Saturday, March 13, 2010

Like a moth to the flame

My portfolio is updated, two new ones created. Samples and business cards are printed and appointments are being made. In a week I will be leaving Bellingham, destination New York City! The center of my business world and many others. I am excited, nervous and hopeful. This will be my fourth trip to the city to show my illustration portfolio. I have been illustrating children's book for nine years now and I have learned that journeying to the heart of the publishing industry can really make the difference when it comes time for a publisher to find an illustrator for a project. It also happens to be incredibly inspiring and fulfilling taking charge and marching the streets of New York City portfolio in hand.

The first such trip was in the fall of 2003. My first couple of books had been published in Minneapolis and I was eager to take my career to the next level with the goal of working with a New York publisher. This was before I had an agent so the major effort of contacting publishers ahead of time and making appointments fell on my shoulders. Luckily I managed to arrange a pretty full schedule worth of meetings. Those days were a blur of catching subways, lugging heavy portfolios and hoping not to get lost. Even though I was VERY new to this business most people were kind and had lots of good advice and encouraging words to say about my art. The best part came on the third of four days, when visiting the school magazine division of Scholastic Inc. I was there to meet one person but others were invited and soon our table was surrounded by interested designers and art directors. I left that meeting with my first New York publishing job! It was a series of illustrations for one of their school magazines. Of course I had dreamed it might happen like that, receiving a job right on the spot, but it still seemed to good to be true. If I am feeling discouraged about my career I like to think back on that early success.

Arguably my best jobs have come about after making a visit to a publisher. Six months after my first trip to NYC, Simon and Schuster contacted me to illustrate the book "John Adams Speaks For Freedom." In 2005 a few hours after visiting with my publisher in Minneapolis I was on the plane home, reading the manuscript for my future book "Nature's Paintbox". That book allowed my to illustrate poetry and nature, explore different art mediums and get away from being the historical go to guy for awhile. It has also been a book that has really connected with kids during my school and library visits over the years. In 2008 a few months after an epic one week trip to New York where I had 24 meetings with around 60 people I heard from Lee & Low Books with an offer to illustrate "The Can Man", a dream project. Here was the book I had been waiting for. It was a fictional, contemporay picture book for a New York publisher, and a beautiful story as well. I tried to savor every moment of that project.

Which brings me to the present. As exciting as these trips can be filled with hope and inspiration they can also be emotionally exhausting. It's like a roller coaster, elated one moment, feeling a bit discouraged the next. I try to take in the comments, while leaving my ego at the front door. I have gotten better at this but it's not always easy. I have heard many times concerns about realism's place in todays market and have felt a bit pigeon holed as the guy who does historical educational books. Granted I have done a lot of those but with projects like "The Can Man" and "Nature's Paintbox" I am hopeful that people are beginning to see my work in a new light.

Because of those books this trip feels a bit different. Over half of the work in my portfolios is new. A balance of contemporary and historical with a nod to illustration styles of the past. I see the growth in my work and I am eager to share it with others. Unfortunately I am also arriving at a time when publishing like many industries has take a real punch to the gut since my last trip. Vast layoffs occurred, budgets tightened, people are working longer hours with little time to meet and greet visiting illustrators and authors. Besides showing my work and making connections I am also traveling to take the pulse of the industry, seeing for myself the state of things. The Northwest is about as far away as you can get in the states from the center of publishing so I look to these trips to reconnect with my chosen career. Wish me luck!

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