Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Illustrator's Portfolio

A version of this appeared long ago on my former blog, but since that is closed to the public now and I've gotten the question several times, seems like it is time to "upcycle" the post. :-)
Q: WHAT makes a good portfolio for an aspiring children's book illustrator?
Content: There is a big difference between picture book illustration work and editorial work. You are not drawing posters or advertisements here, you are trying to tell a story over 32 or more pages. It has to be attractive and have a sense of whimsy, sure, but it also has to be kid-friendly and coherent. With that in mind, you should make sure your children's illustration portfolio includes the following:

* Children - Kids playing, kids fighting, kids mad, kids glad, cute kids, silly kids, bashful kids, wistful kids, whatever. Kids being as kid-like as possible. IF you can't draw good kids, you are probably in the wrong line of work.

* Animals - Bunnies, bears, moles, frogs, cats and dogs are often the subjects of children's books. You might consider small spot illustrations of a number of different creatures, or a larger scene with several included. If I were making a portfolio, I'd do some animals in a "natural" way (deer in a field), and some in a "personified" way (ie, a badger going to school, or a porcupine drinking tea.)   ETA: Yes, you can also include fantasy animals / monsters or similar, if that suits your style. I am not suggesting that everyone try and draw like Wind in the Willows. :-)

* B&W sketches as well as color paintings, because you might be able to do B&W interior art for chapter books in addition to picture books.

* Movement - Dancing, swinging, playground games - nothing is worse than "static" looking pictures. Even a simple portrait should have some movement - a leaf skittering by, a swing in the hair, gleam in the eye and sass in the way the subject is posed. You get the idea.

* Character Transitions In other words, multiple images that are part of a set with the same character doing different things.

* Actual Spreads If you haven't actually illustrated any children's books, you might consider doing a scene or two from a famous old fairy tale.

Again, a picture book isn't just 32 snapshots of random pretty images. Art directors and editors need to be able to tell that you can tell a whole story with no words, and follow a character and narrative thread through from the beginning of a book to the end.

Format: I think that aspiring children's book illustrators should have a clean, attractive, well-designed website that showcases their work. The illustrations have to be easy to find and link to directly.  You should also have a good-quality paper versions of your pieces to show people. Though the web will get used more, you just never know when you'll need that old-fashioned paper!

If I were you, I'd also have postcards made of some favorite pieces, including your name, contact info, website, and agents info if applicable, for you to leave with people. Your agent, once you have one, may have specific requests in terms of style, formatting or wording for your cards.

Any other tips to add?