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Kids at Play slideI was at CES 2012 in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago and I had a chance to sit in on some very interesting seminars especially in the kids@play track that was offered.

As I was listening to the speakers I started think about the illustrators I’ve heard about or from who are not getting enough work or any work at all. The reason for this was all the artwork that was flashing before my eyes. Childrens games, apps, educational programs all utilizing artwork. As I heard the speakers talk about the exploding market for these areas I realized this is where illustrators should be concentrating their efforts, not in the areas that are dying on the vine. Let me give you some examples of what I’m talking about.

The keynote speaker, Asi Burak, talked about “the gamification of everything”, the new buzzword being bandied about the kidworld these days. He showed a short video demonstrating his company’s (Games for Change) new product  a realistic warfare game  that he was using to teach Israelis and Palestinian children what war is really like for each side. The graphics and character design was top-notch and probably employed dozens of artists to create it.  Founded in 2004, Games for Change facilitates the creation and distribution of social impact games that serve as critical tools in humanitarian and educational efforts. Lots of opportunity there.

competitors showing off tabletsA follow up panel discuss the topic of “Kids Go Mobile”. The idea here was the future is in tablets and smartphones that kids use. Games and apps are being designed for that arena by companies like Leapfrog, Fuhu and Sony amongst many others.

They are all using artwork and plenty of it. The main aim of a lot of the kids@play companies is to educate kids who are the next generation of digital users and do it in a way that is fun and engages young minds to think.

There are plenty of established and newly minted companies that are creating programming and games for children all an artist has to do is a little research and ferret them out. You don’t necessarily have to be a digital artist or work in the digital area to qualify although it would help an illustrator’s chance enormously to be facile in the digital world.

The other major area that is also growing is ebooks. Several publishers were on the panel moderated by Warren Buckleitner (Children’s Technology Review) but the one that impressed me the most was Kate Wilson the managing director of Nosy Crow.


Nosy Crow's "Cinderella"

She showed their e-book of Cinderella which had great art and interactive elements that made it stand out. There were alternative ways of telling the story and intereaction with the readers and comments from the characters. It made the experience of reading the book every engaging and probably a lot more fun and a better learning experience for a young reader.

Another stand out was Mark Schlichting, the president of NoodleWorks Interactive. NW was a well designed with fun characters who responded to the words display on the readers screen. For instance if the word “dance” was on screen the little “bug-like” characters danced. Their movement were usually very funny and I’m sure delightful for a younger reader as well as educational. As I sat in this session and others I realized the markets for illustrators has shifted, not disappeared. The traditional avenues are drying up but newer ones are replacing them and in many ways expanding the market for artists.

In a session entitled “How Young is too Young” David Kleeman (President of American Center for Children and Media), Ms. Manila Austen (VP Research, Commuispace) and Ms. Carly Shuler (Joan Ganz Cooney Center) talked about studies now being done about the effects of “screentime” kids spend on TV, tablets or computers. The results show 84-87% of researchers are optimistic about the effects on young readers. Also 50% of the apps on iTunes are for kids. What this says to me is opportunity.

If you expect to approach the children’s book market place as you did even three years ago you will be left holding an empty bag unless you are already an established working illustrator in a niched market. However, not many of us working artists are Marla Frazee, Maurice Sendak, Tommy De Paola or Eric Carle. More than ever you need to promote yourself and become a one-man or one-woman media machine. That means blogging regularly, become an expert in an area that gives information to the market you want to be in. Produce videos that promote your work. Learn how to animate your work or get someone to help you with it. Tweet…a lot, Use Facebook as a business outlet not a personal diary telling people what you ate for lunch. Post on Flickr, Tumblr, etc. Be proactive. (If you need help on this contact me or go to http://www.xanatemedia.com and give us a call, we are experts in this area)

Last thought about those naysayers that carp on Linkedin and open other groups about how art has gone digital and there’s no respect for the tradition of drawing…It’s not true readers it’s just that innovation and changes are happening at a much faster pace than before and it is happening in the digital space, not with pencils, brushes and paint. So, hop on board the “cyber-art train” and become part of the revolution, your abilities will give you an advantage as you learn how to use new tools. Embrace the changes and thrive.