The Postcard Post is having some summer fun with illustrator Steve Asbell!
Steve Asbell is a recent convert to kidlit. He started his garden blog “The Rainforest Garden” in 2009 and has been writing, blogging and illustrating for garden clients for several years. He was twice featured as a ‘Blogger to Follow’ by Southern Living Magazine and continues to blog for Zillow, Tuesday Morning and Burpee.
In addition, Steve has immersed himself into his dreams of writing and illustrating children’s books. He regularly attends critique group meetings, conferences and workshops, and in 2016 received a Rising Kite award (honorable mention, illustration) at the SCBWI Florida winter conference.
How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?
My latest postcard’s images were chosen to convey the feeling of a salty, sun-drenched seashore. I wanted this card to say ‘SUMMER!’ in all caps, just like that. The only problem is that the illustrations make me hungry, so hopefully the reader won’t get distracted, order takeout and use my card as a coaster.
Do you prefer text on the front of the postcard with the image or do you prefer all text on the back of the postcard?
I’m leaning towards text on the back. I figure if the art director likes it enough, they’ll remember my name. At least that’s what I’m hoping. I’ve seen lots of good examples of text on the front though, especially on this blog.
Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?
Yes! I did a simple illustration of a sushi-loving seagull for a few reasons: It was a strong action shot that made me giggle, I happen to be finishing up a similar story, and I could combine it with the fish-shaped restaurant for a summer theme.
The fish-shaped restaurant was a concept piece from a story that I was working on last year. if you look closely, you’ll find that the whole building is made of flotsam and jetsam, such as flip flops, broken surfboards and glowsticks in bottles. I’m hoping that someone will pull up my portfolio website for a better look.
Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?
Only standalone images. I have all the time in the world to feature other illustrations, and they’re fun to plan out. By doing one postcard design at a time, I feel like I at least know which piece an art director, editor, agent, etc. responded to.
How often do you send out postcards?
This is only the first time that I’ve actually sent out postcards, since the previous two were either handed out or displayed by my portfolio. Going forward, I plan on doing it four times a year. I’ve never had a promo piece not pay off, and it will be fun to plan future postcard illustrations in the back of my head. Besides, they make me feel so legit and professional… it’s like getting your artwork fitted for a suit! (I am totally picturing my artwork in a suit now.)
Who do you target with your mailings?
I have made three postcards so far, each with a different purpose:
Postcard #1 was made a couple of years ago. It featured my only children’s book illustration on one side and two botanical illustrations (my specialty so far) on the other side. Since I hadn’t yet built up a kidlit portfolio, I wisely abstained from sending it to the publishing world and instead handed it out to a handful of horticultural companies at a gardening event. Nonetheless, I lucked out and they still got me an awesome client.
Postcard #2 was made just so I had something to hand out at the SCBWI Miami conference, and featured the same illustration as before because I liked it and – to be honest – needed to build a stronger portfolio. So only those attending the conference ever saw the thing. My portfolio was all over the place, but the postcard still got me an awesome client in the end.
Postcard #3 is the first one that I’ve decided to send out. I’m specifically targeting art directors at first, but have first researched each publisher and its guidelines. I want to eventually pitch to agents, but am waiting until I have a good, polished dummy book to accompany one of my manuscripts, and maybe some more experience illustrating picture books. If the pattern holds, hopefully this run of postcards will also land me a client. Fingers crossed!*
How do you compile your mailing list? Any tips on keeping a list and sending out?
So far I’ve only used SCBWI’s THE BOOK for my contacts, and have been sure to check on each publisher’s website to make sure that they are appropriate for my illustrations. I might broaden my horizons to other recipients later on, but for now I’m keeping it simple. did start an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of which publishers, imprints, editors and art directors I’ve submitted to for each mailing.
Do you have any tips on the production process?
I chose to hand-letter my name, return address, etc. because I have been writing incorrectly since childhood and don’t think that anyone can begin to replicate my crazy-looking handwriting. I like my sloppy handwriting, thank you very much, and I might as well hope that some art director feels the same way.
But the sloppy handwriting had to be legible, of course, so I wrote out each line separately in pencil before going over that with a brush-tipped Faber Castell Pitt pen. To fine-tune the details and get crisp edges, I made them really big. I scanned them in at high contrast, isolated each line in Photoshop and made a new layer for each. I then moved them to their correct locations and proudly showed it to my wife, who pointed out a better arrangement.
I made her requested changes, saved the front and back images as .tif files, uploaded them to Vistaprint and didn’t bother to check my work again. You do see where this is going, right?
I proudly showed the postcard design off to my friends on the #kidlitart Twitter chat, awaited their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhhs’ (I’m not full of myself, just a little insecure!) and felt my heart sink into my stomach. A mistake was noticed. I somehow left out the email address and website after moving them around.
I was freaking out. Luckily I talked to the good folks on the #kidlitart chat and they convinced me to either write the website and email address in manually or use a sticker. Since I hand-lettered the return address and would be writing the recipients’ addresses by hand anyways, I tried filling in the missing info with a sharpie.
It worked! The blank spots even give me a little bit of flexibility, since I can add other details as needed. The moral of the story is: When life gives you lemons, show them to your friends. Then write on the lemons with a sharpie.*
*Ha! Glad it worked out. I’m sure all illustrators have a few stories like this. 🙂
Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?
I use Vistaprint for postcards and business cards, and always go with the heavy stock and UV coating. It’s not like the fancypants details will get my card noticed or anything, but I do want to give them a fighting chance on the way to New York. Or San Diego. Or… you get the idea. The art is what matters, but it has to get there in one piece.
Thanks so much, Steve!
Check out more of Steve’s work here:
Facebook: The Rainforest Gardener
If you’re joining us for the first time at The Postcard Post, you can catch up with a general article on postcard mailings for illustrators and previous featured illustrators in the archive (there’s a tab above too).
See you next month.