Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas 2010

Just a little note to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas! This year, we are especially grateful, as we welcome our new baby Olivia into our family. It has been an adventure and an adjustment, but this holiday season is especially special with her in our life. Seasons greeting to all of you and your families, and best wishes for the coming new year!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

New Look for JZ Artworks Online

Thanks go out to Rome Zivoin, my husband and personal web developer, for the beautiful new site that he built for JZ Artworks. My illustration style has evolved quite a bit over the last few years, and we both decided that it was time to give the JZ Artworks a face-lift. We decided that the site should showcase my new digital style, and I love that Rome came up with a layout that really integrates the content into the imagery, much more like a picture book page than the previous site. Also, the average viewer might not be able to appreciate this just from looking at the site, but Rome spent a lot of time using new coding options and solutions that really enhance the site. I hope you all enjoy the new look as much as I do, and if you are interested in seeing more of Rome's website design and development work, check out his online portfolio as well at

Monday, November 1, 2010

Olivia's Treehouse

For those who might not know, my husband and I are expecting our first child, a little girl, in a little over 5 weeks! So, I just had to take some time to create some custom artwork for the nursery, which has a jungle/monkey theme. It took some time to get the sense of depth just right, but I am really pleased with the result and can't wait to hang the piece in her room! Since the piece is digital, I am having to wait for the printer to get the piece printed before it can officially debut on the nursery wall. Waiting, waiting, waiting. I'm starting to get very good at waiting! Hope you all enjoy the piece!

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A bit about representation

I've been getting a lot of questions lately about art reps for people in the children's illustration business. Most people just want to know "how do I get an agent?" However, there are a few basic questions that an artist should ask his/herself first:

1) "Why do I want an agent?" - For most people, the answer to this question is simply "because I believe that having an agent will get me more projects." The reasons for deciding that being represented is right for you is a bit more complex than simply wanting more work. For me, there were several answers to this question that led me to believe that representation was right for me: "I live in the Midwest, and many of the publishers I want to work with are out east. I want to have someone who can personally represent me and my work to the clients that I wish to do business with." "Marketing myself effectively has become a full time job. I need someone with good connections who can focus on promoting me so that I can focus on projects and portfolio development." "I do not know all of the industry standards for pricing and practices across a variety of markets, and need someone knowledgeable and experienced to negotiate my contracts provide advice and perspective about new opportunities." And of course...."I want more work."

2) "What kind of relationship do I want with my agent?" - It's like dating. Most people have certain expectations of people they are considering dating, to narrow the pool. For some, potential dates must share his/her religion, or have a certain level of education, or share certain interests. It is the same with agents. Do you want someone who will take an interest in developing your portfolio, or do you want to be left to your own creative devices? Do you want your agent to be located in a certain region? How much experience do you want your agent to have? Do you want an agent who represents a large portfolio of artists, or do you want to be a part of a smaller more exclusive group? Do you want an agent who will only get you work from one particular market? Do you want an exclusive or a non-exclusive contract with your agent? Do you want to communicate directly with clients, or do you want your rep to handle all client interaction? These are all questions you need to be able to answer before you even begin to look for representation so that you identify agencies that may be a good fit for you.

3) "Why would an agent want to represent me?" - Remember, the dating analogy? You are not hiring an agent. Just as you are looking for an agent who would be a good fit for you, the rep you are talking to is also trying to decide if you would be a good fit for his/her portfolio of artists. Is your work professional enough to actually market? Do you have enough experience under your belt that the agent can feel confident that you can handle a project professionally? Are you easy to work with? Are you committed to working in this industry, or are you just trying illustration out to "see if it works?" Can you create on a deadline? Do you understand your work method enough to be able to give accurate art completion dates? Art reps don't want to waste their time marketing someone who is ultimately going to reflect poorly on them and their business.

4) "Do I know what agents do?" Do you know enough about representation to know if you are talking to an unethical agent? Do you know what the responsibilities of an art rep are...and what they are not?

OK, so you have decided that it is time for you to seek out representation. So, now back to the original question: "How do I get an agent?" There are a lot of ways that artists connect with their agents. Here is how I got connected with my agent:

First I went through the SCBWI publication about reps and agents. I circled reps that I thought sounded worth investigating. (I really wanted someone out in NY, for instance). Then I visited said reps websites to see how many people they were repping, and what the portfolio looked like. I crossed off some reps from my list. Then I began checking out their advertising. I went through ISpot, Picturebook, Directory of Illustration and other marketing venues to see where they were advertising and how consistent they were about doing so over the years. This also gave me a sense of their business brand as well, and how much exposure each artist got (For instance, did they consistently cram about 100 artists on 1 page of a printed annual, or did each artist get a full page to show off their best work?). I also looked their artists up on Amazon, to see is any of them were getting consistent work (hmm....that artist has not had a picturebook since 1985.....I wonder why their agent isn't getting them more?).

Once I had my list down to 4 reps, I queried them, and dialogue began. I had various phone conferences with them, talking about contracts, and the details of the relationship and the business. I also asked to interview several of their artists (my choice) to see how satisfied they were with the relationship. Finally, I entered into a contract with the agent that I felt was right for me. I've been represented since 2008, and love my relationship with my agent. For me, representation by the right agent was the right move for my illustration career.

But what if you don't love your agent? Representation is not a marriage. You do as much research as you can; you think about what you want, and when you find a rep that you think you can work with, you ultimately hope for the best. If the relationship works, wonderful! If it does not, the contracts have a termination clause, explaining the terms for ending the relationship. So, if it doesn't work out, you can always decided to stay un-repped, or find a new rep, learning from your experience. Agencies that are a good fit for one artist may not be a good fit for another.

Good luck, everyone, and happy illustrating!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Great Katie Kate Discusses Diabetes Released

Hi everyone! Just a short note to announce that "The Great Katie Kate Discusses Diabetes" is now released! You can purchase the book through my website's Purchase Section. I have not yet received my copies of the book yet, but if the previous book is any comparision, I am sure that the craft and quality will be fabulous. Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bet You "Didn't Know That"!

Hi everyone! Just sharing the excellent news that my dad's book "I Didn't Know That: How to Care for Your Home, Your Car, and Yourself" is now released! For my father, this project began 5 years ago when I was getting married. I half-jokingly said to him, "Dad, you do a lot of stuff....and I have no idea what that stuff even is! Can you make a binder of all of the things you do for the house and the cars so that I can give it to my husband so that he'll know what I expect him to do?!" Well, Dad began working on that binder of information...and it kept expanding! What started as a detailed "To Do" list evolved into a book that is geared towards people who find themselves on their own - college graduates, the newly single, young professionals - anyone! It's a handy-dad's book of advice and basic fix-it information written as if he was talking to his own daughter. My husband and I keep several copies (including that very first binder) in our kitchen and have often referred to it as we work on household projects. So, if you are looking for that perfect gift for your student who's moving out and into his/her own apartment (where parent's won't be around to fix that leak or explain that strange noise under the hood of the car), you might want to check out this book! Great work, Dad!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jack & The Toddler Picturebook

Whew! Well, I've been working on the "Jack & The Toddler" project since March, and feel such a sense of accomplishment now that the artwork is completed! This project was huge: 41 paintings. The painting phase alone took me 10 weeks. Above, you can see a few of my favorites. Aside from the "whew!" feeling one gets after completing a project of this size, I am very pleased with another notable feature of these pieces: they were all painted digitally. Up until now, I have worked exclusively in watercolor, and this project marks the first time that I was able to confidently offer the client a digital option, which, after seeing some digital samples, is the route that the client decided to go with for the book. As I was working on these illustrations, I was really pleased with the vibrancy of the colors and the ability to experiment easily with colors and textures. For me, using the tablet and digital brushes felt very much like working in acrylics and colored pencils. The final illustrations still have that painterly quality of the "artist's hand", which made me happy. I don't tend to like pieces that have a plastic-like or too polished look that digital art can sometimes yield. Of course, the true measure of success is client satisfaction, and I am pleased to announce that the final art was accepted by the client without any revisions needed! Yay! No rest for this artist, though! As soon as I put the files on my ftp for client delivery, I began diving straight into the sketches for my next project, "Katie Kate Explains Asthma." It's going to be a busy summer, but I am still finding time to enjoy the pool :)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Sneak Peek

Hi everyone! I've been busy in the studio working on a huge project - 41 paintings - all painted digitally, and am really liking the results. I am a little over half way through with the artwork, and thought I would share a little preview...I am really enjoying the freedom to experiment with different textures and colors, without the fear of ruining the pieces. Friends have been asking me if digital is "easier" or "faster" than watercolor, and certainly it is a time saver not to have to stretch 41 pieces of watercolor paper. However, the actual painting process takes just about the same amount of time for me either way. Digital is definitely its own medium, and I am enjoying seeing my style translate onto the digital canvas.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Katie Kate Cancer Released

Hi All! Exciting news! The first book in the Katie Kate series has been released today: "The Great Katie Kate Tackles Questions About Cancer". You can purchase this book through the purchase link on my website. I actually just received my gratis copies in the mail this morning. They look really great. I am really pleased with how the images fit with the text, with the overall design of the book, and the dust jacket, which has a nice spot UV coating on the title text. We graphic design nerds appreciate such things.

Although I do not have a dedication page in the actual book, this project was a labor of love in honor of the two Greatest Katies I have ever met: My sister Katie O'Keefe and my flower girl Katie McGee. Katie McGee was diagnosed with cancer shortly after my wedding, and fought bravely for years, always maintaining optimism, faith, hope and the propensity to just be a kid. In 2008, however, she lost her battle with the disease, and the world lost one of the best little 9 year olds ever. I know that Katie's spirit was with me as I illustrated these pages, and she makes a cameo appearance on page 18 of the book. My sister Katie was also diagnosed with cancer. Through all of her treatments, appointments, medications, surgeries, and all of the physical and mental stresses that those come along with, Katie managed all the while to attend college and earn her masters degree in business, as one of the youngest in her class and at the top of her class. Katie put it best describing her battle with the disease - "Cancer, you picked the wrong bitch." While not officially in medical remission yet, Katie has cancer on the run and has been "cancer free" for a several years. The physical design of the character Katie Kate is based on my sister as a child (although for artistic purposes, Katie Katie has red hair and green eyes, instead of my sister's brown hair and brown eyes).

So, my Katies, you are both super heroes, and this one is for you.

Monday, April 19, 2010

My love affair with my Cintiq

Oh, Cintiq. How I love you. I feel like I am cheating on my watercolors, having an elicit affair with digital art. Lately, I have really been pushing myself into the digital art transition. After a rough start, I have completed some personal pieces that I am really proud of, and am even doing some digital client work. After much experimentation, I have found the digital tools and methods that are right for me, and I can now execute a digital painting just as fast as a traditional one (not counting the time it takes to stretch paper and scan/color correct the traditional art).

Through this process, I have truly begun to see digital art as more of a medium than a method. People tend to ask me "is it easier?". Well...are oil paints easier than watercolors? Are markers easier than colored pencils? Every medium has its strengths and challenges, and those vary depending upon the natural skills and techniques of the artist. For me, some things come easier digitally. I find that varying my color pallet, creating dramatic lighting, and experimenting with textures are more natural for me digitally. Why? Probably because if I hate the color I just created, I can delete it. With watercolor, it must be right the first time, and so I don't take as many risks. My time schedules for projects don't often allow for frequent re-dos of pages. However, I find that I miss being able to use my whole arm to create strokes, the feel and smell of the paper, and the natural "artist's hand" which you can see in traditional work. With digital art, I have to remember to leave in "mistakes" and "imperfections" that show a piece was done by a person and not a machine. It is easy for digital art to look stale and stiff, which is something that I must fight against. I love the looseness of my sketching and the energy in my pencil lines, and I must make an effort to preserve those qualities in my digital work. Plus, digital art is not without color challenges. My traditional art must go through the time consuming process of scanning and color correction, but I learned very quickly with my digital art that my Cintiq displays color differently than my main monitor. I must often move the image back and forth between the two to make sure that my colors don't nice on both, so that I can be confident that values and colors will look right when they go to print. Watercolor paintings can be easily damaged. Digital art can be accidentally overwritten! (Thank you, my beloved backup hard drive, for keeping my artwork safe from myself!)

I like to think of myself as an illustrator. Not a traditional illustrator. Not a digital illustrator. Just an illustrator who is capable of using a variety of mediums to create the right piece of art for the project. I hope to one day take this even further, and blend my traditional and digital techniques, perhaps beginning a painting traditionally and then taking it into the computer, so that I can harness the unique properties of both mediums. This will probably be very far down the road before I can introduce this approach to my professional portfolio, as the illustrators who do this successfully are very skilled, very experienced, and have learned through much trial and error. In the meanwhile, I am looking forward to NOT having to scan and color correct the 41 images I am creating for my current project.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

This Week in the Studio

Painted the cover for "The Great Katie Kate Explains Diabetes". Scanned, color corrected and delivered this painting to the client. Sketched 12 pages for "Jack and the Toddler". Worked on thumbnails for additional pages of this project.
Well, I have officially delivered all of the final art for "The Great Katie Kate Explains Diabetes." I hope the client likes it :) While I wait for approval, I just wanted to share one of my favorite spreads. I just like the expressions on the kids' faces, and I like how Katie's hair turned out. Enjoy!

Monday, March 8, 2010

Book Signing

This past weekend, "Reuben Rides the Rails" was officially released at the Children's Museum of Indianpolis. It was such a fun day! I got to meet the author Barb McLaughlin in person. It is very rare that I actually get to meet the authors whose books I illustrate, so this was a rare treat for me! Together, we signed over 200 books (some pre-orders, some purchased on the day of the book signing)! We took pictures together in front of the engine that inspired the book, greeted parents and kids, and took photos with the children as well. Such a busy but very fun day! Thanks go out the the Children's Museum of Indianapolis and the Children's Museum Guild for this great project and for hosting us on Saturday. For those wishing to purchase a copy, hardbacks can be purchased from the store at the Children's Museum. Paperback copies can be puchased from Amazon.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Reuben Rides the Rails now available

Hi Everyone!
My first full picture book, "Reuben Rides the Rails", is now available for purchase! You can order the books from Amazon by clicking here. Also, on March 6th, The Children's Museum of Indianapolis will be holding a "grand release" for the book. From 11 AM - 2 PM that day, the public is welcome to come to meet both the author and me during a book signing. If you come, don't forget to stop by the "All Aboard" exhibit to see the real Reuben Wells Steam Engine that inspired the story! Hope to see you there!

Friday, February 12, 2010

New Digital Piece

I've been working on this piece for about a month now, from the sketch to as you see it now. This has been much more challenging than my previous digital pieces. It was my intent for this to be a more finished piece rather than an experimental exercise. Thank you to everyone who has seen this piece in its earlier stages and given advice! I am very pleased with the result, and have found myself feeling more comfortable with with a few favorite digital brushes. I'm looking forward to my next digital piece! It is fun to split my days between traditionally painted client projects and my own personal digital work. Thanks also to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, for writing "Hound of the Baskervilles". The audio book has been entertaining me through all of my projects today, and between that and a cup of hot chocolate, I have had a very nice afternoon in the studio!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

More digital experimentation

Another experiment. I am starting to get a better feel for how the brushes behave., I think. I am noticing a difference in color between my Cintiq and my main monitor, though, which annoys me. The colors are nice and bright on my Cinitq, but sort of green-ish on my main screen. I am currently trusting the tablet, since my monitor is kind of cheap. However, if you think the colors look off, please let me know. All of feedback is welcome as well! Thanks, all!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Two more digital pieces

I have create two more digital pieces today. I would love to know your feedback. Still learning, but I feel I am making progress.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Digital Experiment Piece

Per my agent's advice, I am trying to transition my artwork to digital, so that I can offer client both traditional and digital options for my work. I've been experimenting for a while, and finally have something that I feel is worth showing. This piece was done in Photoshop. I don't feel my digital artwork is quite at the same level of professionalism as my traditional work, but I would love to get some critiques and feedback. What's working? Is there anything in my traditional style that is strong but not coming through in the digital? Thanks all!