More about portfolios

Last week, I mentioned I would expand more about portfolios, so here it is. To review, at first, you may have several areas that interest you and you may not be certain which area will be best suited for your style of illustration work. You can target different markets by creating different portfolios geared towards the different fields, clients and publishers. Try to narrow down your interests to reflect your strongest traits in your work. But, be careful and selective. Can you really excel as a medical illustrator, comic book illustrator and a children’s illustrator?  Probably not. No one is good at everything.


The goal is to be the best you can in your target market area. So be careful in choosing a little of every field. I know many of the marketing areas sound very lucrative and exciting. But, this is all going to take a lot of hard work and time so you have to focus. There are many areas that can cross over into other areas. For example, greeting card artists will often enter into the licensing world where their designs show up on other products. Book illustrators can easily illustrate and target magazine editorial illustration work as well.

In the beginning, I had two different portfolios. I showed one portfolio to local companies that I knew hired local freelance illustrators. I wanted to gain experience working with clients on a deadline within a budget on a local level.  I was able to create a variety of illustrations and brochures for many different clients.  It was a great way to learn the business and to gain confidence that I could actually do this as a career.

At the same time, I had another portfolio that I used to target children’s magazines and publications. These publishers were all out of town and out of state which made things a little bit trickier. Remember, this was all before computers and email were invented. (Yes, we did have phones back then!)  One of my first freelance illustration jobs was for Sesame Street Music Magazine. As I continued to show my children’s portfolio, I was pleased that art directors commented that my work looked like it was geared towards children publications and suggested I continue those areas.  I soon realized and had gained enough confidence and experience that I felt I could continue marketing solely in the children’s publications field.

It is good to try a variety of things, but, to start a career, it is best to have a main area to focus on and to concentrate most efforts on. Think about the big picture and where you want to eventually be. You may need to take on jobs that will pay the bills and help you to gain experience at first, but you should still be working on that big picture goal at the same time. Otherwise, you may end up working on those jobs that you just can’t stand for a long time.

To decide what to put in your portfolio, look through the body of work you have done so far. It is important to put illustrations in a portfolio that relate to the field you want to pursue than to fill it up with random published art pieces that you did in high school for your best friend’s cousin’s uncle’s step-mother who owned a local business that doesn’t even relate to your target market. In other words, if you are interested in children’s illustration, don’t fill your portfolio with a bunch of stuff that doesn’t even relate. If it doesn’t relate, leave it out. I don’t care how beautiful that technically correct jack hammer illustration is. No children’s publisher is going to want a perfectly executed jack hammer in their next children’s story book, unless of course it is a story book about how to use a jack hammer. (Doubtful!) Instead, publishers want to see if you can actually draw children in all different types of scenes and in all different races.  Art directors are very busy, so don’t waste their time showing them a hodge podge  portfolio of everything you ever painted since you were twelve years old.  Impress them with your best work!

Once you pull together pieces that relate to your target market, take a step back. Let it sit for a few days.  Now go back in and page through the illustrations. Which one is your best?  Keep that one. Which illustration is the weakest? Leave it out. Continue to narrow down your work. Only choose your very best work. Is there an area that you are missing in your body of work? If so, give yourself an assignment and illustrate a new piece for your portfolio so you can fill in the gap.

How many pieces do you need in your portfolio? Usually ten to twelve pieces is a good place to start.

The area of illustration that you are interested in will determine what format your portfolio needs to be in.  Will you be meeting clients locally and in person or is everything done on line? Digital? Hard copy? Email submissions only? Research your target market, and you will have an answer to all of these questions.

Those are my extra tips and thoughts about portfolios. How is yours looking?


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