The Tragic Optimist

working with an illustrator

The banner for my other blog, little four eyes, had been bothering me for a while.  It had been a lovely picture of Zoe looking out over Lake Superior.  I liked that it showed a toddler looking through her glasses, but it’s a sober picture really, and it didn’t fit with the mood that I had been trying to create over at that blog – one that’s upbeat and fun, even if you are dealing with small, rambunctuous children with expensive equipment hanging precariously on their little noses.  Plus, I didn’t feel like Zoe was really the face of the blog anymore – it’s a blog about any kid with glasses, not my kid with glasses (no matter how cute or how much I love talking about her.

old little four eyes banner

old little four eyes banner

So I had been mulling over the idea of finding someone to do some illustrations in the style of a children’s book to use for that blog.  Problem was, I had no idea where illustrators hung out.  And what was I going to do when I found one? I talked to Chris about it and he suggested seeing if there were any students at the college where I work that would be interested in illustrating for my blog.  That was kind of a brilliant suggestion.  Students are looking for ways to add to their portfolio, and wallets, and it would be easy for us to meet since I’m already there 4 days a week.  Plus, we have a free classified ads system that goes out every day at noon.

So I submitted an ad, looking for an illustrator with a whimsical style for my blog.  I got two responses.  All of a sudden this was real.  I was going to have to meet with these people.  I was going to have to figure out what exactly I was looking for.  Yikes.  What if I didn’t like either or them?  What if I liked them both?  Yikes!  Turns out I liked them both, but finally chose Scott Donaldson for a couple of reasons.  He also has a WordPress blog, and has done illustrations for other blogs, plus his samples included wonderfully colored children’s illustrations, and to top it off, he’s worn glasses since he was 5.  So off we went.

I have a hard time asking for what I want.  It’s not that I don’t have opinions or ideas, I’m just afraid of appearing pushy or closed-minded.  Turns out that that isn’t a good thing when you’re looking for illustrations for something as personal as a blog header (well, for blogs that have personal meaning).  I pretty much told Scott to make the banner, one with kids and glasses, and that was it.   So Scott’s first draft, while matching exactly what I’d asked for, was nothing like what I had been picturing (you can see his first draft on his blog).  I tried to explain the style I wanted, but I realized I don’t even have the vocabulary to really describe adequately what I was thinking of.  And, I’ll admit, I worried about hurt feelings.  Would Scott think I didn’t like his work if I asked for a second draft that was considerably different?  But in the end, I knew I needed to be able to communicate what I wanted, and I knew I needed to love the results.  I ended up hitting the interwebs and found a wonderful site full of portfolios of children’s illustrators, at the aptly names  Browsing the site showed my just how many different styles are represented in children’s illustrations, so saying I wanted a header with illustrations in the style of children’s books was pretty unhelpful.  I settled on a few that really spoke to me, and sent the links to Scott hoping they’d be helpful and not overly limiting.

I’m thrilled with the results.  The blog now looks playful and happy, rather than somber.  It no longer looks like “my” blog, which is exactly what I was going for.  I just had to get used to the idea of actually making my opinions and thoughts known rather than hoping to find someone to read my mind.  I’ll be working more with Scott to get other illustrations up on the blog, and I’m looking forward to it.


new little four eyes banner

The other person I met with brought a wonderful coloring page that she had done for a friend, which got me thinking.  Coloring pages for that blog would be awesome!  I’ve asked her to do a series of circus scenes with the animals and performers wearing glasses.  It’s like an addiction now.  Once you find people with artistic ability to work on your blog, you just can’t stop.

Lessons learned:

  • think about what you want for illustrations, both in terms of content and style
  • make note of illustrations (on blogs and otherwise) that really speak to you.  They can help you with the first point, and can serve as good examples for your illustrator.
  • explain what you’re looking for, provide examples, but don’t expect an illustrator to copy another artist.
  • have your illustrator take a look at your blog so they know the colors you are using as well as your tone and subject matter.
  • don’t be afraid to ask for revisions or changes.
  • art students rock!


  1. I love it! It is a perfect match.

  2. oh wow! it is soo awesome! I am glad that it worked out for you and yay art students!

  3. Eve

    I LOOOOOOVE your new banner…thanks for the advice!

  4. Eve

    I tagged you for an award on my blog…come see!

  5. Very nice I’ll have to check out your other blog as well. Nice new banner and ideas. If you check out the blogging world there are a few ladies that do things just like that for Free. Banner design and all. My son is going to school for a things like this.

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