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:
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.
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…
Yeah, I’ll be having that in a separate portfolio haha.
If you have social anxiety like I do, a conference can feel like a nerve wracking nightmare of *gulp* meeting people.
You gotta do it though.
What’s best is to be prepared with a list of tiny reminders for you while you’re there:
ACTUALLY TALK TO THE OTHER WRITERS AND ILLUSTRATORS. I know. This is obvious. What to talk about? Ask them about their work! Are they published? Are they new to the business? Have they been at it for awhile? Do they like pizza? Whatever. Just talk to them. Most likely they’ll ask you about your work in return. You might even make a friend. I made two friends last year, better than none the first year.
Ask to see what the others are working on. This is mostly for the illustrators though as most illustrators will show you their sketchbooks and be pretty open. I’ve noticed that other writers are less open about sharing because they are wary of people stealing their work, which is reasonable.
Actually follow up on the all the business cards and postcards that will be everywhere. I’m certainly guilty of coming home with a bag of the things and not looking up even one writer or illustrator.
Participate at panels! This is a difficult one as my first response is, “SHARE MY WORK OH GOD NO IT’S TERRIBLE.” You might learn something by participating. I certainly did. I learned that I can make a decent cover letter so now I have one for my manuscript ValenTINA.
Research the speakers! This is mainly for your notes and possible future submissions. Luckily the MD/DE/WV has their “Coffee and Conversation” bit on their blog that interviews the guest speakers.
If someone says something you don’t like about your work, just smile and nod! I haven’t encountered this yet but I have received looks that had said, “this girl is kidding right?” Don’t bother defending your work. If you know it could do with a fixing up and practice, just do that next time you get that pencil on paper. Also, don’t be too hard on yourself because that’s just one person’s opinion.
I’ve been the “loner at the party” before. It’s alright. Most people at conferences have been going for a while or they are with their critique groups so it’s easier for them to socialize. Many have never even been to a conference! You won’t get to know your community if you don’t go and talk to your fellow illustrators and writers.
Time to have my work scrutinized and criticized until I feel like crying.
Just kidding! Portfolio critiques are extremely helpful if you know what to look for amongst the sometimes harsh reality check. And past mistakes can mean future successes… and sometimes realizing further mistakes you never knew existed.
Amongst the things to do and look for in a critique:
Wait, hold up, GET A CRITIQUE GROUP. Do it… okay now we can move on to the professional critiques…
If a problem is repeatedly mentioned. Everyone is going to have their own opinions, but if a similar opinion reoccurs it’s time to take advice. For example, I had two critiques last year. Both of the illustrators were quite different and gave me almost vastly different advice EXCEPT for two things, practice my line work and practice drawing. That’s what I did. I think my art is better for it too.
If some advice REALLY doesn’t sit with you, listen but go with your gut. I know, this also seems pretty obvious, but I have to remind myself that the person critiquing me doesn’t know me or my work inside and out. They just met me! Therefore I’ll take all advice with a grain of salt. For example, last year both critiques told me to stop writing and focus on illustrating. I obviously didn’t take that advice because to draw I must write and to write I must draw. I DID however take down the claim that I’m an aspiring author/illustrator on all social media to erase further criticisms of this claim lol.
BE AS PROFESSIONAL AS POSSIBLE. Meaning…dress nicely, act nicely, have a clean presentation. It sounds silly and shouldn’t your work speak for itself? No. Someone is always a better artist than you are, so it’s time to not just rely on that. My first ever critique told me to throw my whole portfolio away because it looked bad. I took that advice, threw everything away and got a new portfolio. I had several compliments on my portfolio presentation. I also dressed a bit better than last time and actually had conversations with the illustrators. The whole experience went better than the first.
LOOK AT THE WORK OF THE OTHER ILLUSTRATOR. Seriously, get to know your critique, even if it’s just a quick google search. Half of the reason why I think I got such a bad critique the first time is because E.B. Lewis is a fantastic drawer/water colorist and he looked at my work like a child drew it. If you’re into color, try to get a critique from someone who does color. If you like digital, go for a digital artist that doesn’t have a prejudice against it. If you are a mixed media artist, then go for mixed media. Sometimes it’s good to have someone who does completely different art from you, but you might not get the advice you want from them. Fair warning.
Don’t cry. Don’t do it. DO. NOT. CRY. Unless you are by yourself in the shower.
And last, just be happy that you have the nerve to show your work. If you’re someone like me who is very self critical and thinks you’ll never be good enough, this is an important thing to remember. At the end of the critique, no matter how good or bad, at least you got that far and now you can get better.
It’s difficult to present your work in confidence, but it must be done. There are tons of resources from the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) online about how to build a portfolio. Just takes some time and research.
I’m ending with the beginning. The Keynote Speaker Bruce Coville was fantastic despite the microphone issues. And besides, I don’t REALLY think he needed a microphone anyway as his presence, his CHARACTER, filled the room and got the audience’s attention immediately.
Speaking of character, that was the topic he chose to open the conference with. Character is ultimately what keeps the readers and listeners coming back for more. Even if you’ve read all the blogs with all the tips on how to make a good story, even if the concept is intriguing or the art phenomenal, a good main character is the key ingredient to the children’s book creation.
Below I will section off the notes in bullet points. Anything quoted is directly from him, or my attempt to quote the fabulous things this man says haha.
Take that character you love and give them trouble:
Make a “scary” story. “What is a scary story? A scary story is when a character you love is in trouble.”
“A perfect ending has both a surprise and the inevitable. It’s not a coincidence.”
Coincidence can be used to get them into trouble, NOT OUT OF TROUBLE.
Make the audience HA (laugh), WAH (sorrow, relief, personal connection) and YIP! (GASP! The “scary” situation.)
Make your character face a tough choice.
Throw in what the character doesn’t want.
Make the character “need” as the need drives the action.
Character MUST solve the problem.
Coville said something similar to “A great story is well told.”
Female type of storytelling is the beauty of language and character.
Male type of storytelling is the action and energy, the tension.
A story needs BOTH types to become a great story.
Character IS plot.
Every payoff must be a set up, every set up must have a pay off.
Tell the stories clear to get the attention it needs.
Fold a piece of paper into 6 sections, or 12 sections if you’re writing for an older audience.
Write 1-6/1-12 in the boxes.
Write most potent memories in grades 1-6/1-12.
Write opposite point of view/varying different point of views.
He said something like this, “The right story at the right moment is like an arrow to the heart” and that sentence itself sent an arrow to my heart.
And that’s it! That’s all the notes I’m typing up on this blog. I hope they were even a little helpful to whoever reads this post.
Veronica Bartles, author of The Princess and the Frogs, gave an informative presentation Saturday at the From Dreaming to Doing 2017 MD/DE/WV conference about the differences between publishing your work at a small press vs a large press.
She began by listing a few things to the audience that I think every writer (and illustrator!) should think about:
Figure out where you want to go.
If you do not know where you want to go then it doesn’t matter what path you take (just think about the cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland when Alice asks what path she should take)
WHAT DOES SUCCESS MEAN TO YOU?
She then went on to listing the differences between the two types of presses.
Niche market or specific audience. This is good if you have a VERY specific type of book that may not work in a Large Press.
“Family” feel. Basically everyone knows you in that small company and you have like a sibling rival feel with the other published authors there.
Innovative marketing. You’ll be pretty much marketing yourself.
No agent required.
Advance and royalties. Some have a higher royalty rate, some don’t even have them.
Also, make sure to know your contract inside and out because the small press could own your rights one day and then they might go under the next day and STILL have the rights to your book despite not existing anymore.
Expanded market, which is great for a wider distributer.
“One of the gang” feel, like you are now with the “big kids.”
Advance and royalties.
Again, pay attention to contracts. Every press is different!
As for picture books, a bigger press would be a better option so for me I would not go with a small press.
Bartles ends on this note, “Whatever path you’re taking, make it YOUR path, not someone else’s.”
You know, that’s a perfect theme for a children’s book writing and illustrating conference. Writing and illustrating DOES begin with a dream, a passion to create this piece of work that dives into the heart of the reader. To make them FEEL what you are feeling, understand and connect. The doing part is what makes the dream come alive.
Each panel reminded me that in order to make my dream a reality I must do the work and put myself and my work out there! I had so many notes from the panels that my notebook pages are currently kind of a mess.
Other than the panels, which I will post some of my notes in the near future, I had two extremely helpful and encouraging portfolio critiques from Calef Brown and Alyssa Nassner:
Practice varying my line work throughout a piece. Almost all of my images had the same kind line thickness and the idea is to thicken the lines of the objects up close and thin them out further away. Also vary the types of line, like I do a lot of swooping motion and curves. Need to change it up a bit.
DRAW DRAW DRAW! He wanted me to practice drawing the figure and told me to take night classes. Unfortunately I don’t have the money to take night classes, but maybe I could save up or apply for scholarships.
He liked my more detailed pieces, the small intricate details I had with some pieces.
He liked my color, but gave me the idea to try to work with brighter colors.
One of the mixed media pieces he thought wasn’t working due to the two mediums fighting for attention.
this is the piece with the two fighting mediums.
. He said in some pieces I seemed hesitant. Fix that.
And last he told me to work on INDIVIDUAL pieces instead of stories. And focus only on illustrating instead of writing.
I got the same advice on varying line work.
Bring more narrative into my pieces, though she thought I was good with the narrative with my last three images.
Liked my color.
Suggested that I look into illustrating for middle grade too. She made this suggestion when she saw the black and white piece show above.
Work on drawing.
With the mixed media pieces, some were too muddy. Fix that.
Told me to get a domain name and website (or URL) and basically said I was silly for not having one lol.
She liked my digital pieces much more than the mixed media.
Both critiques told me I was not quite professional enough, however I was CLOSE. Both told me that my compositions are good, my light, color, and drawing are pretty good, I just need to get to that next level of professionalism and tighten up the craft. Both thought my style was consistent even with the two ways of working, which is GREAT.
Both liked the piece below the most.
It was a great idea to have two critiques. I plan on going to the next conference!