Welcome back to the virtual EasternPennPoints Café. Our Illustrator Coordinator, Berrie Torgan-Randall, has invited Tom Uleau to chat at the café. Tom is an author/illustrator and is an active Eastern PA SCBWI member and volunteer. In fact, he is in charge of our social media presence. Inquiring minds want to know more about Tom and his suggestions for getting your name out there on social media.
Berrie: Hi, Tom. Welcome to the EasternPennPoints Café. Would you like a cup of coffee or maybe a sippy cup of milk? (Tom has three boys under the age of five.)
Tom: HEY! I absolutely would like a sippy cup. Two of my boys are climbers with the grace of rhinoceros ballerinas, so it would probably make anything I’m drinking much safer.
Berrie: Are you a first-thing-in-the-morning-before-the-kids-wake-up or an in-the-evening-after-you-have-read-ten-or-more-favorite-books-to-your-kids kind of artist?
Tom: Yes. I’ll do some sketches at nap times, I’ll work in the car while they sleep in their seats, but the magic happens AFTER bedtime. My wife is a night shift nurse so I will have the baby monitors on next to my art battle station in my shop. You can actually hear them in some of my streams on YouTube.
Berrie: Tell us about your art background and your favorite Eastern PA SCBWI events that you have attended.
Tom: Art Background: I am, what do we say? Pre-published and un-agented? I’m those things. I post art every day on my social media pages along with stories to accompany them (most of the time). I have not missed a day in over 1730 days. My favorite event is FOR SURE illustrator day. Train rides, the Free Library of Philly, delivered lunch – I feel like a king of a castle those days. I’ve been to four so far? I went to the New York conference, I’ve gone to some writing events we’ve had, and our Picture Book Master Class, but Illustrator Day is my jam.
Berrie: What is your advice for posting on social media?
Tom: Easy-peasy. (1) Start. That’s the hardest part. TONS of our members tell me they have these accounts but don’t do anything with them, which is a shame and hurts my soul a little. (2) EVERYTHING is content. A drawing, a sketch, the fancy paper you like, the place you like to write, that weird thing on your desk that gave you an idea one time, a selfie at the art store . . . everything. (3) Likes and comments are NOT a barometer of your skills (that’s a tough one to overcome). Sometimes I even forget this. There are TONS of tips and tricks and things to try, but until you start they will get wasted. START! If you don’t know how . . . ask me! I’m super happy to help. It’s kinda my thing.
Berrie: I heard that agents and editors like to follow certain hashtags to discover new talent. What hashtags do you use, and how can you find out what hashtags agents are viewing?
Tom: Oooh. Technical questions! Perfect!! The two big ones are #kidlit and #kidlitart. These are the royalty of hashtags in our field. Topical hashtags can’t hurt either as long as they relate to the content you are posting. What are agents looking for/at? Tons of stuff, I imagine. The trick is to follow them on Twitter and Instagram. Aside from posting what they may be specifically looking for for a project, they also attach themselves to social media events (think pitch events and art shares). They’ll have specific hashtags they use too.
Berrie: I don’t know if you noticed, but there is pumpkin-spiced everything in stores these days. What are your favorite Fall or Halloween Instagram contests to join and what are the benefits of participating in an Instagram contest?
Tom: I am the most basic. I run on a very high concentration of pumpkin spice/allspice, then I ween myself off with gingerbread in the following months.
I actually have drawing prompts and challenges for every single month of the year. October is ESPECIALLY busy since the invention of Inktober, but some of the major ones are:
- 24 Hour Comics Day (create 24 consecutive comic book pages in 24 hours – date varies)
- #wildoctoberart (Zoe Keller’s wildlife-themed art challenge)
- #INKTtober (Prompts with tattoos in mind)
- #Creamtober (an assortment of prompts curated by @ladycreamy)
- #Witchtober (witch-themed challenge)
- #Monstober (monster-based themes)
- #OCoctober (themes using your own characters [OC])
- #Orctober (themes based on RPG and Orc stuff)
- #Darktober (dark themes)
- #Plastober (broken into daily AND weekly themes for ease)
There’s no lack of choice. The benefits can be huge in terms of getting followers and getting your name and art out in the wild in front of new eyes. Using these hashtags puts your content in these larger creative pools.
Berrie: If you were to make a calendar of Instagram illustration contests what would it look like?
Tom: It would look like three single typed pages of challenges. Weekly, biweekly, year long, random theme generators, critique groups, subreddits, or event-specific themed challenges. My “go-to” is r/sketchdaily, which has new themes and alternate themes posted every day with a pretty big community. (I’m a moderator there, full disclosure.)
Berrie: I have a confession, I don’t totally get Twitter. Can you explain what happens when you retweet and why Twitter might help you gain followers?
Tom: Twitter is arguably more complicated than, say, Instagram or Facebook, so I feel you. Retweeting is like posting an inspirational quote, in that you didn’t come up with the quote but it shows you agree with it. The more likes, retweets, and quotes you get, puts you out there in “Twitter world” more. Once you start getting interactions outside of your group (people you already interact with or have direct connections with), the higher you rank in the algorithms, which in turn broadens your circle.
Berrie: Any other advice regarding social media for our illustrator members?
Tom: Yes. Post. WIPs, swatches, doodles, sketches, etc. (Don’t overdo it though. Outside of special events, try once every other day to start). Like and comment on other artists’ posts. That’s a free form of support that also gets you a little more exposure. Social media is a tool. It can be a network of connections to agents, publishers, other artists, and fans. It can also be an informal living portfolio. DON’T BUY FOLLOWERS. It’s not worth it. I want to stress again, likes, comments, retweets are NOT a metric to measure your talents and skills. Tons of likes and comments are awesome and great but they can be fleeting. Likewise, not enough likes and comments doesn’t mean you are no good and your work is terrible. It will most likely (almost certainly) take time and effort.
Berrie: Thanks so much, Tom.
Tom: Can I get a refill on my sippy cup before I go?
Berrie: Yes. Would you like a pumpkin spiced latte, spiked cider, or a ginger beer?
Tom Uleau, aka Mr. Tom, is an un-agented and pre-published but heavily bearded illustrator-author. He is the social media coordinator for the Eastern PA SCBWI region. His hidden talent is posting art every day. Every. Day. For the past 1730 consecutive days he has posted original art and stories on his social media accounts. Aside from that, he has three tiny humans, he runs a print shop, and is a former professional yo-yo demonstrator. You can find Tom and all of his daily art posts on Instagram (@itsmr.Tom), Twitter (@itsmistertom), Facebook (it’s Mr Tom), and on his website (itsmrtom.com).
I checked out some of your illustrations. Tom. They’re gorgeous! And your perseverance puts you in a special category!! Great interview!
Yes! Tom’s illustrations are amazing!
Too kind! Thank you! My mom would also agree with you, I’m in a special category, probably not for the same reasons though 🙂
Tom, I learn so much just by standing near you! This interview was chock full of great information and a hoot to read!!! Great job, team!
Learning by osmosis is my preferred method of teaching so that works out great 🙂 thank you Virginia