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:

final???.jpg

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.

crowcolor6.jpg

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.

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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smokesposter copy.jpg

 

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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.

 

UGGGGG.jpeg

 

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…

rock copy.jpg

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portfolio Prep 1 (Mental Prep)

It’s that time again.

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.

 

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then

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now

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • 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.

Commission Mission

I’ve had four commissions this month! Yippee!

However not all of them were children’s book related, actually most of them were NOT so I won’t post them on here. I will however post the ones that I do think might relate to children’s books.

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This one unfortunately didn’t work out, but I did like working on the image.

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This is a WIP and wasn’t intended for a PB, however it looks very middle grade I believe. Who knows! I could illustrate a middle grade one day.

Last month AND this month were both pretty busy! I should start writing reviews again, I did read just about fifty picture books last month haha. Plenty to write about!