before.


The head of Xbox Chris Charla has said that indie games are the future of gaming and Xbox is really excited to support indie developers. We have a release date for this coming January so we have to stay on track developing each level, testing it, making tweaks, re-testing and so forth. We plan to release on Xbox, Playstation, PSVita, and STEAM...if it does well - iOS. The most rewarding thing for me is to be able to dream something up, draw it, bounce it off the team members, tweak it, render it, hand it off to the developers and see it in the game. I'll keep adding updates from time to time as we progress.

Monday, May 26, 2014

6 Business Tips For Freelance Illustrators


Over the years I have made quite a few business mistakes, some of which have cost me clients and others I was able to fix before I lost clients. In this video I share a few pointers that I've learned along the way to help you manage and care for the people who give you money. It's a competitive market out there and without good business skills you may likely undo all the good you did to attract your clients in the first place. I hope my tips hasten your learning curve!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Have You Plateaued With Your Artwork? Digital Paint Over




One of my UVU illustration students - Stewart Craig allowed me to do a "paint over" on one of his digital paintings. It's not easy letting someone monkey around with your art - I know - I've had teachers do it for me and it can be a little weird. Getting feedback is critical to improvement. Often we are too close to be objective in with our own work and it takes letting someone give you suggestions. Technology has allowed us to work on artwork digitally without leaving permanent marks. If you're struggling you might want to check out our www.svslearn.com online LIVE classes - we do this all the time for our students.  Thank you Stew!

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Some Frogs Don't Like Rain


No words of wisdom this week as I prepare to travel to speak at the SCBWI in Colorado Springs this coming weekend. They still have room if you're interested. I really love being able to get out from time to time and meet fellow artists. I'll be speaking about the technical aspects of working digitally on a cintiq monitor, developing story apps, and the current situation of children's book markets.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Scanning, Re-Sizing, Resolution, and Pixels in Photoshop


I made this video to answer a question emailed to my by DeWayne about re-sizing your image in photoshop to prepare it to paint digitally. This is a beginner video so nothing earth shattering but if you're new to digital painting it might just be the information you've been looking for!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Wet Rat Speed Painting using Procreate App



I made this little drawing on my iPad air using Procreate app in just 2 hours. I don't normally take my sketches to finish on the iPad but Procreate has that nifty feature of being able to download every pencil and brush stroke and since I haven't done one in a while I thought I would upload one. What you won't see in the video is all of the zoom in and zoom out I'm doing to get my detail work.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014



Every week someone asks me what stylus I'm using for drawing on my iPad - so I made a video about it!

Friday, April 18, 2014

10 Things I learned at SLC Comic Con

Things I learned at the SLC Comic Con yesterday:

1. I was supposed to geek out on the famous firefly insect Adam Baldwin but I don't like insects much.


2. I take really good blurry pictures. Most people struggle with this technique - not I. Here is Corel Painter artist Don Seegmiller better known as Neil Young.


3. I enjoy meeting online friends in person like Mathew Armstrong and Jason Kim - Disney interactive artists.


4. Reconnecting with my blurry friends like Disney artist Ryan Wood.


5. ...and gopher turned Japanese poster artist Jed Henry (google Ukiyo-e Heroes)


6. That Ty Carter is trying to bulk up for his next career as an MMA fighter...


7. ...and Jake Parker is already an MMA fighter...so don't disrespect.


8. Oh - and that Bjorn Thorkelson created the "Accurasee sketch caddie" the BEST product I saw at comic con! It's an art tools carrier that fits over the cover of your sketchbook. I was blown away by this nifty device. Many of you know that I mostly sketch on my iPad now but I had to have one of these for the times when I take my sketchbook out. I remember what a pain it was to try to carry everything I wanted - no longer! Check it out at his website.


9. That many of my students from UVU although blurry, have become amazing artists and will be forces to be reckoned with in animation, visual development, and illustration.



10. And finally that Jared Salmond has become completely invisible. People loved watching his pen sign all those posters. When I had him in class he was only "mostly" invisible but through hard work and determination he has finally arrived at his present form of, well, not being there....and for his next feat he will become mute.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Why Do Some ART Teachers Refuse To Teach ART?


It's been about a year since Jake Parker and I started our SVS online Live & Recorded illustration classes...WOW! We've had a lot fun and gotten to know so many of you who we've met on Facebook, Twitter, or on our blogs. I'm going to introduce our newest class at the bottom of this post but before I do I want to talk about the title question: Why Do Some Art Teachers Refuse To Teach Art?

I can't tell you how many artists have told me via facebook, twitter, youtube, this blog, email, skype, etc that they have learned more from our short SVS classes than they did in four years of Art School at 500 x the price! As much as I'd like to pat myself on the back I won't. I won't pretend that I'm doing more than any art teacher should be doing.


How can this be happening? My theory is that art was never treated as a serious subject in K-12 and as a result students enter college completely unaware of what they need to learn in a visual arts program. "But Will, I had a great teacher in H.S." It happens, but more often art teachers spend most of their time managing students that were dumped in their classrooms from the counseling dept. - I know - I taught H.S. art.  I believe that teachers that don't teach either never became accomplished in their own work and never learned the rules. Perhaps they've simply become lazy and willing to take advantage of the system -a system that pays them for being a great teacher or a lousy one. It could also be that they are afraid that they will create clones of themselves who will take away their work - pure nonsense.

Drama majors, English majors, Music majors, and Dance majors come to college with much more experience than illustration or art majors. They come with more experience because in Drama, English, Music, and Dance they are taught rules. You can't have a school play if the actors are taught to act their "feelings". Obviously you can't write a story without learning rules about plots, sub plots, climax, resolution, and of course grammar. You can't make music if everyone is doing their own "interpretation" of the song and you can't be an effective dancer without learning "moves" moves that were developed by other dancers.


"But Will, you're talking apples and oranges." Baloney (see what I did there?) In a play you have a climax - that's called a focal point in a painting. In writing you revisit the same theme throughout the story - that's called repetition in an illustration. In music you you have to have balance, unity, divisions, and emphasis and it's no different if you want to visually communicate in a picture.

Art teachers on the other hand have been getting away with murder. Not all of them - I know many many great art teachers at the college level and I have to put in a plug for UVU where I teach - a great illustration program with teachers who rock! I also know many who have perfected the art of NOT teaching. Their apathy towards their students is sickening. I hear reports that teachers tell students to "paint their feelings" to "experiment" to "explore" and just "figure it out". I had an illustration teacher tell me over and over: "If I tell you how to complete the assignment you won't learn anything". I'm not saying that telling a student to experiment is a bad thing - but if that's the only "teaching" a student gets - IT'S BAD!

My question is what's different about the visual arts? Why and how do these teachers get away with NOT teaching the Rules of art? Are there rules of art? If there are rules for actors, musicians, writers, and dancers why not for visual artists?...THERE ARE!

If you were never taught to keep your elbows off the table you could be offending people without knowing it. If nobody ever taught you to floss - your teeth might be falling out and if you were never taught to swim - you might be reading this from heaven. My point is that awareness comes from education and without it you might be walking around totally unaware that you are in desperate need of something.


One of our most important classes is coming this MAY and it's called Creative Composition. Many artists don't realize that there's a big difference between drawing and designing and that in order to create a GREAT image you need BOTH. We grew up like weeds. We were given pencils and paper and told to have fun. Having fun is good but without instruction it's just play time. Does your art look like play time? Our Elementary teachers had no clue how to teach art and most of our H.S. teachers never learned the rules of design either (and I'm talking about a lot more than rule of thirds).

I get about 50 to 100 emails /interactions on social media per day asking me about how to get better at art. Most aren't serious. Most don't have the kind of commitment needed to improve. Many want me to tell them how good their art is as if my blessing will help them convince themselves that it isn't that bad. It's bad. We all start out bad. I was horrible and I've blogged about that often. Horrible with a capital H - so don't think I'm rude when I tell you that if you never learned the rules your art is probably suffering. It's hard to give a good critique but honesty is the only thing that will help you get better. It's time to stop pretending to be an artist and start being one by taking control of your future.

If you're serious about getting better I promise you that this composition class won't be a waste of your time...and we won't tell you, "Just experiment."


Monday, April 7, 2014

Submitting & Sizing your art for Children's Publishing

I made this video for the many people who have asked me how to prepare artwork and how to get it in front of an editor at a publishing house. I also talk a lot about the SCBWI since I can't possibly include everything you need to know in one video. The SCBWI is a great resource for anyone interested in making a career out of writing, illustrating, or both.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Secret Life of a Freelance Illustrator


I find it interesting that most people don't know much about freelance illustration. I think most people assume you have to be crazy to be a freelancer - they're probably right. Interestingly enough back when I had my highest earning years back in the late 90's my wife would get comments from women at the park like: "Has your husband found a job yet?" or "It must be hard being married to an artist". My wife would say, "you have no idea!" I think she enjoyed messing with them.

Back then being a freelancer was a much easier feat than it is today. I've talked at length about the current state of freelance illustration on some of my youtube videos- you can watch them here. Today the freelance markets are fractured and constantly evolving. I know illustrators who are now bankers. I know editors who are teaching school among other jobs. I know editors who are trying to become illustrators. I know illustrators who are now graphic designers. I even know art directors who have been laid off and re-hired by the same companies to freelance graphic design. I know art directors and editors who have lost their jobs to down sizing and are still looking for their next job.

The world has probably changed more in the past 10 years than it ever has. That probably sounds naive and over-reaching but can you imagine any other technology that has changed the world in such a short time as the internet? Remember the last time your internet when out and you sat in fetal position sucking your thumb waiting for the horror to end? We can't do anything without it!

But I digress. Let me divulge some of my secret activities! Sometimes I don't get dressed until the afternoon. I've skyped without pants- maybe with you! - but I promise, not with your daughter. I go shopping on weekdays while the world is at work. I work longer and harder than most people with a job. I can't remember the last week that I put in less than 70 hours sometimes over 90 - BUT - they were the funnest hours I could imagine putting in. Most days I wake up pinching myself that I get to do this. It wasn't always like this however. It took me about 15 years to learn that my life is so much better off when I say no to bad freelance jobs. What are bad freelance jobs? The kind that have you cringing when you wake up. I can't tell you what they are because your bad jobs will be different than mine.

I've wished I could stand around the water cooler and catch up on the latest chatter. I used to get really lonely painting all day and got hooked on General Hospital for about a year back in 1993. I've called other illustrators randomly from the old directories just to strike up conversations. I worked on Christmas day once because the client had to have it two days after or they were going to go with someone else. I was paid $13,000 for that Sprint job. It took me about a week to complete. I could do it now digitally in a few days and enjoy Christmas with my family. And I once earned $20,000 for a phone call (remind me to go into detail on this one on another blog post).

I've learned to spend less than I make. This is probably one of the most important skills you can learn. Stress is a killer...no really...STRESS WILL KILL YOU. I've had about 3 really stressful times.

1) Back when I was stupid I got down to about $800 in my account for the entire month and I didn't have any assignments! I was so nervous I made a few calls to art directors I had worked for in the past. A few of them gave me work and then of course I got a deluge of assignments the week after.

2) Back when I was really really stupid - we were spending more than we were making because we were making lots of money. It was right after a year where I turned down over $70,000 worth of freelance work because my plate was already too full in 1998.Yep - we spent all the money in our account and couldn't get paid from any of my outstanding accounts for about 3 weeks. (Please don't think I'm seeking any sympathy - in fact you should leave a comment with your best synonym for dumb ass)...Luckily I had been saving quarters, nickels, and dimes in a jar. I got that puppy down off the shelf and counted out $90. Later that day I had my car filled up and groceries in the fridge. I Kept checking the mailbox but each day there were NO checks. We stopped driving unless it was absolutely necessary. Did I mention that our two credit cards were maxed? The following week when the fridge was empty I went for the back up plan - the penny jar! SHOOWEE - $20 later and I was back with groceries again - amazing how far you can stretch your last $20 bucks. Eventually we got paid - crazy thing was that I was owed about $28,000 in outstanding checks but this is the lesson: Don't spend it until it's in your account and even then - DON"T SPEND IT!

3) Back when I was Ultra Mega Stupid - we got in over our heads again. (notice a pattern here? some of us have to learn the same lessons over and over) I had about a year when we were going through a really really dry spell for freelance - this was also a transitionary time -it's a long story - but basically I had to learn all over again how important it is to save money. We survived! We downsized. We learned what we needed to have to be happy and what we could live without.

The good news is that in the past 5 years I've had more money than I did when I was earning much more. We wasted so much money back then. Now I keep enough money in the bank to pay all of our bills for about 9 months. This is enough time to really make drastic changes if things aren't working out.

So there you go - the secret life of a freelancer isn't so secret anymore - it's the best job I've NEVER had.

I painted the image above a few months back for National Geographic Learning. It was one of about 8 paintings I completed for an educational project they had for ESL students. I was given the assignment from Cynthia Currie - an art director I hadn't heard from in about a decade. It was really neat to get a job from her again - I hope she reads my blog so she can see how exciting it was - hint hint! :)


Monday, March 24, 2014

My Response: Where Are People of Color in Children's Books?


Last week the New york Times posted an article entitled: "Where Are the People of Color in Children's Books?" Walter Dean Myers, the author shared his experience growing up reading books that he didn't relate to because he was black and most of the books he read were about white kids. It's a very thoughtful article that provokes many questions.

I thought I would share some of my experiences as an illustrator relating to ethnicity in children's books. I grew up in a white suburban neighborhood just north of our nations capital in Maryland. I always identified myself as white even though my grandmother on my mother's side has native indian blood in her ancestry and my mom is suspected of having an african american father. It wasn't until I was in college that my mom felt comfortable sharing that as a child she wasn't able to attend the white schools because she couldn't "pass" - a term meaning you were classified as having a mixed-race heritage.

Even though I have color in my heritage I always identified myself as white. I did identify with the books I was presented with so I really can not relate to what Walter experienced at an early age. I do believe however that the reason we don't see more color in children's books is quite simply that more white children have been privileged to go to college in the past decades. I would think most children's book illustrators are white and illustrate from their own experiences. It's more natural for me to illustrate white children because that's how I grew up and what I'm most familiar with. I would also probably be a last choice for a book about a specifically black family. I don't think it's a coincidence that Kadir Nelson and Don Tate are given these assignments regularly. I know they bring a sensibility to the art that I'm sure neither I nor other white illustrators could match.

At the beginning of my illustration career I was unfamiliar with the various cultural differences when asked to illustrate children and adults of color. This is not to say that I didn't want to include them in my illustrations - just that it felt like I was entering unfamiliar territory. The problem for me wasn't being asked to include asian, hispanic, and african ethnicities in my illustrations - it was what roles to give each character. I continually ran into problems in many of my assignments where one character was perhaps nefarious, laboring, or doing something less heroic. In trying to cast the illustration I knew it would be a problem to give a character of color one of these lesser roles - it would have to be a white person as to avoid offending the art director, editor, and ultimately the readers. But this in itself created a problem - why did my race always have to be the one on the bottom? That didn't feel right either. Keep in mind I write this at the risk of being labeled a racist.

 I once worked on an assignment for a prominent magazine that shall remain nameless. The assignment was to show "teamwork". I was asked to illustrate 4 people lifting boxes and stacking them with a manager directing traffic. Each person had to be a different ethnicity: black, white, hispanic, and asian. My goal was to come up with a pleasing arrangement that communicated "teamwork" while giving each person a good role. I placed a white person handing a box to an asian person handing the boxes to a hispanic person at the top stacking them and a black person pointing and showing where the boxes were to go.

 I had a conference call scheduled with the art director, creative director, editor, and a few other people. When they saw my sketch they began to argue some saying that the black person looked lazy since he wasn't helping lift. I offered that I had purposely put him in a position of management. They resumed their argument that he still looked lazy - some defending my decision and others thinking we needed to make a change. They then suggested that I switch the black person with the asian person so that the black person wouldn't look lazy.

 Now you can hate me for this next part but if you know me you know I'm a kidder and that I like to stir things up a bit. So knowing exactly what I was doing I decided to have a little fun with their new solution. I said, "Ok, but won't this new set up look like the asian is smarter than everyone and that the black person is just a laborer? I wish I could have recorded the rest of the turmoil - entertaining to say the least. They finally went with my original sketch.



The truth in my opinion is that when you try to make things fair in this way you end up far from fair. It's not any fairer to put the white guy on the bottom as it is to put the black guy on the bottom. The truth is that in some stories you have children in situations that put some in a better light than others. If you try to cherry pick the races to avoid offending certain groups you'll just offend another group.

For many stories that are NOT specific to ethnicity you can simply substitute animal characters. Animals are void of race and gender depending on how you draw them. It makes life so much easier and you can create characters and meaningful stories that children can relate to without the burden of race and gender.  I do understand however that some stories might be specific to historical, racial, gender and other specific details that can't be replaced with animal characters.

This is the reason that my story apps have animal characters - I don't have to play the race game. I'm sure there will be certain groups of animals that will have a bone to pick with me someday but I'll take my chances.

A pull out from Walter's article states: "Too often today's books are blind to the reality of thousands of children." I disagree with this assessment. I see it as a reflection of the number of illustrators who like authors, feel compelled (and are taught) to illustrate from experience. I suppose we could also venture into the breakdown of the numbers of white/black/asian/hispanic buyers of children's books as well - which I would suspect mainly come from white America.

The publishing world is fueled by the dollar. The analysts at the large publishing houses know their markets inside and out and are constantly second guessing every decision based on money. So I would suspect that another reason we don't see more ethnic childrens books is because they don't think they can sell as many of them as they can books with white child characters.

I appreciate the problem Walter experienced but I don't agree that publishing is blind to ethnicity - Lee & Low books have targeted this market focusing on diversity. I'm sure that if they grow disproportionately the other publishers will follow suit.

I'd love to know what you think...

Monday, March 17, 2014

How Should I Protect My Artwork From Theft?

One of my friends on facebook - Amanda asked me how she should protect her artwork online since she'll soon be publishing her portfolio. My answers may or may not surprise you but I've compiled my thoughts based on the examples of my illustration and animation friends. There seems to be a shift from the way things used to be done.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Are You Respected For Your Artistic Ability?


What do doctors, lawyers, and CPA's have in common aside from all that schooling? Probably the respect they get for their profession. Sure people often get a second opinion but they don't go to the plumber - they go to another doctor, lawyer, or accountant. 

I've wanted to write about this for a while because it irks me that in our profession we're often not treated as the experts we've worked so hard to become. Let me begin by pretty much eliminating most of the children's picture book editors from my upcoming rant. I've never been treated more like a professional than by my picture book editors. I'm talking about the clients we've had who don't respect our schooling and work experience in freelance illustration. Ever feel trapped by your work? Hopefully this post will help you re-evaluate the people you choose to work for.

I find it really troublesome that we are often asked to make arbitrary, superfluous, unnecessary, and downright stupid changes that ruin compositions by clients that have no art training. It's the equivalent of me telling my surgeon where and how to cut - my attorney what motions to file and my CPA what strategies he should use to save me money. Don't get me wrong - I'm not talking about back and forth conversations about art direction and options to consider before beginning sketches - and I'm not talking about good feedback on sketches or final art. I'm talking about bone headed decisions like eliminating colors that the art director happens to personally dislike. I'm talking about cluttering up good design with extra elements that don't enhance the story or eliminating elements that are important to visual literacy. I'm talking about making content changes based on fear and most importantly the all too familiar "design by committee approach". 

What is "design by committee" you ask? It's when companies (often educational text book or software companies) have multiple team and management members that have to "sign off" on all stages of the artwork before it can be approved and the illustrator allowed to proceed. For instance, the illustrator receives the assignment and emails sketches to his/her art director. The art director isn't respected or trusted to make decisions and approvals either! - the sketches must pass by each team members desk. This sets up a dicey situation for each team member as well. If a particular person in this chain likes everything he or she sees - he or she might feel that he or she isn't doing his or her job by sending it through without changes. Since nobody in this donkey conga line wants to appear lazy they conjure up changes they often don't believe in and punt to the next drone. Sometimes I find myself stifling the laughter listening to the poor art director trying to justify conflicting moronic changes that even he/she doesn't believe in. 

The result is a bunch of sketches sent back to the illustrator marked up like a failing high school research paper. I've gotten them back looking like college football play charts. It's interesting to me that this hasn't been my experience in the picture book world - and picture books cost tens of thousands of dollars more to produce than a few pages in a text book. With my picture book projects I get very thoughtful comments and requests that are sensitive to my intentions and desires. We work back and forth to find solutions that address concerns but it's not dictatorial by nature and there certainly aren't the sheer quantity of rage conjuring idiotic arbitrary "one for the gipper" comments. 

What is it with art? Why aren't our skills appreciated and trusted? Why do people think they can direct a painting when they don't know how to design, draw, or paint? Why do people think they can publish without hiring skilled graphic designers? Graphic design is a science unto itself yet for some reason it seems to be a skill that is greatly underappreciated. I mean am I missing something? Do we hire college soccer coaches who have never played soccer? Do we hire conductors who have never studied music? Do customers go into the kitchen to tell the head chef how to cook the dish?

The answer can most likely be traced back to our schooling. Since it was never taught as a serious subject to all of us beginning in elementary school it is a discipline that is grossly misunderstood by the masses. "But Will, medicine, law, and accounting weren't taught broadly either. Yes, but each of them have a level of mystery that are inherent to each discipline. Art on the other hand is very accessible. We see it for what it is. We can own it, touch it, commission it, clip it, steal it, share it, print it, etc. But does access devalue it's creative process? Apparently so to some.

Lately I have been listening to my client incompetence radar and turning down assignments that smell of the aforementioned disrespect. I love working on a good project with a great art director, editor, creative director, etc. - but life is too short to spend bitter and angry working with people who don't value what I bring to the table.

If you're serious about this business you can do a few things to help yourself and your fellow illustrators. If you find yourself in a situation like I've mentioned you can be respectful but politely challenge decisions if they are contrary to your artistic sensibilities. Don't challenge for the sake of the challenge but if you do - be solution oriented. Try to get what you want by offering another option that achieves what your art director wants while giving you more of a change you can live with. Agree to making some changes that you don't agree with to help you win a few of the the more important battles. The better we are at communication - the better clients we'll ultimately share.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

How Much Money Can You Make Illustrating Children's Books?

I was asked by a fellow artist in Australia this question last week. It's a great question that I'm sure many people have pondered and in this video I attempt to put hard numbers down so you will have a better understanding of what to expect. Illustrating children's books is a life long pursuit and usually not a career that pays off overnight. There are many factors that can influence your earning potential working for publishers. After you watch the video I'd love to know what you think?

Friday, February 28, 2014

My New Cowpoke Book Is Here!


I don't care how many books you've illustrated it's always exciting to get that box of new books from the UPS guy - who I gave a BIG hug to - it was awkward.


This book is now available at many retailers and it's the the fourth book I've illustrated by Helen Ketteman (Published by Albert Whitman) What a sweet lady! I had the opportunity to get into a car wreck with her in Houston. We were in the same car when her friend (who was driving) got into a crash. Everyone was fine but it was really nice to see how she comforted her friend who was quite frazzled. You can really tell a lot about someone's character when they're under stress.

Helen is one of those school teachers turned author - dangerous! I think that's why she writes such fun books that kids really seem to love. This one is just pure fun. I think there's been a shift towards books that teach a moral or celebrate a historical event. This book is just fun. Is it ok that we let kids just be kids sometimes and have fun? I'm still a kid and I like to have a little fun once and a while...ok all the time. Anyway if you're looking for a fun book that doesn't teach a darn thing your children might like this one!

Buy There Once Was a Cowpoke Who Swallowed An Ant


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Was Making Our "Gary's Place" Story App Worth It?

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Twenty sum years ago when I was going to school the illustration students had an ongoing debate with the fine art students about money and art. The illustrator's argued that illustration was art in spite of the commission and art direction. The fine artists said by nature an assignment takes the artist out if their vision - so it's not art that's being created. I think both sides were right and wrong depending on the individual project but I think it sets up an interesting way for artists to evaluate the value of their work.

This is the blog post where I reveal my sales for my Gary's Place children's story app. Even though we have gotten a handful of 4-5 star reviews -  we've only sold a few hundred apps at $2.99 each in the past two months. This is no doubt disappointing for many of you and I won't pretend it's not a little disappointing for me too but it's only part of the story.

If you've been reading my blog you will remember that I sold tens of thousands (60k to be exact) of my ebooks starting back in 2010 and that I concluded that it was mostly due to market timing - aka “luck”. Now that we’ve had about 4 good years of story app and ebook creation the marketplace has obviously gotten a little noisey. But, most of the noise is coming from ebooks and story apps of low quality.

I still believe that an audience can be cultivated over time with a great story and good art. My long term game plan is to keep working on the series of Gary apps and Rick and Aaron are equally committed. Each new app released points back to the earlier ones and thus each new app becomes a marketing piece.  The total project should gain traction over time.

Over the past 6 months I've received questions such as: Will you be able to make enough money? Aren't you worried that your self publishing will be looked at as a downgrade in the publishing world? Seems like a tough road are you sure this is a good decision? Many people aren’t recouping their time and costs what will you do differently? The marketing seems like the hardest part - are you ready to spend twice as much time marketing your apps?

These are all good questions but none of them address the most important aspect of creating art such as: Are you having fun with it? Are you creating the art you want to make? Do you think children and parents will respond to what you’re doing? Are you committed to doing this for years? If it doesn’t make any money will the enjoyment be enough compensation? ...Yes.

I don’t think most people ask the right questions of themselves in regard to their art. They’ll question my decision to venture down this road while they themselves have been working for years trying to get picked by a publisher - sounds like a tough road. They’ll question how much money I’m making with my apps while they aren’t making much or any money with their artistic ventures. One question I'm never asked is: What are you doing different to engage parents and children? I think people don't ask this one because they are afraid that they can't create something remarkable. I'm affraid of that too and we do spend a lot of time discussing it and working on it!

I can’t think of many successful companies or products that came from following a proven method. Most success stories share a lot of peronal struggle and negative criticism. Apple came from a couple of guys following their dreams of tinkering with computers and listening to professionals that thought nobody would want a personal computer. Stan Lee kept Marvel comics going when everyone told him there was no market for comics. If U2 hadn’t won a $500 contest they wouldn’t have had enough money to record their first demo tape. The stories of artists working on their dream projects and finding success with them years down the road is endless. Yes I hope to be one of them. I’m a dreamer. I work to be able to afford to work on speculative projects.

But what am I talking about money for? I'm in this for the sheer joy it is to find time to tinker with a new medium that allows me to express creative ideas in so many new ways! That's the gold!

But perhaps this kind of speculative project is in my comfort zone because I've had a few successes with my own projects in the past. Starting a freelance illustration business was supposed to be nearly impossible. Making my ebooks was a total unknown in 2010 but has generated a tidy profit. Making and selling illustration video tutorials on my willterry.com site lead to starting Folio Academy which has been a wonderful addition to my income. That has lead to starting SVS online teaching with Jake Parker which is also been an amazing project.

Each one of these projects has been born out of a labor of love. I love creating art and teaching.

So can money corrupt your art? I think so - if you base your artistic decisions on money you may never explore the projects that your audience will love the most. If you play it safe your art will be more predictable. If you follow the “proven” method you’ll find yourself competing with many who can do what you can...that seems risky to me. You are unique. You have an artistic fingerprint that nobody else can generate. I’m not willing to make all of my artistic decisions based on financial compensation.

If this thing we call art was easy it wouldn't be of much value. If it were easy to make lots of money as an author or illustrator it wouldn't be special. Trust me - you don't want it to be easy.

We should be releasing Gary’s Worms sometime towards the end of March! I’ll continue to give updates on sales throughout the year because I do think that it’s valuable information if not to understand the potential both for risk and reward. I'm a realist. I know you have to eat to live but artists also need to create to live. The trick is to make sacrifices to afford the time to create in your down time.

Make no mistake - Gary’s Place has cost me much more than time. I’ve turned down numerous freelance projects to afford the time to work on Gary...and now that my weekly blog post is finished I'm going to dig in!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

10 Step Digital Painting - Free Webanar!



You know that feeling you got when you were 5 and you got to run downstairs on Christmas morning to open presents? Not to dish on past memories but WOW - I have that feeling again! I'm so excited to be able to create a lesson and share it with people all over the world! Our last webanar "How To Draw Everything" by Jake Parker gathered 879 people from countries on just about every continent - I even saw someone named "Penguin7493" so...

Anyway, we have another webanar coming up on March 1st at 7:00PM MST and this time it's my turn to share my digital painting process. I've broken it down into 10 steps. You know that old saying that I'm about to butcher - "eating an elephant is hard unless you eat him one spoonful at a time..." or whatever but you get the point. If you learn to do something methodically it can not only make the task seem easier but also give you results you can replicate and really that's what's important.


For those who decide to purchase the video recording of the webanar we've decided to throw in some extras this time (we're learning). You'll get 3 things: A PDF study guide with a verbal description of each of the 10 steps. A bonus video explaining in detail how to set up photoshop to use the texture settings in the brush pallet and my FULL photoshop painting with over 30 layers from sketch to finishing touches. This is a high res file over 300mb  - my working file so you can deconstruct the Dragon Rider and see what she's really made of. Use it as your own working file to replicate my layers if you want to. This is a great way to actually see how someone paints in photoshop.


I realize that many people will think I'm crazy for letting my artwork get out there to be used by anyone for any purpose. I think most artists get a little to attached to their work and subsequent self importance. In the end it was 25 hours having a blast doing exactly what I want. If someone makes T-shirts out of it in some other country good luck - send me a picture of all the cash - that'll put a smile on my face!

To attend the webanar is FREE but if you would like to pre-order the video, PDF, Bonus Video, and Dragon Rider Photoshop file get $10 off using coupon code "10step10" - but this will expire the end of the day of March 1 - check out the details in our store.

So you need to get registered for this event in order to be sent your individual joining link from GoToWebanar - simply click here and follow the instructions! See you soon!