A recent sketch

There is nothing better than a blank sheet of paper and a sharpened pencil for getting out emotions. (pardon the poor photo quality)

Karen Wolcott Illustration

pencil and paper sketch

Happy Creating!
Karen Wolcott Illustration

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How I Prepare Final Files For My Clients

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Fashion/Beauty Illustration

All graphic designers and art directors have their own preference as to how they want to receive files. Usually, I am forwarding my illustrations to a graphic designer or art director to add copy and place in a layout before he or she sends it to a printer. I always find out ahead of time how they want the files. Do they want an Adobe Illustrator layered file? Photoshop file? JPEG? If there is a bleed, what size do they want?

Before I email final files, I thoroughly go through each one with my mental checklist. My clients usually want CMYK Adobe Illustrator files. Here is how I prepare them.

  • I double check that I have an appropriate bleed setup. Unless otherwise specified, I make sure it is at least 1/4″ and crop marks are included.
  • I unlock all layers and objects > select all> then go to Edit> Edit Colors> Convert to CMYK
  • Then I look in my swatches panel for any stray PMS colors. I go to Swatches> Select All Unused> then click the trash can and get rid of them. Unnecessary PMS swatches in a CMYK file are very annoying to printers.
  • I look through all the layers and get rid of any that are no longer needed. Sometimes, when clients request revisions or try out different solutions to an illustration problem, I will keep previous ideas in layers in case I need to go back to them. I want to make sure they are gone before sending a final file. They can make the final file size larger than needed.
  • If I need to make the file size smaller and my client doesn’t need layered files, I go to Layers> Flatten Artwork to put all the layers into one.
  • I save all the “checked and prepared” files in a new folder named “Final Files” so that I don’t get them confused with previously saved versions.

Then they are compressed if sending via email or they are uploaded to a client’s FTP site or Drop Box or sent via We-Transfer.

And there you have it. That’s how I usually end a project and send it out the door so to speak.

Happy Creating!

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Top 6 Audibles for My Creative Zone

tiki music

When I’m working on a big illustration project, I can spend many hours at my drawing table and in front of my computer. It’s quite solitary and I enjoy the zen state it creates. When that happens, I usually like complete silence, especially if I’m sketching. When I’m scanning all my sketches or redrawing them in Adobe Illustrator, I love to listen to something. Here are my favorite audibles at the moment.

Warpaint – The Fool or Exquisite Corpse
I think my favorite song is Krimson.

Clarissa Pinkola Estes, PhD – audiobooks
I love all her books. Seeing in the Dark, Women Who Run With the Wolves, The Faithful Gardener and Creative Fire all have unique stories and provide great encouragement.

Back Cello Suites performed by Robert Cohen or Yo Yo Ma
Suite #1 in G, Praeludium is my favorite.

Phantom Planet
I don’t think they’re together anymore. Bummer.
This one gets me in to trouble because I inevitably want to get up and play my drums.

New Yorker Fiction Podcast
I’m a fan of Joyce Carol Oates so I really enjoyed Louise Erdrich reading The Mastiff.

Chris Oatley Artcast
A former Disney character designer, Chris Oatley creates fun, inspiring and educational podcasts.

Those are my current favorites. Maybe you’ll enjoy some of them too. What are you listening to lately?

Happy listening and happy creating!

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Pencils and Planes



Most of my work is done with pencil and paper. Once the sketch is client approved, I scan it and redraw it in Adobe Illustrator. I sketch at my drawing table, bed, sitting in the grass in my backyard, on my deck, at my dining room table, on my kids’ bedroom floors while they play, under trees, on picnic tables, in coffee shops, in the car during road trips…but I cannot sketch on an airplane. I don’t get it. I have tried but I just cannot put pencil to paper on an airplane. I can work on my laptop from the middle seat squashed between strangers but I cannot sketch. Aisle, middle, window seat – it doesn’t matter. The paper in my lap will stay blank.

In sleuthing the reason, I have only come up with 2 possibilities as to why I can’t draw on an airplane.
1) Maybe I need more elbow room. Maybe it’s the lack of space and freedom to move my arms.
2) Maybe I’m just completely self conscious. Sketchbooks always seem to draw attention. I wonder if there were no wandering eyes next to me if I would be able to sketch freely.

Any thoughts, folks? Are you able to draw at high altitude?

Happy creating!

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My Top 3 Toys for Kids

I love when I have an excuse to buy toys for my kids. I think I enjoy playing as much as they do. I suppose it helps keep me young, young at heart anyway. After spending many hours down on the floor wearing out the knees of my jeans playing with my kids putting many tiny plastic pieces together, I have come up with my Top 3 Toys.

3) GeoTrax

GeoTrax Christmas Town

GeoTrax Christmas Town

This is an absolute gem made by Fisher-Price. Toddlers love trains.  The pieces are rugged and easy to snap together and take apart. There is a train you can run with a very easy to control remote or you can sit and zoom the trains around yourself. My favorite buildings are the Grand Central Station because the track starts up high and loops around to the floor and the Big City Rainbow Bridge because it lights up as the train crosses over it. GeoTrax have even lasted well into childhood as 7 years later, my son and I still create Christmas Town every year using GeoTrax as a base and adding fairy lights, fake snow, candy canes, snowmen and dozens of other toys. It’s become a tradition in our house.

2) Lego Duplo Creative Cakes



I have put many tiny shoes back on Disney princesses and fought to get little rubber outfits back on Polly Pocket for my daughter. Nothing has been as simple to piece together and has held her attention like the Lego Duplo Creative Cakes.  I have had quite a few child made plastic birthday cakes brought to me while I’m working. You can make cupcakes, cakes, and pies and it even comes with candles. And of all the toys in my house, this is the toy that children always gravitate to on play dates. Boys and girls enjoy it equally and it has stimulated a lot of role play and created fight-free play time in my house.

1) Paper! Paper! Paper!



I can never have enough paper around. I save all my work sketches so that my kids can draw on the back of them. Cheap printer paper is great for kids. My dining room table has become an art and craft center. I leave out lots of paper, crayons, markers, and pencils for whenever children feel that creative urge or for a place to steer them when they’re looking around bored. Paper is always waiting for your creative input.

And there you have it, my Top 3 Toys for kids. I am off to the floor to deliver tiny plastic cupcakes to Darth Vader patiently waiting at the end of the train track.

Happy playing and happy creating!

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The #1 thing I learned in college

pastel girl on pink paper

pastel girl on pink paper

I have a degree in Visual Communications with a concentration in studio photography from Ohio University. Visual Communications encompassed quite a few disciplines including photography, design, editing and writing. I feel fortunate to have been able to take some diverse classes taught by gifted professors. It has been quite a long time since I was in school. I won’t share exactly how long it has been since I stood in line for the Burrito Buggy uptown. There is one professor who I will always remember, and in particular, one defining moment in his class. Have you ever read the book, The Right Words at the Right Time by Marlo Thomas? Well, Professor Gary Pettigrew, my painting professor said the right words at the right time. I only had one class with him but the effects of it are still with me today.

As I sat on the paint streaked wooden stool/easel the first day of class, I felt a little out of place. I had never really been much of a painter. I loved to draw. I still remember my favorite Crayola color, sky blue. In high school, I had started using pastels and loved to mimic Toulouse-Lautrec. Along with my mom, I attempted watercolor classes at a local art center but loved sprinkling salt more than the frustration of trying to control water and paint. So, even the smell of turpentine that day in a college studio was a little intimidating to me. The professor gave his background in painting and talked about the different paints we would be using in class and the different surface options. He was friendly but it was immediately obvious he had a lot of knowledge to share.

I am not sure what sparked the topic one day. He was talking about focus and discipline as we painted. He explained that he paints even when he doesn’t want to. He talked about how he wakes up early and puts paint to canvas whether he feels inspired or not. Just start creating and the inspiration will come. You can’t wait for inspiration to strike and then create. Those moments are rare.

In the words of Despicable Me’s Gru, “light bulb!”

There I sat in my dad’s old shirt covered in paint and turpentine with a giant light bulb hovering above my head. Or was it fireworks exploding from my head. I wonder if anyone else felt this in the class. I mean, really, no one ever said that to me before. Create BEFORE I’m inspired?! Start creating when I’m tired, lacking in focus, or just plain feeling lazy? I had always thought of the great painters as painting because they constantly felt the need to release their genius. It never occurred to me that they might not WANT to paint but did anyway. Could great works have come about because these painters forced themselves to pick up a brush even when they didn’t feel like it? How cool is that?

I have carried this ingenious notion into most aspects of my life, not just art. For example, I really didn’t want to write this blog today but I started and he’s right. Once I started, passion eventually took over. Exercise? Often I don’t WANT to exercise. Many of us don’t. But once I start, I eventually get in a rhythm and feel pretty damn empowered. Even something as mundane as doing the dishes, once I start, I get in a nice little zen groove and come up with creative ideas as I clean.

Thank you for saying the right words at the right time, Professor Pettigrew.

Happy creating!

View My Work!

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Top 3 Lies Artists Tell Themselves

I often wish I could turn off my brain. It is so easy to psych myself out before even picking up a pencil, charcoal, paintbrush, or wacom pen. Too much stuff starts sloshing up there between my ears. I realize that most of it is just lies brought about by fear. But like I always tell my kids, courage is doing something despite being afraid. So I present to you….

My top 3 lies that an artist needs to banish from his head and how to combat them.

  1. This has been done before.
    Maybe so but not by YOU. Everyone has a different perspective. There is room in the world for your unique perspective.
  2. Other artists are better than me.
    Also might be true but who cares? How do artists get better? By doing. That’s how anyone gets better at their craft. Enjoy it. Be excited about learning. Be inspired by the work of others and know that they have their own internal struggles.
  3.  I should do something more meaningful.
    You can’t do anything in life without first being true to yourself. If you feel the need to create, then by all means, do it. It will feed your soul and the world needs happy souls. You will shine when you’re true to yourself and in return that will affect those around you. And what is more meaningful than keeping those closest to you smiling?

And if doubt still plagues you, I leave you with a quote by Robert Hughes.

“The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is granted to the less talented as a consolation prize.”

Karen Wolcott self portrait

self portrait


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Squealing Like A Toddler

I squealed like an excited toddler when I watched Cirque Du Soleil in Las Vegas recently. Zarkana was a phenomenal show. There was the usual dare devil trapeze artists and hire wire stunts that make your heart leap out of your chest. The visuals were stunning including a giant CGI of a snake. For me though, the major highlight of the show was the inclusion of a sand artist. Wow! I loved that drawing was featured as entertainment. I have always found it mesmerizing to watch someone draw live and I was thrilled to see that the audience around me did too. She quickly sketched out a scene using her fingers and just as you’re realizing what she created, she wipes it out with a swipe of her hand to start another. The sand was spread on a light table in front of her and projected onto a large screen. The lack of permanence might be what is so intriguing. Watching someone create something beautiful and have the confidence to wash it away in a single stroke is a rarity in art. As visual artists, most of us look to create a permanent fixture. Yes, we tell ourselves that the journey and creation is the important part but we often forget this. What is the reason we create in the first place? It’s enjoyable. For myself, drawing is just plain fun. It can be a complete zen moment. I would like to thank the Cirque sand artist for reminding me to enjoy the journey and act of creation and be in the moment.

Sand Artist at Cirque Du Soleil Zarkana show

Sand Artist at Cirque Du Soleil Zarkana show

If you’d like to see for yourself, check out this wonderful sand artist here: http://sand-artist.com/

Or go see Zarkana: http://www.cirquedusoleil.com/en/shows/zarkana/default.aspx

And if you’d like to see my work: http://www.karenwolcott.com

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Everyone can draw!

Everyone can draw. I truly believe that. Everyone can draw. That was the main point I tried to convey when I taught an art lesson at my son’s school last week. If you can draw a straight line, a wavy line, a circle, an oval, a square, a triangle, and a rectangle, then you can draw. The kids were really engaged and I’m looking forward to going back. We’re doing a 2 part project. First, they are each creating there own character and then they are going to paint backgrounds for their character.

I asked the teachers to have the kids write down their favorite animated movies and video games before I came in. I based my lesson using samples of their favorite characters. I created samples of characters broken down into shapes. Gru is my favorite.

Here are a few we discussed.

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Children Illustration

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Children Illustration

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Children Illustration

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Children Illustration

Karen Wolcott Illustration - Children Illustration

It was so fun talking with them about each character and how they would make their own. If you want to draw your own character and you’re staring a blank page, the best thing to do is immediately put down a shape. Any shape will do. Then you can build from there. The kids seemed to have fun. They had endless ideas. I loved looking at their drawings.

Next lesson we’ll talk about background and foreground. I’m gathering samples of the techniques animators use to make characters pop off the background.

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The Amazing Sword Swallower

Sometimes it’s fun to look at past work. Recently, I came across a series of illustrations I did for Emspace Group in Omaha some years ago. They are an innovative group of creative thinkers and wanted to showcase their skills in a calendar. Having previously worked as a designer myself, I understand how to work with illustration to incorporate space for copy. I created all the headline type for each in Adobe Illustrator, researching particular typefaces unique to the nostalgic style I wanted to achieve. It was fun working in a sketchy, painterly style and incorporating the “E” symbol for Emspace in each illustration.


Karen Wolcott Illustration KW_EmCal_Clowns KW_EmCal_StrongMan  KW_EmCal_TattooLady

See more of my work at www.karenwolcott.com

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