I had my portfolio review yesterday at SCBWI Summer conference

  • My review was with an art director from Simon & Shuster, and all I can say about her and other reps I met is that they really care about what we are trying to do, and are here to help wherever they can. With that said, what happened was so opposite to what I was expecting to hear. To see the images I used for my portfolio, click on my website. Every image that is there was in my portfolio.

    What was shocking is that the two images I almost dropped are the two images that the rep liked, and even wanted me to make a book dummy for her about the characters. I almost went home immedietly and started working on it, but after conversing with a friend of mine who is repped by S&S, I decided not to take that road because it would be a bit pushy. The two pictures she liked were the black and white pig pieces.

    However, I don't know what to feel about it. All the other images are the ones I really am proud of, and the pig ones were something I did just as an excercise to some extent. On the other hand, it was nice to have such interest from someone at Simon and Shuster. I feel very confused I guess about how to move forward.

    What also was interesting is that I wasn't really being looked as a illustrator only, even though I went as an illustrator and not an author/illustrator, yet, all my run ins were treated as if my portfolio was somewhat a collection of book pitches, and not so much as something I was coming in with so that I can be strictly an illustrator only. I do want to both write and illustrate at some point, but I am much more interested in getting an art rep than and literary rep. However, it seems as if that is what they really hope for on some level. Idk if I am reading that the wrong way or not.

    Anywho. I am paying for another critique with someone in a few weeks, then will get Lee's portoflio review help in the near future to hopefully get more eyes on my work and maybe here similar things or even conflicting opinions.

  • No advice or input from me, just that I think your portfolio is great and really addresses the aspects that are emphasized on SVS, such as continuity in media and style, addressing different characters and perspectives - Fantastic job!!! I would be confused, also.....


  • @eric-castleman congratulations it sounds like an awesome journey. Wish you all the best and success in business and life. Really like the feel of your pieces and the heart behind what you do through the limited communication on this thread. Onward! Yeehaw!

  • @eric-castleman Thanks for sharing your experience. Looking through your website, I feel that maybe the reason she chose the black and white illustrations was because there is a sense of mystery and an implied journey that really invites the viewer to wonder about the pig and what it's up to. Your other illustrations are really strong technically and you should be very proud, but I think in comparison with the pig illustrations, they feel like a more completed story, where the viewer has most of their questions answered. You see the images and can kind of guess what the story is and what might happen. I don't think that's a bad thing, but it may be the reason she gravitated toward the pig. . . it sparked curiosity in her that invited her to wonder and ask questions. Why is this pig in the desert? What is the significance of the sign? etc.

    I wonder what her response would have been if you had left the pig illustrations out?

    I think you are building a very strong portfolio and I hope your other reviews help clarify where to go next. Goodluck!

  • @Laurie thank you! Yes, I used a lot of the instruction at SVS as well as from others here to shape my style, as well as the content in the images.

    @Tyson-Ranes thank you! I feel we have a really strong group here, and after speaking with so many people at the conference I feel as though we found something truly special here. I hope the best for you as well, and look forward to all of us achieving our goals.

    @TessW great insight! In fact, that is almost exactly what she said. She remarked that those two images made her feel as though there was more I had put together, and even asked if I had a book dummy on me of the story. She said the mysterious feeling it gave her immedietly made her want to know more about the character.

    Something That I just remembered after reading @TessW Comment, is that the rep told me that a lot of times one image in our portfolios can spark interest from a publisher, and they will want a book written about the character we have created, and when that call or email comes, we should be able to have a pitch ready on the spot. So when we put together an image, we should also be brainstorming to some degree about the world and story that is taking place.

    Thanks for all your input. I greatly appreciate it!

  • You have a wonderful portfolio I think all the pieces are beautiful.I think the pig is such a good character I can imagine him having lots of adventures,glad you did not take any of these pieces out. It was very interesting to read your experience.

  • Thats amazing and iam very jealous;) You have earned it and i hope it will end up with some publishing job. Good luck!:)

  • Thank you for sharing. You have a nice portfolio. I like those black and whites too. They look unique.

  • I really like those pig ones too. The style is distinct and the pencil work is nice in that it describes the forms and provides visually satisfying texture.

  • This could be an example of why keeping things you aren't interested in drawing out of your portfolio is a good idea. It never fails that someone will zero in on those things. 😣

    That said, what really draws me to those black and white pieces is how powerful the lighting is and the sense of depth and volume. The texture is very lively and nice, as well, and reminds me of 90's PBS animations.

    So, I guess my thoughts are- either find a way to incorporate that style into your work more, or take them out entirely because they will distract from everything out, even just from the sheer contrast in style!

    Also, every art director and editor is different, and it's hard to get the "right" advice. So you'll have to get multiple opinions, parse out what makes sense with your end goals and what seems doable now vs later, and go from there.

    Just my 200 cents haha.

  • Pro SVS OG

    I have had a few portfolio critiques in the past year or so, and not one of them was consistent with the other. Every art director has their own tastes and will point out different things (and like different pieces!). I believe no critique (not only in art!) can be taken at face value: all have to go through the filter of your own interpretation. All are useful because they illuminate blind spots or show you opportunities you have not seen, but you have to decide what to take and what to leave on the table. Publishing is very different from advertisement, but some things seem to be the same: like you can not predict what a customer will like. Your favorite concept is the one they hate. The one you cobbled up last minute just to fluff up the pitch is the one they love. You try your best to identify their needs (not what they say they want, but what they really need!) and interpret their tastes, but you can never be sure. And at the end it is about finding the balance between what you like doing, your own esthetic sense, everybody´s feedback and what is marketable. All the while, you hope that you can remain both flexible and authentic and find somebody that likes your voice for what it is and/or what it can potentially do with some guidance.
    In my last critique, the piece the AD liked most is one that my agent wanted me to take out of my portfolio 😉 - So grant yourself permission to reject advice, even while taking all advice seriously.

  • @smceccarelli So true! Reminds me of advice @Lee-White once gave me- that your art director/editor will almost ALWAYS, without fail, pick your least favorite drawing to move forward with. 😕 There should a principle or law of physics for this phenomenon haha.

  • I am curious as to what you mean by "too pushy". And am curious to know what the rep said about the rest of the portfolio.

    To reiterate what others have said, you have a clear story in the pig illustrations. For me, those 2 catch my eye immediately, firstly for the hatching texture, which is great, as well as the composition of each. They both move the "story" forward—I get, without question, that the pig is on a journey or mission of some kind.

    I was looking at others' portfolios for comparison, and while many samples do not have a clear story, per se, you can make some assumptions. And maybe not a story, but a focus; it was fairly clear what was happening at that moment in the illustration. To me your strongest piece is the boy hiding the dragon—there is a clear focus.

    I really like the boy fishing and the alien on the beach, but they both need some clarity as to what is happening. The boy is fishing, but looking up at the birds. Why? What is happening under the water with the sub and fish? There is a lot going on, but no clear focus.

    It is obvious that the alien helped build the sand castle, but why is the girl walking away and happy? Why is the alien staring and frowning.

    I was confused as to what is going on with the sad girl sitting in front of the trees until I finally saw the rabbit hole in front of her.

    I understand that you did not necessarily start this thread here as a portfolio critique, but I assume we all come here to learn, grow, and improve. I am by no definition a professional illustrator, so take my comments as you like, but I have learned quite a bit watching videos by Will and Jake, and many others, always trying to apply their ideas to my own drawings as I work to build a portfolio I feel is worthy to present to the publishing world. This is what I see in your illustrations. If I have learned anything, it is that publishers not only want to see a consistency in style, which you show, but they also want to know that you know how to tell a story with your art. Hope my comments help.

  • SVS OG

    @eric-castleman I just looked at your portfolio. I actually see alot going on in th efishing picture. There is this little boy in a tiny boat, peacefully fishing while underneath him he is unaware of giant fish and octopus, that he is being watched through th escope of a submarine and that at any moment SOMETHING could happen!

    I also love the one where he is hiding the dragon. That definitely has a story going on 🙂 I like your purple bunny logo at the top. Your portfolio is so simple and uncluttered, really nicely done! I need to redo everything on my pages. I never even look at them. Probably need a professional's help.

    Thank you for sharing your experience and your portfolio. I think it takes courage to have your portfolio critiqued.

  • Good job getting your stuff out there.

  • @smceccarelli great input! It was somewhat my assumption that something that that might be true, and is why I am getting a few more critiques. Really, I just want to know if my work is good enough to start making postcards and persuing reps, so when I hear such a drastic review that focused on two pieces that not only are the most different than everything else in my portfolio, they are also the most limited. No color. In fact, she really emphasized that I drop color all together because "everyone does color". However, she did want me to submit a book dummy to her when she gets back to NY with the specific storyline and characters I pitched to her while she was looking at it, so my takeaway is that when she saw these images it wasn't about my portfolio anymore, but about this story, and what she might have meant when she said "everyone does color" has more to do with a vision she has for this book, and not to put color in it. In fact, I showed her my most recent piece with the pig which is in color, and she said again, take out the color and redo it this way. So I am moving forward with a postcard and book dummy for her, and who knows what will come of it, but thankfully, next week there is an scbwi local meetup for book dummy reviews tp prep for submission. Things just fell in place for me it seems, so I'm running with it, but want to continue to do both.

  • @tombarrettillo what I mean by "too pushy" is that when my critique was ending, she shook my hand and said "I look forward to receiving your work on my desk when I get back to NY" , and I almost went home and started on the book dummy to hand to her the next day before the conference. However, I am very cautious about how I go about handeling something like this, and do not want to make a bad impression.

  • @eric-castleman said in I had my portfolio review yesterday at SCBWI Summer conference:

    "everyone does color"

    Well... at least you know what to do to make this specific person happy! haha. Ok now I want to point you at some black and white children's books since you're running with it.

    Shaun Tan's "The Arrival" (Actually, if you don't know Shaun Tan yet, go gobble him up)
    "The Garden of Abdul Gasazi" by Chris Van Allsberg
    Where the Wild Things Are
    Anythign by Edward Gorey...

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