Tips and Resources on Art Submissions

If you read my article on How to Build an Art Portfolio, and you already have your shiny, clean and organized portfolio in hand, you might be wondering what to do next. 

Since you’re on Dream Foundry, I’ll assume you’re an artist who’s interested in illustrating books or short stories. And since I’m an art director for a short story magazine and have experience in comics, my focus here will be on how to get started as building illustrator, and, potentially, comics, since both medias are focused on art with storytelling.

 

Payments

Together with your portfolio, you will need a payment option: most hiring magazines can pay in cheque, but if you’re not based in the United States, it’s important to have a PayPal account, since it’s the most popular payment method for illustrators worldwide.

I also recommend having a separate email for art-related business, and linking said email to your PayPal account.

 

Places to Submit

Paper Cat Press is your new best friend. Paper Cat Press is a weekly curated collection of opportunities for illustrators, comic creators, and even writers, run by fellow comic artist and illustrator Leanna C. Most of my first gigs were found through their weekly round up, neatly organized in categories like Awards and Contests, Animation, Comic & Illustration opportunities, all with their respective deadlines. 

If you’re focused on comics, another great resource is Comic Oportunities, run by S.W. Searle, and Find Anthologies!, run by Stephanie Cooke. Both of them are curated lists on Twitter of comic anthologies. Cooke also maintains Creators Resources, a website providing tools and resources for comic book freelancers.

 

Twitter Art Events

As an art director, I use Twitter a lot to find artists that might fit a specific story or thematic issue, and I use it by browsing specific hashtag-based events. The broadest of those is #PortfolioDay, an event that happens every three months, and where artists can link their email and portfolio and share a sample of four illustrations, in hopes of landing potential freelance work.

There are also specific hashtag events, like #DrawingWhileBlack for Black creators, #ArtMubarak for Muslim creators, #VisibleWomen for woman artists, and so on. 

Those events are like easily-searchable mini-portfolios, so choose your strongest four pieces, and run some tests to see how to properly crop those images, as Twitter’s automatic crop can be rather unkind at times.

After you’re done, you can pin that tweet in your profile, like I did

 

Submission etiquette

A lot of the opportunities you’ll find in curated collections like Paper Cat Press involve submitting a pitch through a form, which means filling a quick questionnaire with your information and idea. They usually things ask for your social media handles, portfolio and/or art samples, email and other professional information, but it’s also common for those questionnaires to ask for a mini bio, so I suggest having a bio of 65-75 words in length about who you are, what’s your experience as an artist, etc. In submissions, those mini bios are usually in first-person, but it’s useful to have a third-person mini bio at hand, too (those are often asked after you’re accepted, which is the fun part).

Others, like magazines—including Strange Horizons, where I work as art director—tend to accept submissions through e-mail. Keep those e-mails short, with a brief greeting and first-person bio, and a link to your portfolio. Don’t send any attachments—links are always preferred. And, of course, pay attention to the guidelines! It’s polite, and you will already be ahead of many other submissions if you do. 

The magazine will contact you back if they’re interested. If they don’t, I’d wait at least a year or so to contact them again with an updated portfolio or such.

 

Submitting art files

If you’re accepted by, say, a print magazine, your artwork needs to be in the right format: 300dpi is the minimum for printing, CMYK, and preferably in single-layer .tif format. 

For online magazines, RGB is preferred. The sizes vary, but work big, since resizing down is easier.

 

Finding an Art Agent

Like writers, artists can have an agent to represent their work. Agents work as the middle-men between the creator and an eventual publisher, handling contract negotiation and payments. They receive a percentage of what you get with each work, but you never pay them.

If you’re interested in working with picture books, art books and graphic novels, you need a literary agent. If you just want to work with art, you can find an artist representative. 

Artist representatives will find art assignments for you, that range from newspaper and magazine work to books, and usually work in the same way as a literary agent—they only get paid when you get paid.

An excellent resource for art representation is Agent for Illustrators, that lists literary agents representing art, and provides several guides, like how to query.

 

With all that being said, you’re ready to go. Good luck!


How to Build Your Art Portfolio

Building your art portfolio is no easy feat. It might be even anxiety-inducing, especially if it’s your first time. If this is your case, I’ll try to break it down into simple points. While my focus is illustration—based on my experiences as an illustrator myself, and as an art director hiring fellow artists—the tips might be useful for several kinds of art.

First, a question: are you an extremely prolific artist, with a bag full of illustrations and sketches? Or are you an artist with a lot of ideas, but not so many finished works? I have an answer for both, but let’s start with the second type.

Building a portfolio from scratch:

If your art bag is empty, the first step is to calm down. Yes, I know, you want to get this done, but don’t hurry. A good art portfolio doesn’t need a lot of material, but it needs variety enough to show what you know. So set a small goal, no strings attached, of filling up your bag with around ten finished works that show your range.

Some of those illustrations won’t satisfy you, but it’s important to finish them—the lessons you will learn after finishing something you didn’t like are also important, even if you find it ugly. 

Do fanart of your favorite book, redraw the cover of a classic, illustrate a song, get inspired by that pretty photo you took, etc. Don’t force yourself to draw something you hate, of course, but insist on finishing it, no matter the result.

Choosing material:

Here is the point where you, prolific artist, and you, artist-with-ten-new-illustrations, meet again. Both of you have work to choose from. Now I want you to choose the ones you love the most, and limit it to 5-15 pieces.

No, no more than that.

Choose only the pieces that you believe represent well your current work. Sketches and older pieces (no matter if they’re beautiful) will inflate your portfolio and make it harder to navigate; leave that kind of content for your social media, and show only the best you can produce right now.

What is an art director looking for?

As an art director actively hiring artists to illustrate stories, what I search for is:

  1. Backgrounds: if an artist is excellent at drawing people, but all their art has a white background, they are less likely to be hired to illustrate books or similar media. If you focus on character design, that’s not an issue, but I still think it’s important to fight the fear of backgrounds. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but showing that you can, if necessary, matters.
  2. Interesting compositions: Art directors like to see more than a character drawn right in the middle of the image, or a profile. Both can be perfectly interesting, but again, variety is key.
  3. Style consistency: Mastering different styles can be a selling point, but if your work has no consistency whatsoever, your potential client might now know what to expect if they hire you. I suggest at least three illustrations of each style that you’re most proud of, so a client can say “I love your digital art, but what I had in mind was something like that watercolor series.”

Hosting:

Now that you already have a bunch of complete (and recent!) illustrations, with style consistency and interesting compositions, you can start thinking of hosting.

Here is the point where you give up on the fancy, expensive website that you dreamed of. If you’re not making a living out of your art yet, a free website is 100% okay and no respectful art director should judge you for choosing something you can afford.

Free websites that are functional are Behance, Wix, Carbonmade, Wordpress and even Tumblr (if you use this Tumblr exclusively as a portfolio, that is—save the memes for your personal account). Despite listing Tumblr here, I suggest you avoid other social media as a portfolio. They’re great as a starting point: the public gets to know your art, and potential clients might find you in the vastness of the internet, but social media accounts and portfolios have different purposes. A portfolio is a short selection of the best you can do right now, that’s all.

Final touches

Now that you chose a limited amount of recent illustrations that showcase your range, creativity, variety and consistency, and you have a website that is simple and clean, here are some other details that might help you get finished:

  • Your email should be visible and easy to find.
  • Write a third-person about/bio to introduce yourself, your work and experience. It doesn’t need to be a full curriculum, just a paragraph telling who you are, where you come from, or anything that you find pertinent regarding your art.
  • List your social media, if you have it. Here, it’s perfectly fine to show sketches or the pieces you might have decided to keep off your portfolio for whatever reason.

After that, show your portfolio to the world! Crosslink it to your social media, send it to open submissions and application calls. And, while you wait for a response, draw some more to keep those illustrations updated with your best work.


Fear in Comics: Gaming the Format

Content warnings: violence, blood, gore.

Fear in Comics: Gaming the Format

Ever searched for a recipe online only to be led to a website where the author goes on and on about their family, job, and dog? Like… your girlfriend is an hour away and you just want to know the ingredients to get at the store – not the cut of meat Bingo (I know right. Lazy dog name) prefers when he is sad. So, trying to avoid that pitfall, let’s get right to the gist of gaming the sequential art format to create tension and horror. Welcome to Fear in Comics Part 2: Gaming the Format

(Spoiler Alert for a bunch of comics and webtoons. Gore Alert. The comic samples used in this article are for academic purposes only. The author isn’t glorifying the acts carried out in the stories.)

Panel and Framing

The Super Long Panel/Margin

(Killing Stalking by Koogi)

Like we discussed in our previous article (Fear in Comics: An Introduction), when it comes to fear, our goal is to play with the audience’s expectations in horrific ways. We build them up, then we linger before we meet or subvert those very expectations we’ve worked so hard to create. It’s a pretty psychopathic process if you ask me, but it works. 

In the vertical scroll comic format, usually just called “webtoons” or “webcomics”, we’ve seen creators use extremely long panels to do just that – creating panels where each scroll gives us new information whilst creating new questions in our minds. As the audience, we dread the very journey to the end of the panel where we know some uncanny reveal awaits us. 

A simpler way of creating that feeling is to have your regular sized panels, but the margin between them becomes the tease (or torture). In Killing Stalking, our protagonist (if we can call him that) has just discovered his crush has a helpless girl gagged and tied up in his basement. Still in shock, we scroll through a very long black margin wondering what our protagonist would do, only for it to be revealed his psychotic crush was standing behind him with a baseball bat in hand. This gorgeous technique, though simple in the grand scheme of things, is very difficult (if possible) to pull off in prose, the classic comic book format, or in a movie. This was birthed by creators who have decided to game the sequential art format to create something truly gripping.

 

The Tight Panel

If you’ve watched the movie, Ex Machina (2014), you would notice how a simple narrative can become so thrilling when the storyteller has mastered the art of the control of information. Giving the audience just enough information to keep them wanting more or putting them in a state of unease can be a very powerful tool in creating tension. And in the visual department, the tight panels, are your best friends. 

(Silver Coin by Michael Walsh)

Usually, in comic books, to help your audience have a sense of space (and location) and so the art can shine in its storytelling, you give the art some room to breathe.

(Saga by Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples)

But when it’s time to scare your audience, you can take that privilege away from them. You can tighten the panels so, the audience loses the sense of space, direction, and location. They will also lose a sense of where other characters (or monsters) are or what they’re up to. Limit the amount of information they can get from a panel, and watch the unease and claustrophobia slip in. 

(Babyteeth by Donny Cates and Garry Brown)

Storytelling with Panel Layout

I love simple panel layouts. I find that following a story is usually easier with them, and arguably the most critically acclaimed comic book (Watchmen) has very simple panel layouts. 

(Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

But many find them boring and uninspired. They want stories with panels bleeding into each other without demarcations or creatively shaped and placed panels. Lately, I’ve discovered a lot of comic books do both – keeping simple layouts for mundane scenes and going crazy for the dramatic scenes. Why not play around with this expectation?

(Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

If you have established in your story that the panel layout stops being a grid every time the monster attacks, so why not retain a grid layout the next time your monster attacks so the audience doesn’t see it coming. You could also go the reverse route by using wild panel layouts to get the audience pumped full of adrenalin for an attack that’ll never happen… yet. 😊 

Don’t just think of panel layouts as tools to tell your story. They can be a part of your story.

The Page Turn

(Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez)

The First Left Panel 

In our previous article (Fear in Comics: An Introduction), we’ve discussed how it can be difficult to shock (or surprise) your audience in comic books because, at the turn of a page, two pages worth of panels are available to you at a mere glance – story spoilers begging you to stare at them. Well, except for the first panel of the left page. That panel is always new (at the turn of the page) - making them perfect for revealing new and shocking information to the audience.

The Last Right Panel

With that logic, you would think the last panel of the right page got the short end of the stick. By the time the reader gets to it, it probably has little to hide. Well, not really. It’s hiding the next set of panels, which is usually another two pages worth of panels. For this reason, creators usually make them cliffhangers. Consider the above image. Two armed men show up at the door. We see they’ve killed two people. We are left to wonder what will happen to the lady who has opened the door for these dangerous men – a cliffhanger. We are forced to turn the page.

In the above image, the last panel to our right also works as our “bomb under the table”. It’s a ghastly image that warns us of the future. The fact that our eyes keep going to that panel, gives a different context to everything we read in the panels that come before it. Tension is immediately created. This tension is only created because we can see both the present and future at a glance in comics. What many see as a flaw becomes a strength in the hands of Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez.

Get Creative

(My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris)

In conclusion, stay curious and keep experimenting. My Favorite Thing is Monsters was illustrated with ballpoint pens in a notebook. Maybe your comic could be illustrated on those classic journalist jotters where you can only view a page at a time. You could go the digital route where whenever something scary is about to happen in your story, the computer takes control of the scroll feature. 

Just have fun. Make mistakes. Learn. The format isn’t a prison. It’s just a torture toolkit, and your audience is the willing victim. 

Comic Recommendation: 

The Magazine: http://skelehime.com/the-magazine.html

Next Episode: 

Fear in Comics: Make Us Care About Your Characters 

 


Fear in Comics: An Introduction

Content warning: gore, blood, and body horror

 

I love comic books. I think it’s one of the most powerful storytelling mediums. Most of my favorite stories of all time (like Extremity, Watchmen, God Country, Secret Wars, Y the Last Man, etc.) were told in the pages of comic books, and some of my favorite authors/writers (Robert Kirkman, Brian K Vaughan, Joe Hill, Jonathan Hickman, etc.) are comic book writers. But I’ll have to admit it, compared to other storytelling mediums, getting a good scare is a rarity in comics. In comics, the consumption pace (speed at which you navigate through the story) is totally up to the reader, and there is no support for sound, so much so that pulling off jump-scares and a whole lot of techniques seen in horror movies are impossible.

(from Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill and Leomacs)

In prose – the other end of the spectrum, every page, every paragraph, every sentence, is a mystery until, well, you read it. But in a comic book page, panels are mere glances away from each other. There is hardly any mystery as to what will happen next. So, how do you then manage to shock and surprise your audience? How do you put eye-widening terror into them?

Either it’s for your next horror comic book project, or a comic book project in another genre that needs a couple of frightening scenes, you can try out some of these simple techniques to unleash fear.

(from New Men by Murewa Ayodele and Dotun Akande)

(Because we’ll be discussing how other creators pulled off fear in their comics, I suppose a SPOILER ALERT for a few comics is in order. Due to the subject matter, GORY IMAGERY ALERT too, I guess)

 

If You Can’t Shock Them, Put Pressure on Them

Without further inspection, we might think fear is only born from the unexpected and the uncertain. But that’s not necessarily true. There is a deeper type of terror that can only be achieved through unwavering certainty. Arguably the universal fear we all have to a degree is the fear of death. And what makes it so damn scary and lasting? Because we know for a concrete certainty that we will die. So, the fear is born from the how and the when of this certainty.

(from Haha #1 by W. Maxwell Prince and Venesa Del Rey)

In your comic project, why not tell us “how your story will end” right from the beginning and watch the pressure build as the audience can’t contain their expectation of that “ending”. And how soon can you give this “ending” away?

(from Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera)

Yup. From the very title of the comic. 

When we choose our titles, we look for options that reflect the uniqueness of our plot, summarizes our theme, showcases our setting or character, etc. But we can get the audience working right from the title of our projects.

I am currently writing an episode for my action-adventure fantasy webtoons series, My Grandfather Was A God, titled Heroes Die Too. From the title reveal, I hope to put pressure on the audience as they wonder which of their beloved heroes will lose their lives. So, this technique is not only limited to horror comics or to opening sequences/scenes. You can mount pressure as early as from your cover page.

(Here is what the great Alfred Hitchcock has to say about the topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPFsuc_M_3E)

Art & Book Design

A lot of the techniques we’ll be evaluating will require playing with the reader’s expectations. Your art and book design are powerful tools in your creative toolbox to this effect.

Let’s consider Jupiter’s Legacy. The art and book design for the comic book series is bright, colorful, and hopeful. So, when truly despicable acts by the characters start to unfold, they are very shocking, jarring, and most importantly, unexpected. 

(from Jupiter’s Legacy by Mark Millar and Frank Quitely)

Whereas in comics like Something is Killing the Children, the inks are scratchy, the colors are dull, black borders & margins are common, and there are a lot of blacks in general. From the very first panel, the reader understands this is not the book to read alone in the night.

(from Something is Killing the Children by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera)

There are lots of directions to take but the key is to be fully aware of the strengths your art choice brings to the story.

Make Us Care for Your Characters

Unlike motion pictures, the budget for a comic page is the same whether it’s just a couple of guys having a drink at the pub or Cthulhu going bunkers in a city made of glass. This creative freedom is one of the reasons comics are so powerful, but it’s also the reason comic book creators rush to deal great violence on their characters. I’m sorry but no matter how much of a character’s intestines you show us, if we don’t care about the character, we won’t care what happens to them.

The Boys is a series that’s often criticized for its excessive use of violence and gore, but the death of Robin, both in the comic series and the TV show, hits like a truck because in the little time we’ve spent with her, we had fallen head over heels for her.

(from The Boys by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson)

This may be true for all storytelling, but it is especially true in comics; making us care about the characters (and the stakes), in turn makes us scream when they enter the wrong room, cry when the door locks behind them, and remain completely motionless when a wide sinister grin shows up in the shadows. 

Game the Format

(from The Walking Dead Deluxe by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard)

For your floppy comic books and graphic novels, why not put the shocking imagery and/or big reveals on the left-side pages. This way, the reader can’t see them until the turn of the page – retaining your ability as the storyteller to create some mystery and surprise.

(from Unholy Blood by Lina Im and Jeonghyeon Kim)

You could also try telling your story as a vertical scroll webcomic. In this format, readers can be forced to view a single comic panel at a time – giving some control of information back to the creator.

So, research on print and digital formats that’s best for your story. The right story told well in the right format is sure to give readers the good kind of Stockholm’s syndrome 😊.

There is Strength is Subtlety

Let’s be honest. No number of unreadable words thrown across a comic panel could replace hearing the scream of a victim as a monster crunches down on their skull swelled by the incorporation of ominous music. Even the most talented of artists struggle to replicate simple cinematic experiences. Reading a comic book is not the same as a trip to the theatre, so why do comic creators try to replicate the same kind of horror? And when comic creators aren’t trying to replicate the same kind of horror as cinema, they try to overcompensate. Till today, I don’t understand why I was subjected to reading pages and pages of an old lady’s corpse being tossed in a washing machine from a horror anthology I read recently.

(from Immortal Hulk by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett)

And what are some of those subtle ways to instill fear?

Uncanny Valley

You can create unsettling imagery with your understanding of the uncanny valley.

(from Shingeki no Kyojin by Hajime Isayama)

Phobias

Experiment with real life phobias… bugs (although overused), mushrooms growing on people, darkness, drowning, etc. For example, I have the very real phobia of grouped holes called Trypophobia. If you create a monster that puts those weird patterns on people’s bodies, you’ll definitely scare and creep me out way more than intestines hanging over a flagpole. 

(from Basketful of Heads by Joe Hill and Leomacs)

Constant Feeling of Dread

Some critics say there is nothing scary about a slow-moving threat. They want the threat dangerous and fast, but I think there is more than one way to skin a man. In The Walking Dead, the zombies are slow but they are numerous and ever-present. If you’re in the toilet, they could be the ones knocking at the door and not Mr. Can’t-Hold-It-In-Anymore. You could jump into a pool and they could be the one’s that’ll catch you midair. Because of this, we the audience are never relaxed. We are always tensed because no place is safe. 

(from Gideon Falls by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino)

Your story doesn’t have to feature zombies, but why not create an inescapable threat that’s ever-present to get your audience tensed for many pages. Comics shine with stories like this.

In Conclusion

These aren’t all the tools available to you for introducing fear into your comic projects, rather, a scratch of the surface; one I hope can build up your confidence in your capacity to infuse different emotions into your comic projects – including FEAR.

Join me next time as we delve deeper into the intricacies of storytelling in horror comics. See you soon, but in the meantime… have fun making comics.

Enjoy horror comics? Why not try:

  1. Gideon Falls
  2. The Walking Dead
  3. Basketful of Heads
  4. Something is Killing the Children
  5. Hellstar Remina

Literary Agents for Illustrators

To seek rep, or not to seek rep? For illustrators, this is a daunting question. In publishing, we talk a lot about the benefits of agents for writers. Agents have helped writers build their careers throughout modern publishing history. Illustrators, meanwhile, have always connected directly with art directors and editors. As publishing markets grow, however, more artists are seeking out literary agents, and more agents are opening submissions to illustrators. Even if you don’t have an agent now, it’s possible that seeking representation might be the right move for your career.

What is an Art Agent?

In the abstract, art agents help artists sell their work. There are as many types of art agent as there are types of artists. Some agents, also called “art representatives,” connect illustrators with companies looking to buy original art. Potential buyers can range from greeting card companies, to magazines, to package designers. Fine art reps represent artists to galleries and private collectors.

This article will be focusing on literary agents. Literary agents mainly work in the publishing industry, connecting illustrators with publishers. They may help illustrators get work illustrating books (novel covers, children’s books, graphic novels), or they may help illustrators pitch their own book ideas to publishers.

What Are the Benefits of Having an Agent?

An agent should make your work as an illustrator easier. There are numerous benefits to having a literary agent, but I think the following points are key.

They connect you with publishers
Many larger publishers are “closed to unsolicited submissions,” which means you cannot pitch a book to them unless you are invited or have a professional connection. Literary agents serve as that professional connection. They cultivate relationships with editors and can get your book proposal in front of a wider pool of acquiring editors than you could on your own.

They help you get the best deal for your work
Agents will help you sell your work competitively, so that you get the most money possible and also preserve your creative ownership of the work.

They help you negotiate contracts
Publishing contracts can be long and daunting, and are rarely written with the author’s best interests at heart. It’s not just money that a contract determines; when you sell work, you’re selling an entire package of usage rights to the publisher, telling them in what formats they can publish your work, in which countries and languages, and for how long. If the author is new to reading and negotiating contracts, it can be hard to know what you can and should ask for. A good agent knows the ins and outs of contract negotiation and will make sure that you’re happy with the terms.

They help you maintain a professional relationship with the client
When the client is being difficult, it can be hard to fight back and also keep a professional relationship. When communication breaks down, the agent steps in to run interference. They play the mama bear so you don’t have to.

They can offer guidance for the length of your career
Some agents will represent an author for the sale of only one project, but it’s much more common that agents sign authors with the intent of representing them for their entire careers. An agent will talk with you about your projects, connect you with editors who understand your vision, and help you cultivate a sustainable career.

Which Literary Agent is Right for Me?

There are hundreds of literary agents to choose from, and every illustrator should do thorough research when putting a submission list together. Here are two points to consider:

Look for an agent who represents the types of work you want to publish
Consider who the agent represents. One tactic is to research illustrators doing the work you want to do and see who represents them. Many illustrators include their representation on their websites.

Look for an agent with a solid sales track record
If you want to make graphic novels, look for agents who have sold graphic novels. Publishers Marketplace is a great, but pricey source for researching an agent’s sales record. You can also sometimes find this info through Publisher’s Weekly’s rights reports.

Other considerations are personal to the illustrator. You will need to think hard about what you want your relationship to be. You can also discuss these things when an agent offers representation. For now, researching agent listings and talking to other illustrators about their representation is a great first step.


An Interview with the Dream Foundry’s Art Contest Coordinator Dante Luiz

With the Dream Foundry Art Contest wrapping up soon, we asked contest coordinator Dante Luiz a few questions about the art contest, illustration, and the experience it fosters.

 

Dante Luiz is an illustrator and occasional writer from southern Brazil. He is one of the two Art Directors for Strange Horizons, and his first graphic novel was published in 2020 by comiXology Originals ("CREMA", written by Johnnie Christmas).

 

Illustration work tends to be different than other kinds of art. While the fundamentals are the same, what do you find translates from less illustrative art education to illustration? What doesn’t translate over? Do you find there are specific challenges to illustrating SF/F? 

It's hard to capture the entire mood and feeling of a story, I think it's what makes illustration so difficult. You really have to vibe with the story, you really have to get to pass the right tone. When I'm choosing artists for Strange Horizons, for example, I see it like matchmaking. The art has be in the same tune with the story, and the same goes for artist and writer. Additionally, in SFF, sometimes it can be difficult to portray the speculative element. Right now, especially, there are a lot of stories out there that are character-centric and inwards, and the artist might find that the right "feeling" does not show the magic or science, and finding a balance takes work. You have to push yourself out of the obvious to showcase both.

 

Portfolio evaluations are a big part of finding a career in illustration and animation. Can you tell us a little about the selection process for the contest? What are you looking for in submissions? What constitutes a strong body of work versus one or two stand-out pieces in a portfolio? 

Consistency is key. I think every artist has that one work that we did on a whim that just feels better than the rest of our work, but a general sense that the person knows what they're doing and then can do it more than once is what I generally look for. Also a sense of style, cleanliness, knowing how to do more than one thing (nothing kills a portfolio for me more than no backgrounds, or just busts with characters facing left, etc).

 

Do you have any advice on how to pull together a portfolio, whether for this contest or for job applications? 

Put up only recent, complete works. When I'm hunting for news artists, I often find myself bored if the portfolio archive is too long, or lists too many older works. 6-12 pieces seems to be the sweet spot for art, along with consistency. Less = better, only complete works = better. Sketches, works in progress and such are great for social media, but it's not what people are looking for in a portfolio.

 

What sorts of opportunities did you see or wish you had when starting your illustration career? How do you see the Dream Foundry Art Contest benefitting beginning- or early-career artists? 

When I was starting out, I felt like resources were being "hoarded" by those who already had access to them, and those resources were not made public, but it turns out I also didn't know how to search for those resources. It's very important to put yourself out there, send your work to magazines, find calls for submission, and not rely only on social media. The Dream Foundry Art Contest can give a beginning artist this initial push, and gives credibility and visibility for future works as well.

 

Artists are finding community through social media, especially through prompt challenges and theme showcases. How do you feel the art contest fitting into this ecosystem? 

Social media is great for showcase, but artists are also battling against the algorithm to be seen. People with less following tend to be less noticed, and a contest gives everyone a fairer chance to be seen!


Make a Thing Month(s)!

There's a chill in the air tinted by the ever-increasing energy of spooky season starting. Which means for those of us in the northern hemisphere, sweater season, warm drinks, and falling leaves. It also means that rolling around the corner are the months of creating things, of making and sharing (or not sharing!) art and writing and whatever else you might have in mind. Whether you're an artist, a writer, or just a creative looking for inspiration from prompts, October and November are excellent times to come together, find a spot in the community among other creatives, and encourage each other to make things.

The goal of these challenges isn't to gain popularity, or to compete with each other. You could go the entire next few months quietly creating away, supported by the community, and never share a thing. The important part is the process! Let the creative juices flow!

Under the cut is a collection of art challenges/prompts. Most of these are intended for use for art, but the creators are quite flexible - tag them so they can see (if that's your sort of thing) or keep them to yourselves, they can even make great prompts for poetry or short fiction.

And, as NaNoWriMo peeks around the corner, be sure to pop by the Dream Foundry Discord server (discord.gg/dreamfoundry) and join the community of writers there for support, sprints, helpful advice, and more! Not a writer? Come by anyway - the Dream Foundry server is a space for all creatives, artists, game devs, comics makers, and more!

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Interview with Artist Hasani Claxton

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

I've always loved artists from the Golden Age of American Illustration. NC Wyeth, in particular, because of his painterly approach and how he brought elements of Impressionism into his artwork. My biggest influences among contemporary illustrators are Greg Manchess and Donato Giancola, both of whom are oil painters, like me. I studied with them at the Illustration Master Class in 2009 and watching their painting demos was awe-inspiring.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council

Rhea Ewing led the Dream Foundry's Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art, including your illustrations “A Well-Earned Rest” and “Broken”. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your work?

I did "Broken" and "A Well Earned Rest" when my children were younger and really into fairies. I became frustrated by the lack of Black fairies and decided to create my own. Rather than paint them as cute, Disney-style pixies, I decided to focus on their strength, even in the face of profound loss and struggle.

Leaving the World Behind" by Hasani Claxton | Black folk art ...

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

When I graduated art school, we were still mostly promoting our work with postcards. Nowadays a strong online presence is crucial, especially on social media. All of my recent freelance work came from people who saw my website or Facebook page. Also, the rise of self-publishing has opened up some opportunities for freelancers. An indie publisher may not pay as well, but they offer valuable experience.

The Covid crisis caused many gallery exhibitions to be canceled, which was extremely disappointing. At the same time, being stuck inside gave me a chance to work on new personal work and I've recently seen an unexpected uptick in freelance commissions. I suspect because most freelance illustrators work from home anyway, we'll be able to weather the crisis.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I used to be a lawyer and early in my art career, when I was struggling to make ends meet, I often wondered if I'd made a huge mistake going to art school.

I began submitting artwork to the Spectrum Fantastic Art Annual in 2008 and kept trying every year. I just got in last year. Around the same time, my artwork was chosen for an exhibition at the National Gallery of Jamaica, my first at a major art institution.

The Art of Hasani Claxton

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Be persistent. You will face a lot of rejection, but keep working on your craft and submitting your artwork. Eventually you will find your audience.

One of the things I miss the most from art school is getting critiques from my peers. Often getting other artists' perspectives can help take your artwork to the next level. Forming Critique Groups is a great way to tap into that collective creativity.

HASANI CLAXTON | Maryland State Arts Council


Interview with Artist Rhea Ewing

Who are some artists and/or illustrators who have influenced your work? How and why?

My work has been heavily influenced by fine artists like Do Ho Suh and Kate MccGwire. I love both of these artists’ use of many small things to create a powerful whole. Graphic novelists like Alison Bechdel, Craig Thompson, and Leanne Franson have been my biggest influences in the comics side of my work. All of these artists have created things that inspired that “art moment” in me--where ideas and experiences connect together and a profound way.

Collaborations by Rhea Ewing

 

You are currently leading the Dream Foundry's Official Media Exploration Club in a discussion of the theme of vulnerability in art. Can you tell us a little about the theme of vulnerability in your own work, and why you find it particularly compelling as a topic of discussion?

In my fine arts and illustration work I’m very interested in the intersection of human ideas and the natural world. I’m very deliberate in my choices of the species of plants and animals I depict, but there’s a level of metaphor and visual language that removes it from the more raw, personal vulnerability that’s in my comics and graphic novel work. In comics, I work in non-fiction, largely personal stories, that place me in a much more vulnerable position. I tend to want to downplay my own experiences and approach things in a very academic way, which doesn’t make for good comics. I’m lucky to have an agent and editor who understand my work so well and have guided me to show more of my own vulnerability.

This tension in my work between the academic and the personal made vulnerability and especially intriguing topic. It’s been a delight to dive into all these different illustrators’ work with the lens of vulnerability.

Insight by Rhea Ewing

How has the field been changing in the past ten years, and how do you see the current health crisis impacting the field?

Woof, I sure would love to have a crystal ball here. The biggest way the health crisis has impacted me personally is the lack of art shows, galleries, and fairs. I actually make most of my income through the fine arts market (go figure), so the loss of all of that for 2020 has been rough. For me personally, that’s meant I’ve been much more focused on production for my upcoming graphic novel FINE: a comic about gender.

As for how the field has changed, I’m not sure I can speak to that. I feel like my path to where I am now has been so weird and has run against so much of what others know to be true, I’m not sure I can generalize it in a useful way for overall industry trends.

Affection 1 (detail) by Rhea Ewing

What have been some challenges for you, as a working artist? What have been some of your triumphs and joys?

I think my biggest challenge has been finding a place where I feel authentic in my creative work, knowing what my work is doing and why. Pretty much all of the advice I got in school–to pursue graphic design and illustration and comics to support my fine arts work, that sort of thing–turned out not to work for me. Freelancing left me miserable and broke. Graphic design brings out my inner perfectionist asshole. Though it will probably be different this year due to the pandemic, for the last few years my fine art work funded my graphic novel work and not the other way around. I’ve found a lot of joy in connecting with people who “get” my work, and in exploring what I can do with my mediums of choice.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing

What is some advice you could pass along to people just starting out in the field? How can we work to support each other?

Creative advice: Keep focused on what you like and want to grow about your artistic practice. It’s easy to get very focused on what “success” is and worry about failing. Embrace it. Perfect art is an illusion anyway, just communicate.

Business advice: Always have a contract, don’t work for minimum wage or less, and remember that it’s better to have a side job than waste your creative efforts working 80-hour weeks freelancing for peanuts.

Panels from FINE: a comic about gender by Rhea Ewing

Flights of Foundry, May 16-17, 2020

Flight of Foundry

Dream Foundry is thrilled to announce Flights of Foundry, a virtual convention for speculative creators and their fans. Registration is open and the convention will take place May 16-17. Our guests of honor are:

Comics: Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu
Editor: Liz Gorinsky
Fiction: Ken Liu
Games: Andrea Phillips
Illustration: Grace Fong
Translation: Alex Shvartsman and Rachel S. Cordasco

In addition to panels and information sessions, our programming will include workshops, a dealer's room, consuite (yes, a virtual consuite!), and more.

There is no cost to register, though donations to defray costs and support Dream Foundry's other programming are welcomed. Dream Foundry is a registered 501(c)3 dedicated to supporting creators working in the speculative arts as they begin their careers.

To register, go to: https://flights-of-foundry.org/registration/
For more information about the convention: https://flights-of-foundry.org/
You can learn more about Dream Foundry or check out our other programs by visiting our website: https://dreamfoundry.org/