Sunday, August 7, 2011

Steve Malk - Making the Most of Your Illustration Career: How to Break In, Stay In, and Thrive

Steve looking for a transom he can shimmy through
Originally, I was THRILLED to attend Writers House agent Steve Malk's session because I thought it was about how illustrators should consider moonlighting as cat burglars. So I sat through the whole dang workshop waiting for ANY REFERENCE to jimmying locks or muffling your getaway car's muffler. Nothing helpful about breaking in AT ALL. It's really not worth posting what he said, but I'm contractually obligated to do so:

Steve: People say picture books are down, but I've signed three new illustrators since this time last year. There are no shortcuts in this field, you have to go the extra mile. You just have to work harder, the jobs are out there.

Steve's slideshow contained not diagrams of safes and how to crack them, but quotes from his clients:

Push yourself to the edge in terms of working hard and creating the best images you can. Don't let anyone else outwork you." -- AG FORD

Cover of AG's latest book

You can't be a dabbler, you have to be 100% committed. Certainly, work in the other parts of the arts, Steve even encourages that, but committing fully to your children's book illustration career is going to make your success much easier going.

Well, this next quote could actually apply to thieves. Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours rule:
The people at the very top don't just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.

Steve hands out a list of his top 25 books you should know to be the best illustrator you can be as well as six great online resources for illustrators. I'm picking my top five books from that list:

There's a lot of subjectivity involved in how your work is received. But as a general rule: Your portfolio needs to be specific to children's books. Take the weeks, months, or years needed to make your portfolio specialized. There should be a logic to the way your pieces are sequenced.

From Stephanie Graegin's mini promo booklet
Steve shows us an incredible promotional piece made by Stephanie Graegin. The ultimate in a well sequenced portfolio. Steve said out of the 250 editors and art directors and designers she sent her mini-booklet to, nearly all of them commented on how clever and pretty it was, and it started a work buzz for her that's resulted in a number of books under contract.

The two things Steve says you can control in this business are:
  • How people experience your portfolio
  • Being a pleasure to work with

From Christian Robinson's Writers House portfolio

Another new client, Christian Robinson, demonstrated to me, personally, that he'd be a pleasure to work with. I got to meet him this weekend and he totally laughed at all my bad jokes. And they were total stinkers.

From Marla's book THE BOSS BABY (who Steve modeled for!)
Check your ego at the door. Success doesn't come to us quite as quickly as we hope. Everything is an opportunity. We make our own luck.

"Don't make anyone's job harder than it already is." -- MARLA FRAZEE

And Marla's quote could apply to heists! So at least I can end on a useful note.