And here's the thing ... it's totally subjective. What may get one art director/editor/other dancing on the ceiling, could leave the next one as damp as a rained out firework. That's why there's room for all of us (well, the diligent) in the world of children's illustration.
One illustrator friend of mine gave her portfolio to her friend and said - YOU DO IT! Good idea. But if you don't have an obliging friend handy, here are some guidelines:
1. Keep it simple - a clean book about 9 x 11" or thereabouts, with letter size artwork. (If you're working in USA sizes). I don't like portfolios with wiro because if you're showing double page spreads it's distracting. Portfolios come in all shapes and sizes, but simple is best.
2. 10 - 15 pieces of artwork (NOT ORIGINALS!) showing one or two styles. Be consistent. Make sure your prints are excellent quality.
3. Show your best work. Weakness stands out immediately. If you're not sure, leave it out.
4. Include colour and some black and white work.
5. Show children and animals if you do both well. You may want to illustrate different age groups (ie book jackets or baby books) so keep genres together within the portfolio.
6. Include a page that shows progression of a character - same character in different situations/moods.
7. Include 'action' in your pieces - remember - usually an illustrator of children's work is telling a story. Also include 'interaction' between one or more (or a crowd!) of characters.
8. Don't include ANY work that isn't relevant to children's illustration. You may do great life drawing or still-lives, but it isn't showing the buyer what you can do for them. Save it for the art gallery.
9. Include some 'leave behinds' - cards, tear sheets, a promo piece for the viewer to take with them. Then they will be able to contact you with that fat contract! Make sure everything you leave has your name and email/tel/website on it. I am not a fan of names on the artwork itself.
For the most part new illustrators will find they're showing portfolios at conferences for the industry. (Of which there are many and varied). You may have booked a critique with an editor/agent/AD, or be in a workshop, or sitting at lunch with an editor who expresses interest in your work. Here's the time to whip out that portfolio! So you'd better make sure it's good to go.
Increasingly these days illustrators are using an ipad portfolio to show their work. If you own one you'll no doubt have it tucked away in your purse/man-bag/lunchbox - make sure you have a portfolio app and keep it updated. I use an ipad portfolio now and love it. It's handy and fast. You can also keep a variety of portfolios - colour, b&w and different styles - easily. Use it in conjunction with your physical portfolio.
If you know you're going to be showing your work take a dummy with you of a WIP. If your portfolio is in a showcase you can usually leave a dummy alongside your portfolio. If you're having a crit, offer to show it. It'll give the viewer a better idea of your story telling and character development abilities. Make sure it's put together with care, either as a physical book-dummy, or as an easy to follow story board in page format.
Certainly, on top of this, you are going to need a website or a blog for an online portfolio. It's pretty much almost MORE important than a physical portfolio these days. Here's where the buyer will usually go to find your work and see what's new with you. Designing an online portfolio is a whole other topic. But you can apply some of the simple principles discussed here just the same.
There are many sites online to display your work. Some will charge, some not. The physical illustration 'directory' is not so popular these days for obvious reasons (the rise of online sites). Let's talk about promo opps at a later date, OK?
Putting together a portfolio can be daunting ... and EXCITING!. Always take the opportunity to look at other people's portfolios (obviously ask first - snagging it out of their backpack when they are not looking is a no-no). Portfolio showcases are a great time to look at other peoples set-ups and learn what works for your eye and what doesn't. Because we all know when something looks right, right?
And if in doubt - get a friend to give you their opinion!
Thanks for reading and drop by next time for more Turbo Monkey Tales with writer Julie Dillard.