The Postcard Post welcomes illustrator Monika Baum— all the way from Switzerland!
Monika Baum is a German illustrator living and working in Switzerland. Her primary focus is on children’s book illustration in watercolor, but she enjoys exploring other forms of illustration subjects and media. Monika is the Illustrator Coordinator for the SCBWI Switzerland chapter. She was a finalist in the SCBWI Undiscovered Voices 2018 illustration contest. A few of Monika’s favorite things include squirrels, cakes and happy watercolor accidents.
How do you choose the image(s) for a postcard?
I’d like for the viewer’s eye to stay with the illustration for a little bit, and so I try to choose (or paint) an image that tells a small story and has a little humor or mystery to it. I would aim to have an art director or agent to discover more at their second glance. Depending on whether I want to promote myself for middle grade work or younger readers, I would do a black and white or a color piece.
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?
The only text I put on the front of the postcard is my name or my website URL so that the image can speak for itself. All other information such as social media, my business email address or other achievements worth mentioning on a promo postcard is put on the back.
Do you create illustrations specifically for your self-promotion pieces?
Yes. Working a part-time day job in corporate accounting, I try to be intentional about the time I have for illustration and the purpose of the pieces I create. This can backfire occasionally and I get art blocked, but this is generally the approach I am taking.*
*I completely relate to the day job constraints! A lot of illustrators do, I’m sure.
Some illustrators create a series of postcards and send them out over time. Do you create a series or stand-alone images?
I create stand-alone images. If I were to create a postcard series and the recipients have no use for the art and skill I display, then I am unlikely to wow them with the next two or three follow up postcards in the series. Serialized postcards are good for practicing storytelling or character consistency, but from a business perspective I find it risky sending out 3 or 4 annual postcards from Switzerland to 50-100 recipients worldwide and have them not well received.*
*Very pragmatic but I have a feeling your work would be well-received!
How often do you send out postcards?
My aim is to send out a maximum of three mailings a year, however, I have yet to fulfill that goal. I only managed to send out one postcard last year.*
*One is good already!
Who do you target with your mailings?
My focus groups for postcards are illustration agencies, art directors at various children’s publishing houses and also a few magazines.
How do you compile your mailing list? Any tips on keeping a list and sending out?
It will sound a bit cliché but as an accountant, I have a high opinion of Excel!* You can gather any kind of data, and if you keep the data consistent and clean, you can extrapolate a lot of information from it. That information then feeds back into decisions about future mailings.
For compiling, I started out by combing through SCBWI’s online version of THE BOOK (as this is always the most up-to-date version). I checked each entry for whether they are open to illustration submissions, went on their website, copied the mailing address to my Excel spreadsheet, looked up their submission guidelines, made notes of anything that is particular about submitting to them, and also assigning categories to them so I can later group them by: country, agencies, art directors, then I gathered their contact details last.
I also included a column each for the postal address (for Mail Merge and label printing in Microsoft Word) and the submission guideline URLs, should I need to update my tracker based on anything that has changed on that webpage.
Another way I gathered data was from twitter lists that were created by prolific kidlitartist tweeters as well as basic Google searches for kid’s magazines and more agencies, art directors and kidlit publishers. Initially it’s a lot of manual work but once that is done, I think having a tracker like that is a rather valuable tool.**
*Ahhh! Maybe you can help all of us non-accountants with Excel!!
**Wow! I’ll have to read that more than once to understand. You would not want to see my list!
Do you have any tips on the production process?
I am mainly a traditional watercolor artist, and scanning original watercolor illustrations can be a bit of a struggle. Usually, the colors don’t look quite like the original. They seem washed out, and when I try to adjust the hues, contrasts, values, curves and levels in Photoshop, I have never been quite satisfied with the end result. Some of that was due to the scanners I was using. Some of it was due to how the color was represented on my screen and certainly some of it was simply me not really knowing all the ins and outs of Photoshop. I finally stumbled over a social media post from a watercolor artist I admire on what their digital tools of the trade are. I then invested in an Epson Perfection V6000 Photo scanner, the scanning software Silverfast and a monitor color calibration tool called X-Rite ColorMunki Display. It goes without saying that I do not know all about these devices and programs either but they have improved the colors of my scanned watercolor pieces, and I am very happy with this setup.*
When it comes to putting the postcards together in Photoshop or InDesign, I try to follow post office guidelines. They are very specific on what areas are designated for post office use only and what areas are meant for the recipient’s address, placement of the stamp, and the actual postcard message. This can be tricky if you want to send out the mailer to several countries with differing format guidelines. Most online printers offer postcard templates for free download, so I used one of them and superimposed the areas (in grey) I could not use for text or illustrations according to the postal guidelines.
In the end, these three are important: bleed, trim area, safe zone.
Thankfully those are usually also included in the postcard templates. There’s nothing quite as awkward as a white line on one of the edges of your postcards because your image did not extend all the way over the bleed zone.**
*That’s quite a set up. Great info!
Do you use any online services? What are your favorite places to get postcards printed?
Being based in Switzerland, I find that there are not that many online printing services available that:
a) make high quality cards;
b) are cost-effective/affordable;
c) have a low minimum print run;
d) don’t have exorbitant shipping costs because of delivery to Switzerland;
e) include customs fees at the time of order;
f) don’t have a long shipping delay due to customs processing.
For business cards, I really like moo.com for the quality, color reproduction and user-friendly interface. They are on the pricey side, however, and there is a bit of waiting time involved until the shipment reaches my door. I have had similar experiences with http://www.vistaprint.ch. The last online service I used was http://www.onlineprinters.ch, and they delivered on all my requirements and expectations— in some cases even exceeded them— so that one is currently my favorite.
Thanks so much, Monika! I’m blown away with all your tips.
Check out all the links below to see more of Monika’s work.
Monika is also helping to organize and support the upcoming SCBWI 2019 Europolitan Conference in Zurich, Switzerland (May 04-05, 2019). Register before 28 Feb 2019 for early bird discounted pricing!
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.