The Postcard Post: Merrill Rainey

Sub It Club welcomes Merrill Rainey to The Postcard Post. Get ready to be wowed by his tips and postcards.

Merrill Rainey is an award winning illustrator, designer, and paper engineer. His work can be found in numerous children’s magazines nationwide. He is most known for his brand character work for both “Jack and Jill” and “Humpty Dumpty” magazines, as well as his cut paper illustrations, and paper toy creations. He is the illustrator coordinator for the Northern Ohio chapter of the SCBWI and has also served on faculty at the Highlights Foundation.  Merrill’s work focuses on creating fun imaginative experiences that bring out the inner child in those both young and old. His client list includes industry names like Capstone Publishing, Highlights, Ladybug magazine, Learning A-Z, McGraw Hill Education, Scholastic, and Razorbill. 


How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?

I choose/create the artwork for my postcards based on the type of work I would like to be hired for. I will also, base the theme or narrative of the art on what season of the year, or holiday, it is.

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 am a big fan of making sure to have my name and contact information on the front of my postcards. Just think about this for a minute… when an art director hangs your postcard on their board, and they glance up to see who they want to hire for their next big project, they don’t need to flip your card over to locate your contact information; your name is looking right at them! 🙂 So on the front of my postcards, I like to have one strong narrative visual including my name and contact information, whether it is my Instagram handle, website URL, or both. Keep in mind that this text/information should be designed well to work with the illustration. You want the front of the card to be read fast as well as look professional.
There are three ways I like to approach the back of my postcards:

1) I will include a companion piece to the front. Either a full-color or black and white illustration. This companion piece will continue the narrative that I have started on the front. I have also sent cards that have a written character bio/illustration on the back about the main character you see on the front. 

2) I will sometimes have a paper toy on the back that the receiver can cut-out and build. This paper toy character is based on the main character found in the visual on the front of the postcard. I call this the tchotchke approach. Where you want to do something a little bit different and leave behind something memorable to draw attention to your work and entice your recipients to take that extra step to find out more about what you do.

3) I will leave the back blank with just my contact information. I do this intentionally so that I can add a quick doodle or hand written message for a more personal mailer.*
*Wow! Lots of great ideas here!

Another tchotchke on the back!

Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?

Yes, I like to take the opportunity with my self-promotions to create new art. Most of the the time it’s based off of a story that been brewing in my head, and I need to get the idea on paper. Creating new art also allows me to try new mediums out that I might not normally use on an everyday basis.*
*Great way to look at the task of creating a postcard: an opportunity to try something new.

Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?

I’ve done both in the past. Honestly, how I approach this is based on whether or not I have enough time to plan out a years worth of visuals, or if I’m creating my postcard art on the fly.


How often do you send out postcards?
I send them out at least 4 times a year.

Who do you target with your mailings?
My list is pretty broad. It ranges from designers, art directors, and editors in the publishing community all the way through to the toy market and kids marketing industry.

How do you compile your mailing list?

Right now I subscribe to a service called Agency Access which helps me build my mailing list consisting of editors, designers, art buyers, and art directors. Before I started using Agency Access, I used to keep a mailing list of about 100 people who I had either met at conferences or workshops. I also used to spend a lot of time looking at the credit pages of magazines, picture books, and chapter books that I like to see who the editors, art directors, and publishers were. Once I had that information, I would look them up on LinkedIn to confirm that they still worked at the publishing house listed in the book. Once confirmed, I would add them to my list. I would also find contact information in reference books like the SCBWI The Book, or the Children’s Writers & Illustrators Market.

Alien on the front…

Any tips on keeping a list and sending out?
Let technology be your friend.* When sending out a bulk mailing, hand labeling postcards can get very tiresome. To help with hand cramping, I use a software called Numbers created by Apple. Numbers (or Excel) will allow you to use an automated process called mail merge. Mail Merge allows you to take all of your recipients contact information in your spread sheet and automatically create mailing labels for printing. This will save you tons of time, especially when you need to be creating art.
If I need to send a more personal card, I will write the address by hand, but I also add a small drawing.
*Ha! Good advice.

…alien to build on the back!

Do you have any tips on the production process?
Where do I start here… if I had the time, I could write a few pages worth of information on this topic. There are so many common mistakes that artists make when trying to digitize their work for print or web. Just to give you a little background here… I worked as a print designer for about 10 years, and when I left to pursue illustration full-time, I had a good understanding on how to create my marketing materials properly.
Here are my top 5 tips:

1) Make sure you learn to use software that was created for design layout. Using software like Adobe Illustrator, or InDesign will allow you to properly place text onto your postcard. These types of programs treat text and fonts differently then Photoshop does, and will give you more flexibility to be able to edit and format your text properly. Remember Photoshop is not a design software, it was originally made for editing photos. I personally use Adobe Illustrator to design my cards and do most of my design work. Illustrator gives me the flexibility to be able to create artwork as well as design my layouts all in one program.
2) Make sure you understand how to properly size your artwork, whether it be for print or web, and that you truly understand what DPI/PPI (Dots per inch, Points per inch) means.
3) You should also know the difference between vector art and rasterized art. Knowing the difference between the two types of art will also play into sizing your artwork appropriately for your card layout.
4) When scanning in artwork of any kind, always scan your artwork in at 400DPI (as long as your computer system can handle it). Scanning your artwork at this higher resolution will allow you to be able to make edits to your artwork without loosing clarity of your image. Do keep in mind though that you can only pinch and pull your artwork so much before it will start to blur your image even at 400 DPI.
5) Take a Photoshop color correction course. If you’re scanning in your artwork, you need to be able to adjust your colors so that they will resemble your original piece.*
*Again, wow! Your top tips are the tops!


Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?

I’ve always have had good luck with I know a lot of folks have had issue with their services, but over the course of time, I’ve been able to come up with a process to make sure my postcards get printed well. I have heard a lot of good things about and eventually I would like to use sticker mule to create something fun and interactive.

A big thank you to Merrill for sharing all these amazingly helpful tips and fun postcards!

Check out more of Merrill’s work here:
Twitter: @littlerainey
Instagram: @littlerainey

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). And you can see recent posts by searching for The Postcard Post on this blog. See you next month.

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