Portfolio Critique Dos and Don’ts

Back in March I had received my fourth professional portfolio critique. It’s been a couple months since then, but I needed to let the feedback settle in my brain before I started following the advice.

As always, I think back to my first conference and how much I failed myself then. Now… well I’m still a failure, but a better failure!

Here’s why with the Dos:

  • TAKE EVERY ADVICE WITH A GRAIN OF SALT. It’s very easy to just take in all the criticism and get down on yourself. Quitting is easy, “I’m garbage because this ‘professional’ person says I am, might as well become an electrician like Pa said.” A lot of the critique is based off what that person likes and doesn’t like, not necessarily you as an illustrator.
  • GO IN WITH A SMILE. This sounds lame but it actually worked for me. If I’m smiling and being social, a lot of that heart clenching tension dissipates. Smiling and talking gets me ready to be open minded and prepares me for change. Try it.
  • DRESS NICE, BUT CASUAL. I was rocking a nice sweater with a lacy tank top beneath, maroon colored jeans, and cute brown boots. All was comfortable to wear and I looked like a real human that could possibly be in public!
  • BRING YOUR ABSOLUTE BEST WORK. Sounds obvious, but it helps if you feel good about what you’re bringing to the table. If you don’t, you need to do more work or just have a short portfolio. Feedback might actually be good for you if you are not satisfied with your work, it helped me a year ago when I felt awful about mine.
  • RESEARCH YOUR CRITIQUE. Courtney Pippin-Mathur gave me my portfolio critique. I chose her specifically because she worked in watercolor and digital mix, which is what I was doing. I also liked her cute style. The rest of the illustrators there had a bit of a realistic style and were mixed media for the most part. I wanted someone who worked with what I was trying to work with, and the feedback I got was very helpful because I took the time to look at her website.
  • COMMUNICATE WITH THE ILLUSTRATOR. I mean, join in their rambling about your artwork. Sometimes asking questions can help guide the one critiquing you. Lets face it, they’re human too so helping them will help you. Even if it’s just simple questions such as, “What are my strengths? Should I be working in this medium? Am I ready to look for an agent?”
  • WRITE DOWN WHAT THEY SAY AFTER THE CRITIQUE IS OVER. Sometimes it’s okay to jot down notes, but make sure you look like you’re paying attention. It’s good to write some more after your critique so you can look at it later. (later that day, later that week, two months from then…)
  • SEND AN EMAIL THANKING THEM. I was bad and didn’t email Pippin-Mathur. I emailed my manuscript critique though! But still, email them. It’s good to do that. I shall email mine next time.

My first critique went horribly and it had me crying in the shower for an hour after.

Here’s why with the Don’ts:

  • DON’T GO IN THINKING YOUR STUFF IS GOOD. Unless it is of course, but if you’re new to this field you probably aren’t quite there yet. Even if you are good and you go in thinking that you’re good but the one giving you a critique says they don’t like something, this could possibly lead you to…
  • IGNORING ALL ADVICE BECAUSE YOU THINK YOU KNOW BETTER. Everyone can improve. EVERYONE. If there is something off with your work and you choose to ignore it, like I did with my messy backgrounds for forever, your work will suffer for it.
  • DON’T NOT SAY ANYTHING. Silence is second worse compared to cutting off the critique with your arrogance. I practically said nothing my first critique and that just built tension between the us and it led to me tearing up. That got awkward. Don’t do it.
  • DON’T OVER DRESS, BUT DON’T WALK IN WITH JEANS AND A T-SHIRT. Okay I didn’t really do this one. I mean, I had jeans and tennis shoes on but at least I had a sweater that didn’t look too bad. You’ll feel better if you look better though.
  • DON’T TALK BAD ABOUT THE ONE GIVING YOUR CRITIQUE. I’ve never done this but I’ve read pretty bad blog posts and it just never looked good to me. It just looked butt hurt.
  • DON’T THINK ABOUT YOUR CRITIQUE AND RUIN THE WHOLE DAY. This is the most challenging one. Its one thing to anticipate your critique and prepare yourself. It’s another thing to stew over a bad critique for the entire weekend and ruin the experience. Take your notes, store them away, and come back to them once your mind has cleared. Maybe get drunk that night and go see a friend who knows nothing about the field, but don’t stew in disappointment.

And that’s all I got! I wrote this blog post because I decided to do something that was suggested in my critique. Apparently I succeeded in last years goal of practicing line work because that was one of my strengths with, actually, my traditional pieces. So she wanted me to recreate some images that were digital in watercolor and here’s one she suggested.

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These are so different, but I like both! I was told to move away from digital but I’ll take that with a grain of salt. 😉

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The Thing About Portfolios…

It’s here!

The conference starts tomorrow! (well it starts today but I have to work so… can’t go.) I’m of course doing everything last minute (like usual) and I finally got my portfolio together.

Every time I get a professional portfolio critique I go through a bit of anxiety (no, a lot of anxiety) and become extremely indecisive of what to actually show. So I go through the list:

  • What subject matter do I want representing my art? I draw fiction kids stories so a lot of my work has a bit of a whimsical atmosphere with kids in it. Sometimes animals and sometimes robots too…
  • What medium do I want to represent? I have two styles. One is digital, one watercolor. I draw everything by hand so a lot of the drawing stays similar (woo hoo!) I also have some black and white pieces that I love making.
  • Can all these images together tell a story? I usually split images by paint, and I kind of did that this time too. The difference is the story I was trying to set up. The viewer starts with a lonely robot saying “hello.” Gradually more characters are added with each piece, as if more are joining the portfolio party. I end with the robot (Bucket) being fixed on by her creator as a way to say good night folks!
  • Which pieces are the strongest? This will always be up for debate, but I chose my most recent robot story as my strongest pieces so I begin and end with them.
  • Is the drawing consistent? This time I think yes.

 

There is also a list of DON’T DOS that my first portfolio, shown below, unfortunately did:

firstportfolio.jpg

  • DON’T MAKE YOUR PORTFOLIO INTO A LITERAL STORY WITH ONLY ONE CHARACTER AND A WEIRD CHANGING BEAST. This was my first mistake! A portfolio needs some diversity in characters and story telling.
  • DON’T HAVE LIKE TEN DIFFERENT MATERIALS. This portfolio would have made any publisher/agent/what have you confused as to what exactly they’re getting from you. BIG mistake.
  • DON’T TURN YOUR PORTFOLIO CASE TO THE SIDE. I’m such an idiot. I didn’t have a landscape portfolio book so instead I just turned a vertical book horizontal.
  • DON’T HAVE TONS OF EXTRA PAGES IN THE BACK OF YOUR PORTFOLIO!!! I had one of those that you couldn’t take out the pages. I was so poorly prepared…
  • DON’T ONLY BRING 9 IMAGES!!! Okay you need between 10 and 15 images, 9 is way too low haha.
  • DON’T TEAR UP OR CRY. I was almost bawling by the end of that critique, but I got much stronger after that initial blow. E.B. Lewis probably felt sorry for me. In the end I gathered myself, took a picture with him, and got a signed book. I guess I redeemed myself?

The next step is to take what I learned from the don’t do list and apply it to the next portfolio:

secondportfolio.jpg

I got a little better, more diverse with characters and story, more pieces, stuck with digital and mixed media. Still, I needed work on drawing, line, and most importantly, tightening up the compositions. I look back at this one now and realize a lot of these were incomplete…

 

thirdportfolio.jpg

 

This is my newest portfolio. I stuck with digital and this time I found a love for watercolor and I’ll stick with it. I think I’ve gotten somewhat better, certainly cleaner. I focused on drawing, lifework, and cleanliness like the last critiques suggested.

Now on to another critique and hopefully a better body of work!

Then and Now

Have you ever had to start all over again as an artist?

There’s nothing like being told that you’re *almost* there, but not quite. That you’re *almost* to professional level, just not yet. Hearing those things do hurt, but it doesn’t hurt as bad as “throw this entire thing away and start over.”

I’ve had to start over and over and over again. I think most artists do…and most writers.

Starting over is part of my process. Destruction and creation.

This time I didn’t start over, I just applied the suggestions given to me to three pieces I did last year. By doing this I got to see the mistakes I made more clear, helping me understand a bit more of why I’m “almost but not quite professional yet.”

I enjoyed working on this piece tremendously so when the response to it wasn’t what I expected, I had to take a step back else I was going to throw the file away in disgust:

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Then

All I did was clean the image up and focused on the line work a bit more. It’s a bit better.

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Now

This one I had for my postcard, but now I can’t stand to look at the postcard anymore…

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Then

I still am working on some things, but at least it looks a lot more clean…

final?-Recovered.jpg

Now

This next one I got a good response from both critiques, but I still cleaned it up a bit.

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Then

crowcolor6-Recovered copy.jpg

Now

This will be the last time I go to these pieces. I’m still adding them in my portfolio because they represent the type of art I want to create, but I need to move on and hopefully become a better illustrator.

The Thing About Business Cards

Okay so you have your promo cards, or you’re skipping out on them. That’s fine.

Now it’s on to business cards!

There are several questions you have to ask yourself when designing business cards. Personally, I like business cards more than promo cards simply because of the size. Having all those postcards from other illustrators is nice to line them all up on a cork board for references, but at the end of the day too many postcards just means a bigger paper mass to deal with at the bottom of your bag.

The thing about business cards, the creation:

  • WHAT IS YOUR ILLUSTRATION STYLE? I mentioned this with postcards as well, but there are a few elements that can make a style other than your drawing or painting. Your compositions can be just as important to style as the drawing. Do you want just one spot illustration of a funny character? Do you want some environment in there? Do you tend to add your font into the illustration or keep it separate? Do you illustrate your own font? And…
  • ROUNDED OR SQUARE CORNERS? Yes, the physical appearance of the card is also part of your style.  This year I want to pay more for rounded corners as rounded corners give a softer, “bouncier” characteristic that matches the shapes of my drawing style. You can also have rectangle or square cards. And…
  • GLOSS OR MATTE? Matte is what I usually go with because gloss doesn’t work with my illustrations. Matte has that soft look that also works with rounded corners. If you think your illustrations would work best in gloss, like I can imagine a space scene looking pretty rad with a gloss layer, then go with gloss.
  •   NO MATTER YOUR STYLE, KEEP IT SIMPLE. A business card image is typically 3.5 x 2 inches so don’t add too much. Your information might get lost or someone is like my dad who can’t see details up close won’t be able to know whats going on haha. I kind of did this with last years business cards…
    card.jpg
  • WHAT’S ON THE BACK? Again, I would keep it simple. Last year I had a cute image on the back but this year I only have my illustrated font and type in color. This is the back of last years..     tobee copy.jpg

 

The thing about business cards, the distribution:

  • WHO SHOULD YOU GIVE YOUR CARDS TO? Anyone and everyone! That’s the beauty of business cards, they fit in your wallet. You can just pull out the cards whenever you get a chance. Most likely you’ll be stacking up the cards next to your portfolio at a conference, but I’ve given my card while having small conversations with  random strangers waiting in line at retail stores. I’ve given my cards to the women at the library whenever they give me that look while I go straight to the children’s book section and take a stack of picture books to the counter.
  • SHOULD YOU HAVE A LOGO? I would say yes. Having a logo makes you recognizable if you continue giving out different business cards and promo cards with it on there. I’d say a logo is good business. I have my bee for b.handi this year.
  • WHAT INFORMATION SHOULD YOU HAVE ON THE BACK? Instagram, Facebook, twitter, website, email. Everything you want, just make it neat and easy to read.
  • And last, the friendly reminder to HAVE A CRITIQUE GROUP. Oh, and make sure whatever image you have on your business card matches the genre you’re going for  of course.

And that’s all! I hope I’m more prepared for the conference this year. I like my business card much better this time around.

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The Thing About Postcards

In light of the upcoming conference, postcards are a great way to promote your illustrations! It’s simple, just send out a small sample of your work to any ol’ publisher and they’ll certainly be interested in you!

Just kidding… I wish it was that easy.

There are a few things about postcards that any illustrator new to the children’s book world needs to know, things that I wish I knew before I went and spent money on sets of wasted postcards… I really should’ve done more research.

The thing about postcards, the creative side:

  • THE POSTCARD SHOULD HAVE ONLY WHAT YOU WANT TO ILLUSTRATE ON IT.  This seems pretty obvious so maybe I’ll back up and ask…
  • WHAT DO YOU LIKE TO ILLUSTRATE? If you don’t know exactly what you want to illustrate I would hold off on making a postcard for now. Why would you send something to a publisher if you can’t repeat or don’t want to make more of what you sent them? So…
  • FIGURE OUT WHAT YOU LOVE TO CREATE BEFORE PROMOTING YOURSELF. I’m harping on this because I personally did not know what I wanted to draw or who I was as an artist. I still struggle with this sometimes. For some illustrators, they know their style and they can repeat it and those are the lucky ones.
  • MAKE SEVERAL DRAFTS BEFORE COMMITTING. Design matters just as much as the image itself. You might have the PERFECT image that represents your work but it doesn’t fit in postcard size because of the image being too detailed or it doesn’t really work with font, then that might not be your image.
  • While we are on fonts, CHOOSE THE RIGHT FONT FOR YOUR BRAND. You don’t want to have a font like Papyrus for a children’s book illustrator promo card, I mean unless it somehow matches a quirky pirate and you really like illustrating pirates.
  • THINK ABOUT THE FRONT AND THE BACK. Okay so you might be able to get away with the image not being font friendly so you now need to worry about that information looking professional on the back. Oh, and while your back there, make the information memorable by adding some quirky image that works with the front image. The best postcards I’ve see are the ones that continue their little story on the back with something unexpected. Note that it might be a good idea to make it clear your images CAN work with type if you are illustrating for children’s books.

The thing about postcards, the business side:

  • RESEARCH THE PEOPLE YOU’RE SENDING THESE THINGS TO. You can’t just send a card with sea animals on it to, I dunno, Shen’s Books, an imprint of Lee and Low Books which focuses on multicultural stories only.  You might be able to send those cute sea critters to Boyds Mills Press though, depending on the style. Go look!
  • MAKE THE POSTCARD STAND OUT. I added this part in the business section because standing out amongst other illustrators is a good business tactic. It’s a combination of an eye-catching image, great design, and good story telling. That publisher will have postcards everywhere and it’s the same for conferences too. The last conference I went to I came home with half a bag full of postcards.
  • COMPARE WITH BUSINESS CARDS. Do you have a business card with a completely different style than the one on your postcard? That might actually be a problem. Sending mixed messages there…
  • SENDING HOLDAY CARDS MIGHT BE THE WAY TO GO. I haven’t done this yet, I’ll admit it. But I can see how constantly sending out cards to different places and keeping up with the times/season might be actually a good way to get attention. Now I’m not saying to like bombard one publisher with a bunch of your postcards constantly. That would probably get you BAD attention. Having designs for holidays every year would even be nice for family and friends too, just get people interested in looking at YOUR work.
  • AND LAST, GET CONNECTED WITH YOUR ILLUSTRATOR COMMUNITY. Okay I just like to add this with every post because it is important to be around other illustrators and see how they solve illustrator problems…CRITIQUE GROUPS!!!

I’m NOT a published illustrator but I’m learning. Everything I just mentioned is based off of the mistakes that I’ve made, some research I’ve done, and things I’ve noticed from successful illustrators.

For kicks and giggles, here are some of my failed postcard designs… alltheanimalsinballoons.jpg

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bearinwoods copy.jpg
postcard copy.jpg final3 copy.jpg

I’ll make a better one this time, I promise haha.

Review: Princesses Wear Pants

Sure, Princess Penelope Pineapple loves her closet full of tiaras and dazzling dresses but she has things to do! She can’t be bothered with beauty when planting her beats. Her lab coat suits her just fine for science fairs and she likes to unwind with comfy old jeans, the patched-up kind. And princesses certainly can’t save the day with frilly frills that get in the way! Guthrie and Oppenheim’s rhyming picture book for ages 4 to 8, along with Eva Bryne’s sparkling illustrations, says that girls can be fashionable and functional. 

Unfortunately this concept is pretty outdated. 

There are plenty of other “girl power” picture books out there. Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts are just two books that immediately come to mind. Here you can find more girl empowering picture books and with just a quick google search you’ll find even more.

Guthrie and Oppenheim’s book is NOT recommended and here is why with the good/bad list:

  • Bad. Obviously a little behind the times. I shouldn’t have to say more…except maybe if it was a book about how boys can wear dresses it would be better.
  • Bad. Everything in the book is layered with PINK, a popular gendered color, not to mention Penelope’s brother is in BLUE, another popular gendered color.IMG_4313.jpg
  • Bad. The illustrations fall short due to the bad anatomy. Here are some examples…Unknown.jpeg
  • Bad. The main character’s alliteration name makes me cringe, probably makes Ann Whitford Paul, the author of Writing Picture Books: A Hands-On Guide  from Story Creation to Publication, cringe as well.  
  • Only a little bad… Rhyming is only so-so.
  • Good. I like the styles of clothes in the book.

 

If your child likes sparkly glitter and fashionable clothes, then maybe Guthrie and Oppenheim’s work is for them. However I do not feel that this is an accurate “activistic” book that I think the authors are trying to go for. I didn’t buy Princesses Wears Pants personally, it was a gag gift.

And last, here is just a short list of picture books of mine and that I recommend over Princesses Wear pants:

  1. Ada Twist Scientist and Rosie Revere Engineer by Andrea Beaty, illustrated by David Roberts.
  2. Seeds of Change by Jen Johnson, illustrated by Sonia Sadler
  3. Extra Yarn by Mac Barnett, illustrated by Jon Klassen
  4. Ruby’s Wish by Shirin Yim, illustrated by Sophie Blackwell
  5. I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy, illustrated by Elizabeth Baddelley
  6. Malala’s Magic Pencil by Malala Yousafzai, illustrated by Kerascoet

Portfolio Prep 2, Multiple Styles

Having multiple styles in a portfolio is a blessing and a curse.

Sure this can indicate that you are versatile with medium/material and yeah this also means that you can illustrate different genres too and that’s fun.

However most publishers/agents/whoever you are showing your portfolio to doesn’t want to see too many styles. They want to know what they’re paying for. Consistency and an organized portfolio is the key to multiple styles.

Consistency in multiple styles? What I mean is make sure you can pop out that particular style anytime. Eliza Wheeler had a similar problem but she ended up owning those styles with a beautiful, prize winning portfolio awhile back.

Here are a few styles that I’ll have in my portfolio:

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They are each pretty different huh?  The first piece is digital and I tend to work obsessively over details when I work digitally. The middle is watercolor with photo reference, with some composition and color changes, of my cat. The next one is in watercolor as well however it’s more from imagination. I tend to want LESS with watercolor.

 

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Even with my black and white I can still see that I apply a similar “paint” texture. And my shapes and drawing stays the same.

 

 

 

Ultimately I think it’s how you place each style next to each other that will make all the difference. Tell a story with your pieces. Use one piece to progress to another. Or if you are working to illustrate multiple genres split the styles completely in a creative way, that’s what one of my critique members did.

Just for laughs, here is one of my “older” styles…

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Yeah, I’ll be having that in a separate portfolio haha.