Category Archives: from the slush pile

Hidden gems from the mysterious and oft-frightening world of unsolicited artwork.

From The Slush Pile: Summer Finds

You know I’m busy at work when instead of going through art samples with my morning coffee, they pile up on my desk.  Today, I finally took lunch to sort through a few.  Check out some exciting new finds that came in lately!

Casey Uhelski / For pet lovers (like me!), this SCAD grad has mastered the expressions of adorable dogs, cats and bunnies.

Victoria Jamieson / Victoria’s anthropomorphic characters have landed her a two-book gig with Dial (part of the Penguin family) in 2012/2013.  In the meantime, I think her revisiting of Ramona Quimby is spot-on.

David C. Gardiner / This image might suggest that David and I are cut from the same cloth, stylistically, but his Flying Dog Studio also produces everything from fairly realistic older characters to animations.

Caitlin B. Alexander / This Austin-based illustrator’s folksy-yet-modern style looks mostly editorial, for now… but wouldn’t it make a charming children’s book?

Veronica Chen / I was intrigued by her intricate black-and-white patternwork, but her color piece Chameleon City just begs for a story to be told.

Jillian Nickell / This quirky, vintage-inspired vignette was fascinating enough to lead me to her website, where there’s a great series of pieces based on The Borrowers, and more. I can picture her style being perfect in the right book for older readers!

From The Slush Pile: Great Animal Illustrators

Today was a more wackadoo day in illustrator submissions than usual, so I thought I’d give myself a pick-me-up by highlighting three great illustrators who draw some super-cute animals.  Enjoy!

1. CharrowMy first favorite recent find is Charrow, whose quirky illustrations exude a playful spirit and sense of humor.  Her light watercolor and drawing technique feels breezy, like she just jotted down some animals, and they happen to be hilariously adorable. She’s also a frequent contributor to They Draw and Cook. Her Etsy shop is down at the moment, but when I checked it out a few weeks ago, it was easily my favorite part of her portfolio… be sure to check back for it soon!

2. Stephanie GraeginProbably my all-time favorite illustrator submission ever is a little “mini portfolio” booklet from Stephanie Graegin.  Her Renata Liwska-style woodland creatures, accented by limited color and unlimited sweetness, had both design and editorial drooling. Crossing my fingers that I see a book with her name on it soon!

3. Lizzy HallmanIf illustrator David Catrow’s art proves anything, it’s that there’s a place in this business for a little ugly-cute.  And if my love of french bulldogs proves anything, it’s that I will always get behind ugly-cute!  Hallman’s characters may have wonky eyeballs, but they make their expressions unique and humorous. And her color treatment? 100% sweet!

From The Slush Pile: Hand-Lettered Type

While going through the slush mail today, I came across a pair of standout illustrators in a pile of recent UArts grads. Jim Tierney and Sara Wood, a young Brooklyn couple, have a fantastic approach to book cover design.  Their masterful combination of type, hand-lettering and drawing makes both of their portfolios equally impressive.

Check out Sara’s D. H. Lawrence book cover series, and Jim’s interactive Jules Verne thesis (there’s a video too!).  I put the cards up on the “Wall Of Stuff I Like” in my cube, right next to our other favorite hand-drawn type designer, Kristine Lombardi.  Lombardi’s cards have been up on our wall for ages.  While her cards have more of a feminine, fashion style (although I do like her Kids page!), they are the first thing that designers walking by are ALWAYS drawn to.  Check out a great interview (including the below image of her promo card) here.These designers got me to thinking: where’s the place for hand-lettered type in children’s books?  Before the age of thousands of freebie fonts on the internet (hey, it wasn’t that long ago!), hand-lettered display type was commissioned for book covers all the time. I recently worked on the anniversary edition for Jacqueline Woodson’s The Other Side, and I was so impressed to discover that the handsome title was calligraphed by the original in-house designer.And while I’m sure it took a lot more effort than downloading a font, there’s something careful, purposeful and yet whimsical to hand-drawn type.  So it’s no surprise that it is experiencing a rebirth of magnificently hip proportions. Now, type everywhere looks like this:Want 5,000,000 examples?  Just head to Flickr.  The New York Times.  Or anywhere.  I used to make fun of the fact that you could tell all the films addressing the teen “Napoleon Dynamite” audience (or that have Michael Cera in them) by their hand-drawn titles.In art school, we used to hear constantly, “if you want it to look hand-drawn, do it yourself.”  Designers, as a whole, have embraced this ideal. Children’s books, on the other hand, don’t have the same prejudice when it comes to handwriting typefaces.  Hand-lettering might work for display type, or a few very special people (ahem, Maira Kalman and Oliver Jeffers). But on the whole, handwriting fonts keep kids’ books looking consistent, read-able and changeable over 32 pages. 9 times out of 10, a handwriting font will actually look better than what you could do yourself. That being said, when it comes to display type and interesting details, I’m all for hand-drawn type in children’s books.  It’s fresh, playful and unique.  And with the rapid changes in technology, we may not need to draw type anymore, but I have a feeling that more lettering opportunities will open up for type designers anyway – just because we’re craving that physical, hand-created feel!

What Form Rejection Means To Me

I wish I could take credit for Little Mr. Rejected Portfolio, but it came with my cube.

After rejecting a pile of samples (going back to 2009! yikes) last week, the Rejectionist‘s latest essay un-contest struck a chord.   Artists are rejected for all sorts of reasons, since each imprint is looking for something specific, so there are many illustrators that are wonderful, but we still have to reject them.  This isn’t about them.  It is the worst of the slush that haunts you in your sleep, and this ode is dedicated to those.

What Form Rejection Means To Me

Form rejection means never having to say “I’m sorry that you can’t draw”.  Instead, we say, “Unfortunately, we are not looking for any projects containing your style at this time”.

Form rejection is supplying words when you’re speechless.   Speechless at gruesome cartoons, horrifyingly inappropriate books about excrement, marker doodles, anime, scary babies, unintelligible collage, and even more unintelligible query letters.

Form rejection means please, please stop sending us oil paintings of your dogs.  No matter how good they are.  No matter how much I like them.

Form rejection means passing the buck on bad writing. “The art department does not review dummy books for manuscripts.  For editorial comments and selection, please submit separately to the editorial department.” It means wasting extra trees, postage stamps and editorial interns’ time (sorry, interns!).

Form rejection means returning your dummy book in a SASE so that it doesn’t go in the trash with the other samples, thereby saving a few trees.  Maybe.

Form rejection means signing your name as “The Art Department” because you’re afraid of stalkers and angry, unemployed illustrators calling your extension/burning down your apartment.

Form rejection means crushing hopes and dreams.  Of every mom, dad or grandparent in the country that has a story they love about their kids.  Of every artist who probably went to your school at some point.  Of children – and adults – that draw and send in pictures in crayon or colored pencil.  To them we say, “Thanks again for your interest and for sharing your work with us.”

Form rejection means feeling guilty for all of the children/parents/grandparents whose hopes and dreams are to illustrate children’s books.  So you keep copying and pasting individual comments,  finding something constructive in your heart to help them improve, and giving them a glimmer of hope that they could “feel free to send us samples of your work as you progress”… until you really don’t have a form rejection at all anymore, do you?  You’ve just made it personal.

“Best of luck in your future endeavors!”

The 10 Best Things You Can Do For Your Illustrations

an old promo of mine . . . I’m siiiinging in the rain! © 2009

Last week, one of my most entertaining publishing blog reads, the INTERN, posted a piece called “The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Manuscript“.  There are some similarities between the teeming slush piles of art and word, but a lot of the process is actually very different.  So, artists, let’s hear it for your list:

The Ten Best Things You Can Do For Your Illustrations

1.  Find your style

Not to get all “follow your bliss” from the beginning, but there is nothing more important than being amazing at your own personal style – the way that characters and actions come to you naturally. Trying to show an art director that you can do every style just leaves them unsure of how you would approach a project. Instead, let them come to you for what you do best!

2.  Hang out with other artists

You’ll be motivated by association, gain more constructive critiques than your grandma telling you how “darling” your illustrations are, and share insights on the industry as you get rich and famous – together.

3.  Be in three places at once

Don’t just focus on one opportunity.  Share your art everywhere – your local coffee shop, an illustration annual, your friend’s neighbor’s band’s show’s posters… everywhere you can.  You never know when the right person might see your work!

4.  Draw in stories

In children’s books, it’s not enough to create one epic piece.  You have to be able to keep the characters animated and flowing, with the same level of quality, for 6 months and 32 pages of your life. Whenever you begin a new character, draw them in at least 3-5 complete scenes, with different expressions, so an art director has everything they need to know to sign you.  A dummy book of sketches (with at least 2 finished pieces!) is even better.

5.  Bring your portfolio to the local bookstore

No, don’t show it to the clerk eyeing you behind their Buddy Holly glasses!  Put your portfolio under your arm and, literally, put it side by side with art that is actually being published.  Are your stylized cartoons as naturally clever as Mo Willems‘?  Or do you think your colored-pencil portraits of your dogs just aren’t as action-packed and engaging as the rest of the picture books about puppies?  Be honest with yourself!

6.  Target your audience

There is no point soliciting 100 different imprints if the imprint wouldn’t publish the kind of work that you do. Do research on what kind of books are already out there, and be specific to whom you submit. Tell them why, briefly, in your cover letter why your book would be perfect for them.

7.   Read submission guidelines carefully

For instance, at our imprint (but not for others, mind), if a submission does not include a self-addressed, stamped envelope, it is almost guaranteed to get thrown away. Give them the opportunity to send the dummy back to you, and at least you could get helpful feedback from the rejection letter.

8.  Present your work like a graphic designer

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to submit a dummy that is clean and neatly printed and presented (just order a paperback from Lulu or even make your own). A designer is more likely to pass along a book that has a great design than one that was garish, messy, or worst of all, had typos!  Are you amazing at acrylics but can’t typeset to save your life?  Coerce a designer-friend to help you out!

9.  Drop off your portfolio

Postcards are a great start to reach a lot of contacts, and you’re not even a real person these days without an online presence.  On the flip side, repeatedly cold-calling designers and insisting you won’t hang up until you’re published is the fastest way to get on their imaginary blacklist.  But with the flood of emails and cards, what will get you that extra 3 minutes of their time to actually have someone look at your work?  I hesitate to say this for fear of finding 15 portfolios on my desk next week, but setting up a time for a portfolio drop-off, if the publisher still does that kind of thing, might be the trick to get a timely and informed response from someone in publishing.

10.   Never stop learning to draw

Even the most accomplished illustrators still spend their free time practicing their craft, learning the latest technique and lounging around the Society’s Sketch Nights.  Don’t get discouraged because your art isn’t yet the awe of every art director in town, and don’t get complacent when it is!  Just keep drawing, okay?

photo credit – this artist/Pratt alum’s  postcard (not shown, too lazy to scan) is my favorite ever, and has sat in my cube since before my time.  But check out Evah Fan’s awesome 3-D work!