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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Portfolio 101 - by Hazel Mitchell

Putting together a portfolio should be SIMPLE, right? Just put in your best work and make sure it's in the style you want to work in. That's it. Then why is putting together a portfolio such an AGONIZING process? I think it's because as illustrators we're constantly changing and developing. What we did a year ago - six months ago - yesterday (!) may completely change our perspective on our work. Oh, the hours we can spend fiddling with our portfolio ... the hours I have spent!

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.


Back in the day a physical book was the thing. Illustrators would go on pilgrimage to a BIG CITY, trudge from publishing house to publishing house doing drop-offs, hoping to see an AD or editor in the inner sanctum. These days that's not the norm. Some houses do still have drop offs and if you are in (or visiting) a BIG CITY see if you can find a drop off time at publishers you are interested in. It'll usually be on their website under 'submission details' or you can call them. (GULP).

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.

Toodles
Hazel 

20 comments:

  1. This is SO cool! Great info for everyone. Even non illustrators need a body of work and we filmmakers need demo reels. Your list will help all of us be sure to include the good stuff. Brilliant Hazel.

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    1. Thanks Craig. It's always good to remind ourselves of the essentials.

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  2. Great advice Hazel - I can certainly use it! Look forward to more on promo opps!

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    1. Thanks Julie - I always find deciding what to put in a portfolio difficult. So it's good to go back to the bones of the thing. Maybe I will right about promos next time! Thanks for reading and commenting.

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  3. This seems like such great advice! I think I can apply it to my architecture portfolio. It's a bit cobbled together now. Thanks, Hazel!

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    1. I think it could apply to any type of portfolio. Now I have to sort mine out AGAIN.

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  4. Great post and so usefull!Thanks Hazel:)

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    1. Thanks! Portfolio's have always been a bane of my life!

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  5. Thanks, Hazel. My portfolio isn't great but I'm working on it. : )
    -Alison Hertz

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    1. Hang in there Alison and keep creating pieces you enjoy!

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  6. Great article, Hazel! May I ask a question as a writer who is not an illustrator, but just wants clarification? When I think of portfolio, I think of a folder with loose sheets inside. You've said "book" which makes me think "bound." Could you clarify that for me? Thanks!

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    1. Hi Beth ... you are correct, it can be a folder. Art folders (like you would have at art college) would have art placed inside, not necessarily mounted on pages.

      Illustrators talk about portfolio's as a book ... which is often used in deign/photography circles. It is usually a small portfolio with see through leaves that are permanently attached, or wiro bound, that you can then interchange with pieces of work.

      HOWEVER some illustrators do infact have a specially bound book made with their work .. but this is not the norm, and is expensive and then is not changeable.

      Either way it is all a 'folio' of your work which is presentable!!

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    2. Thank you, Hazel! I felt a bit "dumb" asking the question, but I've learned to ignore that feeling and ask! I so appreciate your detailed answer.

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  7. I so wish I'd had this kind of direction when I was putting together my costume design portfolio back in the day! Bravo, Hazel!

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    1. I know what you mean! When I was at art college, no one told me what I needed to put in my portfolio! Thanks KCH :-).

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  8. Appreciate this glimpse into one important aspect of an illustrator's work!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed. Thanks for commenting and reading :-)

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