Portfolio Tips from SCBWI Mentorship Winners

For all the members who are signed up to participate in our Los Angeles Summer Conference Portfolio Showcase, as well as all the members who are working on their portfolios in general, we asked some past recipients of the Mentorship award ( www.scbwi.org/awards/grants/portfolio-awards/) for their best tips for assembling/developing/improving/critiquing/editing your own portfolio. Read on for super helpful tips and advice!
 
Brooke Boynton Hughes
During a critique with an art director several years ago the art director basically said, "Your work is nice, but that's about it."  After digesting her words I realized that most of the images in my portfolio weren't created from a place of excitement or love, but rather were created based on what I thought other people would like.  

 

Up to that point I'd been nervous to include the images that I secretly loved, which were sort of dark and a little scary, because I didn't think anyone else would like them, and also because those images felt personal and a little vulnerable. However, once I started including more personal images in my portfolio, the images that were based on my childhood feelings and memories and the images that I was really excited to create, people started responding more positively, and excitedly, to my portfolio. 

 

While it's important to include a variety of images in your portfolio (double spreads, vignettes, varying points of view, consistent characters, etc.) and to show a mastery of your medium, I think the most important thing is to include images that are unique to you and that express your individual voice as an illustrator.
 
Debbie Ridpath Ohi
When putting together your portfolio, make sure you include a sequence of images that show that you can tell a story through illustration, plus show that you can maintain consistency in how you draw a character or characters. Most illustrators can come up with great-looking standalone images; the challenge is to show editors, art directors and agents that you would be able to illustrate a picture book. I made this mistake in my first portfolio and it’s one of the most frequent beginner mistakes I’ve seen when critiquing portfolios. Remember that it’s not just about the art; it’s also showing that you understand visual narrative and pacing. Go to your local indie bookstore or bookstore and read lots of good picture books!
 
Here are some excellent articles from SCBWI Portfolio Showcase winners:
 

Jen Betton

www.jenbetton.com

When creating a series of images from the same story for your portfolio, it is good to make sure that each one of those images in the series is different from the others – not just in terms of scale, viewpoint, and composition, but also in what aspect of the story it is telling. For example, one piece might highlight the relationship between two characters, one piece might show some action, and one piece might show an environment. Sometimes I’ve ended up with pieces that are essentially duplicates of each other—showing the characters at very similar moments in the story—and that takes up valuable real estate in your book!

 

Portfolio-related posts on my blog: 

http://jenbetton.blogspot.com/2013/10/portfolio-in-review-1-year-of-change.html

http://jenbetton.blogspot.com/2014/05/childrens-book-illustration-portfolio.html

 

 
Maple Lam
Every picture tells a story, but some tell more intriguing stories than others. I like to look through a picture book, pick 2-3 spreads that stands out, and analyze why they make my hair stand, or make me smile, or make me want to eat up the entire thing (visual hunger). Such analysis helps me when I develop my own portfolio pieces.
 
 
K-Fai Steelekfai-1
Look at your portfolio and ask yourself if you are including images that tell a story, or suggests that something exciting/big is about to happen in the story. When assembling my portfolio from 2015 LA, I was conflicted between which one of these toad images to add in, when a friend suggested that the image with the car contained much more drama—more story—than the two looking at their reflection. kfai-2

 

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Meridth Gimbel
Portfolio Do’s and Don’ts:
Do choose artwork that reflects the genre: 
When choosing the art to go into your portfolio, make sure that your illustrations are appropriate for a children’s book audience. A kidlit portfolio geared towards picture books should have illustrations of children, babies, and animals. A middle grade portfolio should have some cover illustrations and black and white illustrations. Fine art sketches, or illustrations geared toward a more mature adult audience, or including original art in your portfolio will make you look like an amateur. 
 
Do illustrate the same character in a sequence of different illustrations:
This shows that you can illustrate the same character over and over and over and over again (which is necessary for a 32 page book or a middle grade book).
 
Do vary your artwork:
Your illustrations should vary in the setting, the composition, and have show different emotions. Have your illustrations tell a story. Make the Art Director wonder what happens next.
 
Do place your best illustrations as the first and the last page in a portfolio:
The first page of a portfolio should be your best piece. It should aptly sum up who you are as an illustrator and what Art Directors can expect from your art. The last page of a portfolio should be the second strongest piece. This illustration that should leave a good lasting impression.
 
Do have supporting pieces in between your strong pieces:
Think of your portfolio as a fence. Start off with a strong piece (like the post of a fence), and then have a supporting piece (like the railing). Make sure there are strong pieces that are placed between the supporting pieces to hold up your work.
 
Do pay attention to spec sizes for SCBWI:
Most portfolio showcases have a size restriction. If you don’t pay attention to the spec sizes of your portfolio you may not be able to present your work. https://www.scbwi.org/event-45th-annual-summer-conference-in-los-angeles/showcase/
 
Do get high quality prints of your originals.
 
Do include a dummy if you have it.
 
Don't have more than 12 pieces:
In your portfolio you should have 10-12 pieces. Only pick your best pieces. The art directors look at your worst piece and acknowledge that you may produce work like that. If you aren’t sure if you should put the illustration in your portfolio . . . Leave it out.
 
Don't put work in your portfolio if you are don't want to work in that style.