At the beginning of this year, I set a new year’s resolution to finish my portfolio. And I’m proud to say that I have achieved it just in time! This is my very first portfolio and I’m definitely no expert on this topic. So, in this post, I’m just going to share the things I found helpful during my portfolio-making.
For starters, I do recommend Illustrating Children’s Books: Creating Pictures for Publication by Martin Salisbury. It doesn’t touch on portfolio much but this is very informative book on picture book making in general.
As a self-taught illustrator, who had never been to art schools (I have done a few illustration workshops and short courses but they left me with nothing portfolio standard) and had never done any commissioned work yet, I had to create illustrations from scratch for my folio. First, I gave myself a project called Food from Books. The project definitely helped to fill substantial part of my folio.
In this summer, I joined AOI (Association of Illustrators). One of the membership benefits was Portfolio Consultancy with Fig Taylor and it was absolutely worth the money! Among other advice, since my major interest is in picture books, she suggested me to add some character designs to show my consistency and versatility; Consistency – ability to make a character look like the same person in every picture; Versatility – ability to draw various expressions, nationalities, gender and age etc.
Fig also said that I didn’t have to worry about being an ’all-rounder’. In the past, I had read and told more than one occasion that you should build up a portfolio of ‘children’s book staples’. Sadly (?), I suck at drawing dinosaurs, aliens and dragons… When I mentioned this to Fig, she said that I shouldn’t illustrate something I don’t like to draw and put them in my portfolio. Instead, if animal is your thing for example, focus on them to be a ‘go-to’ illustrator for the subject. It made so much sense!
Another valuable advice came from April Wilson, a tutor from Central Saint Martins’ Children’s Book Illustration short course. She emphasised on including black & white illustrations in your folio since children’s book publishers are always looking for illustrators for chapter books. So, in this October, I took part in Inktober. At the end of the month, I found myself with quite a few B&W ink illustrations to add to my folio. I also made a series of pencil illustrations based on Brother Grimm’s fairy tales.
By December, I had produced decent amount of artwork. However, the hardest part of the portfolio-making was definitely making the cuts. Many people recommend the ‘less is more’ approach, keeping down to around 10 images per folio. It’s always better to leave your audience wanting more rather than bore them with the filler content. Martin Salisbury says, “Never put anything in the portfolio that you are not happy with or are unsure about. The golden rule is to leave it out if you have any doubts.” Also, I found keeping a few key words to suit your portfolio purpose in mind makes the selection process easier. For me, they were ‘children’, ‘animal’ and ‘food’.
After the excruciating culling process, I finally selected 12 illustrations. I got them printed at a printing company and put them in a minimalist folder (PRAT A4 black Spiral book with 10 Polyester sleeves). It took me a year to get this far. Looking at my humble portfolio fills me with a massive sense of achievement. However, this is just a beginning. Now I’m going to set a new new year’s resolution to go out to the scary big world with this portfolio in my arm like a shield and get a foot on the freelance illustrator career ladder! I’m scared yet excited!
Hope you found this post interesting. Please share some tips on portfolio-making if you have any. And finally I wish you a happy new year!