Showing posts with label Tracy Bishop. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tracy Bishop. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Working outside the studio

As you can see from a complete lack of posts for months, we've all been pretty busy. While this is really good news for us, it also has a down side as you'll see in this post. It's led to some pretty odd working conditions. Sometimes deadlines and vacations and life clash. This is a post about how we work around that issue.

I recently agreed to take on a project while I was on vacation in my hometown of St. Louis. I ended up working in a variety of places, starting with sketching on the plane, sketching at my cousin's before the other dinner guests arrived, then painting on a road trip, and later ordering postcards from Starbucks. 

Backseat painting on a road trip

Working on a postcard at Starbucks

Recently, Renee was in Boston working on some black and white art for The Owls of Blossom Wood series (written by Catherine Coe, Scholastic UK). This photo was taken at a place called District Hall where she sometimes spends her days overhearing business-y conversations and drawing on her husband's Cintiq Companion.

And since summer around Christina's house inevitably means kids running around, she's been known to take her work station outside! Not sure how much work she's able to get done lately!

I think Tracy gets the grand prize for managing to work while on vacation. Here she is in line for a ride at Disneyland of all places!!!

Sketching for a project while in line at Disneyland!!!! 

More sketching at the Starbucks in Disneyland

More sketching at the airport

There you have it. The glamorous life of an illustrator. You're jealous right now, admit it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Book Birthday: Pipsie, Nature Detective

Pipsie, Nature Detective: The Disappearing Caterpillar by Rick DeDonato and illustrated by me is out in the world now! Pipsie is published by the amazing team at Two Lions Publishing.

I'm really excited since Pipsie is the result of years of hard work by many people behind the scenes. If you see Pipsie in the wild I hope you enjoy it just as much I loved illustrating her.


Here are some fun behind the scenes stuff for Pipsie.
The character design went through MANY iterations.
Pipsie character1
First character design ideas for Pipsie. I really liked the lab coat but it didn't really convey nature detective.

Pipsie Hair
Exploring Pipsie's hairstyles.
Pipsie Outfit4 1
Accessorizing Pipsie's outfit.
Getting closer to the final Pipsie look.
TracyBishop PipsieCharacterFinal
The final Pipsie!

This is what my work space looked like while I was finishing up Pipsie.
TracyWorkspace2 2TracyBishopWorkSpace

To find out more about Pipsie, visit her website. There are a lot of activity sheets for you to enjoy.

You can also see Pipsie information on her Facebook page.

Places to buy the book.
Barnes & Noble

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Advice for Students

Every year I get e-mails from art students asking about what they should do to become an children’s illustrator. Here’s my general advice on what can be helpful. This is just my opinion so take this with a grain of salt. You should definitely do a lot of research on your own and find what works for you.

  • Draw, draw, draw

  • Read, read, read
    • Go to the library and bookstore and read lots of picture books. Read and analyze the books. How does the illustration push the story along? How does the illustrator add to the story beyond words? How is page turn used to move the story? How does the illustrator vary the composition throughout the book? Do you see the differences in character design and composition between stories intended for different age groups? How are books intended for 2 year olds different from those intended for 5 or 7 year olds? 
  • Have your own website
    • You NEED a website of your own. The first thing anyone is gong to ask when you say you are an illustrator is a link to your work. 

    •, Squarespace are great low-cost website providers and you can have a great portfolio site up without any coding knowledge. You’re an illustrator, not a web developer. Sure, you can learn how to put up a website for yourself but your time is better spent creating more illustrations.

    • If you can’t do a paid website, use the various free options that are out there (flickr, tumblr, behance, etc.). It doesn’t matter what you use, just have your work available for people to see online.

  • Join Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) 
    • If you want to be a children’s book illustrator, there is a lot to learn about the craft and business of it. There isn’t a better place to learn. Join this organization and attend local and even national conferences. It’s worth it.

  • Go on Twitter
    • There is a huge community of picture book illustrators and writers on twitter. Follow them, make friends, learn from each other. A great place to connect with illustrators is by going to the #kidlitart hashtag.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Manga Studio 5 Mini Tips: Color Palettes

There are two main ways that I use Manga Studio 5's color palette.

  • Tip 1 is how I save the color swatches I use in Photoshop and import them into Manga Studio 5. This allows me to go back and forth between the two programs and keep the colors consistent.
  • Tip 2 is about how I like to create new color palette files for each illustration project and save it for future use. I really like how quick and easy it is to create new palettes. It's also nice that MS5 gives you options to save it as a MS5 file or as a Photoshop swatch file.
Tip 3 is from fellow Simply Messing About contributor, Christina Forshay:

  • In her latest project, Christina made sure she named her swatches so she could use the correct color throughout her book. 

Tip 1: Import Photoshop's color swatch file: 

I frequesntly import color swatches that I use in Photoshop into MS5. This is really useful when I move my illustration files back and forth from Photoshop to Manga Studio and want to keep the colors consistent.

In Photoshop: Save your swatch that you want to use in MS5.

Save the .aco file. This is Photoshop's color swatch file extension.

Go to Manga Studio 5: Import the .aco file you just saved.

Select your .aco file.

Now you have your Photoshop color swatch in Manga Studio.

Tip 2: Create custom color palettes for each project 

I like to create new color palettes for every illustration project I have and save it in the project folders. I do this because it's easier to have the palette I use for each project accessible just in case changes are requested to an illustration weeks later.

Yes, I know that I can use the color picker but there are so many places where the colors are mixed that I want to know what original color I started with. That way I can make sure colors don't gradually shift from the first page of a book illustration to the last.

Tip 3 from Christina Forshay: Naming Color Swatches

Friday, January 3, 2014

2014: Working Smarter

Happy 2014! Just like everyone, I’m reflecting on what happened in 2013 and what I can improve in 2014.

Last year I experimented with how I could improve my work and how to do it more efficiently. Efficiency became key when I was lucky enough to be very busy with illustration work most of the year. I wanted to find the sweet spot between quality and speed. A lot of the blog posts here last year were my explorations in that.

The flip side of being so busy with work was I let my health slip. I stopped exercising. During all-night work sessions I would eat comfort food to get through the stress. My drawing arm and lower back started to ache. I started to realize that if I wanted a long career as an illustrator I needed to take better care of myself.

So 2014 is going to be the year that I figure out how to work smarter. This means I need to figure out a couple of things:

  • How to work in a way that causes less stress in my arm and back. I’ve partially solved this problem by buying a monitor arm that allows me to me to use my tablet monitor standing up and at any angle. This has helped my back and my arm a bit.
  • I need to figure out a way to work exercise in my schedule so I won’t just drop it when I get busy. I realized that if I keep myself strong, I’ll experience less of those aches and pains of over-working my drawing arm and back.
  • I didn’t do any personal projects last year. I want to commit to a project that I can do bit by bit this year so I can push myself as an artist.

You’ll see me post my various experiments in trying to work “smarter” this year. I hope I can figure it out and can report back good ideas.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Happy Holidays!!!

We want to start off with a huge thank you to all of you who have embraced and spread the word about our little blog. It's become something so much bigger than we ever expected. Thank you and hugs!!!

As you might have noticed, we've been a bit MIA lately. It's all good. Everyone is busy illustrating. We hope to be back with a bang in the New Year. For now, here are some holiday illustrations for you.

Tracy Bishop

Laura Zarrin

Renee Kurilla

Friday, September 20, 2013

Photoshop Layer Mask Video

In the past year or so I realized that I use layer masks in Photoshop a lot. I thought I'd do a video tutorial on how and why I use it since for years I had no clue what it was and avoided using it.

I hope it's helpful!

How I use Photoshop Layer Masks from Tracy Bishop on Vimeo.

P.S. After looking at the video I realized that I should have said this approach of separating out a character from the background is for those people who paint using transparent brushes like I do.  If you painted with flat opaque colors, then you can just move your layer around with no extra special preparation.

In my case, I paint using very transparent brushes. If I didn't use the mask with the white background, then the background will just show through the entire character.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Illustration Project Management with Evernote

This summer was a doozy, I'm SO GLAD that it's almost over.
My son was on summer vacation and work poured in. I had to figure out how to get super-organized with my projects really fast.

After some trial and error I figured out that I needed a system where:

  • I could easily see all of my deadlines for all the stages of my projects in one place
  • I could get a pop-up or email notification about the deadlines
  • I could gather all of the little bits and pieces of information and feedback about projects in one easily accessible and organized place
  • The project information can be synced between my computer and phone 
I played with a few todo apps and calendars and in the end what worked the best for me was Evernote.
Evernote is a free software/service where you can gather and organize all of your notes. The great thing about this service is it's available on the web, Mac or PC, and all mobile devices. And did I mention that it's free???

Here's how I have my projects set up in Evernote:

As you can see, it's fairly simple. I have an overall notebook that contains all of the individual illustration projects that I have going. I did this mainly to keep work stuff away from all of my other notes (recipes, inspiration, etc.) and to have my work deadlines displayed only within this folder.

Now, on to the features that I use for managing my illustration projects:

E-mail Project Notes to Evernote
This feature is a crucial part of what makes this service work for my projects. Since all of the information for my projects come to me through e-mails from clients, it saves a lot of time to just forward them to Evernote rather than typing the information out.

Adding Checkboxes:

Once the email shows up in Evernote, I like to convert the various items into clickable checkboxes boxes just so it's easier to see what I need to do. You can find the check-box feature in the formatting bar.


The Reminders feature was added to Evernote this summer. It's this feature that turned Evernote from a "meh" program to the most useful thing in the world to me.

Reminders displays what's due within the folder you created it in. I like this since it keeps everything organized within the project folder. I have all of my projects contained within an overall "Illustration Projects" folder so I can see all of the Reminders for all of my projects displayed at once. This way I can see which deadlines for which project will come first.

Another thing I like about Reminders is that it can send notification pop-ups or e-mails to you.


It's so helpful that all of my notes and reminders sync across various computers and devices. I was out and about a lot this summer with my son so it was nice to have all of my information on hand all the time.

So far I'm really pleased about how simple and flexible Evernote is. I've tried other "to do" apps in the past and I've always fallen out of the habit of using them over time.  I'm crossing my fingers that I'll be able to stick with this system because of it's simplicity. 

To find out a little bit more about Evernote, take a look at these videos and see if it might work to manage your  projects:


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

The SCBWI LA Conference: Experience of a First-Timer

SimplyMessingAbout SCBWILA2013

This year I was finally able to attend the annual Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) LA International Summer Conference. It's a gigantic event where people from all aspects of the children's publishing industry converge in one place for 4 days. If that sounds overwhelming, exhausting, and heavenly, you have exactly the right idea.

The strangest thing about attending this conference for the first time was I didn't feel like a newbie at all. I have to say this is all because of Twitter. Throughout the entire event I bumped into friends that I've made over the years on Twitter. Standing in the lobby of the hotel was like a bizarre real-life version of a Twitter stream. People who I usually only see online were walking right in front of me! There wasn't a moment where I felt alone or out of place.

An awesome thing that happened was 3/4 of the Simply Messing About crew attended the conference! Renée couldn't attend in person but she was definitely there in spirit. Her work was mentioned twice during the breakout sessions. Laura, Christina, and I were so proud of her and cheered.

Another unexpected thing that was so rewarding about the conference was it gave me the opportunity to say "thank you" to so many of the people who helped me out over the years. I was able to grow because other people were kind enough to answer my newbie questions, gave me honest critiques, and encouraged me when I was just starting out. There was nothing like being able to express my appreciation in person.

Things that helped make the conference a success for me:
  • Have your Twitter/Facebook profile pic on your name card! Having my profile picture on my name card made all the difference in the world. So many of the interactions started with people recognizing my avatar.

  • Don't be shy. Speak up during workshops and ask questions. This is your  chance to get information that you will probably never find on the internet from experts/heroes.

  • Sit back and enjoy. Don't stress about getting "discovered". You are there to learn and make friends.

Revelations from the conference:
  • It takes a looooong time to come up with ideas.
    So many of the books you think just came about overnight lived in sketchbooks for years and years. This was a common theme mentioned by many of the presenters.

  • Veteran illustrators go through tons of revisions to get characters just right -- it's not just you!
    This particular observation made me feel better. It's not just me that can't get a character right on the first try.
  • Learn from each other.
    It's easy to forget that you can learn a whole lot from your fellow conference attendees. A whole lot of them are experts too. What I learned just from talking with other attendees is just as valuable as the official workshops.
  • I'm part of the right tribe.
    I thought I would be exhausted being immersed in the children's book world day and night for four days! That was not the case for me at all. I loved every minute of it and can't wait to contribute to this world.

The biggest takeaway for me was that I was SO GLAD that I signed up for this conference. This summer has been nutty with my workload on top of having my son home from school. I was this close to canceling the trip because I thought I couldn't take the time away. But forcing myself to attend the SCBWI LA Conference ended up giving me the golden opportunity to take a step away from the daily life to be more thoughtful, get feedback, and recharge myself on why I wanted to be an illustrator. And sometimes taking the time away no matter how busy you are is exactly what you need to grow.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

My favorite podcasts

TracyBishop sketchUpdate: 4/25/2014
It's been almost a year since I've written this list. I thought it would be nice to add some new favorites. I still listen to everything listed last year so it's still a good list.

Here are new podcasts that I've discovered in 2014:

  • Let's Get Busy Podcast hosted by Matthew Winner (twitter @MatthewWinner) - This podcast should be mandatory listening to anyone who wants to write and illustrate picture books. Matthew Winner interviews authors and illustrators about the process of creating books. Matthew adds on his perspective as an elementary teacher librarian. THIS is what makes this podcast so unique and priceless to me. I listen to a ton of podcast where you hear artists talking to other artists or authors talking to industry people. It is such a nice change to hear what teachers and kids think about books. I feel like I'm getting a masters education on picture book making by listening to this podcast.

  • Home Work - A weekly podcast for people who work from home. A lot of practical advice about the practicalities of having a home office. 

The one thing that I have to have while working is something to listen to. I find that my mind wanders and it just gets lonely if I try to work in silence.

I have two listening modes:

Mode 1-- Thinking mode
If I have to really concentrate to sketch out ideas or to work out a layout of a book, I need music. Not only any kind of music, but something droning and repetitive that I will loop over and over again. These days, the opening theme for Game of Thrones is my preferred song that I play on repeat. (Because of this my kid hums the Game of Thrones song. I keep on telling people that I don't let him watch the show.)

Coffivity - Another thing I listen to when I have to think is the coffee shop noise from Coffivity. It sounds really silly but it really works to help you focus.

 Mode 2-- Production mode 
When I'm painting for looooong hours, I listen to podcasts. I love listening to conversation and the idea that I'm learning things while working. Over the years I've collected quite a few shows so here's my list:

Podcasts about Illustration/Comics:
Podcasts about Creativity/Productivity
Podcasts about Tech Stuff:
Podcasts about Stuff:
I'm always looking for new podcasts to listen to so please write down any suggestions you have in the comments!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Drawing Movement

 When I first start a drawing, I'm not thinking about how things look or where each element is placed. I think about how everything in the space moves and where they are going so I can tell the story.

A lot of times my initial drawings are unrecognizable squiggles and blobs. I'm trying to capture the motion and energy of the entire illustration.  I want to keep the initial sketch as loose and exaggerated as possible so a lot of the liveliness will carry through to the final painting.

To me, this messy stage is the most important. The temptation to just skip it and dive right into the fun details like the character's face is so tempting to me.  Experience has taught me that most of the time if I skip this stage, I pay for it later. It's too easy to end up with a painting that is just pretty but lifeless and stiff. Trying to get the life and energy back after this point is like wading through mud and just never happens most of the time.

Another reason why I want to keep the very start of the process looking like a mess is so I won't treat it like a precious thing. As long as it's just scribbles, I can make the marks quickly and throw them away if it's not working.
I try to keep on improving drawing motion by sketching from life whenever I can. I do quick gesture drawings of people to capture their movement and personality. A lot of time these gesture drawings are quick marks made in 15 seconds to a minute.

Doing a lot of these quick sketches make my sketchbook look like a mess. I keep on reminding myself that it's ok. As an illustrator, it's not good enough for my images to only be pretty -- they need to be alive.

Here are some resources for practicing gesture drawings:

Friday, May 31, 2013

Manga Studio 5 Part 2- Painting Demo and Custom Brushes

Here's my second video about how I use Manga Studio 5 for digital illustration.
It's a bit long and rambly but I talk a more about how I use certain features, a bit about art in general, and a look at how I make custom brushes in MS5.

Manga Studio 5 Painting and Custom Brushes demo by Tracy Bishop from Tracy Bishop on Vimeo.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Quick tour of Manga Studio 5

For the past year I've been using Manga Studio 5, an $80 program from SmithMicro, as my primary tool for digital painting. I still use Photoshop for certain things but for the most part, the bulk of the work is done in MS5.

Why did I switch to Manga Studio 5? In a nutshell- it's because it's a speedy program with powerful features made just for digital artists.

The video below will give you a basic tour of what Manga Studio 5 looks like and what features I use and find the most helpful for digital illustration.

 The main idea I want to convey is that this is not a scary program to learn. There are a lot of similarities with Photoshop. Have fun and the only way to learn is just to dive in and mess around.

 Next week I will post a demo video of me actually painting something in Manga Studio 5. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below or find me on twitter @TracyBishopArt.

Quick Tour of Manga Studio 5 from Tracy Bishop on Vimeo.


Thursday, May 2, 2013

The book that changed my life

One of the things that I experimented with and made tons of mistakes in is my freelance career. At first, I did EVERYTHING. You need a logo? Why, I could do that. You need a website designed and coded? I could do that too!

You can tell what happened after that, right?
I did great as a freelance designer. I had regular work and great clients. The problem was I originally left my cushy (but crazy busy and demanding) design job to become a children's illustrator. I was failing miserably at working towards this goal. I let the fear of trying something new and feeling like my art wasn't good enough get in the way. I fell back into what I already knew how to do to ignore all of my insecurities.

Seth Godin The DipThen I came across Seth Godin's book, The Dip. It basically talks about how everything is easy when you first start something. It's exciting and new. Then the hard work sets in. You have to battle insecurities, fears, and just plain hard work to become really good at what you want to do. That's "the dip"-- the long hard slog in the middle before you get to the other side of mastering your skill. Most people give up because going through that middle part is so long and hard.

After I finished listening to the audio version of this book, I decided that I didn't want to give up on being an illustrator. I gradually stopped taking on design projects as I focused on children's illustration. That focus and bracing for the fact that things are just going to be hard and discouraging in the middle kept me on task.

 A year after I read The Dip, I feel like I'm still working hard but I'm clearly on the right path.

 If you feel scattered or just discouraged, I really encourage you to try this book. It's super-short and the audio book is only about 90 minutes. You can't beat the audiobook price of $5.95 too.

The Dip unabridged audiobook in
The Dip unabridged audiobook in iTunes.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

It's not about the brush: Digital Watercolor in Photoshop

What I've been messing around with the most for the past 3 years is with Photoshop. I've been researching, experimenting, and trying to figure out ways to get a watercolor-ish looking method to paint that was fun for me and not so processor intensive for my computer.

I eventually came across Zoe Piel's video tutorial series about how she approached digital watercolor painting. It was a revelation to me. It looked good and it was simple. It wasn't about the brush at all. After that I found Tony Cliff's tutorial about using an overlay texture layer.

The way I now paint, as seen in the video demo, combines both methods. The video is about 11 minutes but you can stop watching half way through. After the half way mark I'm done explaining how I do things and just ramble on while I'm finishing up the sketch. I hope it's helpful to you!

TracyBishop-WatercolorDigitalPainting from Tracy Bishop on Vimeo.

Here are the brushes that I use in the demo for you to download: I know the point of the demo was that the specific brush was kind of secondary, but it's still fun to try out new brushes. Here are some of my favorite brushes:


Paid Brushes:

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Speed Sketching Dojo

Last summer my son started taking karate class. It didn't take long for me to realize that while it's fun for him, it's BORING as a parent just sitting on the side the entire hour. So I decided to turn my son's class time into my own dojo of speed sketching.  I have a classroom full of cute models so I had to take advantage of that.

Since I'm mainly a digital illustrator I try to keep my analog skills fresh by keeping a sketchbook (so no iPad sketching for me). My goal was to loosen up and try to exercise my drawing hands. It seems obvious but trying to draw a dojo full of moving kids is tough. Eventually I landed on a strategy where I just focused on capturing the general motion. I filled in the details like the face and hairstyles later.
TracyBishopKarateSketch14 Another strategy was to use a pen instead of a pencil. That way you avoid the temptation of being timid and laying down light lines so you can draw over it. With a pen you're forced to commit to a line and it either works out or it doesn't. You can't be precious with it.

With this kind of sketching you end up with a messy sketchbook with half-formed lines and blobs that don't make sense. But once in a while I hit on that little drawing where everything comes together and that makes me happy.


Tools used:

  • Sketchbook: hand•book journal co.'s sketchbook
    I really like the weight and texture of the paper. It has just enough tooth that it takes ink and watercolor really well.

  • Brush pen: Kuretake Fountain Brush Pen
    I know this pen is a little pricier than the popular Pentel Pocket Brush Pen but the Kuretake's brush is shorter than Pentel's and this makes all the difference in giving me more control over the lines I make.

  • Ink: Platinum Carbon Pen Ink Cartridge
    I use this ink because it's waterproof.