Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I took part in an online illustration course by Lilla Rogers called Make Art That Sells, Part A.
Over a 5-week period we covered 5 projects in five different art markets:

1. Bolt Fabric

2. Home Decor

3. Wall Art

4. Children's Books

5. Giftware

Here is how each week goes. 
I am giving you Week 1 as an example.


We were asked to do a "Mini" assignment of researching and quickly moving on to sketching on an assigned topic. For the first project, we had to sketch a variety of berries of our own choosing. I found myself drawn more to plants with clusters of tiny berries rather than the kind you normally find in the supermarket.  I may have drawn 4-5 pages of berries but I liked this page the best.


When Wednesday came, we got the actual assignment. For week 1, it was to sketch vintage casseroles and use them with the berries in a bolt fabric design.

Here is one of many pages of sketches of vintage casserole dishes with berry patterns on them. I spent too much drawing this (6 pages worth!) but this was so FUN that I couldn't stop. I like the colors and patterns (based on blueberries) in the bottom left corner of this page the most.

By Thursday evening I started to realize that deadline was fast approaching and  I was nowhere near being ready to make a bolt fabric design. I didn't have any idea how I was going to translate my sketches into a finished digital piece! This is when I realized I might need to study and learn more about art techniques and making good use of Illustrator and Photoshop. 

I went online to our Facebook group and saw some of the rough designs from other students in the course, and I started to PANIC!!!! Had I completely mis-understood the assignment?!! They all had cute designs with lots of OTHER icons in their work besides the berries and the casseroles. All I had in my designs were berries and casseroles. Period. What to do?!! What to do?!!!

So I decided to re-do my design entirely in a digital format, scrapping all my sketches and colors that you see above, and over the next 2 days made an entirely new design by hand in Illustrator. No sleep. Lots of coffee. Did I tell you I work a full-time job? I had no time to cook dinner because I was rushing to get my homework done!!  Ugggghhhhh!!! 


Our final work was due on Sunday. We were to incorporate our drawings, sketches and paintings into a pattern  and save one digital image as a JPEG image that we had to post in an private online forum. Below is my finished bolt fabric design. I went with a Retro-Japanese theme, choosing Japan-inspired colors, and adding icons of tableware which I personally want to buy but can't afford.

Mistakes I Made:

1. Missing the Deadline: I worked hard and at a fast pace in order to get my work in on time, but somehow missed the deadline by a minute or two (thanks to international time differences and possibly also variances in what time my clock is set at vs. what time Lilla's clock is set at. Boo!!!! )  While I was very disappointed that my work would not get seen by Lilla this first week (because I didn't meet the deadline), I still felt like I benefitted from having had the chance to do the work and learn more about what it takes to work in the field of bolt fabric design.

2. My Software Skills Might Need Some Work: Ok, I will admit here that I have a 4-year degree in Graphic Design and have been using Photoshop and Illustrator in a semi-professional aspect for over 20 years! But I have spent the last 20 years doing design on the side while working in a different industry, so I have never needed to dive very deeply into either program before. Add to that, I have never used either program for ILLUSTRATION work before! I am learning quickly that the skill-sets for these programs for Graphic Design (layout and getting set up for print) are not the same as for creating illustrations. I need to study more!!!

3. Analog vs. Digital Illustration and a Combination of the Two: This course was the first time having to somehow get artwork done with markers, pens and paint into a finished design. Up to now I have always researched, sketched, and then created the entire design in some combination of Photoshop/Illustrator and would have felt confident that I had done my best work. But here I was doing work by hand and now felt lost as to how to make that into a pattern for cloth that would look as "finished" and "neat" as work that would have been done in an entirely digital format. I think I wanted the design to be "perfect" in the sense that there were no rough edges on the icons, and icons that were perfectly symmetrical, etc. I feel REALLY uncomfortable just scanning hand-painted work for some reason. Maybe because once I scan in a painted piece, the amount of work it takes to change or correct colors and clean up mistakes  in a scanned image in Photoshop is HUGE compared to changing colors and shapes in vector work in Illustrator. With illustrator it's click-click-click and it's done! With Photoshop, I am there for 2 or 3 hours erasing, lasso-ing, playing with layer opacity, etc. I am starting to sense that maybe I don't like Photoshop as much as I thought I did. Haha!

Why You Should Take This Course:

1. SUPPORT: The Number One best thing about this course is Lilla Rogers and her kind, supportive attitude! When the first project started, I was so nervous and unsure of what would happen, but Lilla coached us through each step in a kind and supportive way. After the first week, I felt more comfortable, but still worried if my work was going to be good enough. As other students posted their work and talked about themselves, I noticed that there were many professional working artists in the group! One look at their submissions and I quickly realized that I needed to brush up on not only my drawing and painting skills, but my Photoshop skills as well! But Lilla kept telling us positive things to keep us motivated, and I felt this was really one of the strongest parts of this course. I'm paraphrasing here, but she would say things like:

Start where you are. 
Wherever you are right now is the perfect place to be for YOU.

You know how you can make this hard for yourself? 
By telling yourself, 'I'm no good. I can't do it. My work is not as good as the others.
You how you can make this easy for yourself? 
By not spending too much time thinking about it. 
By doing what you do well, and just keep moving forward.

Lilla Rogers is a truly amazing motivator, and for this alone, you need to take this course!!!

2. Behind the Scenes Industry Information: While we were all busy working on our projects for the Sunday due date, Lilla was busy putting up posts about the bolt fabric industry, telling us not only how to work in this market, but also about who the buyers are, what they are looking for, and how to make professional presentations of our work in order to sell our art in the bolt fabric market. I was SOOOOOO impressed with amount and quality of industry information given during this course, that I felt really, really lucky to have found out about this course from a fellow artist friend!!

3. Making New Friends: I live in the countryside in Japan. I have very few friends here, much less any ART friends here. Being in this course with so many other artists made me feel like I was part of a little art family! Everyone supported each other on the Facebook page, giving comments and feedback, helping to choose colors, offering virtual High Fives, and comforting each other when someone got too stressed. So many decided they didn't want the fun to end and vowed to stay on the Facebook page and keep making projects and supporting each other for the next few months.  All I can say is that being a part of this group has really opened my eyes to what is possible as far as making a living with my art, and I feel like I have found my tribe! I am so thankful to Lilla Rogers and all the other artists in this course for their support and encouragement over the 5-week course and I am looking forward to learning in Part B of this course in Spring 2014.

In Summary

I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in working as a professional illustrator. I won't kid you, it is a fast-paced course with one project completed per week, so you REALLY have to make time for it on a daily basis, making your illustration work your priority in order to get the most out of your experience.  Staying off Facebook and the Internet, not watching TV, etc. will give you the time you need.

Should you become unable to complete a project due to outside commitments, no big deal! You can post your finished work later on the Facebook page and get feedback from other participants. And even if you aren't able to complete ANY assignments, you will STILL gain SO MUCH from this course!  Incredible new friends and contacts on the Facebook group page, new techniques and approaches from seeing others' work, and top-notch "insider" industry information (and even actual sales contacts!!)  from Lilla Rogers herself. The best part of it all for me was that Lilla Rogers was incredibly supportive, kind, generous, and knew just what to say to calm everyone's nerves, keep us positive and moving forward. She really made us feel like we could do it. She is the best cheerleader an artist could ever have.

Here are some links to other blog posts about the Make Art That Sells (MATS) e-course: