Jillian Tamaki


Jan 23rd, 2013

What you see above is exactly half of the finished art for Awago Beach Babies, the graphic novel I am working on with my cousin Mariko. The book is about summertime, vacation, swimming, biking, futzing around in the woods. Just by coincidence, I started the final art on June 21, the Summer Solstice. Well, the summer is long gone and I’m still drawing kids splashing in the lake and townie teens riding BMX bikes. They say today is one of the coldest days of the winter so far.

In other news, Print Magazine has just published an “oral history” of the Pencil Factory, my spiritual studio. I participated in the “discussion”, which you can read here.

I also participated in a real, live discussion with cartoonists Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing on Sam Weber’s podcast, Your Dreams My Nightmares. If you haven’t checked out Sam’s podcast, please do. If you’re an illustrator, designer, or cartoonist, there’s probably someone of interest to you that’s recorded an interview.

Portfolio Redesign!

Oct 1st, 2012

I feel so fresh. So clean. So NEW! My portfolio site has been redesigned: www.jilliantamaki.com

I added some new things, including the comic I did with Nobrow.

The site was coded by John Makris, who did a fantastic job. Efficient, communicative, professional, and patient: john@thinkaxion.com

Student Questions

Feb 24th, 2012

This week I had my students submit written questions. The question could be about anything: promotion, business, whatever. Some of the questions were pretty good! I’ve decided to share the answers here on my blog.


If I have many different styles, how should I promote them?

This is a question I hear often. I suppose it’s because my own portfolio contains a variety of “styles”. I should say that putting together a portfolio is more of an art than a science. My thought is, however, that your portfolio should be more consistent when you are a starting illustrator. But consistency can be more nuanced than “all 12 portfolio pieces should be identical”… consistency across a body of work can be more about a consistent tone, flavour, or conceptual style. Not just aesthetics. But back to the question: I think you should tailor your promotional materials, sending images that are most appropriate for the potential client. But at the same time being open-minded about what is and isn’t appropriate. For example, the NYT Op-Ed runs dioramas, children’s book-style art, photo-illustration, etc. Not just black and white, metaphor-heavy line-art. You can only gauge your portfolio’s effectiveness after probably 6 months of earnest promotion.

Will a variety of styles make my portfolio seem diverse or unfocussed?

It depends, and this is largely a matter of taste. Art, not Science, as I mentioned above. There are two common scenarios: the student is too emotionally attached to certain pieces and is unwilling to cut them from the portfolio (the rendered oil painting of a still-life or whatnot). Or, the student who thinks a piece is WILDLY different from their typical work that is most definitely NOT. So you may have to confer with outside people and get their opinion as to whether a portfolio is diverse or unfocussed. Again, there are things apart from aesthetics and “technique” that can link a body of work.

In a studio, is salary based on years of experience or quality of portfolio?

If you are applying for an entry-level job, you will likely start at the base-starting salary, regardless if your portfolio is “great” or “supergreat”.

How do I determine how much to charge for an illustration?

It is my experience that most illustration jobs come with a budget. So, you don’t really have too much of a say, especially with editorial and publishing jobs. The rate is the rate, roughly. The best-known guide for these things is the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. I haven’t used it myself, but it is oft cited and at least can give you a place to start (not only for pricing guidelines but invoice templates and familiarizing yourself with contracts). Of course, a spot in an alternative weekly is not going to pay the same rate as a spot in a national magazine. At some point you will have to use your good judgment: weigh how much time/effort/pain it will take, whether it will be a good portfolio piece, etc. Never do things for free (without good reason) or on-spec, of course. Here is the thing: there is no fixed price for ANY of this, and you will often confer with peers and colleagues to determine if a price is fair. But do NOT email professionals asking about this stuff, OK?

How do I determine how much to charge for a piece of original artwork?

That’s entirely up to you, darlin’. What you feel is fair and how badly you need to pay the bills. It may be $25 or $2500.

How do I approach art directors of children’s books?

I have little experience in the kids book realm, so I asked someone who does. John Hendrix, author/illustrator of A Boy Called Dickens and John Brown, is going to help out with the next few questions.

John sez: The following advice is from my limited experience doing 4 picture books, so it is from a single vantage point and probably not universal by any means. That said, from my experience, children’s book art directors are just like editorial art directors, they like finding new artists and love a good promo postcard as much as anyone. While it is wrong to completely reinvent the problem of promoting yourself to a kids book marketplace, it is also wrong to assume that getting hired for a kids book is exactly like getting hired for an editorial spot illustration. Clearly, the stakes are much much higher, for a 36 page kids book, as opposed to a 3″ high black and white illustration that will run one day in The New York Times. So, for that reason, you have to show them more than just pretty pictures. Most art directors will not hire you from postcards for a picture book… you should show them that you can create content. And show them some of your process as well.

Me again: There is some legwork involved in compiling contacts for any facet of the industry. This legwork is not hard or mysterious, but does require some effort. This is called HUSTLING, and if you are unwilling to hustle, well, god help you.

I would start with direct mailers. Make a small little sampler of work (a mini-porfolio) and send to Art Directors via mail with a polite, brief introductory letter. But how to find those names? Annuals, industry-group newsletters, internet research. That’s a start. HUSTLE.

Again, a small piece of advice. Diversify your options. You may not get a children’s book right out of the gate, but maybe you could get some illustrations in the myriad children’s/preteen magazines that are out there. Hm, but what are the names of those magazines? HUSTLE.

Lastly, become involved in the community. If kid’s books are what you want to do, you should be going to book and library conferences and getting involved with the SCBWI. The Internet (and, if you’re a student, your school) is full of people who want to help and share knowledge. Use it.

How do I pitch a children’s book story?

Here’s John again: Pitching a story is super easy: it just involves writing an amazing story, creating some memorable characters, rendering vivid dialogue and personalities and then designing some great comps of how the book will look. Ok, that isn’t easy at all.

From my experience, never send in a book with complete final art in it. It is rare (read: IMPOSSIBLE) to have a book printed as is from the one you labored over in your mom’s basement. Have the manuscript completely finished, and then comp the entire book out… just as if you were going to do a sketch dummy. Design the page breaks, and arrange where the text would go. Then rough out some sketches for the book. Perhaps you do a full character study of the main players, or in a few spreads go with some super tight roughs and then one piece of finished art to show your chops. Bind it together so it look professional. Professional doesn’t mean corporate, by the way. It can be quirky or handmade… just needs to look like the person who made it can be taken seriously. Track down an art director you admire (hint: Look at the list of art directors who show at Society of Illustrators Original Art Show) and give them a call. I’ll admit, not easy, but completely do-able.

Do I need a literary agent?

John: No, you don’t need one. But, they really really help. I did my first two books without an agent, and I read my own contracts and negotiated all on my own. It was fine, but it got so much better when I signed with Writer’s House. My philosophy with agents is let them come to you. Approaching people before you are a proven quantity puts you in the disadvantage. Most book agents take much less of your earnings than a typical advertising or editorial rep might. Agents are like marriages, and you have to talk and get on the same page with things, and you have to trust each other. So, go into a relationship with an agent with a healthy understanding of who they are what their goals are for you.

Jillian: I think having a book agent is very helpful, in terms of helping you penetrate the market and dealing with the contracts, etc. But as John says, it’s likely a matter of having agents approach you. Not the other way around.

When do I send an invoice?

After you have completed the job and the Art Director replies, “We got it! I LOVE IT. My editors LOVE it. You are an unparalleled GENIUS!” I like to send it after you’re given the all-clear and all changes have been made.

Are pieces of original art a good idea for a promo?

Generally I would say don’t bother but it’s up to you. Put your time into improving your work, not making fancy-dancy mailers.

How long does it take for a response from an Art Director after I have sent my portfolio?

The concept of “sending a portfolio” is a bit antiquated. Art Directors are almost looking exclusively at your online portfolio (hence why it must be effective and half-decent). You are more likely to be sending promos to ADs, directing them to an online portfolio, and are not owed a response. You may get a job a few days after a promo is mailed, or a few months. If you get no response from your promo in 4 or 5 months, take a look at your work.

How many of your schoolmates are working creatives right now?

Oy! What a question. Well, two of my classmates were Sam Weber and Thomas Porostocky, so I think we did OK. Let me preface my response by saying my programme was half graphic design, half illustration, so many of my classmates got design jobs which, of course, are more plentiful than illustration jobs. So while I’d guess maybe 80% of them are currently “creatives” in some capacity, of the 15 or so students who did the Illustration focus, only 3 or 4 are working illustrators/cartoonists. Did the others lack talent? No. But I think many were temperamentally unsuited to the business of illustration.


So those are the questions for this year. As a new grad you will never be fully prepared for every scenario and there are many ways to skin a cat. (Do not skin cats.) Remember the bit about the hustling and use your your brain, peers, and the resources available to you. I am only speaking from my own experience and what has worked for me.

Special thanks to John Hendrix… visit him! Follow him!

Darkest Light

Jan 30th, 2012

Personally, I think one of the best things about being an illustrator is the reading. When you’re asked to interpret an article or story, you read very attentively.

I became familiar with Hiromi Goto‘s work when a friend raved about A Chorus of Mushrooms many years ago when we were in college. So it was a nice surprise when I was contacted in 2008 to illustrate her YA novel Half World. (Apparently she was a fan of the way I draw rats!) Hiromi’s writing is so distinct… very beautiful and, well, disgusting at the same time. She describes poverty. She’s not afraid to let bodily fluids squirt. I felt an instant attraction to her writing.

Now there is a sequel to Half World: Darkest Light. It’s out tomorrow! What’s awesome about both Half World and Darkest Light is that not only are the covers illustrated, but both books also contain many interior illustrations. Dreamy. With so much debate in publishing circles about what YA covers should look like, it’s nice to know that Penguin Canada felt the first book did well enough with an illustrated cover to warrant a similar approach for the sequel. More illustrated YA book covers! They’re pretty! They work!

Currently the book is only released in Canada, but I imagine a US version is in the works. (If you’re really keen you can order through amazon.ca, I think.)

Thanks AD Lisa Jager and Penguin Canada for springing for the shiny, sparkly cover paper.

Society of Illustrators News

Jan 23rd, 2012

I won two gold medals from the Society of Illustrators this year, in the Book and Institutional categories. HOORAY! This means you can see the original embroidery for Black Beauty (and The Secret Garden) at the show, which runs Jan 25- Feb 18. The opening is Feb 3.

The second gold medal is for this Croquet Poster, which was commissioned by Cramer-Krasselt to benefit the Penfield Children’s Center in Milwaukee. This image will be included in the Institutional/Advertising show, February 23, 2012 – March 17, 2012. Thank you, Society and jury!

What’s Going On

Dec 13th, 2011

Hey guys, a few things I wanted to mention.

1. A Student FAQ! I made one. It’s here.

2. Tomorrow (Dec 14) I will be on my husband’s radio show, Your Dreams My Nightmares. You can ask a question via call-in, email, facebook, or twitter. All the info for that is in this post (I keep on telling him to GET RID OF THE RED, but I’m sorry. My powers only extend so far.) Your question has a much likelier chance of being answered if it doesn’t involve asking what kind of brushes I use. The interview will be archived and I’ll post the link here when it is.

3. Happy Holidays!

(The picture above is from a few months ago. It was originally commissioned by Toronto Life Magazine.)


Nov 11th, 2011

I’m looking for someone to help me in the studio for a day or two. Organizational stuff for the most part. In exchange, I will give you coffee, lunch, optional donuts, and will happily look at your portfolio if you like. Day/Time is flexible. Email me at jill (AT) jilliantamaki (dot) com. Position filled!

The above pinecones are from a job that got killed. Too bad. I quite like them.

Penguin Threads: Available now!

Oct 25th, 2011

When we first announced the Penguin Threads project back in March, the response was phenomenal. I have never participated in a project that has had such a response. Well, as of today, the books are available for purchase. (Buy at Amazon, search/buy at your local indie bookstore via Indiebound, or get them from Penguin directly.)

They are here. They are all glued together and have words inside.

A surprise when you open the cover... the backs of the embroideries!

We are having a launch event in New York City. Not only will you get to hear me chew the fat with Penguin Classics Director Elda Rotor, you will also be able to see the original embroideries in person. Here’s the info for that event:

Tues, Nov 8, 7PM
Purl Soho
459 Broome Street (between Greene and Mercer)
RSVP @ penguinthreads@gmail.com

What Could Have Been: some alternate sketches for the Emma and Black Beauty covers.

Lastly, I wanted to provide you with a few more behind-the-scenes/in-progress goodies. These were completed in a few feverish weeks between December 2010 and February 2011.

Thanks for your interest in the covers. I hope they encourage you to read the wonderful stories inside. And be sure to check out the three wonderful new covers in the Threads series from Rachell Sumpter.

Please direct all press inquiries to Sonya at sonya.cheuse@us.penguingroup.com

Folio Society: Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market & Selected Poems”

Oct 20th, 2011

I did another Folio Society book!

This one is a collection of Christina Rossetti poems. Some of you may be familiar with her most famous poem, Goblin Market. It was on my first-year University reading list anyway.

Christina Rossetti’s poetry is romantic, devotional, and often very bleak. She derived a lot of her inspiration from Nature: the seasons, harvest, and death. If you’d like to read the corresponding poems to these illustrations, they are as follows:

1-3: Goblin Market
4: The World
5: Hollow-Sounding And Mysterious
6: By the Sea
7: In an Artist’s Studio
8: Passing and Glassing

There are more illustrations in the book. You can order the book here. Here is how to join the Folio Society.


Jul 5th, 2011

Welcome to the Results Show!

People, I am OVERWHELMED by the response to this very humble contest. I received over 60 entries (pictures and donations) from across the globe and we raised $800 (!) for Unicef! (Remember to write that off, donors.)

And without further ado:

The winner of the Walrus tote/Indoor Voice prize pack is Juan Carlos Solon! Juan donated to Unicef and was chosen by a random draw. I met Juan at last year’s AI party. Nice guy. Congrats, Juan!

There were two Irish Myths books to give away. I decided to divvy them up to a pro and non-pro. I can honestly say I received some work that many a legitimate publication would be happy to print.

The winner in the “Pro” category is Andrew Schick for his picture “The Clam-Diggers”. Mr. Schick sez, “I had the idea while sitting on a beach near my house and watching a family dig up gooey ducks and clams.” Great story and I like the dichotomy of Observer and Participant in this picture.

The winner in the “Non-Pro” (which I defined as amateurs/students/someone who makes less than half of their living from illustration) is Maryanna Hoggatt, who drew her inspiration from the old yarn about watermelons sprouting in your stomach if you swallow watermelon seeds. Keep up with the coloured ink + charcoal, Maryanna. To me, this feels like the start of something sophisticated and fresh.

Choosing only one per category was so hard, with such varying personalities and approaches. Unfortunately due to volume, I can’t run all of the entries, but here are a few of my favourites (both pro and non-pro). If you like what you see, go visit the artists’ websites!

Philip Hall: “I like the myths that famous musicians aren’t dead, Elvis been abducted – or that Paul McCartney didn’t died years ago and that he doesn’t use a lookalike…ha yeah right. Lennon spends his summers jamming in greenhouses.”

Roman Muradov submitted this charming picture and explains: “It depicts an ancient Poldevian tradition of burning post-it drawings of curious creatures accumulated through dull summer jobs. Usually performed on August 28th (29th if you’re left-handed).”

Next, another bit of summer whimsy, perhaps a little closer to home? Seo Kim not only has a beautifully light touch and sense of character, but a very amusing URL (www.instantdoodles.com).

But, whoops, Ryan Haywood is here to set the record straight: “Losing weight for summer continues to be, year after year, a big fat myth.” Thanks, Ryan! (P.S. Your work is so gorgeous, dude.)

I would say that most entries dealt with the idea of mythological beasts and legends. Emmanuel Tavares gets down to brass tax: Summer is about goofing off and neglecting responsibilities.

Actually, you know what? Forget about it. Summer is about hot dudes and beefy centaurs. By Ana Benaroya.

Anthony Wislar submits this piece titled “Mating Season”. Very “New Yorker”!

M.S. Corley created his own Summer myth: “It is said that you should never stare directly into the sun or else you will give up your sight. This is of course only a half truth. You will lose your earthly sight yes, but you will gain a heavenly sight to see the true workings of the earth. If you are lucky enough to lose your sight upon the solstice you will truly see when summer comes upon the land, the King approaching from the east carrying the sun high in the sky. The rest of us blind to heavenly things can only know of him by watching the movements of birds in the sky or notice his passing when they feel a summers breeze.” Epic! And just the picture to go along with it:

Emily Hughes also made up a myth, The Sunburn Goddess: “It seems like she’s especially prevalent this summer, though her ‘blessings’ with pigment are different for everyone- sadly mine is a red curse.” Emily is a 2nd year illustration student but seems well on her way to finding her voice.

Chau Nguyen submitted this subtle piece with a rhetorical question: “Mine was inspired by summer nostalgia—maybe the myth of end-to-end recreation?” Spoken like a true freelancer. Chau, do you have a website? [Update: YES!]

And last but not least, here is a picture from the youngest entrant, 12-year-old Madison Wilker. 12-year-old or not, this picture is just cool. A sphynx has animated itself to run away a fire-breathing mermaid! PEOPLES’ HEADS ARE ON FIRE! Don’t lose your flare for drama, Madison!

That’s it, folks! Juan, Maryanne, Andrew, email me your addresses. Others who received an honourable mention above, please also email me your addresses, I’m going to send you a little somethin’ too.

Thank-you EVERYONE who entered, whether your image appeared here or not. Your emails brightened my days for the last few weeks. We shall do it again.