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 science-art.com. 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 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

Kear, 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