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Breaking the Boundaries of Your Illustrating Box

By Gary Raham

We all tend to get comfortable with the kind of illustration work we do and the clients we work with—especially when assignments keep rolling in. When you find yourself between assignments, however, or just want to try something new, you may want to explore some of the alternative markets discussed below. There are also times when paying markets develop from volunteer work or when the occasional freebie makes advertising sense.

Trade Books

Trade books are the kind of books easily found in bookstores and online. They are meant to appeal to a broad enough audience that publishers can affordably price them. Children’s books make up a huge market. Member Alan Male in the October, 2005, GNSI Newsletter wrote an excellent article about illustrating children’s non-fiction. To learn the ins and outs of this market I agree with his suggestion to explore an organization called the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), an international organization aimed largely at writers, but that also provides lots of good information for illustrators. The national web site is at www.scbwi.org. I served as a Co-Regional advisor for this group in Colorado for three years. My partner in leading this Rocky Mountain Chapter, Phyllis Cahill, developed a great FAQ section for illustrators on our local web site at www.rmcscbwi.org.

Book Cover- "Deep Time Diaries"And, if so inclined, strongly consider adding writing to your skill list. I write and illustrate many of my own books. Connections to editors and publishing houses at conferences have directly led to the sale of 3 trade books and 5 science workbooks. I especially enjoyed writing and illustrating The Deep Time Diaries for Fulcrum Publishing, a fact/fiction book about the time-traveling adventures of a brother and sister from our future. (See my web site at www.biostration.com.) You may recall that Hannah Bonner related her experiences writing and illustrating When Bugs Were Big, Plants Were Strange, and Tetrapods Stalked the Earth in the November, 2004, GNSI newsletter.

Academic Publishers

We often forge connections to academic publishers through our own education. Professors without illustrating acumen need us to illustrate their work. Sometimes there are adequate funds for such projects, sometimes not. Many universities have their own publishing departments like Indiana University Press, Oxford University Press, and others.  It’s possible to make connections with textbook publishers through academic colleagues, National Science Teachers Association conferences (www.nsta.org), or various subject-specialty conferences in your area of special interest. Large museums sometimes have their own publishing houses as well.

I once saw a Scientific American article that interested me and noticed that the author taught at Colorado State University, just twelve miles from me. I contacted her, and she graciously invited me to see the subject of her latest research. Later, she remembered my portfolio and contacted me to do an illustration for a book she was writing for Oxford University Press.

Artists also group together to form small companies that contract additional labor for textbook or web illustration projects. Google phrases like “natural science illustration” or “biomedical illustration” and you will come up with a number of possibilities—nationally and worldwide. If you add the name of your city to the search, you will find the sites of local colleagues. It never hurts to call and say hello. You may discover a new friend along with an occasional job referral. One enterprising illustrator I know acts as a book packager. She has forged connections with several publishers by doing accurate, on-time work, then sublets work on various projects and takes a percentage of what she gets from the publisher.

A paleoartist I know made contacts with scientists through a volunteer organization in Denver called the Western Interior Paleontological Society, mercifully abbreviated as WIPS (www.wipsppc.com). She has since illustrated several books and at least one full-color, limited edition poster that she sold in conjunction with one book. WIPS also sponsors an every-other-year symposium that features an art show.

Standardized Test Illustrations:

A spin-off of the academic publishing market is the creation of science art for standardized tests.  They like clear, professionally rendered line art available in a digital format and pay a flat fee per piece, which is sometimes negotiable, depending on your skill level. It helps to have a background in the area of science you illustrate, so you don’t have to spend lots of time researching. The companies provide rough sketches of what they want, usually made by the teachers or writers creating the test questions. In fact, if you have any kind of teaching background, you might be able to write questions or test passages as well. ETS (Educational Testing Service) is based in San Antonio, Texas (www.ets.org).

Magazine Markets:

Many trade magazines need scientific illustrators from time to time. Children’s magazines like Highlights for Children (www.highlights.com), Cricket, Muse, and others (www.cricketmag.com), regularly print science articles. Natural History (www.naturalhistorymag.com), Scientific American (www.sciam.com), National Geographic (www.nationalgeographic.com), Discover (www.discover.com), and Smithsonian magazine (www.smithsonianmag.si.edu) also use natural science illustrators. When you see published illustrations you wish you would have done, explore the magazine’s website and see what their procedure is for reviewing an artist’s work. Many art directors these days are quite happy to be referred to the gallery of a nice web site for present or future reference. I also pay attention to art directors and editors that visit SCBWI conferences as speakers. I check out their web sites and, if they seem inclined to handle natural science illustrators, I will point them toward my web site.

Markets Growing out of Volunteerism

Sometimes you can turn volunteer work into assignments. I took a series of Master Naturalist courses sponsored by a town near me, which allows graduates to lead hikes for adults and children in various natural areas. The city also contracts for entrance and other signage. As a volunteer, I became aware of these opportunities and was able to bid successfully for design and illustration work creating entrance signs.

Artists can also find similar opportunities at county, state, and federal levels. While taking a course in plant identification in Jefferson County in Colorado, the instructor, after learning of my occupation, wanted to know if I was interested in being on the bidding list for interpretive sign illustration. Initially, you will have to provide information on your experience, which may include testimonials from previous clients. The procedure for bidding involves some paper work and you need to follow directions completely, but the compensation can be worth the effort. If your business is a corporation, you may have to be registered with the state for some contract work. If you are the sole proprietor of a business, formal registration may not be necessary.

Volunteer work with Audubon, the Nature Conservancy, or other groups may also lead to useful contacts for future work. Also look for possibilities at museums, botanical gardens, or insect pavilions. One job I had for Larimer County began from a referral by a colleague, but developed nicely because the recycling theme of the “Garbage Garage” appealed to my own conservation ethos. The job paid well, but I was also willing to put extra effort into working with the county representative and project design leader to help make the final project an award winner. (They also voted me the “Most Patient Graphic Designer,” with a suitably recycled award made from an old pot and a basketball trophy!)

When to do Freebies

Deciding when to do freebies is always a tough call. Mike Fredericks publishes Prehistoric Times, a magazine that tells you all you want to know (and sometimes more) about dinosaurs and other prehistoric life (www.prehistorictimes.com). He publishes a variety of illustrations from both top professionals in the field and amateurs. Since this area is a favorite of mine, I will sometimes send him artwork, although this is not a paying market. It provides good exposure for artwork in this specialized area.

 “DarkSyde,” a blogger who writes a very nice science column called Science Friday on the Daily Kos, contacted me. He wanted to use one of my paintings posted on Science-art.com to illustrate a point about evolution. He couldn’t pay anything for the piece, but the audience he reaches is huge, and he gave me a very complimentary credit. Although nothing has developed yet from this exposure, it seems like a good advertising gamble. Advertising professionals claim someone has to hear your name seven times before it becomes one that they remember hearing before.

The nature of illustrating markets certainly is evolving, like the rest of the natural world. It’s up to us to be adaptive and to try to place our work in the path of opportunity. A personal web site has become a virtual necessity; and some sort of quality online portfolio— like that available through Science-Art.com —an invaluable advertising tool. If we continue to do the things we love and do them well, while keeping our eyes open to all the possibilities, good things will happen.

Growing Visibility

Butterfly Life Cycle< Be ready when fate calls you web address >

Member Jennifer Fairman has her very fine web site sited in the Journal Nature in a regular column called NatureJobs. Freelance writer Virginia Gewin reviews the fields of Science and Medical art as a career.

Jeni has a very useful set of training links on her web site and multiple sites linking to this content increases her visibility on the web whenever a search is done on the topics she covers.

If you have a special interest related to your illustration passion, consider a well crafted page on the subject as a great addition to your web site promotional efforts. Then encourage people to link to it!

Check out Jeni's site yourself. You will find a link to it in Jennifer Fairman's portfolio here at Science-Art.com.

I'm Digging It!

Lumpy Warthog< Free publicity is like gold>

Gail Guth strikes again this year with a brief review of her career (and services) in the on-line magazine DIG IT!

Gail gives a succinct description of a wart hog (thery're lumpy), and she manages to plant another link for Science-Art.com as well as her own site into this article. Thanks Gail!

Check out Gail Guth's portfolio to see the wide range of subject matter she covers here at Science-Art.com.

Rick's Rarities

California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus)< A bountiful opportunity >

Rick Wheeler did his part this past year to help endangered species in two separate, but related, jobs concerning the reintroduction of the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus). This bird, which was almost extinct by 1985, has an impressive wingspan upwards of 10 feet. A lot of time and effort has been used to see that this magnificent bird survives. Rick was hired to help get the message out with his distinctive scratchboard illustrations. Pinnacles National Monument, in California, commissioned a scratchboard/ watercolor illustration of the Condor with the Monument formations as a backdrop. The illustration will be used to promote the Monument's California Condor Recovery Program, as well as Pinnacles National Monument itself. Next the Grand Canyon Association hired Rick to illustrate two watercolor maps showing the current protected range and former, much larger, North American continent range of the bird. The current range includes parts of central California, small portions of northern Baja California, and the Grand Canyon and surrounding parts of the Colorado Plateau region, north and south. These maps will be included in a new book on the California Condor, coming soon.

Rick's business is not endangered. He is now working on a large project, painting a 4' x 7' canvas depicting a prehistoric scene of Native American life in the Mojave Desert region. This will be for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in California, located near Joshua Tree National Park. The military is federally mandated to protect and promote natural and cultural history on military property, and they have built a facility to do just that. The building will be accessible to the public, as well as military personnel. This project may well grow into a multi-paneled series of illustrations concerning the history of the base, covering a vast period of time, from paleontology to the ancient native people (and several archeological sites), to its present-day function as a Marine Corps training base.

There are more projects on the horizon for Rick. View Rick Wheeler's portfolio and web site now, starting here at Science-Art.com

Pay It again, Ma'am

Ginkgo biloba branch< Image reuse>

Judy Aronow received several requests this past year for reuse of her art displayed on Science-Art.com. First, the use of a beautiful rendering of a branch of ginkgo leaves was requested for an article on plant remedies in a French magazine. The payment was highly delayed and required follow up e-mails to straighten it out, but the money came through in the end! Next Judy made some quick cash with a spot illustration of a mushroom in a regional magazine, the Wilson Quarterly.

What common images of popular subject matter might you have? Think about loading them into Science-Art.com and see who bites.

Check out Judy Aronow's portfolio to see the wide range of botanical subjects she covers here at Science-Art.com.

Mucking About

Netherlands waterways< A woman with patience>

What is harder than shoveling ditches? Getting experts to agree on the best way to present the consequences of shoveling ditches, according to Mieke Roth in regards to her recently completed series of illustrations on waterway restoration in the Netherlands.

"I was asked to make several large illustrations for the Rijnland District Water Control Board. The project's aim was to create public awareness of long-term waterway maintenance in the Rijnland district, something that was long overdue and needed public support to continue. The initial illustration wasn’t hard to make: I just had to show a dredged waterway and one that wasn’t. The fun part of that illustration was to place it in an environment that people could recognize as local.

The other illustrations were more complicated. Nothing like this had been depicted before: a large illustration that is understandable for the public and that explains what the consequences are of putting the waterway dredge spoils on the land. I had to describe several types of landscape, each with a different soil composition and thus with different behavior of the polluted components. There was more than enough information on soil behavior to start with, but that was also the problem. I had to get the experts to agree on one approach, and at the same time leave an enormous amount of information out. There was just too much for the general public to digest.

The result had to be a publication (1.2MB PDF) easily understood by anyone, but have the support of the experts. After all the consultation, my solution for visualizing the different kinds of pollution was made very basic. I only used two symbols: one for all metals and one for all organic pollution. It took me more than two months to get all the experts of TNO (Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research) and Rijnland in agreement. The illustration production itself only took me a couple of weeks."

Visit Mieke Roth's portfolio of science art here at Science-Art.com.

Science-Art.com passes 1450!

Members of Science-art.com currently have over 1450 images on display around the world through our web site gallery. We look forward to even more members and images in the coming year.

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