Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Portfolio Showcase Advice from Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary

As any reader of KidLitArtists knows, one of the most thrilling parts of attending SCBWI conferences as an illustrator is an opportunity to show your work alongside your peers at the Portfolio Showcase. Find the guidelines for submission here.

In addition to the satisfaction of putting your hard work together and sharing it with the world, the showcase also presents opportunities to win awards and scholarships — for all levels of experience, from student to seasoned professional.

FYI, all the artists and authors blogging at KidLitArtists are former mentorship winners from the SCBWI portfolio show. I really can’t speak highly enough about this opportunity and community!

A portfolio mentorship entails the opportunity to get detailed, focused feedback from the conference Illustration Faculty during the conference. Consider more than just the technical specifications when you enter your portfolio in this show; each judge and visitor comes to the portfolio show with her own sense of what she is looking for.

To find out a bit more, I interviewed Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary about what an agent attending the conference might be looking for, and for her feedback and advice for illustrators entering this show:

Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown Literary

Susie: Please tell us a little bit about yourself.

Jennifer: I'm a senior agent at Andrea Brown Literary Agency. I rep authors and author-illustrators for books from PB through YA. 

Susie: How much of your roster is made up of illustrators (as opposed to authors, and author-illustrators)? If you’re primarily interested in author-illustrators, do you want to see a book dummy?

Jennifer: My own list is primarily authors - I do rep about 15 author-illustrators. I'd be open to somebody who was "just" an illustrator, but might have goals to be an author as well. As an agency we rep about 100 illustrators - you can see our roster here

If you are querying an author-illustrator piece, I'd want to see the text, a sketch dummy, and a couple of finishes. 

Susie: When browsing the portfolio show, what are some of the key things you look for (as an agent, or as a judge)?

Jennifer: I like a strong sense of MOVEMENT in illustration - dynamic pictures, rather than static. I like a picture that really tells a story, rather than just being a beautiful image or decoration. The thing is - lots of people are good at design and good at drawing, and might make swell editorial artists, or be great at surface design, textiles, cards, etc... but that DOESN'T automatically mean that they will be awesome at children's book illustration. 

Photo by Debbie Ridpath Ohi from this phenomenal, must-read post!

Susie: What’s something you recommend for the portfolio that illustrators might not think of doing?

Jennifer: It can be very helpful to see a couple of page turns. If you aren't an author, consider doing a couple of spreads from a well-known fairy or folk tale in your own way. 

Don't forget - illustration isn't JUST for picture books! It can be fun to see how an artist might approach book jackets and/or b+w interior spot art. If these are things that appeal to you, you might find your own way to interpret a "classic" book jacket or iconic literary scene. 

Susie: What are common portfolio or book dummy missteps you recommend illustrators avoid?

Jennifer: I think sometimes illustrators put in everything and the kitchen sink just so the portfolio is "big" but some pieces are obviously of lesser quality, or in a more amateur style, etc. I'd rather have fewer pieces of higher quality, than a portfolio bursting with filler. 

Susie: What subjects would you like to see appear more in portfolio pieces?

Jennifer: For illustrators doing humans, I'd like to see diversity. 

Susie: As an agent, what do you look for in a takeaway promo piece?

Jennifer: I look for pretty art and contact information. And if you are already agented PLEASE put your agent info on there, too. 

Susie: Any other general SCBWI conference advice?

Jennifer: Have fun. Stay sober. Drink lots of water. 

Susie: Thank you, Jennifer! Good luck to all the illustrators working hard to be part of this amazing show!

Grand Prize winner at #LA16SCBWI, Oge Mora, a student of the Rhode Island School of Design

For more about #LA17SCBWI, check out the official SCBWI blog. For more portfolio advice, read: Portfolio Tips From SCBWI Mentorship Winners.

Registration is still open - get all the details on the 2017 SCBWI Summer Conference, July 7-10, here.

This post was cross-posted to the official SCBWI Team Blog.

Susie Ghahremani is an award-winning illustrator and obviously also a major design nerd.
Her author-illustrator debut titled STACK THE CATS was just named one of Amazon's Best Books of the Year (so far) for 2017!

For more about Susie and her books and art, visit her site at or follow at @boygirlparty on instagram, twitter, or Facebook for the latest updates.

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