Saturday, March 26, 2011

A DIFFERENT KIND OF PORTFOLIO REVIEW

It is one week until the SCBWI conference in Rocklin. I'm all ready, but I hit a snag last week as I loaded my new presentation book with images. I wasn't happy with the quality of my new book, so I reluctantly set to work searching for a better one. 

It is nearly impossible to buy a presentation book without seeing it in person, but because I live 100 miles from the nearest art supply store, I often have to shop online for what I need. The most important thing to me are the pages. I don't like thin and flimsy and that's mostly what I'm finding. The thickest page sleeves I've found have been in Prat books. I've been using their books for almost 30 years, but they seem to have changed their sleeve quality more recently. Here are my latest findings:

My best presentation book - Prat Start with thick clear pages.
This is my old book - a 12 page Prat Start from several years ago. (Now I need  more pages so I can show 3-4 pieces from each category of work.) The sleeves in this book are very thick, non-textured, clear as glass and they don't wrinkle. They show the illustrations without distraction. Neither the sleeves or sleeve inserts ding easily and stand up to repeated viewings and image changes. It was inexpensive which means it was a great and durable book to ship off to publishers. There is no ink residue left on the inside of the sleeves after images are switched out. The cons: After many showings, the cover is showing fingerprints and the pages are sealed into the book and cannot be replaced or added to.

This Robert Ware book has flimsy pages which ding.
This is the book I was loading my work into last week. It is a Robert Ware and on the outside, it's a nice looking book. The 24 sleeves aren't as thick as I like, but I thought it would be fine temporarily. I knew it would have a lifespan of about 2 conference viewings. My impression changed when I started loading it with images. The sleeves were showing dings just by putting prints in. You can see in the photo how the sleeve doesn't sit flat on my sample. Over time this will get worse and some wrinkling will become permanent. My biggest concern was the way the black paper in the sleeves was shedding black specks all over my work. The static from the sleeves made it impossible to get rid of all of it and new specks appeared every time the pages were turned. That was a concern I didn't want while my book was on display.

The new 24 page Prat Start with "linen" cover.
The best idea was to find the quality I wanted, so I decided to find another Prat book. Their pages had always been the best. After looking at all their books and every other brand available, I decided on a 24 page Prat Start. It was impossible to tell how thick the sleeves were, so I called customer service. They told me the pages were thick and heat sealed, so I ordered the book with a rush on shipping...just in case. Glad I did. I ordered portrait format. They sent landscape.  The sleeves were also not like my other Prat book. They were a little thicker than the Robert Ware, but not crystal clear, they wrinkled and upon opening the book I noticed that some pages were already creased. (On the upside - the "linen" cover would wear well and hide fingerprints.) Even though my picture book spreads would look nice in landscape format, more than 3/4 of my work is portrait format. Having my book open the other way would take up too much table space and require awkward maneuvering - something art directors frown on. (Trust me, they do.) I can't use the book for the conference and replacing it by ordering online would be really risky.

Old style presentation book with page snagging feature.
So, it's Plan D. When I head into Sacramento the day before the conference, I'll be taking a detour to look at presentation books in person. Because it doesn't look like anyone is producing the sleeves I'm looking for anymore, I'm leaning toward a book with removable pages so they can be replaced as needed. I avoided ringed books in the past because they snagged pages and added bulk, but they've gotten better. So far the Prat Premium Case looks good. We'll see. If I don't find what I'm looking for, Plan E goes into effect - replacing the black inserts in the Robert Ware.

Please feel free to share your favorite presentation books. It's always helpful to hear firsthand experiences!

Friday, March 18, 2011

STAYING SANE AND ORGANIZED

Brand new revised sketch for my picture book dummy. 
Occasionally I'm accused of being organized. I say accused because there's generally a tone of betrayal that suggests I've done something horrible. The truth is, I wasn't always this organized, but with so much going on in my life, it's a necessity, and as a homeschooling mom, I also have to be flexible and free flowing. If I wasn't organized, I would feel like the character in my sketch. She is being swept up by the current and everything important is out of her reach and beyond her control.

My degree of organization depends on what I'm doing. Right now I've got web designs in progress, publisher packets going out, a conference to get ready for and a bunch of things in my homeschooling/personal life to tend to. To keep from going absolutely batty, I need to get it all down on paper to free my mind to work. My prioritized list and calendars provide the structure I need to sculpt my day.

My prioritized list is hand written on a letter size piece of paper which is broken down into sections.  (I don't necessarily write a new list every day. I re-write it if it starts getting too hard to read with cross-offs and add-ons.) The left side of the page is wider and devoted to professional work in order of importance from top to bottom. Clients go at the top, followed by portfolio work and then promotional work. I also have a card and print business that appears occasionally according to urgency. The right side is narrower. Errands, bills, orders, email and phone calls go on the right.

Calendars provide the framework for the day. I have a calendar for events with time slots, a calendar for my daughter's independent study and the dinner calendar with shopping notes. (The dinner calendar is fairly new. Before I added that, I would sometimes forget about dinner until too late and was left to throw something together last minute. That wasn't very satisfying.) I look at all the calendars first thing in the morning so I know how everything on my list can fit in and around the immovable things for the day. (I have separate calendars because it feels less overwhelming to me.)

Sculpting the day. If an event on the calendar isn't a client meeting, it's usually one of my daughter's activities and I know I can get some computer work done while I wait for her. I can do writing, bids, design and correspondence in that time slot. (I'm at her skating lesson now.)  I also consolidate my errands with my scheduled outings so I'm not wasting trips. The shopping notes on my dinner calendar tell me what ingredients I'm going to need. Most illustration work has to be done at my drawing board at home, so I know I'm wasting time if I'm doing anything else at home besides illustrating on a day that involves lots of scheduled activities away from home.

If I have time. I always have a few things on my list that are low priority. They're not things that really have to be done at all. If I have time after getting high priority things done, they're icing on the cake. The other day I added some character studies to the list for my conference portfolio. If I don't get them done, it's no big deal, my portfolio is just fine. If I do get them done...bonus!

Stuck? If I get stuck on something, I move to another area and come back to the troublesome item later. Maybe I need to write instead of illustrate or research publishers instead of write. Then again, sometimes my self-imposed deadlines are unrealistic. It's important for me to ask myself why I need to get something done by a particular time. Maybe I have a good reason and maybe I don't.

A tip - I make sure to break projects into stages when I put them on my list so I always have things to cross off during the day. That way I don't have to wait until an entire project is done to cross it off and I always have a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day.

So, that's a bit about how I organize my work. I definitely find it a lot easier than being disorganized and discombobulated.

If you have any tips for staying sane and organized, I'd love to hear them!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

WriteOnCon AND OTHER WORTHWHILE TANGENTS

I've been so busy I'm behind in reading the blogs I follow. Since I flew through picture book revisions yesterday, I got to redesign my blog and catch up with other blogs too. The blogging community is great. I'm always finding new tools and learning new things. I'll pass on a few:

WriteOnCon - I happened upon this one on the SCBWI Mentee blog. Summary from their website - The brainchild of seven writers who wanted to “pay it forward” and give something back to the writing community, WriteOnCon is a totally free, interactive online Writer’s Conference held annually during the summer. Our first Conference, held August 10-12, 2010, had over 11,000 attendees. What a great idea! You don't even have to go anywhere. Wear your pajamas! Here's a link to last year's line-up. (They had illustrator events last year, too.) Right now, they are doing a lot of promotion and giving away critiques of all sorts. You can see what their latest critique giveaway is by looking in my blogroll list to the right. Go check it out!

LinkWithin - Next stop - illustrator, Melissa T. Liban's blog. She is a children's illustrator and is at about the same stage as I am in sending to publishers. It's fun to see what she's up to. While I was there, I saw a really cool feature that placed post suggestions from her blog underneath each post. I saw that it was called "LinkWithin", so I clicked on it. It's an easy widget that seems to be working well so far. You can click on "LinkWithin" at the bottom of this post to check it out.

From there, my path isn't totally clear. My tangents took on a life of their own as I clicked link upon link within the blogs I was on.

Check out this post from illustrator, Victoria Jamieson. She worked at Harper Collins in the design department and has some advice to illustrators on their promo postcards. There are other great links there as well.

I ended up at NetworkedBlogs also. It sounds interesting. I'll be checking into that some more. Anybody have any experience with them?

OK. Back to my picture book dummy. I have one sketch for a two page spread to do based on my critique from Candlewick last year.

Friday, March 11, 2011

BOOK COVERS AND PICTURE BOOK DUMMIES

I finished my book cover sample the other day. This is the cover for the NaNoWriMo novel I wrote in November. I'm still working on the title treatment, but that will be done on the computer. I can work on that anywhere. I have a list of other things to get done that require my drawing table.

My main focus at this conference will be getting feedback on my newly dialed in portfolio. My critiques last year were the best of both worlds. One publisher really liked my portfolio which did great things for my state of mind. The other felt my portfolio was too brief at 12 pieces plus a picture book dummy. This gave me some information I needed to improve it. I have expanded it to 20 pieces plus a revised picture book dummy.

The added pieces show more variety in subject matter and the picture book dummy has been edited according to a publisher critique from last year. I'm working on that now.

Work, work, work. I'll continue posting my progress...

Saturday, March 5, 2011

MOVING RIGHT ALONG

PubSubPackMo ended and I moved on to my next deadlines without a word. No fanfare - no nothing. It's just that there is so much to do this month, I had to keep going.

PubSubPackMo Summary: I completed my goal. All my research yielded 31 well matched possibilities to send my illustration samples to. I can't help but feel that I cheated a bit though. Not all of those possibilities are unique and separate from each other. Some are imprints with identical addresses. It was the same amount of research either way and I came out of the month with a better picture of where I fit in and what I want to accomplish. That's always a good thing.

Onward - April 1 I leave for my next SCBWI conference where I will receive two critiques and have my portfolio on view for Random House, Holt and Carus to peruse.
Stay tuned - I'll be posting my conference prep process and results...