Sunday, February 27, 2011

Illustrator's Sketch Day

Yesterday our SCBWI illustrators packed up our sketchbooks and pencils and headed to the San Jose Mission here in San Antonio.  This is a reoccurring event for our group, gathering at different locations in the city to sketch for a few hours, chat and enjoy being out of the studio.

The mission is a beautiful place, while the Alamo is the most famous mission in San Antonio, the San Jose is the most impressive.  It's a massive fort, still mostly intact.  And it also the site of the oldest church west of the Mississippi river.

Our Sketch Days are loosely based on the International Sketch Crawl idea.  Check them out - you may decide to start a sketch day of your own.

Our first Illustrator's Day was at the zoo, our next one will be at the Botanical Gardens.  We try to pick visually interesting places where we can also sketch families & kids with the attractions.

I took way better photos than sketches, but that's okay.  It was good to get out of the studio and meet up with other artists.  Not every day has to have a finished product - it's okay to enjoy the process with no end results.

Before we started our sketch session local painter Terry Puckett gave us a refresher on perspective.  She brought along a book on Maurice Utrillo to share with us.  I had never seen his work before.  I love his colors, playfulness of line and strong perspectives - he was a bit obsessed with one point perspective in his work. 

Click here to read a short biography on Utrillo and here for a list of his paintings online.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Website Woes & Tips, Part 2

Here are some tips to personalize a Carbonmade portfolio to make it feel more like a website.

Customize Thumbnails Into an Image Grid:

You can use the Carbonmade template as is for your website, with different thumbnails for each category (like the image below) or you can break up a larger photo for more visually impact.

For the most dramatic and successful use of this tweak, check out the amazing portfolio from Kristen Ulve. This portfolio uses the wide thumbnail option.  There is also this one from Gilad Seliktar that uses a grid of three thumbnails.  And my portfolio uses the 2 across grid format.

(My first version of the website and here is the new one)

To change the thumbnails, first go into your Carbonmade account and hover the cursor over the thumbnail image, a 'change thumbnail' button will appear. Click on it and it provides the dimensions of the thumbnails.  With  photo imaging software break up a larger image into boxes that fit the thumbnail dimensions.  

Turn Projects into Pages
With the paid portfolio you have 50 projects or pages.  These pages can use html to create pages that offer more information than what you may want to include in the About page.  I also think the about page can get overlooked and some things - like a "contact page" or 'services offered" deserve their own space. 

A few extra pages I included were: contract, follow me (with my social media links), presentations and books. 

HTML Cheatsheet - add images to your page, live links, make text bold or align your page with a few basic lines of html code.

Take Advantage of the Footer
Under the 'Personalize' tab you can add your name with a copyright date.  This area also accepts html code and you can add in the code for your newsletter subscription box, contact information and links to your blog, twitter and facebook.  This footer shows up on every page.  So at the very least, as your contact information here to so your clients can easily reach you. 

Customize Your Banner
Under the same 'Personalize' tab you can add in your logo to brand your website.  I use a hand-lettered logo that appears on my blog and print materials for a cohesive visual.

Your Own Domain
In general you don't want your portfolio to address to be - this is called a subdomain name, which is the default.  Carbonmade offers the option to use your own domain name so that your portfolio will publish as  It's more professional to have the domain name.  There are directions to follow and help available through carbonmade to set this up.  Another option would be have your domain name forward to your portfolio.  Check with your hosting company for details on how to set up a domain forwarding. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Website Woes & Tips, Part 1

So I started my weekend off with every intention of creating a new portfolio website.  I had looked over my options and thought the most professional way to go would be to self-host a Wordpress blog/website combination that featured a gallery of my work.

I bought a new domain name - it was time for a change. I knew that Go Daddy had hosting support for Wordpress, so I purchased the hosting package.  After getting things set up, I went off to find a template that fit my needs

Okay - fast forward to 3 hours later.  I could not find a template under $50 that fit my needs.  I settled for one I thought I could do a little adjusting with and purchased it.  Off to Go Daddy to install and start posting.  Only wait, it's not easy to hack.  It's not intuitive and I quickly realize I have no idea what I'm doing here.  I need a tutorial, I need a manual, I need a class, I need a designer!  5 hours into the ordeal I say to heck with it.  I'm going with a portfolio site.

An hour later, new website is up and running and ready to go.  With a little help from Godaddy, I transferred the domain name to the portfolio site and created a subdomain for my blog.  Everything now publishes under

I went with Carbonmade for my portfolio site for a couple of reasons:
  1. I had tried their free version and liked how easy it was to set up.
  2. Great value - for the same price I was paying for a 10 page website. I get 50 projects (pages) and 500 images.  It's ad free, they have tech support and you can have private projects that aren't published on the site. Oh and it looks good on mobile devices and has a separate page for each image.
  3. I saw that Julie Fortenberry was using it and liked the way it looked, it was nice to see someone else using it.
  4. I knew from looking at some of the examples that you could do some tweaking to customize the site to make it look less like a template.
So my advice - if you are not a designer and are looking for a webite option, I recommend going with a portfolio site that you can customize and use domain forwarding.

Why torture yourself with trying to design a website?

Find something that is simple to use and minimal in design so that your artwork is shown in a professional manner.  Then after you get a big juicy book contact, by all means hire a brilliant designer to create the website of your dreams.

Join me tomorrow, I will share some little cheats that I did to make the Carbonmade template more like a website.

*I'm not affiliated with GoDaddy or Carbonmade - just happy they exist!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

New Painting

Working on these two characters for a series of new portfolio pieces.  I think I may try again in a different color palette, something that offers a little more punch with the colors.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Upcycle Valetine Cards

What to do with all those store bought Valentine cards your kids will bring home?  Here are two fun crafts to upcycle them. 
Movie Reel Bookmarks

You'll need black construction paper, valentine cards, a glue stick, mini-hole punch and a thin ribbon.
Cut the construction paper 4 1/2" long by 1 1/2" tall. Cut 4 cards 1" long by 3/4" tall. Glue the cards onto the construction paper evenly spaced out. Use the hole punch to create the reel marks along both sides of the construction paper and create a hole for the ribbon.  To finish tie on a ribbon.

Silly Tales Story Books
Create little mini books with Valentine cards following the directions above.  After you are done, sit down with your kids and make up the silliest story possible about the pictures.  Write down the story for them on the back of the card or leave them blank and tell new stories with them when you need to pass the time.  These would be a fun way to pass the time waiting in line, at a restaurant or during long car rides. 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Hugs and Kisses Necklace: A Valetine Project for Families

Here is a fun project you can do with the kids tomorrow after school or anytime really - we need hugs and kisses year round!

white polymer clay
small letter rubber stamps
toothpick or thick wire
liquid acrylic paint
paint brush
paper towels
7.5 mm jump ring
18" chain or ribbon
flat nose pliers

Skill Level: Easy
Recommend Age: 7 & up

All supplies can be found at your local craft store.
1. Roll a large pea-sized piece of clay into a ball.
2. Flatten the ball with your finger slightly, turn it over and flatten more.  Do this 2-3 times until your charm is about 1/4" thick. (2b) Don't worry about being picky about the sizes.  *See the note below if you are working with younger kids.
3. Gently stamp the letters into the clay.
4. Pick a hole at the top of the charm with a toothpick or thick wire. Bake according to the manufacturer's directions and let cool completely.
5. Brush on a coat of paint and rub off the excess with a paper towel. (5b)  The darker color will stay in the stamped area and paint will stain the over clay a pretty light color.
6. Open the jump ring with the pliers and your finger by pushing the jump ring open. Always open jump rings by pushing them away or toward you.(6b)  Don't open them by pulling them apart.  Slip the jump ring through the charm (6c) and close the jump ring.(6d)
7. String the chain through the jump ring.

Safety Tips:
Polymer clay is safe for kids, but I recommend following a few safety tips.
  • Cover the table with plain paper.  Clay can ruin furniture surfaces, so don't let it sit on your dining room table! 
  • Bake the clay according to the directions on the package and do not burn it
  • Use a disposable tin pan to bake your clay or a pan that will be for the clay only.  Do not use kitchen items for food once they are used with the clay.
  • Wash hands after working with the clay.
*If you are working with younger kids, work a little larger - it's easy for small hands to work with bigger and thicker pieces.  If the piece is really thick skip the jump ring and tie ribbon or yarn through the hole to make a necklace.

Design Tips:
Use letter stamps to create initial necklaces - perfect for slumber or birthday parties!

Try using automotive sandpaper in 800 grit to rub off some of the paint for a different look, like the example on the right.