Where to find high quality & free stock art

During school, the best activities were art activities for me as I’m a very visual person.  Like all nerds, I loved school projects and having the excuse to design things.  Fast forward, now I find myself needing stock art to put on the blog or just designing things for fun.  Some of the sites even lets you use the art for commercial use (business cards, book covers, cds, etc) but there are limitations, so read the license carefully if you are heading down that road.

The best sites I’ve found for amazing quality clipart are listed below.  They are sponsored by companies who hope that you will eventually buy some stock art from them and I’ve done that before.  It’s astounding what is available for use, they are truly beautiful graphics which would take me hours to do myself!

How to download & use files:

1) When you click on any site, either use the categories to find what you want or do a search.

2) Usually they want you to open a free account, which is the price of admission.

3) Pick what file format you want (jpeg or eps) and save to your folder on your computer.

4) Open in your graphics program or put into any office software program for use (eg. microsoft office)


 Pixelbay –  high quality photos and stock art


Stock exchange – another site for high quality photos and stock art

free v

Free Vector art and graphics archive – gorgeous vector art for every project possible and divided into categories!  I didn’t realize that you can download pre-made infographics which look really slick.

v open stock

Vector Open Stock – only click in the middle area if you want free vectors.  It gets confusing when top and bottom bars appear and they link to other sites.

Commissioning Art

The whole idea of commissioning art for me began when I started spying on other people’s Kickstarter pages.  The ones that did fairly well with supporters all had incredible artwork.  The artwork was what grabbed you on the kickstarter page, and then the text.  People are very visual and if the book cover/art sucks, you start wondering about the quality of the book.

I had started speaking to a number of Canadian artists I knew over the last 2 years.  But scheduling was a problem as my contacts had a full time jobs and art was something they did on the side.  So I started to search globally – writing to people I found with portfolios on deviantart.com and researching other websites for online freelance services such as elance.com, fiverr.com, freelancer.comodesk.com and 99designs.com.

In the end of my long search and “testing” many people on their styles/workflow, I found some fantastic artists which I hope to maintain relationships with on a long term basis as I continue to write more books.  There are links to their great portfolios at the end of this post.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be putting up the artwork I’ve commissioned for The International House of Vampires series on this website along with a Q & A with each artist so you can learn more about them as they are all fabulous people!

Mommy and Daddy!
I commissioned a pic of Mommy and Daddy! ($10 USD) Off Fiverr.com where things start at $5. You can even get a fake girl/boy friend to post on your social media pages for a week there!

The Steps to Commissioning Artwork:

1)       Think about what you want to commission – it could be for a gift, book, game, etc.  It’s important that you spend time developing a vision as this is something you are hiring to bring to life.  If you are not clear what you want, believe me, the artist will have a hard time delivering the goods.

2)      Write down specs – you know what you want, but now you have to communicate it to someone.  I try to provide as many details as possible.  If the artist doesn’t read this – they aren’t very good with clients then!

*  Intro sentence about what the art is about, what it’s for
*  Do you want to own the copyright for future reproduction or is this a one-off that will never be reproduced?  Usually the artist retains all copyrights unless you ask for it to be transferred, usually for a price ($ depends on artist).
*  The style you want.  Western realistic?  Manga?  Cartoon?
*  Find some references of stuff you like.  The idea is to let the artist know what kind of style, color palette and “feeling” you want to invoke in the art.
*  Describe each person if any.  How old are they?  Height?  Facial features, clothing, etc as if they are real people to the artist.
*  Find specific references for things such as poses, fashion style, faces, etc.
*  What’s in the background?  Do you want nothing or a specific environment?
* Hope that they understand and don’t freak out if the first piece isn’t what you imagined – sometimes it take a few tries before the artist can draw what you had in mind!

3)      Search for an artist – Like I mentioned earlier, there are many websites for you to do your search.  Look through their portfolios and see if they have done similar work to what you want for another client.

It is not fun looking for artists as you will be overwhelmed by the different styles and prices available for people.  A person may be super cheap at $5/piece, but can they deliver your vision?  Another person’s art looks fantastic, but they want $1200/piece.  Can you afford this?

For your book you may have a picture or style in mind already, but you have to search hard for the right people to make your dreams come true.  Don’t settle for something your gut tells you is not right…this is not very scientific advice, I’m afraid, but gut feel is super important!

4)      Make contact – Depending on which site, you will either have to fill in a form for a third party or you can email the artist directly with specs.  The artist will send you a quote based on that.  If you go through a third party (website service) usually there is some sort of guarantee so you can get your money back if something goes wrong.  Sometimes to get better prices you may be asked to pay direct.  There is always a bit of risk with dealing with a new person, but usually if the artist has a decent website and looks legit, I would take this risk to save some money.

Keep in mind of a budget of what you can afford.  Commissioned art can range from $0 (bartering for future favors) to $2000 USD in my experience, for one piece of art.  Sometimes the price varies depending on how many people in each piece or if you want a nice background.  Read the fine print of what the artist is willing to do!

5)      Evaluate options – Each artist will quote you different prices.  To help with making the decision, I go through their portfolios once again to determine if it’s worth both of our time to go through with making a deal.  Sometimes you can barter, but it depends on the artist.  I’ve learned that you do get what you pay for; don’t cheap out so much that you can’t hire a decent artist!  Otherwise, what’s the point?!

6)      Make a deal with one, send payment and send out sorries to the rest – It’s only decent to let other people know that you hired someone.

7)      Finalizing the Artwork – Usually the artist will send you some drafts to look at to ask for your opinion.  There should be some back and forth but this depends on the price as well.  For artists that don’t earn much or if you drive them crazy, they will sometimes ask for more money per change.  But usually you can ask for at least one to two changes before finalizing.

8)      Copyright transfer – From the beginning I ask for this, so at the end I write up a contract for them to sign to transfer copyright to me.  For personal artwork, it’s usually not done.  I only started doing this based on an editor friend’s advice as she was worried about long term consequences for me.  Most artists will charge you a fee for this (sometimes close to the price of the commissioned piece), it’s usually not free.  However, I do think it’s fair for them to have the piece in their portfolio even if I have the copyright as they should keep a copy of the hard work they have done!

9)      Show off the art!  It took a lot of time and effort to bring a vision to life, so brighten someone else’s day with something fantastic!

Virtual Artist Team for The International House of Vampires series

1) Eumir Carlo P. Fernandez, illustrator (Q & A with him here)




2) Eri-chan (Elisse Mariano), manga artist




3) Robert Altbauer, cartographer (Q & A with him here)



4) foosoo (An Trinh), Illustrator


Conversing with a Digital Illustrator Part 1

I cannot tell you how happy I am to have found Eumir.  Initially I saw only the chibi/cartoon work he was posting on an ad on one of the sites and they looked hysterical.  However, I wasn’t looking for chibi/cartoons at the time.  But there was something different in his style compared to all the different drawings I saw, so I decided to look at his fantastic website and blog: www.theartofeumircarlofernandez.daportfolio.comwww.theartofeumircarlofernandez.blogspot.com.  The art on the website blew me away!  I had written to many artists at that point and a few pieces were already on the go, but I decided to ask him to make me a drawing anyways to see how things would work out.

Although there is a twelve hour time difference because I live in Canada and he lives in the Philippines, we still manage to somehow catch each other on facebook and email.  Alarmingly, he seems to like the concept of bearded men as I complain about the red tuff on my Viking husband, but oh well…if you can’t beat ‘em you join ‘em I guess!

east west

Hi Eumir, thank you first of all for having me as a client as a first place.  I feel honored and privileged to be able to use your services.   So can you tell me where you went to do your training and what did you learn from there?

I studied Bachelor of Fine Arts major in Painting in the University of San Carlos in Cebu, Philippines. But most of the things I learned there are basics. The real training was when I was working in Author Solutions Publishing where I did a lot of self study. The majority of the illustrations requested of the publishing company are for children’s books, but drawing kids and cute cartoon animals didn’t really help me apply the new skills I had acquired. I learned more in a span of one year from all the videos on FZD design cinema and CGMA 100 folds compared to the four years of college. And what I believe is the real learning begins when you’re already out of school.

What kind of jobs did you do after school ended and why did you decide to be a freelancer?

First I didn’t know what to do after school. Then my girlfriend at that time was offered a job for furniture design rendering but couldn’t make it and asked me to show up in her place instead. Though I only worked there for a month it made me realize that I can actually make money through drawing. Then the VFX company called me up where a colleague and MTG friend of mine works and I only stayed there for 2 weeks when the Publishing company contacted me. I accepted the job (at the Publishing company) and spent my two years there 2010-2012. So within those two years while doing self study, I felt like the new skills that I have learned would just be wasted if I stayed drawing children’s books. The company I worked for charged clients $145-$300 per illustration (cartoon style $145, realistic paint style $300).  As artists, we did 5-7 per day and our salary was $300/month.  So doing 2 drawings in one day already paid for my 1 month salary!  So I decided to freelance to make good use of my new skills and earn the right amount money for it.

Is it difficult to be a freelancer?  I mean, lots of people dream about being their own boss!  Although most of the time I saw my husband filling creating lots of paperwork (taxes, invoices, etc) when he was freelancing…

Well yes and no. Because first of all you have to be good or cheap. And to get good at what you do you have to spend endless hours on the side. I remember having 2-3 hours of sleep just to squeeze out time to practice. And when you do start getting clients they are technically your boss and you follow what they are asking for. And you are a service provider so you have to comply or you will end up with no clients coming back. You do get to be the boss of your time but you have to manage it well or you won’t get anything done. I don’t know about paperwork but I do manage my files well so there will be no confusion.

What kind of things have you been commissioned to draw?

I have been asked to do Book cover Illustrations, Card Game Illustrations, Concept Art, a whole lot of Chibis, Storyboard for a TV series, Press Kit Illustration and Character Design for a music video

Interview continues on in Part 2

Conversing with a Cartographer Part 2

This is a continuation of a conversation with Robert Altbauer, a cartographer who lives in Salzburg.  He was kind enough to take on a commission to draw two maps for me: a world map and an invisible fortress map.  The fortress map is a place where the main character visits at one point in the story.  The first part of our conversation is here.

Fortress in the Sky Final s logo

If someone wanted to become a cartographer, what tools would they need?  Do you use tablets or certain software?  What tips do you give in general?

While traditional materials like a sheet of paper and pencils (and some talent) are a good way to start, I think that a tablet is a necessary tool nowadays. Combined with graphic programs like Photoshop or Illustrator, or GIMP and Inkscape – very good, free alternatives to the both aforementioned programs – tablets provide a powerful possibility to make good maps. They combine the ability to draw with your hand with modern and versatile technology.

Generally, mapping follows – like many other things – the philosophy of learning by doing. The more maps you do the better you get. If I look at the maps I do now and the ones I have made two years ago then I can see the progress I’ve made.

What is your most favorite map (that you didn’t draw)? 

Well, that’s a difficult question. I can’t point to a certain map because there are so many excellent and different maps.

What is your most favorite map that you have drawn?  (You don’t have to say it’s mine, it’s ok!)

I made a rather huge world map called ‘World of Maargard’, which I think is one of my best.

What is the oddest or funniest map that you have had to draw?

I sometimes make personalized maps which can be quite funny. I use the affections and aversions of a person to draw a map – mountains of chocolate, sea of cocktails, plain of spider, pit of the mother-in-law etc. with appropriate illustrations.

How should people contact you if they want commissions?

The easiest way is to write me an email to contact@fantasy-map.net. It should contain the preferred style (description, link or image attached), the size and the average level of detail – how many labels, is a lot of decoration necessary etc. If there already is a sketch this would be helpful, too. The deadline and usage rights are also important information on which I give then a cost estimate.

I have never been to Salzburg or the Alps.  So lastly, tell me a little bit about your country and anything interesting I should do if I can ever afford to visit you?

Austria is in general a nice little country, but often too old-fashioned and too slow to catch up with modern developments.

Salzburg is a very beautiful place, but don’t make the mistake to reduce it to Mozart or Sound of Music. We have a very good cuisine and excellent beers and wines, so you should visit either a restaurant with Austrian food or a Heuriger or Buschenschank – Austrian taverns where you usually get wine and simple but very good dishes.

You have been a great part in bringing my book vision to life and I wish you the best of luck! 

Thank you, Jean. Good luck with your book!

Once again, remember to check out these 2 links to his awesome works of art: www.fantasy-map.netand www.sapiento.deviantart.com!

Conversing with a Cartographer Part 1

The book series which I’m about to launch (International House of Vampires) in 2014 is considered a dark urban fantasy genre.  Many fantasy books in general have maps in the front as it helps build up a world for the readers.  So I decided to seek out a cartographer to help me make two maps for my book: a world map and an invisible fortress map.

Here is the world map of places where various characters travel to in the book.  Then I realized, what the heck are 3 Canadian places doing on the map?  Oh right, Canada is such a big remote country, it’s easy for cults to hide in the north…

World Map smaller logo

With a stroke of luck, I connected with Robert Altbauer, a cartographer who lives in Salzburg.  I keep enviously envisioning him as a polite, handsome man who lives near the Alps somewhere eating bon bons and drawing maps in an ancient library somewhere.  You can see some of his fantastic work at www.fantasy-map.net – Where visions become maps and www.sapiento.deviantart.com – deviantART portfolio.

Hi Robert, thank you first of all for taking on my crazy map requests.   First, can I ask how long have you been doing this cartography craft and how did you start?

Hi Jean, thank you for giving me the opportunity to talk about my profession.

I have been making maps since the beginning of 2010. I had an idea for an alternate history setting and wanted to do a map for it. So I bought a graphic tablet and started mapping.

At what point did you become serious and form a website, etc to make cartography an entrepreneurial business for yourself?

This was a few months after my first map, in mid 2010. I applied for a cartographer job – a novelist needed a map for her setting (sounds familiar, I guess 😉 ). I got the job and soon afterwards I decided to turn this into my second profession. One of my first clients created websites and we did a quid pro quo – he got a map and I got my new website.

 Do you also have a day job as well?  Or what do you hope to do?  Or would your dream be to only do cartography?

I’ve studied law at the Universityof Salzburg, Austria. I quit my last job a few months ago and now I’m looking for a new job where I can use my study. While mapping is really great and I love it, I like the changes in working within another business that uses my other talents.

I found you on the Cartographers’ Guild forum – do you think having online guild website such as this one has raised the bar in cartography?  I mean, before the internet age, I’m not sure where one would go to find mapmakers.  Now, it’s a global competition for freelancers.  Do you think it’s a double edged sword?

More or less, yes. While you get a whole world of potential clients you get a world full of competitors, too. The Cartographers’ Guild is a very friendly and helpful community. Of course, everyone applies for the same jobs and sometimes I come off second-best, but on the other hand it is a great place to learn new things and exchange your experiences. The cartographers influence each other with new ideas, so this leads to many excellent maps that are made by the guild members.

Do you see any future evolution for cartography?  More 3D video game stuff?  I mean, where do you think changes are happening?

3D is certainly something that has the potential to change a lot – but at the moment only for certain areas, like gaming or TV. As long as there are no 3D capable e-readers I don’t think that a lot of maps will be true 3D.

The greatest challenge for human cartographers will probably be sophisticated computer programs that can produce maps by just giving them a set of parameters. While they cannot substitute real creativity – at least not until we have some kind of artificial intelligence – these could become a competition for humans. But that’s a general problem of modern society and one that still has no satisfying solution.

Continued into Part 2

How to apply for a copyright in Canada

Recently, I was thinking, if I’m going to blow my money travelling to one con, it would be in San Diego.  So I contacted them to ask about getting a small press table.  It turns out there is a “jury” that decides on who gets these tables and you have to send in one publication with copyright dates 2013-2014 in order to quality for a 2014 table. So I started looking into how to apply for copyrights in Canada.

Definition of copyright from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office:

“Copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form.”

This copyright registration protects your work internationally, so it doesn’t matter which country you file it in.  You only do it once and you own the copyright for as long as you live, then 50 years after you die the copyright expires.  When you create a piece of work, you automatically own the copyright, but registering offers more protection legally.

1) Go to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website

You will find information on how to copyright things ranging from a book, poem, painting, musical score, performer’s performance and computer program.  There is a guide with basic information available which goes through the terminology and instructions.

Suprisingly, you don’t have to send in a copy of what you are copyrighting or even pictures.

This is why people keep giving me advice that before the book is published, you should print and send a copy of the manuscript to yourself via courier and then not open it.  This archived manuscript will be opened in court if anyone tries to say that your work belongs to them and sues you for the copyright.

2) Call them if you have questions

Hours 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday
Phone 1-866-997-1936

My question: If I want to do a book of concept art with different pieces from my artists, do I have to copyright each piece of art in the book?

Answer: No, you do not have to copyright each piece of art.  Once you assemble the compilation and you copyright the whole thing, each piece of art can be used separately and the copyright still belongs to you.

3) Register the copyright…wait, you can’t just register!  Turns out you have to go to the Industry Canada website and open a free account there before you can do anything.

I was fretting about this one.  As an individual can I really go onto Industry Canada and register an account?  I started emailing my entrepreneurial Viking husband who told me to stop emailing him for advice as he was busy.  So I took the plunge and went into the system…

And I discovered that yes, anyone can just apply for an Industry Canada account.  In fact, they didn’t even ask for a business registration number or anything.  In general, the books will be published under my husband’s company.  To be honest, I’m too lazy to incorporate myself (registering a business, opening a business account and dreaded tax documentation)…hopefully he won’t divorce me if things go really well with the books and I’ll be ok!

4)  OK, let’s register this book!

Back to Canadian Intellectual Property Office website – you click on the “forms” page and “copyright” to access the registration forms, pay fees via credit card.  You can do it cheaper online or mail it in via a paper pdf form.

Fees when paid online is $50 Cdn or $65 Cdn via paperwork.

I looked at the US Copyright Office as well and their fee was only $35USD.  But everything else such as getting a paper copy of the copyright was super expensive, so I suppose there is a trade off…

Forging ahead, I discovered that you can only copyright something 3 months ahead of time.  Or you can copyright something unpublished, but there was no Q & A about what happens if you do publish it.

In the end I took a break here – since San Diego needs to see a copyright number in the book with a date, this is something I can’t provide until Jan 2014 or Feb 2014 at the earliest.  The deadline for table registration was Oct 2013.

So I’ll copyright the book next year and try to get a table in the future when I have more books to sell.

The idea of going to San Diego scares me a bit too, considering their attendance is about 130,000 – it’s a lot of free stuff you have to give away for promotion!  I worry about people coming up to the booth and then complaining they didn’t get a freebie…sigh…not selling any books would probably be just as embarressing as well.

Making a Family Crest

On a rainy day, this might be something you might want to do for fun. Digital art in a way has replaced scrapbooking/colleague art for me and leaves less of a mess! If you have been watching any historical stuff you may notice that European families tend to have crests. It’s usually on a shield or flag and there tends to be lots of lions involved.

I’ve decided to make a new crest as a logo, so here are the few steps it took to make it:

1) Figure out if you have a graphics art program

There are free ones available with basic to advance levels –  Paint.net (free – basic) – Gimp (free – advanced). Many professional artists use Adobe Photoshop, but it’s a very powerful tool and you have to buy it.

I have Paint.net installed and will be using this program.

2) Look for stock art

raw pics

There are two great sites with FREE stock art – Stock.xchng & Pixabay.  There are license agreements for this royalty free art, but if it’s for personal use, it’s generally ok.

I looked for a few images which I knew I wanted: shield, lion with sword and chrysanthemum flower.  I couldn’t find the flower on it’s own so I will have to manipulate and cut the flower out for use.

The lion stands for courage and strength (tribute to Garrard name as the ancestral shield features a lion) while the chrysanthemum flower represents hope/light in darkness.

3) Open Shield graphic & manipulate 

Step 1

The idea is to put all the images into the shield. Generally, I want a white logo with “transparency” so my wallpaper on the webpage could show through.

-open up graphic in paint (File tab > open)

-click “magic wand” tool from upper left “Tools” panel and adjust tolerance if needed

step 2

-press a spot on what you want to delete; for me it’s all the white stuff in the shield.

-the wand will highlight everything in blue, then you just press “delete” and a checkerboard pattern will come through meaning image in that location is transparent

4) Add Lion

Step 3There is something called “layers” in every graphic program.  On the right hand side there is a box which tells you what “layer” you are on.  The shield is on one layer and you will be adding more layers for every graphic.

So before opening up the lion graphic, add another layer (Layers tab > add new layer) to the shield.  Then open up the lion graphic (File tab > open)and put into new layer you have opened – now you see 2 “layers” on the Layers box to the right.

The lion was a very big graphic so I had to drag the corners and shrink it.

5) Cut out flowers, leaves

The chrysanthemum flower is only a small part of its original graphic.  A few steps were necessary to make the flower work for me:

Step 5 6

-open up flower (File tab > open) in its new canvas/window and cut out the flowers by highlighting it

-open a new giant canvas (File tab > new), then paste the flowers in it so there is room to play around

-use rotate tool to move flowers around (Layers tab > Flip vertical) (Layers tab > Rotate/Zoom)

Step 7 8-cut out one of the flowers  by highlighting it and using cut & paste function to put it on an empty part of the canvas

-cut out one of the leaves and rotate to the desired angle. (Layers tab > Rotate/Zoom)

-the leaf and flower have overlapping lines. So to erase lines, use the eraser from the “Tools” box on the left.

6) Add flowers & leaves to the shield

Step 10-add another layer to shield graphic (Layers tab > add new layer)

-go back to flower/leaf window, cut & paste flower/leaf into layer in shield graphic window

-to create mirror image leaves and flowers, I played with the (Image tab > flip horizontal) function

-the shield line in the middle was created by just highlighting the top part of the shield and then cutting & pasting

7) Add “JF Garrard”

Step 12-the canvas has to be bigger (Image tab > canvas side) for adding text, so I increased it in width

-initially the added canvaspart is white, so I had to use magic wand from “Tools” in left box to make it transparent

-using “Text” in “Tools” left box, I typed “JF Garrard” using font Goudy Old Style, size 550

8) Save file in black and white

There are places where I’ll use it in black ink and others in white. Important – to keep transparency, it has to be saved as a .gif file. Also, when saving, it will “flatten” all layers, which means everything will be merged into one layer. Keep a paint.net file (.png) in case you ever want to play with this graphic again with its layers.

Step 14-default is black, just save to .gif (File tab > save as)

-to make the logo white, we have to invert the colors (Adjustments tab > invert colors)

-of course at this point I realize that the lion graphic isn’t totally transparent, so I use the magic wand tool to “erase” the white spots.  After 10 min of painfully doing this (lot of little edges/spots), I discover a flood tool, which does it in 2 seconds. (Tools, Magic Wand, Flood Mode > Global)

-now save white logo to .gif (File tab > save as)


In the end I didn’t use this logo on my website as the shield graphic lines looked too thin after I put it in the header.  I’ll use it on my facebook page though, you can see it here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/JF-Garrard/406247922764234

The more you play with the program, the more you will know.  Good luck in making some fabulous crests!