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3 Marketing Mistakes Young Illustrators Make

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Reconstruction of the head and neck of Umoonasaurus demoscyllus showing hypothesised soft tissues associated with the crests of an adult (top) and juvenile (bottom). Artwork by Josh Lee. From Kear et. al, 2006.

I recently came across this beautiful illustration of Umoonasaurus from a 2006 paper by Kear et. al, describing a new species of plesiosaur found in opal deposits in Australia (opalescent dinosaurs? Dream come true!!!) The illustration immediately caught my eye but the article I accessed failed to credit the artist (inconsistency in crediting artists and image creators is worthy of ten posts on its own, but I’ll spare you that rant for the moment…) A quick Google image search on Umoonasaurus turned up several more articles which all seemed to credit someone different: The University of Adelaide, the South Australian Museum, Josh Lee. I suspected Josh Lee was my man.

Being interested in talented science illustrators, I naturally wanted to check out this guy’s website to ogle his other work. But googling “Josh Lee illustrator” didn’t turn up anything overtly scientific: a photographer in New Orleans, a concept artist in Los Angeles. Googling the illustration itself turned up a hit on deviantArt, posted by an Australian Josh Lee going by the screen name “evil-santa.” Could this be the guy? Probably. But at this point, I’d spent 15 minutes fiddling around on the internet in search of the artist – a full 14 minutes and 58 seconds more than 99.99% of the population would have spent.

So, what are Josh’s newbie blunders? In my eye, he made three. To be fair, they are mistakes I have made many times myself and have learned to avoid the hard way. But in the spirit of sharing experience and learning from our mistakes, I hope this advice saves him and other talented illustrators some heartache so they can get on with their promising careers.

Mistake #1: Not having an immediately obvious web presence

Posting work on deviantART is fine if you’re looking for community and feedback from artists and fans. But it cannot replace having your own dedicated website if you are serious about being a professional. When people google your name, you have approximately 2 seconds to jump out of the Google results. Josh’s deviantART site actually did show up in my initial search for “Josh Lee illustrator” but I overlooked it because the pseudonym “evil-santa” did not mean anything to me. Missed opportunity.

Easy fix: Learn html and css and build your own site. There are countless free resources online to take advantage of. And after experimenting building your own site, you’ll have another skill to add to your portfolio. If coding isn’t your thang, try joining a group portfolio site like Setting up a portfolio and maintaining it is a cinch, plus you get the added bonus of being in a place where clients know to look for illustrators specializing in science-related work. At the very, very least, create a blog on a free blog platform and post a bunch of your work there.

Mistake #2: Not signing your full name

Some of the images of Umoonasaurus I pulled up had visible signatures but they were reproduced at such a small size, they were illegible. Not much we can do about that as artists, unless we want to pull a John Hancock and have our signatures dominate the illustration (I don’t recommend this.) The few images which were large enough to actually read Josh’s signature said, simply, “JOSH.”

JOSH. Helpful, don’t you think? According to the United States’ Social Security Administration’s baby name database, Joshua was the 4th most popular baby name for male babies born in the 1980s (assuming Josh is just starting out his career and was at least 18 when he did the work, that would put him being born in the 80s at the latest.) In the United States, that translates to 396,406 Joshuas running around between the ages of 22 and 31 (I couldn’t locate Australian data that far back, but I’m amused to see that from 2000-2005, Joshua was the first or second most popular boy’s name in South Australia and New South Wales.)

I know not everyone is named Kalliopi Monoyios (oy vey), but you are doing yourself a serious disservice as an illustrator if you sign only your very common first name to your illustrations. Think of every illustration you make as a potential marketing tool for your next great gig. If someone is moved by your work, they will want to find you. Give them a search term that will be sure to lead them to you instantly: your full name. Heck, these days it almost makes sense to save them a step and sign with your website URL.

Mistake #3: Signing your name in an area of the illustration that can be easily cropped

Josh’s signature appears in the lower right hand section of his illustration, and irritatingly, at least one news outlet cropped it right out. Whether they did this maliciously or for convenience, we can’t know, but it is more common than you think. Just knowing that cropping can and does occur can make you smart about where you place your signature. Try nestling it somewhere less likely to be cropped: in a less-peripheral nook or cranny if that works, or in a shadow or on a gradient somewhere in the illustration. My suggestions for Josh’s illustration would have been:

There are gazillions of options for where to place your signature in an image, but these are three that make sense to me. No amount of cropping could erase signatures placed here.

There is so much more to becoming a successful illustrator than being good at drawing. You have to be a good business person, accountant, sales person, and schmoozer. Hopefully, these three tips shed a little light on some basic marketing tenets.

Josh, thanks for being a good sport! You are a talented illustrator; here’s to seeing more of your scientific work in the future! Oh, and give a holler when your website goes live ;)

Links & Refs:
Josh Lee’s deviantART page

Dinosaurs in Australia: a new book by Benjamin Kear and Robert J Hamilton-Bruce, illustrated by Josh Lee

ResearchBlogging.orgKear, B., Schroeder, N., & Lee, M. (2006). An archaic crested plesiosaur in opal from the Lower Cretaceous high-latitude deposits of Australia Biology Letters, 2 (4), 615-619 DOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2006.0504

Kalliopi Monoyios About the Author: Kalliopi Monoyios is an independent science illustrator. She has illustrated several popular science books including Neil Shubin's Your Inner Fish and The Universe Within, and Jerry Coyne's Why Evolution is True. Find her at Follow on Twitter @symbiartic.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. LPollock 1:50 am 10/2/2013


    I recently became aware of an article you wrote on the Scientific American website called ‘3 Marketing Mistakes Young Illustrators Make’ in September 2011.

    The article references work by an Illustrator by the name of Josh Lee. Josh is my partner and we came across your article when he was contacted by a prospective client (Yes, you did find the correct illustrator and yes, he was from Australia). I wanted to contact you for a couple of reasons but first off I would like to thank you for your praise and citation of his work.

    I agreed with the points you made in your article and so does Josh. Now to be up front I am contacting you as my lovely and talented partner is not good at this kind of thing or anything related to business or networking. I have been working with Josh to understand that his illustration work should be managed like other business, something you touch on briefly at the end of your article. My experience with both him and others in the industry is it’s not something they tend to come across and are forced to learn the hard way. How to write a contract, what needs to be in it, basic understanding of rates, marketing of their work and themselves, intellectual property and rights etc. Other issues are that those looking to hire people in creative fields often have unrealistic expectations.

    Considering your website it seems like you may have some further advice in these subjects. I wondered if you have considered writing a follow up article on other areas of the industry you may have struggle with? Perhaps it could also be educational to those looking to hire the services of those in creative fields?

    On the Umoonasaurus illustration – This work was part of a large commission from the South Australian Museum for the book ‘Dinosaurs in Australia. Mesozoic life from the Southern Continent’ published in mid-2011 by Ben Kear & Robert Hamilton-Bruce. The contract for this work states Josh will be cited as the Illustrator wherever it’s published. The Museum, which owns the work including the intellectual property associated, are very good at ensuring they cite the work. Problems in this area tend to stem from third party sites referencing or using the work and often without permission (I assume Scientific American paid a small fee to the South Australian Museum for the use of this particular image to be published as part of your article?).

    As to a website for Josh, generally we don’t have a great need for one at this time. It would be good for marketing in general but what about control of the work, images and intellectual property? Do you have any issues with control of your work? Would you say that having your website has given you more work? I have some questions regarding whether your primary source of jobs and income can be traced back to having a web presence or maybe more so from referral or word-of-mouth? For Josh, he has found the best clients to work with in terms of outcome and payment tend to come from those who are referred to him or those he applies for himself.

    Do you have any other advice for those in the industry?

    Finally apologies that it has taken 2 years to answer your article, had we been made aware earlier I would have contacted you sooner. Look forward to hearing from you.

    Lindsey Pollock
    Melbourne, Australia (we relocated the day prior to your article)

    Link to this

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