Thursday, July 9, 2015

Portfolio Tips

© Jen Betton 2015
The SCBWI LA conference is coming up quickly, and I know many of us are squeezing out a few more paintings, and starting to agonize about portfolio flow and presentation so as to put together the absolute best package of work! 

This post is a combination of my own thoughts, the great advice of Lauren Rille, an art director at Beach Lane Books, and remembered comments of various other art directors and art school instructors.

Who is going to see it? A children's book portfolio is different than an editorial portfolio. Put in your portfolio the kind of work you are trying to get. If it is a children's book portfolio, be sure to show kids! Include narrative images, and series of related images – tell a story with your pictures.  

At my very first conference, I was told that my kid's book portfolio didn't have enough kids in it! It's important to know your audience and what is important for that type of portfolio. © Jen Betton 2015
Show you can draw! Show good composition, values, color, consistent style, good control over media, and varying points of view. Be accurate with your perspective and anatomy, don't fake it. Show emotion in your characters, and interaction or connection between characters.

Consistency: Quality
The quality of your work should be very consistent. Ideally, all your pieces will be exceptionally good, but be sure to put some of your best pieces up front. Also make sure that the last piece is strong. Bob Dacey uses the fence analogy: support your planks (weaker pieces) with posts (strong pieces) interspersed. Eventually, your portfolio should be all posts!

Less can be more; don't succumb to the temptation to leave something weak in – I did this a few years ago with a couple pieces I knew were not as strong, but I wanted more kids in the folio. Bad idea, the art directors who looked at my folio said "take them out"! Art director Cecilia Yung says "If you leave in weak pieces art directors will think you can't discriminate between good and bad work." Yikes!! When in doubt, throw it out!

Consistency: Style
Pick a style and make sure you love doing it. Have a clear "voice" and show good visual continuity. Starting out, focus on mastering one style. If you display more than one style, both styles should be equally well developed. If you have work in a totally unrelated field (fine art vs. children's book illustration) don't put it in the same portfolio – on the web this means a separate website (ex: Skip Liepke goes by Malcolm Liepke for his fine art work).

Advice about this varies, somewhat up to individual taste. 15-20 is most often quoted, but you can have less or more. Pat Cummings suggests showing no more than 12 images. Websites – this is again variable, and you may consider different categories if you work in different markets (editorial, advertising, book, etc) or styles.

Example of a series of related images; all three have the same characters and setting, but with different perspectives, scale, and varying emotion. © Jen Betton 2015
Make it easy to update. My first portfolio was made with carefully mounted boards. However, they were labor intensive to create, and it discouraged adding in new work. The same thing is true of a web folio – whether you have a custom site, or a blog, make sure it is up to date and you regularly edit out your weakest work. Also be aware of whatever size or format constraints there are for any competitions or shows you enter (like the SCBWI portfolio showcase). Whatever you choose, make sure it does not distract from the work, but complements it.

Make sure your name is easily visible! Put your contact info up front! This doesn't mean you have to put your contact info on every item, you can also use a cover or title page. It's good to use a consistent font and presentation with your business cards, postcards, website, and portfolio. 

Finally, fill your book with what you love to do! What you see is the kind of work you will get! Remember that "good work will always find a way in" – Lauren Rille.