Sunday, 1 November 2015

Defeating Artistic Blues: Mili's Tips On Finding Happiness During Blue Days


Mili's Tips On Finding Happiness During Blue Days

Warning: This article talks about my sad days and my thoughts on suicide. There will be a lot of personal honesty that may make you feel uncomfortable. If you are looking for something fun to read stay away from this article. 

Bundled up in my warm coat I’m happily walking down the street, enjoying the crisp fresh air of approaching winter, when I suddenly hear: “So this is Christmas, and what have you done?” 

I really, really, REALLY despise this John Lennon’s song, and especially that lyric. It does not matter what I have done, I always somehow feel I could have done more. So, I wrote a book, painted some really great paintings, won an award, travelled… But maybe if I was more clever and less lazy I could have brought about world peace or cured cancer? 

Suddenly, I am nothing. I am worthless.

If this does not sound familiar, thank your lucky stars, because I believe this is what everyone refers to as “artistic temperament”. I call it: “disproportional sensitivity to stimuli, resulting in crazy pendulum swings of emotions”. However, “artistic temperament” will do. 

I am not alone. I use to think I was, but after living with creative people, I have found these reactions rather common among my species. It may be a cliché, but we artists are a sensitive lot. 

I believe that if I was kept in a bright vacuum, I would spend my life feeling positive and content. I am at the core a happy person. In company, I’m mostly happy and sometimes bubbly. A friend once said I reminded him of a Disney Princess--singing included. However, this happiness is sometimes a mask I wear in front of people I do not know well. I was raised to be pleasant in company and solicitous of other’s feelings before my own. Therefore, regardless of how I’m feeling, I will never show a negative side to a stranger. I will even keep any negative feelings from my close family and friends, because I do not wish to burden them. Rarely, will I let the sadness I feel emerge to the surface for others to see. 

I do not remember this, but recently I met with an old school friend who has a memory of playing with my sister, because I had one of my crying fits. When she asked my sister what was wrong, she replied: “Oh, sometimes she just has to cry.” 

I am older now, but I still have days when I just have to cry. I am content most of the time, but there are days when I feel despair; such deep despair that I wonder if life is worth living. I usually have these days when I have not seen the sun for days, when I’m sick, or when a project is not going as planned. Sometimes, during these crying fits I do not even know why I’m sad. The rational part of me argues that my life is good. I may have personal difficulties, but who doesn’t? I may not be a famous artist making the big bucks, but I have a home and people that love me. I have seen and done things most people dream of, so why am I so sad? 

On the other hand, the emotional part of me sees life as a deep dark hole full of pain and series of disappointments and losses, and wonders why I should suffer through it at all. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was just gone? If there would no longer be this terrible pain? What do I contribute to society? Am I not just a burden to people who love me? One slice to the brachial artery and it can all end in minutes… 

Online other artists seem always successful and happy, sometimes angry, but none are sad or talking about how difficult a life of an artist can be. I wondered if there is something wrong with me. Am I the only artist struggling to make a living? Then I realised, I too only wrote about my successes and shared my triumphs with my fans. I never wrote about how being sick for months made me want to end my life; how there are days when I feel I can save the world and days when I can barely get out of bed; how sometimes I cannot draw, because I hurt too much; how I worked for below minimum wage and was not able to scrape a living; how I could not understand why I’m failing in real life when I was so good at school… 

Is it possible to feel too much? I believe that it is this artistic sensitivity that makes me a better than average artist and writer. My skills might not have reached the level of unsurpassed mastery, I am not Shakespeare or Monet, but I have deep empathy and a well of feelings that lets me put emotion into my work that strangers can experience. I also believe that this sensitivity to life around me that makes me special is my greatest weakness. The pendulum swings of my emotions that hits the highs and lowest lows sometimes frightens me. 

I had to find a way to bring my feelings under control. Should I look to my fellow artists for a solution? 

I like my ears well enough, thank you Van Gogh. 

I also have no intention of ever using drugs or alcohol to make myself feel better, thank you other famous artists. 

Manizing? (Is there a male equivalent to “womanizing”?) 

No, thank you. 

Eventually, I did discover what works for me, and I hope these H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom on dealing with Artistic Blues will help you as well. 

H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom

Defeating Artistic Blues

Avoid negativity. Negativity can come in many forms. The worst comes from the people you care about, because their opinions matter to you. However, negativity can come from outside sources as well as fiction. 

When Artistic Blues hit I avoid all negative sources of energy. I try to keep away from negative bitter people. I stop watching the news (Can they never report the good things that are happening in our world? What can I realistically do about any disaster?). I keep away from drama and horror, and opt to watch or read comedy instead. 

Smile. I believe that life trains us to deal with disasters. We remember disastrous experiences better than the good ones, because we need to protect ourselves in the future. However, we must not forget that Life is beautiful! Why worry about disasters that may never happen? Find something to smile about today. 

If you cannot think of anything under the influence of the Artistic Blues, get up, stand in the superhero position (your hands on your hips, feet apart, head high) and smile. Stand like that until you do remember something good and happy in your life you can truly smile about. 

Forgive yourself. Currently I’m taking an online course with a great artist who has an enormous lack of sensitivity to others’ feelings and temperaments. He has health, energy, and will to create dozens of sketches a day and fill out a sketchbook every month. In his lectures he goes on to browbeat us students with sentences such as: “If I could do this assignment daily in my great busy life full of responsibilities you wish you had, then there is no excuse why you cannot do the same.” 

I would leave his lesson determined to prove to him that: “Yes. I am great. I can do just as much as he can.” Then… Life happens and here I am: my homework is not done and I feel a complete and utter failure. I have spent days feeling like an utter failure, not just as an artist, but as a human being. The Artistic Blues have hit me again, resulting in me doing even less, because I cannot produce quality work when my feelings are a mess. 

Then one day, I decided to forgive myself. I am not the same person this great artist is, but that does not make me any less an accomplished artist. The important lesson I’ve learned is to accept that everyone is different. 

Please do not feel you are a failure if you cannot fill out a sketchbook every month, or if you cannot publish a book every two months. Jane Austen only published 6 books in her entire lifetime! Harper Lee wrote two! So, you may not be Nora Roberts, but that does not make your artistic contributions any less valuable. 

Forgive yourself. You are human. Someday you may write/draw more, someday you may not write/draw at all. Therefore, forgive yourself and let the ridiculous expectations of others go. 

Look at what you’ve accomplished! In addition to forgiving myself for not being superhuman, I stopped comparing myself to others. For years I felt a complete failure when I compared my work to my heroes. What I did not realise is that I was comparing myself to artists at the height of their careers. Then one day I went to an art fair where I saw what people my age were creating, and I was fine. Of course I’m going to be a better artist ten years from now than I am today. In ten years I will gain more experience and will gain more knowledge. 

What about artists who are younger than me and are producing better work? 

Well, good for them. They do not have the experiences in life that I had. Maybe they come from artistic families who guided them and they did not have to stumble as much as I did? Maybe they are prodigies? Who cares?! What’s important is what I can do. 

Just keep working on your skills, create, measure your own accomplishments, and stop obsessively comparing yourself to others. Look at what you’ve accomplished! 

Keep a Happy Book. When Artistic Blues hit and I am moping around my home feeling worthless, a waste of space, and that the world would be a better place without me in it, I go and read my Happy Book. For my birthday my friend gave me a journal and told me to fill it with only happy experiences. I named it Happy Book and in it I record the nice things people say about my work, myself, and any achievements that make me proud. When Artistic Blues hit, I cannot remember these good things about myself. I only see my failures and the bad things that surround me. By rereading some of the happy experiences, I realise that life is not as horrible as I think it is, and that I’m not as worthless as I think I am. 

Accomplish something every day. The night before, or while I’m brushing my teeth in the morning, I think about what I wish to accomplish that day. I start small. I’ve learned not to put too much on my plate. At the end of the day I check off the items from my list. I transfer the items I failed to accomplish that day onto another day, but instead of berating myself for the things I have not accomplished, I gratefully admire everything I have accomplished today. 

If you find you fail to accomplish all your tasks, do not despair; this usually means that you’ve given yourself too much work. In the future adjust your schedule accordingly. 

Never forget: Adding a grain of sand day by day, will eventually make a beach. 

When Artistic Blues hit you the hardest and you feel you cannot work at all, accomplish just a small task. I find usually that accomplishing something small will give me momentum to keep working. Whether it is just a single rough sketch of a would-be illustration, or a couple of pages of text--what you have accomplished that day, you will not have to do tomorrow. 

Do what makes you happy. Sometimes when I feel the pressure of a complicated assignment, or if I’ve been working too long on a project and have been drawing in the same style for months, I have to step away from my work and do something that makes me happy. I like to do Mini-MEs, or draw princesses. I’ve always drawn princesses. Drawing princesses makes me happy, because it takes me back to my childhood when I was happy. I allow myself to get silly and fanciful, before I have to get back to the real work. 

Go outside. Staying indoors too long can make anyone blue. I sadly tend to spend way too much time indoors. I blame the Toronto weather. Even if I do not go anywhere, in Summer I can sit outside, work, and not feel dreadful. In fall, winter, and early spring I would look outside my window and all I want to do is burry myself in blankets and go back to sleep until the sun shines again. Instead, I force myself to get dressed in my heavy winter clothing and go outside for a six-kilometre walk almost every day. Fresh air, even if there is no sunshine, can do wonders to revive my spirits. It’s even better if I can find someone to keep me company. But if not, a romance novel or a fun fantasy audiobook is almost as good. 

Exercise. Though exercise might be the last thing on your mind when you are Blue, getting your heartbeat up and allowing the endorphins to kick in will perk you up. The knowledge that you have done something good for your health will make you feel better, too. 

Avoid sweets, alcohol, caffeine,… When I’m Blue, my weapon of choice is chocolate. Yes, chocolate does make me feel better, but then after a few minutes I feel even worse, because not only am I sad, now I feel I’m getting fat! The temporary high of an influential substance is not worth the deeper misery that will follow. Exercise is a much better option. If I really need something sweet, fruits should do. If not, I try to limit myself to one or two squares of dark chocolate, and not a whole bar. 

I hope you find these H.O.O.T.s of Wisdom useful. If none of these tips help to dispel the Artistic Blues, you may need to seek professional help. I know a few friends who are on anti-depressants and their lives have improved immeasurably. There is no shame in asking for help. 

Do you have your own tips for avoiding Artistic Blues? If so please share them. 

Until next time, 



A few thoughts on suicide: 

Have I ever thought about suicide? 
I’m an artist, the moment I hear something I think about it, imagine it, and live it. (Another reason why I stay away from horror movies, or anything depressing.) I have mostly thought about suicide after reading “Veronica Decides to Die” (Paulo Coelho) and “Pilgrim” (Timothy Findley). 

Have I ever planned my suicide? 
Yes. Frequently. The last time was at the beginning of this year when I was sick for months, having one cold or flu after another. I could do nothing but stare at TV all day, or listen to audiobooks. There were things I needed to accomplish and I could not accomplish one. Even after I got better, I could barely walk around the block. I remember thinking my winter clothing was too heavy. 

How would I end my life? 
Cutting the brachial artery with my x-acto knife. 

Would I ever commit suicide? 
Not as long as there is a single person left in this world that loves me. My friend’s younger brother committed suicide when I was in college. He was a teenager at the time. I kept imagining how I would have felt if my sister did the same. Regardless of the pain he felt, there were people around him that loved him and would have been willing to help him if he just asked. Suicide is a selfish act. Ending my life like Cleopatra at the end of everything, so I would no longer suffer is acceptable to my sensibilities. However, causing pain to people that love me is not.


Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Illustration Research Package: How To Prepare An Illustration Research Package To Minimise Your Project’s Cost?


How To Prepare An Illustration Research Package To Minimise Your Project's Cost?

In the previous articles I attempted to solve the mystery of illustration pricing and to guide you to your perfect illustrator. I have mentioned that one way to minimise your cost when hiring an illustrator is to prepare the necessary research for the illustration project. 

In my experience and my friends’ experience I find that regardless of our skill level all of us turn to Google before beginning any project. Let’s say your project is set in 18th century France. Most people when they think of France would think of Paris with the iconic Eiffel Tower. However, Eiffel Tower did not exist until 1889! What did the Paris of the 18th century look like? What clothing did people wear? Did men and women mingle as we do today? What was the difference between the upper classes and the lower classes—is it just in clothing, or is there a way a servant would stand compared to the master?... 

If you have plenty of money and are willing to pay an illustrator to spend a lot of time on research, please feel free to do so. However, if you are pressed for time and cash it is up to you to give your illustrator all the information he/she may need to begin illustrating the project. No one knows your project better than you, so before contacting an illustrator think about how many illustrations your project needs and what kind of visual and written information the illustrator may require. Then do the research and create an Illustration Research Package

Illustration Research Package 

Currently one of my projects is a fantasy novel called Warriors of Virtue. You would think that as the author I know what my own characters and settings look like. Let me see if I could explain why I do not. 

The main character lives at Empyreal Castle, crafted by the most skilled dwarfs when her family came to power at the end of the Great War. Resting atop the Empyreal Hill, the castle is a tall red-roofed and white-walled structure. It has four main doors on each of its compass sides: gold to the North, silver to the South, copper to the West, and oak to the East. 

Close your eyes and picture this castle. 

Do your castle’s walls make a square? Does it have a tower on each corner, each one of different height? Are there window corridors connecting the towers and the walls to the central circular throne room with a glass covered dome? Does the castle have outdoor terraces at the Queen’s and King’s living quarters? Are there walled gardens, kitchen gardens,… What about the stables and the grounds? Can a giant fit comfortably in the rooms? 

I think you get my point; there is much more that I see in my head than I have written on the page. There is even more that I do not see, but I know that it should be there. Ardan, the land of the Empyreal Castle, is a fantasy kingdom. There it would not be unusual to encounter giants, dragons, sphinxes, mermaids… I know of these things, but I know little about them; therefore, I have to research. How can all these different peoples live in harmony in a single castle? 

Settings are complicated, so for the purpose of this article, let’s see how you would create an Illustration Research Package for a single character. 

Designing Vert Swiftwing: Illustration Research Package Case Study 

Character Description 

Vert (vɛʁt) Swiftwing 

Lives at Forbidden Mountain 
Prince Diamond’s Captain of the Guard and best friend 
200 years old, but he looks 20 
Race: dragon-people 
Race Characteristics: extremely handsome/beautiful, look human, but can turn into dragons at will, straight hair, can have any natural skin colour, intensely coloured eyes 
Vert can turn into a green dragon at will 
Height: 6’ 4” 
Skin: Caucasian mix, flawless, permanent perfect tan 
Body type: dancer 
Hair: dark brown (looks black), slight wave (unusual in dragon-people who have straight hair) 
Eyes: very green, ranging from light green to the colour of wet leaves 
Characteristic feature: big smile that often turns into a grin or an amused smirk 
Character traits: friendly, great sense of humour, brave, kind, loyal, generous 
Character flaw: impulsive, over confident 
Dragon: Green, long body, moves swiftly and as silently as a wind, blends with the tree canopy Parents: Classified 
Sexuality: Bisexual 
Clothing Reference: Dragon-people do not feel cold or heat as humans do; therefore their clothing tends to be of lighter materials. The cut is similar to what one would see in Medieval Western Europe; tights, puffy-sleeve shirts, tunics with embroidered coat of arms, leather boots, swords, cloaks… As the Captain of the Guard, Vert sometimes wears a light silver-plated vest that can protect his chest from most cuts and thrusts. 
Costume colour combination: shades of green and brown, with gold embroidered accents 

Photographic Reference 

I usually find everything I need by Googling images with descriptive keywords. Two other great sources of images are Pinterest and DeviantArt. If these fail I go to the reference library and museums. Sometimes, I have to purchase books, too. 

Even though I have an idea in my head of what the character should look like, until I find the appropriate reference it is just a vague, blurry image in my head. As I am doing this part of the research, I feel like a Casting Director asking myself: “Who would be the best person to play the part?” 

Most of the time, I find a combination of images and blend all the people into my one perfect character. That is the beauty of art, we artists do not have to depend on an actual person to play the part. 

Sometimes, as I did while searching for Vert, I would come across a photograph of a person that fits the character perfectly. That vague veiled image in my mind suddenly clarified as I looked at the following photograph and I said: “Oh my God that’s Vert!” 

Source Link

From his shaggy hair to the structure of his face the model Stephen Walker is the perfect man to play Vert. The only feature that does not fit are his eyes, but I found them on another man: 

These are basic model photographs. As an illustrator I need to know how this character would move. Vert is someone who would fearlessly leap off a balcony and transform into a dragon. He is not human. Elements that influence his life are air, fire, and earth. 

The closest humans could come to Vert’s moves are male dancers. Therefore, I tried to find some pictures of male dancers to inspire Vert’s movement. 

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And here are some that should inspire his dragon’s shape. 

Body shape fits Vert as a dragon.

I like the humanity in this dragon's eyes.

Now that we know what Vert would look like and how he would move, it’s time to clothe him. Since this is a fantasy novel, costumes do not have to fit reality. I can mix cultures and time-frames and it will still be acceptable as long as there is a reason for me to do so. When I think of the dragon-people they are dressed in costumes resembling those of Middle Ages. So, I Googled “men’s costumes Middle Ages” and discovered a costume shop, “Dark Knight Armory”. 

I like the shirt, and maybe the vest in this photo.

I like the material of the sleeves. It almost looks like dragon scales.

Clearly these costumes are not of the quality or materials one would expect in reality, but they give me the shapes and designs to work with. When it comes to costumes and props, not only do I need to know how something looks like, but why it looks as it does. For example, if Vert was to carry a sword, what kind of sword would it be? 

In the Royal Ontario Museum there is a room of various armour pieces and each piece had a function. The variety of swords had me taking notes and sketching for hours. There were single hand swords with a short hilt. Double hand sword with a long hilt. The groove down the middle of the sword was not just for decoration, it was to direct blood away from the edges. The swords for cutting are broader, the ones for stabbing have a sharper point. The really long swords that look as if no human should be able to lift them and spears were used to hold the front line and to prevent horses from getting through… 

Vert moves swiftly. His costume and props should reflect that aspect of his character. Therefore, for everyday protection, I do not think that he would carry a heavy two-handed sword. He would most likely not even carry a sword on casual strolls, since he can turn himself into a dragon; maybe he would only wear a dagger? However, as a 200 year old man and as the Captain of the Guard he is able to wield any weapon known to man and is not afraid to take up the best to suit his needs. 

I may have to do more research depending on which scenes with Vert I’ll need to illustrate, but the character description and reference photos provided here are enough for me to start sketching. What you see above is the minimum of information you will need to provide to your illustrator for every single character. 

Settings are even more complicated. If your illustrator needs to draw them, even if you want to leave your readers with only the description saying “opulent room”, the illustrator will need to know the details: How many doors into the room? Is there a hidden entrance? A terrace or balcony? Is the room panelled or does the stone show through? Wall decorations? Furniture? Where are the windows facing? A light from a North window is different from that of a West window, especially at sunset. You need to provide visual reference and written information for everything! 

HOOTs of Wisdom

Illustration Reference Package For Authors

Research.While you are researching for your project, keep in mind that your illustrator will not only need to know how something looks like, but also how it moves and why it exists. As you are writing your own notes, keep a separate file of relevant information that you will share with your illustrator. 

List. Less is more. Time is money. There is no need for you to include pages and pages of writing. Point form list is more than enough. 

Variety.Include a variety of images from different angles when possible. The best photos for drawing people are the ones when the subjects are seen in a ¾ view. If you can, also include the subject’s profile, front, and back. 

Organise. Create a main folder for your project, then create sub folders for settings, characters, and props. Within those folders create a separate folder for every individual subject matter. You want to include a copy of the prop a character is using within the character’s folder as well as in the general prop folder. If your characters are related, make sure to include a note of their relatives in every description, because these characters will have to look alike. 

As always, if you have more questions, please write them in the comments and do not hesitate to contact me on social media. 




Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”

Monday, 4 May 2015

Hiring An Illustrator: Where To Find The Best Illustrators For My Project?


Where To Find The Best Illustrators For My Project?

In my last article I’ve discussed the cost and process of illustration. I have also shared with you what you can do to make your illustrator’s job easier and keep to your budget. If you have not read the article, you may find it here.

Now, that you know a bit about the business of illustration, you may feel ready to hire an illustrator, but where to begin?

There are millions of illustrators all around the world; how do you find and choose the one that’s perfect for your project?

I am fortunate enough to be an animator, artist, illustrator, and writer. I have published Animals In My Hair all by myself. Last year at international and local fairs, I have proven that Animals In My Hair can stand with, or even surpass trade publications. Being this fortunate, I sometimes take my knowledge of art for granted and I forget that there are brilliant writers out there who cannot draw a stick figure.

As a trained artist, I can look at art and judge it for its quality in seconds; but, I ask myself, how can someone who has no training recognize quality artwork? Art is so subjective. It truly depends on individual taste. There are illustrations some people adore, yet I simply don't care for them. Does that mean that those illustrations have no merit? Absolutely not. My taste is my taste and your taste is your taste. 

The trouble with finding an artist to illustrate your work is that you are not catering to your taste, but to the taste of your audience. 

Therefore, before considering hiring an illustrator you should ask yourself: who will buy my book and what do I want to accomplish with my book*?

Illustrations from adult non-fiction books usually vary greatly from those found in children's picture books. Will your book be a guide to professionals, or something readers will use to escape reality?

If you have written a number of children’s short stories that you want to publish as individual picture books as quickly as possible, a simple illustration style of Ruth Ohi may be preferable to the detailed style of Graeme Base. Remember: the more detail an illustration has, the longer it will take to create. Ask yourself: do I really need those “Disney-style, full colour” illustrations?

Before looking for your illustrator, I recommend—scratch that—I INSIST that you visit your local book store. If there are no book stores in your area, you can also visit a library, or** 

At the book store, while looking at a wall of books in your genre, choose one. The moment you pick it up, ask yourself: why did I choose this book?

The book you picked has caught your eye out of dozens. What makes it special? Is it the subject matter? The artwork? Colour?

To the designer who created that book cover, you are his/her perfect audience. That book cover has done its job and done it well.

Look at other books. Which stand out and which do not? Look at their illustrations. Why do you like them more than other illustrations?

Take note of the staff picks and best sellers, maybe even ask staff members which books they like and why.

Repeat this process through several book stores until you see an emerging pattern: what makes these books great when it comes to illustration?

Armed with this newfound knowledge, the next thing you need to consider is your budget. In my experience authors often feel that illustrators are expensive. If you read my previous article, and have a sense of the work involved, you will know what constitutes a fair price for your project.

NOTE: NEVER ask illustrators to send you a few test drawings of your characters for free. If you cannot afford sketches evaluate them based on their portfolio. 

Remember: the more detailed an image, the more time it takes to create, the more expensive it will be.

Now, you are ready to find your illustrator.

What makes an illustrator great?

Skill. Your illustrator can be professionally trained or not, but he/she must be able to draw what you need. 

If your project calls for a lot of diverse human characters, as you are looking through portfolios pay particular attention to faces, hands, and feet. Are the characters conveying emotion? Are they diverse? Do they have different body types, or are they all the same? Can you easily tell what’s going on in the image, or are you confused? Do the characters look like they are in motion and alive, or are they stiff? Look for illustrators who have a sense of layout, because you may be able to avoid hiring a designer to arrange illustrations and text.

This is an older drawing of mine when my drawing skills were not as good as they are today.
I drew this in 2014. You can see how my skills have improved when drawing a human figure.
Style. Look for the style (i.e., the way something looks) you believe should be used for your book. 

Most illustrators have a certain look to their work, a signature way of drawing. If you feel that their look is something you want replicated, get in touch with them. You may get lucky and have the artist start working for you right away, but be prepared to be placed onto a waiting list. There are also a few illustrators (I fall into this category) that work in multiple styles. In forums, some have suggested that you should not trust these illustrators, because they may not be able to produce the look you want repeatedly. To that, I say: “Poppycock.” I can recreate any style that I have ever created. Animators are trained to do this, otherwise artists who worked on Disney’s The Lion King would have been out of jobs once Hercules came across their desk. The reason I choose to switch up my styles from time to time is because I’ve worked on different projects. Illustrating for the National Geographic is different than illustrating a picture book for a toddler. Personally, I feel that working on different projects and in different styles keeps my work vibrant.

"Emperor Trajan"
"Animals In My Hair" Cover
"Dancing Grandma" 
Horsing Around: "Dream, Little Dreamer"
Award Winning "Fox"
"Warriors of Virtue"
"Warriors of Virtue"
"Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals" Front Cover
Marvel's Agen Carter
Diversity. Would the illustrator’s work stand out from the wall of books at your local store, or would it blend in? 

Remember all the research you have done at your local book store? This should give you the idea whether the illustrator you are considering would be the perfect fit for your project. If his/her work is too similar to books already at the store, you may wish to find another illustrator.

Dedication. Is the illustrator excited about your project, or is it only a job? 

Professional illustrators draw constantly. Eventually, the projects they encounter may lack novelty and appear repetitive. Even when jaded, professionals would produce excellent work. However, if you can get them excited about the project, then their soul, joy, and passion will be captured in the artwork. For example, recently I illustrated the cover for Peggy M. McAloon’s Elle Burton and the Reflective Portals. I love this book; I love Peggy’s idea and what she wants to achieve with her book; I love fantasy; and I love drawing people. I was given free reign to create. As a result, the project was pure joy and I could hardly wait to work on the illustrations every day. Now, if someone asked me to draw a bunch of FBI guys leaping out of a helicopter, guns drawn, fighting with machines… I could create a strong, action-packed illustration, but I would not enjoy it. I do not like drawing machines, buildings, and weapons (unless they are medieval). The only bit from that project I may like drawing are the people, but these people would also have the same body type and clothing—boring! Bottom line, if an illustrator is excited about your work, everything about the process will rock! 

ProfessionalismIf an artist gives you a deadline, they should produce the work by that deadline.

Sometimes the unpredictable happens; such as my computer dying the first time I decided to create an all-digital illustration. However, the artist should inform you immediately of circumstances that may cause delays. There should at least be a simple agreement between you and the illustrator, outlining what you can expect to receive and when. Pay special attention to revisions. In order to maintain focus and keep the project moving swiftly, I give my clients only one or two free revisions. Bottom line, working with a great illustrator will result in a professional collaboration.

HOOTs Of Wisdom

Where to find your illustrator?

No budget. Your only hope is a family friend with lots of time on their hands. 

Approaching an illustrator with a promise to give him/her a percentage of future proceeds (the stars and the moon) if they illustrate your book for free will always result in a: NO. Illustrators are professionals and they do not work for free. Self-published books from unknown authors are useless or illustrators' credibility and portfolios. The only time an illustrator may work for free is if you are a major celebrity and they know there are millions of people awaiting your book. For example, if Neil Gaiman asked me to illustrate his cover for free in exchange for 20% of his income from the book, I would say: “OMG, it’s Neil Gaiman!!!... I mean: Yes, Master.”

Low Budget. I have sometimes seen authors get excited, because they can get an illustration for five dollars on Fiver, or they cut and paste images with a computer program to create their own illustrations. To this, all I can say is: you get what you pay for. 

As a self-published author your work must at least match trade publications, if not surpass them, if you want your book to succeed. 

If you cannot afford a professional illustrator, I suggest you save up until you can. Even someone who is a good artist, may not be a good illustrator. If your story is that great, try to raise money through Kickstarter or find investors.

If you do not want to wait, visit schools that train illustrators/artists. The students will soon be professionals and they will likely be able to create excellent work for a smaller fee than an already established illustrator. The first professional illustration job I got was in my first year of college when I won the contest to illustrate a poster for Bone Wellness’ Osteoporosis Galla. I painted two dressed up skeletons dancing and my clients got the poster, original painting, as well as the copyright for $500. If I charged them as a professional illustrator for that project, I would have given them the poster for $1000, but kept the original painting and copyright. If they wanted the painting, I would have charged an additional $500. For everything I would have charged $3000.

Professional Budget. From the previous article you may be able to calculate what a professional illustrator would charge. If you have a professional budget, you can find thousands of illustrators online.

My advice is to search trough DeviantArt. I’m not sure, but I think this is the largest database of artists in the world. You can search the site by genre, subject, etc. In the profile section, you’ll be able to to read about the artist. In the comments you can see how the person reacts to criticism, what others think of him/her,... There are a lot of amateur artists, but you can also find famous professionals. Then, there are a lot of artists who are professionals, but are not yet famous. Here you will strike gold. If you hire an artist to illustrate your book before they become famous… Sky is the limit. 

A new database of professional artists is ArtStation. I have not explored this site as much, but you may wish to try it out. 

You can discover further artists on Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook,…

You can meet them in LinkedIn Groups. I belong to several illustration and publishing groups. 

You can always Google “illustrators database” and add the word for what kind of illustration you are looking for. Example: I searched for “children’s illustrators database” and got the following websites: 

And there you have it; the latest HOOTs of Wisdom! 

As always, if you have any questions do not hesitate to contact me. If you would like to hire me, I’m sincerely flattered, but currently I’m not looking for additional projects. However, I will be interested in illustrating and designing book covers for fiction chapter books: fantasy, romance, young adult, and mystery. To get yourself on the waiting list, please send me an email describing your work and what you would like me to illustrate, samples of book covers you like, and any other information you think would help me decide that I am your perfect illustrator.

Wishing you only the best!


*It can be any illustration project, but let’s pretend in this case it's a book.
**If your book is to be digital only, make sure you research, and whatever other platform you intend to sell your book through.


Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools. In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.

Currently, Mili is working on her first ever illustrated Fantasy novel, Warriors of Virtue, about a reluctant princess who must prevent a war with the dragon-people, while keeping her mission a secret from her over-protective mother.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Illustration Process: How Much Should I Pay/Charge For Illustration?

I was invited by Connie Dunn to write a column for her new online magazine.  After much deliberation, I decided to call my column "Mili Fay's Hoots Of Wisdom".  I will connect you all to the magazine as soon as it is live, but for now enjoy the article and let me know what you think.





How Much Should I Pay/Charge For Illustration?

Please allow me to introduce myself: I’m Mili Fay, the creator of Mili Fay Art, artist, illustrator, animator, writer, and sometimes singer. My vision is to use the gifts I was given to make the world a better place one artwork at a time. You can find out more about me by visiting, by Googling my name, or by direct inquiry via social media. When Connie Dunn approached me about writing a column for Weeping Cherry International Review, I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity. There is always more I need to learn. However, working as a freelancer since I was fourteen, I managed to gather a few seeds of wisdom I’m happy to share. Therefore, in this column I will share with you completely biased, yet Honest Open Operative Tips (HOOTs) of Wisdom. Feel free to correct me, share your opinions, or to contact me with questions you would like to have answered in the future.

In my debut column, I will try to answer a question I have seen repeatedly in LinkedIn Groups regarding illustration. Before I do so, let me share with you some relevant personal experience.

After deciding that I prefer drawing to animating on a computer, I attempted to break into the illustration field. As a naïve graduate I expected prospective employers to treat me as a professional. I was confident, because I graduated at the top of my class, capable of scaling every barrier. However, I soon realised that illustration is a vicious money-crunching business like any other. My skills mattered little, and the only jobs I could find were the ones offering payment well below minimum wage. I was a young illustrator working for free or low wages to gain “experience”, only to discover that the experience I gained was not the “right kind of experience.”

If you are an illustrator, how many times were you asked to partner up with an unknown author for a chance to illustrate his/her book for free?

How many times were you approached by non-profit organizations asking you to volunteer your services?

Once, I was asked to illustrate a “full-colour, Disney-style” picture book for $500!

What other ridiculous offers have YOU received in the past?

Upon receiving one of the above offers, I politely declined them while fuming inside at the other party for wasting my time. Then one day I stopped fuming, because I suddenly realised that most of the individuals who were making these offers where not evil opportunists; they were simply ignorant.

What does an average person know about illustration?

I’m sure that everyone who is not an artist, or who does not live with an artist, has an image of their grade school classmate producing a coloured drawing within an hour or two. They may remember sitting as children and drawing pictures during their spare time; an artistic friend giving them a drawing of their favourite super-hero; a kid in their class who created pages and pages of comics during recess. Drawing is fun! Drawing is easy.

If a child can produce all those drawings in such a short amount of time, why couldn't an illustrator with years of professional training create even better pictures faster?

Sadly, the illustration process is not the same as a child drawing and colouring a picture during play-time.

So, what is this illustration process?

In my experience the illustration process differs somewhat depending on whether the author and the illustrator are the same person, partners, or complete strangers. For the purpose of this column I will tackle the last; I will pretend that I have received a picture book manuscript and that I’m in charge of getting this book ready for publishing.


Illustration Process: When The Illustrator And The Author Are Complete Strangers

Step 1: Read The Manuscript And Figure Out The Number Of Illustrations Needed

As an illustrator, I will first read the complete manuscript. Then, I will read it again trying to visualise possible pages. Standard length for a picture book is 24 or 32 pages, because the signatures (sections of bound pages that make up the book) tend to come in lengths of 12 or 16 pages. Other than the length of the book, I also need to take into account the front and back matter of every professionally published book; i.e. copyright page, blank pages, title page, dedication page... Furthermore, I know that there are two pages at the beginning and end of the story that will be single page illustrations (usually of vertical layout, unless the entire book is of a landscape format), while the remainder of the book will be made up of two-page spreads (requiring horizontal layout). For this example, let us say that our fictitious picture book is 32 pages in length. Let us also assume that the front matter for the book is a Dedication Page, a Copyright Page, and a Title Page. The book has no back matter. This means that I am left with 28 pages (32 – 4 = 28). The first and last page are a vertical layout, and the remainder are two-page spreads. Therefore, I have to create 15 illustrations (2 + (26/2) = 15). I also have to design the cover.

Step 2: Thumbnail Sketches

Thumbnail sketches are tiny notes we artists make for ourselves. They are not meant for another's eyes, and therefore they rarely make sense to anyone other than the artist. As I am reading the manuscript a third time, I will begin creating possible thumbnail sketches of each illustration. Sometimes I can see exactly what I want, and sometimes I need to create dozens of these sketches for a single illustration.

Thumbnail Sketches for "Dream, Little Dreamer"

Step 3: Research and Design

After figuring out the number of illustrations and drawing the thumbnail sketches, I would probably contact the author. As an illustrator my job is to take the author’s vision, not mine, and make it better.

After the conversation with the author, I will begin my research.

Google is probably the greatest invention for us artists since cavemen figured out how to create paint. Before Google, artists had to go to libraries, they had to rifle through dozens upon dozens of stock photos, books, and maybe even film, before they could find the necessary visual references. Today, I type what I need into Google’s search engine and in seconds I have relevant visual information spread out before me.

Most illustrators have their own style, a commercial look that they are known for in the industry. Since I was trained as an animator, I do not like to keep myself to a single visual style. I believe that the style/look of the book should reflect the story. Therefore, I approach each new project with fresh eyes. If a story is dark, I may choose a blue/purple palette, more angular lines, and high contrasting shadows… If a story is meant for young children, characters will have simple shapes and bright colours… For a romantic story, I may use flowing lines with pinks and purples…

Let's say that the story I am illustrating is about a girl who visits her friend's homes and discovers each friend's unique culture. First of all I will need to “cast” my girl. I will look through several dozen pictures of girls on Google, sketching until I have a rough design of my heroine.

While designing, I may ask myself the following questions:

What will my heroine wear? What culture is she from? Will she have jewellery? A ribbon in her hair? Will she wear a dress, pants, shorts, or a school uniform?

Then my designing and research expands.

How many friends will she visit? What do they look like? What are their homes like? If one of her friends is an athlete and she is visiting her friend’s room, what furniture, posters, toys, etc. will she find there?

What do I need to draw to make the reader feel immersed in each character’s culture?

Researching and designing continues until I have all the necessary characters, props, and background designs. The more characters and different settings a book has, the more time it will take for me to complete my research and design stage of the illustration process.

In the fast-paced publishing industry Art Director/Editor matches the manuscript to an illustrator’s particular style. An illustrator rarely gets to speak with the author, he/she communicates through the Art Director/Editor.

I prefer to communicate with the author, because the story is ultimately the author’s vision, and the illustrations are there to support this vision, not the other way around. Therefore, while researching and designing, I will always keep the author aware of what I’m working on, and eventually we will create a look that will make both of us happy, a look that would probably be better than if we have never met at all.

Step 4: Layout

Taking all of the materials collected so far, I will reread the story again and make more detailed sketches of each illustration. I will keep in mind the layout of each scene leaving a blank, or uncluttered, area for the text. Once this is figured out, I will make cleaner (sketches with a neater line and/or more detail) sketches of each. Then, I will send these sketches to the Art Director for approval. However, since in this case I am my own Art Director, I will stop the project for a few days and then look at what I have with fresh eyes, or I will send the sketches to the author and see if he/she has some suggestions. It is only after the layout sketches have been approved that I can begin to illustrate the book.

Step 5: Illustration

To illustrate this part of the process, I will use the artwork I have created while illustrating a two-page spread for my book, “Animals In My Hair”. Please note that I usually pick the scene I am absolutely sure of and work on that illustration first; I never illustrate in order.

This is the original thumbnail sketch for the illustration.

This is a thumbnail sketch I created when I have decided to make the numbers reflect the habitat.

This is a rough sketch where I'm trying to figure out the composition.

This is the final rough layout sketch.
Part I: Drawing 1

Once I had the final layout for the illustration of the owls, I began to draw. I redrew the image in a larger size, working out placements and adding some details.

Part II: Scan 1 and Size 1

I scanned the drawing, and made sure that it fit the printing ratio (For example, if the printed image is to be 4” x 6”, I can choose to draw it at 8” x 12”, or any multiple of the 2:3 ratio. The more details that the drawing has, the larger my image has to be. If I was working digitally, I would keep the size slightly bigger than the print size and at least 600 ppi. I will never draw the image smaller than the print size, because to fit the print size I would digitally have to upscale the image, resulting in thicker, messier lines. It is better to draw your images bigger than the print size if you can, because scaling down will make your lines look neater and finer.). For “Animals In My Hair” the print size of a two-page spread is 18” x 12”. To this I added the extra ¼” bleed on the outside, making the actual image to be printed 18.5” x 12.5”. However, at this stage I sized the image to fit the 14” x 17” layout paper I used for drawing then printed the image.

Part I and Part II has been completed.
Part III: Drawing 2

Using a light table, I traced the image onto a clean sheet of layout paper, making improvements and adding more details as I drew. (For this step I usually use a blue col-erase pencil.)

Part IV: Clean-Up

Once I was satisfied with the blue-pencil drawing I traced over the lines I need with a pen, continually improving and adding details to the image. (I usually use a black pen.)

Part III and Part IV. In this case I have used the purple col-erase pencil and have cleaned-up with a blue pen.
Part V: Scan 2 and Size 2

I scanned the pen-traced drawing and then sized it to fit my painting medium (in this case an 11” x 14” rag drawing paper), maintaining the printing ratio. If I had a larger light table and scanner, I would create final paintings to fit the scanner's size. However in my case the 18.5” x 12.5” two-page spread had to be divided in two, so that in the end I ended up with two printouts of approximately 10” x 13.3” (the combined two-page spread now being 20” x 13.3”, slightly bigger than print size, which is how I like to work).

Part VI: Tracing, Clean-up 2, Final Tracing

On another layout paper, I carefully traced every line of the print, so that the divided illustration matched as closely as possible at the dividing edge. Then I cleaned-up the drawing again, before placing it under a blank rag drawing paper and tracing the final image with a crow-quill dip pen and acrylic ink.

Part V and Part VI. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the clean ink line.
Part VII: Painting

I took my final traced drawing, stuck it to the board with painter’s tape (dark green), and then began to paint. As you can see, I have used watercolour. Painting a full-colour illustration such as the owls took about a week.

I paint in thin layers, allowing the pigment to settle to the bottom of the tray and painting with the coloured water that is left on top.  You can see some of the clean ink line in this image.

Part VIII: Clean-up 3

Because the paint covered the original ink line, I had to go back and re-ink the entire illustration. At the very end I added highlights with opaque white paint.

Finished Painting
Part IX: Scan 3

Once the painting was dry, I scanned it at 300 ppi (600 ppi is better, but my computer was too old to process that many MBs).

Part X: Image Editing

For "Animals In My Hair" I had access to Photoshop CS5. I opened the two image scans in the program and attached them together. It did not matter how careful I was while tracing and painting, the two divided images of any illustration never lined up perfectly. I therefore used the Clone-Stamp Tool to fix the illustration.

Part XI: Add text and Size 3

Once the image was perfect, I used the Type Tool to add text. I sized the image, making sure to leave room for the outside bleed and the inner seam, so after the text was added the image was ready to be printed. I saved the image in RGB Mode for digital purposes (sans outside bleed), and also in CMYK Mode which I then sent to my printer in PDF format.

Final Illustration in RGB Mode 
Step 6: Repeat Step 5 until every illustration is done, including the Cover.


I have never had a job where the work went according to plan. I had clients making changes resulting in delays. I had equipment dying and having to rework from a certain saved point. I had a glob of ink fall onto my illustration after I have spent hours painting it. I got sick. I had family emergencies... Life happens causing delays and deadlines to be pushed back.

As you can see, illustrating a book is far different than being a child drawing pictures in your spare time. It is a real job that requires more than artistic skills.

So, what do you think an illustrator should be paid to illustrate a picture book?

How can an employer figure out a fair wage before they approach an illustrator for a job?

There are two main factors that determine the price of an illustration job (or any creative job): Time and Quality.

I was shown a great diagram a while back that illustrates this concept, and it went something like this:

An employer can pick any of the two sets. Picking all three sets is usually impossible, because anyone who produces quality work quickly will not be cheap. If someone agrees, an employer can be sure that their work will be of only acceptable, not competitive quality, or that this person is too naïve to know any better. In the last case, the employer managed to take unscrupulous advantage of the employee. Congratulations!

There is another factor that determines the price, and that is fame. The more famous an artist is, the more expensive his/her time will be. To get the best price for the best work, a truly visionary employer will find these talented artists before they have managed to make a name for themselves and use them until they become famous, or have been drained of all creativity.

For those employers who do not support slavery, here is a way they can calculate a fair wage for an illustrator. Illustrators when you are accepting a wage, please be aware of these factors.

According to the average wage for someone working as an illustrator in Toronto, Ontario is CND$26.25. An employee of greater skill will cost more, and employee of lesser skill may accept less.

As an employer, will you offer your employee benefits? Freelancers have to pay for their own benefits, so if you are planning to offer the position to a freelancer, make sure you add the adequate amount to the hourly wage.

Will your employee be working at a set work schedule, or will he/she have to work overtime? Add on the cost.

Is your deadline flexible? Can the employee work on your project in his/her spare time? You may be able to negotiate for less money.

Once you have an hourly rate you feel is acceptable, you can calculate the set fee for a particular project. Consider the illustration process I have shared with you, determine how many hours it will take to complete the said project, and multiply. However, always have an extra third of the calculated fee available in case of delays and unexpected changes. This will give you the budget with which you can approach your prospective illustrator.

Using our 32 page picture book as an example, let’s say that each illustration takes a week to illustrate. We have 15 illustrations plus the cover; 16 illustrations in total. Therefore, the project will take 16 weeks to illustrate. In my animation studies I have read that the time it takes for designers to design the movie, equals the production of the movie. Following this logic we will add on 16 more weeks, making the total time of the project equal 32 weeks. An average work week is about 40 hours. Therefore, the project will be 1280 hours long. Let’s say our fair wage is $30/h. This particular book will therefore cost $38 400. Add on a third for unforeseen expenses, and you should have an available budget of $51 200 for this one book.

HOOTs of Wisdom

As an employer, what can you do to make your illustrator’s job easier, which will result in you saving more money?

Research. There is no need for the illustrator to do all the research. Search Google Images yourself until you have a complete vision for your illustrations. Early in my illustration career I have illustrated for a non-profit French language school. The employer did not have much of a budget, but we negotiated free lessons, and he had pages and pages of printouts of what he envisioned for each illustration. As a result I knew exactly what he wanted, and was able to produce each illustration faster.

Trust. Trust your illustrator. You have hired him/her to illustrate for you because you admire his/her skills. Therefore, do not try to micro-manage every illustration. Do not allow an illustration to progress beyond the sketching stage and then ask for revisions.

Details? How detailed do the illustrations have to be? Do they need to be in colour? Do you need a scene involving many characters? Do you need the background? The more an illustrator has to draw, the more time it will take him/her to do so. In animation, we were taught early on about line mileage; the more lines your character has, the more time it will take for an animator to animate the character, resulting in greater expense. Also the more colours a character has, the longer it takes for the painter to colour the character. The same principles apply to illustration. Consider the job. Do you really need those “Disney-style, full-colour” illustrations, or can your story be told with simple appealing designs such as Ruth Ohi creates?

Be honest. Do not try to trick your illustrator. If you have a low budget, ask your illustrator what he/she can do with the illustrations to make the work fit the budget.


There you have it; my first HOOTs of Wisdom. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this column. If you have any questions, suggestions, or complements, please do not hesitate to contact me.


Mili Fay, a Toronto-based artist, classical animator, illustrator, writer, and singer, is an award winning graduate of Sheridan College and Art Instruction Schools.  In November of 2011 she created Mili Fay Art determined to support the world one artwork at a time.

Her latest published work is Animals In My Hair; a story about a boy who goes for his first haircut only to find endangered animals falling out of his hair.  Presented at INSPIRE! Toronto International Book Fair (November 14, 2014) out of 700+ submissions, Animals In My Hair, is the world’s first ever Artwork Book; a new type of picture book that seamlessly combines the best features of fine art, picture books, activity books, and educational books.

In accordance with Mili Fay Art’s vision, 30% of all profits from Animals In My Hair book and merchandise will be donated to wildlife conservation.

Join Mili Fay Art Fan Club to stay in touch with Mili Fay and to be the first to find out of her upcoming books and artworks.

Mili Fay Art: “Together we support the world one artwork at a time.”