• Breathing Life into my Characters

    Last week I mentioned that I was having problems with my characters looking like flat cardboard cut outs.  

    This week I took one of the potential portfolio pieces and spent the day playing with my character. I looked up reference of shepherds and I looked for pictures of boys moving. I knew I wanted to do a series of portfolio pieces that had the little shepherd playing games in the hills, playing leap frog among his sheep, walking toward a distant tree, and playing an instrument sitting under the tree while his flock drank water.

    So I drew

    And drew

    And drew

    By the end of the day, I had lots of drawings. (if you want to see all of them, click here)

    And I had 4 new comp value sketches and I feel like the shepherd looks more unique and a lot more lively.

    Tug of war

    Leap Frog

    To the Tree

    Mid Day Concert

    If you want to be among the first ones to see these completed, follow me on Instagram. (@pamela.hanks) I'm going to do a portfolio reveal of all the work I have been completing starting the first Tuesday in March.  One image a day.   

    #Marchmadness #Portfolioreveal #pamelahanks #breathinglifeintocharacters #cutesheep #shepherd sketches

  • Portfolio Building: Cutting out my weakest pieces

    Years ago, I read an article by someone like me: an artist working in the field of Children's Art.  She  passed on a piece of wisdom in the form of a story.

    She said an Art Director explained to her how their publishing house evalated artists.  They chose 2 pieces from the artists portfolio to evaluate: their strongest artwork and their weakest artwork. 

    The artist immediately went through her own portfolio and curated out all of her weakest art.

    Everytime I curate my portfolio now, I put on my Art Director's Hat and edit the pieces in my portfolio with two criteria: Good Art and Story.

    Is it good art?  I evaluate the art.  Are there drawing flaws?  Do I have any tangents?  Are there strong silhouettes? Is the perspective off? Are the values correct?  Can I take a photo of it, turn it into a black and white image and still see the correct values? Can I fix it easily, or do I need to start again? I get rid of the stuff I know won't work, fix what I can and  seek out my weakest pieces and take them out. 

    My second criteria is story. Does it tell a story?  I am in the business of telling stories to children through art.  Each portfolio piece needs to tell a story. I may have done a great piece of art, but if there is no story, I don't include it in my portfolio. Vast landscapes with no characters, a single cow in the middle of a field, and a still life of a figurine or a toy are great pieces to include in an academic portfolio to get into a BFA program, but not to land a job illustrating for the children's market.  So I take them out.

    This curating helped me just a few weeks ago as I looked over the artwork hanging on my wall ready for me to color.  One piece in particular really stuck out as being bad.  I had spent the most time on that piece, but it was still bad and no amount of color would change how bad it was.

    I started looking at all the other pieces and realized that the characters in many of them were not fully developed.  They looked like cardboard cut outs.  There was no personality.  I had been in such a big hurry to produce artwork for my portfolio, I forgot to develop the characters. They are still on my wall, waiting for me to figure out who they are so I can breath life into their drawings.

    I'd love to know what you think. Look at my portfolio (www.pamelahanks.com) with your art directors hat on.  Which piece would you pick out as my strongest piece and which is my weakest? 

  • It's Alive!: Adding Life to my Characters

    Feb 6, 2020

    At the end of the week last week, I had 8 pieces of artwork all shaded with pencil just waiting for me to add color to them.  Over the weekend, I realized that even if I went ahead and colored all of them, there were a couple that I knew were not my best work. 

    One of them I had already invested a considerable amount of time into drawing, redrawing, cropping, redrawing, and redrawing, cropping again and redrawing.  Thinking I finally had it right, I went onto shading.  But I really don't like the piece. It feels like I was just trying to get something done and it was the best idea I had at the time.  Which is the truth.

    I had a light bulb moment, however, when I realized that the pieces I liked the most had characters that I had drawn over and over again. I knew the characters form and I also knew the characters back story. I decided that to avoid making artwork just to fill a spot in my portfolio, I need to invest in a character and then let him or her tell their story as a series of portfolio pieces.

    If you want to see the rest of the images, in this series, follow me on Instagram. I post most of my process and portfolio pieces there first.

    #dragonslayer #pamelahanks #pencildrawing #castle #hotairballoon #illustrationseries

  • Batching Portfolio Pieces

    One of my goals for 2020 is to have a complete portfolio of my shaded pencil style.  I have 6 pieces that I am proud of on my website today. I plan on increasing that to 20 solid pieces.  I've spent the last month batching out additional portfolio pieces. 

    Why batch?

    I've been thinking about how to increase my efficiency.  And as I've watched you tube videos of people who are selling product on Etsy, I've found that they don't just make one apron, or one book, but they line everything up and batch out a dozen at a time.

    I'm applying this concept to my illustration work.  I've found that working on 4 images allows me to take a break so I can come back with fresh eyes the next day and instead of only getting 1 image done a week, I can work on 4 0r more at the same time.


    First I spend a couple hours at the beginning of the week, doing thumb nails and looking for ideas.  At the end of the 2 hours, I take a look at the best of what I've got and develop them. I'm looking for 4 good ideas for each batch of images.

    4x5 Line Comp

    I scan in the thumbnails I plan on developing and crop. I'm looking to end up with an 8x10 picture, so I initially crop them with a 4x5 ratio and increase the image size in photoshop to 4"x5".  If the image needs a bit developing, I will draw on my cintiq and try to improve the drawing. I also check to see where the rule of thirds crosses the main element of my drawing as I play around with the crop of the image.

    If I can, I clean up the image in photoshop and print it off.  Sometimes, I'm ready to go into the value study and other times, I take what I've printed and go to my light table.  I can usually draw better with pencil on paper than with a stylus on a monitor.  

    4x5 Value Comp

    I could do this next step in photoshop, but I love my copic markers. 

    I usually start at the lightest value (N0), because like watercolor, you can always go darker, but you have to use white pencil to go lighter.  (Sometimes when I've made a mistake and I don't want to scrap the whole comp, I go back in with a white pencil to see if it would work to lighten up an area.  I kind of like the effect.)

    Doing a value comp helps me decide on a small scale what values I am going to use in the finished piece.  Because it is only a 4 x 5 inch value comp, if I find that the values aren't working, then I can easily print off another image and try again and I've lost less time than if I just went for the finished piece and fixed the values there.

    I have discovered that I need some distance between making decisions on how to improve my drawings in each step, so batching my drawings works well.  Once I get each image to the value study step I tape them on my wall and wait until the next day.

    Initial 8x10 Line Drawing

    The next morning, I take a look at the images and critique them.  I read once that you need to be your own best editor.  I can't really do that on the same day as I draw them, because I'm too close.  Waiting until the next day, really helps me gain distance.  Occasionally, I'll finish the value sketch and already see a problem, so I'll make a note about what I need to change in the margins of the image but I still wait until the next day to make changes.

    After I've critiqued my images, and I have a good 4x5 image, I scan it back into photoshop and increase the image size to 8x10 and I print it out once again.  I take all 4 images back to my light table and draw the initial 8x10 line drawing.  If I like it and I don't see any more things that I need to fix, I tape the initial 8x10 line drawing to my wall and wait until morning again.

    Refining the 8x10 Line Drawing

    I critique my 8x10 drawing in the morning and I often see things that are wrong or things I forgot to address.  I scan, correct, print, draw on the light table over and over again until I like the image and I am ready to work on the finish drawing.  Sometimes it is straight forward and sometimes I use 20 sheets of paper or more making changes to the same drawing because it isn't working for me.  I might even go back to the 4x5 image and redraw it on that scale to fix issues or to give myself a new perspective on the drawing. Or I might change drawing tools, and scan it back into Photoshop and use the stylus to draw something different.  When I can't seem to solve the drawing problem, changing it up a bit helps.

    Finishing the Pencil Drawing with Shading

    Often, when I'm ready to shade the image on Bristol paper, I don't even stop, I just get the bristol paper and tape the image onto the back of it and use my light table to start on the finished shading. Sometimes  I'm not even aware that I've stopped drawing and started finishing until I'm done.  

    I use the 4x5 value comp heavily as I shade.  It  helps to remind me where I already decided to place the shadows and the highlights.  It is a great map.

    Adding Color

    When the pieces have been shaded, I scan them into Photoshop and color them.  I like to use a separate multiply layer to color on top of my drawings because it allows the lines and shading I've done to come through.  I can also change the color of my lines and shading in photoshop to allow for other possibilities.

    Where I am at:

    As of this morning, I have 8 pieces completed through the shading step.  I have one more piece that I should be able to complete by the end of today, and one I am struggling with. I've taken this latter image to finish and then realized it had some major drawing flaws and took it back to the drawing board (no pun intended) and worked on it some more.  It's still on my wall, waiting for my brain to solve the design problems it has so I can take it to finish.  

    I haven't colored any of these new images yet, but I figure I can batch the coloring of them all together.

    I wanted to know how long it took me to complete an image.  As I am tracking my working hours between billable and non billable, I write down what I worked on.  After my first week, I decided that I need to get faster in my process.  And since a lot of the time was spent on drawing and redrawing, I have no doubt that the more I do, the faster I will get at this process and the more I will like the end result.  I haven't tracked this week's stats, but I think I am faster this week over the last two weeks.  

    Talk to you next week.

  • Billable Hours

    January 23, 2020

    Sometime in October 2019 I had a light bulb moment. I needed to spend a minimum of 4 hours a day doing artwork. I still have kids at home and although they are all in school during the day, I found myself finding excuses and other 'work' related tasks to do that were not artwork.  

    Since then, I found myself being more productive.  Yet, if I was going to contribute to the household expenses, I needed to sell as well.  I found I was working on artwork, but not selling it.  Part of that is because I am not investing time into selling and promoting what I am making.  Truth is, I'm not even sure anyone will be reading this post.  But since it is part of my new plan, here I am.

    As the end of the year drew near, and I was  struggling with what were my priorities for 2020, I developed a plan for how I was going to allocate my precious 4 hours a day so I can produce, donate, market, and learn new things.  It all revolves around the idea of Billable Hours.

    Lawyers think in terms of Billable hours.  Can I charge this to a client?  Yes? Then it is Billable, and they can bill someone for their time. The more billable hours they put in, the more they get paid.

    So, I've divided my tasks into Billable hours and Non-Billable hours. 

    Billable hours include me doing anyting that I can sell.  Artwork: From thumbnails, to value comps, to full size line drawings, to finished pencil pieces, to painting compositions in Photoshop I consider Billable Hours.

    My Non-Billable hours include mailing postcards, collecting addresses to send postcards to, setting up mailchimp, gathering together my Inktober drawings into a pdf to send to my mailchimp email list, time I spend on doing artwork for charity, learning new art mediums, researching a market or learning more about business, or learning how to be a better writer, planning social media campaigns, and yes, writing a blog. Anything that I can't sell but is necessary to grow my business.

    I could spend most of my day on the Non-Billable hours stuff, but if I don't have any artwork to sell, it won't really do me any good.  I can spend all of my day on the Billable hours, but if I don't make the connections with people, I won't see a penny for my efforts.  

    It's a balancing act. 

    As the start of week 1 of 2020 rolled around, I set a goal to spend 60% of my time doing Billable hours.  And I was very successful.  At the end of week 1, I had spent 21.1 hours working.  15.2 of those hours were billable hours! (72%)  

    Encouraged, I refined my plan. 60% Billable Hours and then the Non-Billable hours, I would spend 10% on Marketing, 10% on donation items, 20% on learning new things.

    That second week turned out pretty good too.  

    Total hours: 30.8

    Billable: 22.3 (72%)

    Marketing: 0

    Donation: 3 (9.7%)

    Learning: 2.5 (8.1%)

    I had an additional 3 hours where I had to go buy new art supplies.  So I need to figure out how to do that outside of work hours or make a plan for shopping too.

    Since my most important goal is to spend at least 60% of my time doing billable hours, I feel elated over the 72%, but it did come at a cost. I didn't market myself last week, aside from a few instagram posts.  

    Week 3: this week I missed a whole day to President's Day (the kids were home and we had friends over) and a couple hours on another day due to shear laziness, I've only worked a total of 9.4 hours this week out of the 14 hours I had planned on working this week.

    But, I will get at least 1 hour of that time done for marketing, because I am writing this blog.  See you next week.


  • #SCBWI LA17

    #SCBWI LA17

    Just finished the main event for SCBWI 2017 in LA.  I made this dummy book to take with me to the conference.  I included it with my portfolio for the portfolio showcase (which was cool to be a part of) and I carried around a copy to show to anyone who asked about what I was working on.

    I have a list of things gleaned from the conference to change on this dummy before I send it in to an editor.  I'm excited to fine tune it and send it to publishers.  One of the art directors told a story about a picture book she worked on where the creator made 10 physical dummy books before it was finished.  I only have 9 more to go!!!

    Thanks to Julie Olsen's blog post on making a dummy book from InDesign. It saved me time just before the conference.

    I met alot of nice people including a couple of fellow artists that I plan on connecting with to do dummy book swaps/critics with.  I made cute mini sketchbooks/business cards to hand out.  I handed out every last "card".  It was a goal of mine to not bring any home with me, it feels empowering to have reached that goal.  God does answer prayers.

    Next year, I plan on having a fuller, stronger portfolio and a new sketchbook business card design.  I might even put some fun line drawings inside the book.

    Tomorrow, I'm looking forward to attending the Illustrator Intensive. And then fly home. My littlest said she missed me so much, she couldn't sleep.

  • Consistently Penelope

    I went to my Art Critic Group last night.  I took a bunch of sketches I have of Penelope. I have been having some problems figuring out why she looks different in almost each sketch.  My group helped me to identify a few things I keep doing differently.  One suggestion was to draw just the head and shoulders and work on being consistent.

    So, here is my work this morning on making her Consistently Penelope:

    Version A:

    And Version B:

    Which one do you like better?