Keeping A Morgue Or “Swipe File”

As a freelance illustrator I often use reference photos for my work. Not to copy or trace but to study in order to help me understand the subject matter as I draw. My friend and fellow illustrator Tom Richmond recently wrote a good post on the proper role of reference photos when creating a piece of art. He compares it to a writer using a thesaurus, and warns against relying too heavily on reference imagery so that it becomes a crutch.

When I was in art school the internet was brand new and there was no such thing as Google, much less Google Image Search. Back then we were taught to scrounge old magazines from friends, relatives, and recycling centers so that we could pour through them and rip out photos of anything and everything we thought we might be asked to draw someday. We were taught to organize them into what was called a “swipe file” or a “morgue”. Over a period of several years I eventually filled two-and-a-half filing cabinets with photos.

Google has made much of my “morgue” irrelevant, but not all of it.Read More

Basic Business Tips for Illustrators

I’ve been cleaning out my files and I came across a handout from a presentation I gave to some art students about seven years ago. It’s pretty basic stuff aimed primarily at beginners, but I’ve got blog readers at all levels from students to seasoned professionals so I’m sure some of you will find this helpful. Here’s what I wrote:

1. Be Organized! Even though you are in a creative business, you have to have a sense of structure in order to survive. Chaos creates stress. Being organized gives you confidence.

2. Keep a Schedule. Practice making your own schedule—and stick to it! This will take some discipline and seem like work, but in the end it will actually free you up. It will help you keep from over-commiting or missing deadlines. It will also help you to feel in control and allow you to really enjoy your time off.

3. Keep A Record Of Your Hours. Keep a record of everything you do for a given project (including research, meeting with clients, and other “non-art” time.) This will help you see ho much time you are really spending on your projects (you may be surprised) and wil keep you from undercharging.

4. Respect Deadlines! In the real world, missing a deadline is death.

5. Promote Yourself Constantly! There’s tons of competition in this business and you can’t scream about yourself too loudly or too often. Learn to be confident and persistent without being cocky. (Likewise, be willing to take every piece of constructive criticism very seriously.)

6. Develop Your People Skills. Talent is not enough. More than half of your success as a business person will depend on your people skills. You don’t have to be an extrovert or Mr. Popular, and whatever you do don’t be phony (people can smell it a mile away). Just realize that confidence and enthusiasm will take you much farther in life than talent. Instead of focusing on getting yourself hired, put the client’s needs first and focus on what you can do for them.

7. Keep Good Financial Records. Do a budget, keep receipts, organize your invoices, etc. It takes some time, but it will help you to feel more in control, and will make tax time a whole lot easier! A great computer program to help you out is Quickbooks Pro. It’s specifically designed for small businesses and easy to learn.

8. Get A Filing Cabinet. Keep files on your various clients, your finances, your promotional mailings, as well as forms that you use often. You will also want to keep a “swipe file” of reference photos (organized by subject) for that rush project where you have to draw two giraffes and an octopus driving a ’63 Chevy through the Everglades. You can get reference photos from old magazines and books, or from online sources like Google Image Search. However you get them, keep them organized.

9. Separate Your Business From Your Personal Life. Put your studio in a separate room (or at least a separate part of a room). As soon as possible, start separate checking and savings accounts for your business. You may even consider a separate phone line. When life gets hectic, you’ll be glad you can keep your business from interfering with your personal life and vice versa.

10. Have Fun! Being a good businessman will free you up to enjoy your work and keep doing what you love.

“3-2-1 Penguins!” Character and Concept Art

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On Saturday morning NBC aired another brand-new episode of 3-2-1 Penguins! for which I had done some concept work. This epsiode was directed by Rob Corley over at FunnyPages Productions (check out their blog).

The character art needed for this episode was pretty light and straight-forward. The only new characters were a race of tiny ear-people who spoke in Munchkin-like jibberish. My instructions were to take a human ear and add cartoon arms and legs. Like I said, pretty straight-forward.

The only other concept art they needed from me were some party hats for the Penguins to wear in a birthday scene, and a sketch of the twins and Grandmum after being splattered by an exploding cake. One of the running gags of the show is that you never see Grandmum’s face. It is either out-of-frame, or strategically covered by a well-placed prop. So I left her headless in the sketch, knowing it wouldn’t matter. (Although they did send me a turn-around model of Grandmum for reference, and yes she does actually have a face. I’ve seen it!)

3-2-1 Penguins! is a science-fiction comedy from the creators of VeggieTales. It airs Saturday mornings on NBC.

Re-Post: Making The Most Of Your Website

I originally posted this on my blog back in August. However, my blog traffic has increased five-fold since then and I’m guessing most of you haven’t seen it. So, an encore…

For a freelancer, a website is an essential marketing tool. It proudly displays your work to potential clients 24/7. It trumpets your accomplishments to art directors all over the world. Most will not even consider hiring you if you don’t have a website.

But not all websites are created equal.

There are some little extra touches that can go a long way in making sure your website pushes you up on the hiring list. Some of these tips I’ve just recently learned myself. I’m planning to completely redo my website to take full advantage of them.

Put your contact info at the top.
Make sure your email and phone number appear on your header, so that they are readily visible on every page. It’s not that uncommon for an art director to print out samples from two or three artists to show to the boss and/or the hiring committee for a project. If they are having a tough time deciding which artist to call, having your contact info at the top of the page might push you over the edge, especially if the art director is busy and doesn’t want to take time to look up the contact info for the other artists.Read More

Shameless Self-Promotion: Download My New Portfolio

To any art directors/art buyers out there:

As a freelancer I’m always looking for new clients and fresh projects. So this blog is as good a place as any to announce that a new, updated PDF version of my character design and illustration portfolio is available online. You can download it for free here or on my website. Feel free to print it out and keep it on file for your records.

I’ve also posted an updated version of my resume here.

Finally, you can join my mailing list here. I send out a promotional email 3-4 times a year, and a “snail mail” postcard once or twice a year.

To the rest of you, thanks for indulging me. Regular blog posts will resume tomorrow. (If you like animation, you’ll enjoy tomorrow’s post.)

Illustration Friday: Tales and Legends

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Copyright © Cedric Hohnstadt. All rights reserved.

I would have posted this on Friday but I wanted Ask Mr. Artist Guy to be front-and-center all weekend. A big “thank you” to everyone who’s submitted questions so far.

Illustration Friday is a fun website for artists. Each week a topic is posted, and any artist who wants to (regardless of skill level) can submit a sketch or illustration created for that topic. The more creative and original you can be, the better. It’s a great way to sharpen your conceptual skills as an illustrator. (Someone who really has a lot of fun with it is Guy Francis.)

Unfortunately I usually don’t have time in my schedule to participate but this time I can squeak something in. This week’s topic is “Tales and Legends”. By coincidence I was going through some old sketches and happened upon this dragon drawing. It fits with the topic (albeit with a bizarre twist), so I thought I’d post it.

Participation in Illustration Friday is free. Just sign up on their website and each week’s topic will be automatically emailed to you.