Monday, March 20, 2006

Mailbox: Portfolio preparation

I just want to take a second to thank so many of you who have sent email messages. I really do feel honored when folks visit my website, or blog, and take the time to send me a personal message. And, especially since my website is much overdue for a redesign.

On the same note, sorry if I haven't returned an email, it wasn't intentional. I often check my mail from work — nosey, I know — but, rarely respond to emails from work. If I forget to save mail, I sometime lose them. I did want to address a question which has come up a few times lately. What should go into a portfolio, how much and so on.

First of all, art is subjective. What you like, someone else might not. But, still, there's a big difference between polished, marketable illustration, and illustration that needs a bit more developing. Have you ever been through an illustration source book, such as Picture Book, and seen an illustrator's work who is obviously not up to par? I mean, you know the person has invested much money on the ad, and probably won't recoup the investment. Don't go there.

Be honest with yourself. Visit a bookstore or library and spend many hours poring over artwork in children's books. Notice what styles of art seem to be trendy. I'm not saying that your art needs to fit a trend, in fact, your art must be distinct in, and of itself. But it helps to see what art directors and editors are buying. There, for awhile, art directors and editors were mostly looking at realistic portraiture styles for multi-cultural books. I was trying to present very exaggerated, highly stylized illustration. I wasn't getting anywhere. When the trend started to change, I found work.

Have a professional, preferably in the field of children's books, critique your work. And be ready for negative feedback. You'll need less than complimentary comments in order to grow. Don't ask your children, or your child's classmates. My son loves everything I do, especially if I put his name on it, which I quite often do. For the most part, just about any young child will love your art, and the fact that you are sharing it with them. Join an SCBWI critique group. One that might have a few published illustrators, and let everyone know your desire for hard honest feedback, not frosted over and glazed.

Portfolios, and how they are presented these days are ever changing. Many artist in New York have the advantage of walking in off the street and dropping off their work with publishers on designated days. I've never had that convenience, and I don't know that it's completely necessary these days. Post cards, and mailers displaying your best work will do just fine, though a one on one sit-down is alway nice, too. Once you have an editor's attention, often times, they'll ask for jpegs or pdfs of your work. Whether sending electronically, or sending an actual portfolio (reproductons, tearsheets, color copies), send only your best work even if its just a few pieces. Your not gonna trick them by sending 50 pieces of art you yourself know is mediocre, or just plain bad. Those couple of bad pieces may speak louder than the good ones. If you have printed tearsheets, or printed books, it's always good to send those (include a self addressed stamp envelope for return). Actual printed work speaks volumes (good printed work, not bad).

Last, be sure to show the kind/style of work you want to do. Your realistic paintings may be awesome, but if your desire it to illustrate whimsical, cartoony books, you don't want to get stuck illustrating, building your career on a style you don't particularly enjoy. Also, it's important, if your goal is to illustrate children's books, that you can carry the characters in a story completely through the book, and that they are consistent throughout. Have samples that display your ability to show a character in various scenes, interacting with others, or the environment around. Bruh Bully Frog on page six, needs to look like Bruh Bully Frog on page 32.


paula said...

Well said, Don. Thanks for taking the time to share all that with us.

janee said...

Good advice, Don.

rindambyers said...


Sonal Panse said...

Hi Don,

Thanks for the info. I like your artwork and enjoyed your blog. Come visit mine sometime.



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