SCBWI's annual conference in LA is almost upon us! And with it- the Annual Juried Portfolio Competition, so this week 's post continues  the series of pre-conference prep with portfolio tips!

At the first SCBWI conference I attended in LA, 12 years ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a workshop with Dilys Evans- agent, founder of The Original Art Show, and author of Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration.

Dilys said that whenever she was considering representing someone, she would pick out both the strongest piece and the weakest piece in their portfolio, and she would take those pieces to a meeting of her staff . There, she'd hold up the best piece- which presumably would get "Oohs" and "Ahhs". Then, she would hold up the worst piece...

Now, when she said this- almost every person in that workshop cringed. I knew we were all thinking the same thing... "What would they say if she held up my weakest piece?"

I resolved then and there to take anything "cringe-inducing" out of my portfolio.

So, whether you're in it to win it- or just to placing your work out there to see and be seen- putting together a portfolio that is both professional and personal is essential.

Here are a few tips I can pass along to help you create a portfolio to be proud of...

1. Presentation counts.

Before a person even looks at the artwork inside your portfolio- they will encounter the portfolio itself.  The outer case should reflect the same professionalism and style you present on the inside.

It need not be fancy and frilly or sparkly and glittery- (but if that is what your work is like on the inside... well, you might want to consider it).

When I design my pieces I am always searching for the simple yet elegant solution to my compositional challenges, and I want my portfolio to  reinforce that.

So here's what mine looks like...

It's my "little black dress" of portfolios. Made of board covered in  black book-cloth, it feels like a beautiful hardcover book. Which is just what I want people to think when they hold it: "This book is something of quality..."

The same manufacturer of this portfolio also makes available custom covers- and the best one I've ever seen belongs to Jeremy Holmes- you can take a peek at it here.

But whatever you choose- be it sleek and black,  wonderfully whimsical, or fancy and frilly- make sure it suits your work.


2. Introduce yourself.

Like a good strong handshake- a strong title card, or introductory piece lets those opening your portfolio discern quite a bit about you.

My advice? You don't want to start off with a limp-fish handshake- i.e. a weak piece.

I prefer to add a title piece as the first page of my printed and bound portfolio, rather than clutter up the rest of the pieces with my contact information.

Here's one from 2010 as seen in my portfolio...

If you can swing it- I think it's a good idea to have your "title" piece tie in with the rest of your promotional pieces. For intance- feature the same piece on your business card. That way, when someone who has met you (and has your card) opens your portfolio- they will immediately make the connection between the two.


3. Best Foot Forward.

One of my favorite movies is The Three Amigos. In it- the Amigos (and the terrorized villagers of Santo Poco) are forced to stand up to the infamous El Guapo to save their homes. But how?

The Amigos ask "What is it this town really does well?" (I totally recommend you watch this clip from the movie.) And then they use the extraordinary talents of the townspeople to save the day!

So, what does this have to do with putting together a prize winning portfolio?

Ask yourself what is it that you REALLY DO WELL! Not just  OK, not PRETTY GOOD.

That thing... is what you need to put in your portfolio.

Are animals your thing, but people not-so-much? Then put in animals.

Are your illustrations of insects adorable? Go with bugs.

Is your black and white work so-so, but your color pieces are amazing? You know which way to go...

I've heard lots of people say that every children's illustration portfolio should have a perfect balance of  animals and people. Of adults and babies. I've even been given a list of barnyard animals that EVERY portfolio should contain. But in my opinion this, pardon the upcoming pun, is hogwash. Not every artist draws every subject with consistency and grace.

Your portfolio should show what YOU do best.

Humility aside- one of my strong points is my line-work. So I like to showcase the working sketch of a piece opposite the finished piece.



4. Go with the flow.

Just about as important as the quality of the pieces you show, is the order in which you show them. Remember that when Art Directors and Editors look at your portfolio- they are thinking about how you tell a story.  How you utilize page turns. Your sense of pacing and timing. Your design sensibilities. And this applies to your portfolio layout as much as it does to the individual pieces themselves. Think about making the transitions between pieces flow naturally. Group pieces from the same project together. Pages that transition between one project and another? Consider creating a sense of flow with similar lines of action, or lighting, or color...

5. Less is More.

Aside from the lovely feel of my screwpost portfolio case- the other attribute that sold me on it was my ability to control the number of pages. Don't you just hate the feeling of turning to a blank page that's just filler?

By controlling the number of pages, I also eliminate the urge to add that "just ok" piece because I have an extra page to fill up. I truly believe that less is more when it comes to a printed portfolio.  I limit it to 12 or 13 pieces plus my title and end page. And speaking of end pages...

Just as the title page serves as your nice firm introductory handshake, a good endpage  is your "It's been lovely to meet you, we must do this again soon!" parting handshake.


Bottom line- make sure that from start to finish (and all the pages in-between) your portfolio showcases the best of you!

Best of luck to everyone in LA!