Building A Strong Portfolio / Finding your tribe



  • I've heard this in many different industries about how to define your audience or finding your tribe and even defining your business modal.

    Has anyone come up with a strategy or process on who you serve and how you define your ideal client? @Will-Terry @Lee-White @Jake-Parker and formulating a business plan?

    Knowing who you serve usually identifies how you brand your self. And branding is very difficult to do because we usually develop in our own bubble.



  • @jthomas For me it begins with making the art you want to make - it has to. You will only be enthusiastic when you're creating your best work - the work that you can't wait to get into or back to. Your audience will find you when you share that work. Then you need to keep making the work that made you and your audience happy. Think of the art you consume be it movies, music, comics, books, whatever. The creators didn't define you - they made their _________ and you found it...and now you want more. I hope this helps...


  • SVS OG

    Like Will said, make the work that you love and your art will attract the poeple who love the work that you do


  • Pro

    I'm digging into this a lot lately because I've been starting up a clipart shop on Etsy. My art has stayed the same, but the end product and the way I market it is heavily influenced by the target audience.

    I think it has to start with your art, what you want to draw, what you want to do, and then you can start thinking about who could want a product like that. You can then tailor it a bit more to that audience.

    However you have to try it to know if it works for you. I'll give you an example. Last year I first attempted to open a shop. I like to draw cute and colorful things, so I decided I would go into nursery art prints. It was really fun making my collection, but when I put it up for sale and started marketing it I realized that it wasn't a good fit. My audience was moms, and I don't understand that audience well, their needs, etc. I couldn't get into their heads and I wasn't having any fun trying to.

    I went back to the drawing board and started asking myself: Who do I WANT to be my audience? Who do I already know, or want to get to know better? Who do I want to work with? And the answer was crafters. I'm a big fan of arts and crafts and really let that hobby of mine take a back seat while I focused on learning illustration and and launching my career. I decided to open a clipart shop and market it to crafters as a great way to create in a way that's both affordable and eco-friendly.

    For my freelance illustration business however, I don't really think of it in those terms. It seems somehow... wrong, or like it doesn't totally fit. Yes it is a business and it's good to keep the end customer in mind when illustrating for them, but I think illustration is art before being a product. It has to be really authentic and really come from the heart, and I don't think you can completely achieve that if you're thinking about it in terms of "serving" someone. What we create isn't actually 100% a product, we create the illustration that someone makes into an end product, like a children's book, magazine or whatever it may be. It's the publisher or editor's business to think about the target audience and how to sell them the product, and it is your business to make the best art you can (unless you open your own shop and create an end product yourself to sell).

    Another thing to think about is that our "ideal audience" changes a little bit with every project: one book may be targeted at young toddlers and then next could be for girls 9-12. We don't have the same audience all of the time and we have to be flexible to a point. It's good to think about that end user to guide some of the decisions, like perhaps the colors or the subject of the illustration, however your signature style would probably stay the same.

    One way where target audience may come more into play is at the beginning of your career when deciding what field to go into. This goes back to what @Will-Terry and @nyrrylcadiz said, it has to come from what you love to do. The "dream portfolio" assignment is great for that. Take stock of what kind of art you like, what you enjoy drawing, etc. And then see who could need and want that sort of artwork. If you like to draw dark and gory illustration, then you wouldn't go into children's books. Once you decide what kind of illustrator you want to be, yes you can think of your target market as a way to guide the themes you choose or what to put in your portfolio. For example if you go into children's books, then you can keep your themes PG and put pieces in your portfolio that show what editors need a lot in children's books, like expressive characters, children, fun colors, etc.

    But I would advise not to take this target audience thing too far and not let it control everything about the art you decide to do. If you try to make a piece solely based on what other people want, there will be nothing of you in it. It goes back to being authentic and pouring your heart into it. Audience is important to a point, but when you start talking about "branding yourself" I think it's taking it a bit too far and you should take a step back. My clipart shop, Sweet Siren Co, is a brand. But me, my art, that's not a brand. It don't think it is or should be...



  • From my residency I learned that an art director can give you some guidance. Will Varner saw my art and said instantly visual development for games. I had no idea what he meant and he referred to my “love submission “ with the witch and the draw 50 things combo. And he saw similarities and said thats the market ill thrive in. So I recommend get a portfolio of your strongest pieces together and find an art director to give you a critique. 3x3 magazine does a critique for 30$ over skype. They really go into it. That’s what helped me figure out what to do once my residency is over. I can do comics and visual development.



  • Some great responses so far. The hardest part is breaking away from the mindset of making art to please other people or just making what's popular. Gotta really listen to yourself



  • @Will-Terry thank you for this and taking the time to respond. I truly appreciate and respect your input. I would have to agree with your points. When I started graphic design I targeted what I loved and eventually got more of it to work on. (Logos and iconography ). Eventually moved over to web development for financial reasons and put a back seat to that passion. Now I feel wayyy out of touch in what I wanted to do, to begin with.

    But that's a story for another time. Thanks again! I should post more work and get feedback.



  • This morning @Will-Terry, after reading your comments and all the other helpful experiences shared by fellow SVSers, realised the monkey mind strikes again, and this whole week I've been in a funk thinking I'm in a catch-22, where I can't go obtain professional feedback because my portfolio is not good enough and my portfolio is not good because I've not obtained that feedback!



  • Yeah im on board with will terry. It seems like the answer has always been Make art that you love to make or you find fun or funny, whatever. Then ask a professional where that art fits (like an art director or illustration teacher) The reason I wouldn't ask someone that's not one of those things is because from my experience, if you ask an illustrator thats been doing something for a long time, they may not know anything about other markets except the one they've worked in for 30 years however long. I swear I just learned this like a week ago have yet to see if what the art director told me is what would work for me but it would be fun to do so maybe.



  • I feel like I'm in the same boat as you, @Qi. I am in a feedback loop on this forum - and having that is all-important, of course - but I have not taken any steps to get a professional portfolio review online or to attend events where I can get that done in person, precisely because I feel I need to develop my portfolio further before I can do that. It's a tricky place to be.


  • Pro

    @animatosoor @Qi I think the problem is that just "making a better portfolio" before you can request feedback is such a vague goal. To make things happen, you need to have a much more tangible goal, something you can quantify and evaluate, and then break it up into smaller steps. Otherwise you're just kind of floating into nothingness with no clear path to your objectives.

    So you want to improve your portfolio. Define what you need exact;y for that. Let's say you need 10 new top notch pieces (or 5-6, if you already have some you can use). Then make a list of what you'll do for each one of those pieces. Take into account what your portfolio needs when making your list (example: I need to show more characters, I need more animals or children or interiors in my portfolio).

    Once you have a clear list of all the pieces you need to create, give yourself a timeline. How much time would you need to complete each piece? Let's say you're very busy, but you can manage to do one per month. Then break it down further. I need to have my thumbnails and color tests / value tests done by the first week. Final sketch by the second week. Colors by the 3rd week, leaving the last week of the month for feedback, tweaks, and recharging your creative energies for the next piece.

    Once you get a solid plan like that, tell everyone about it to keep you accountable! Post about it in the forums, tell all your artists friends, and your family. Telling people makes it real and helps you be accountable and keep it up.

    Now you have a good game plan! You know exactly what you need to do, when you need to do it, you know when you'll be done and you have set up a way to keep yourself accountable for it. You have a lot more chance of success than if you're just randomly drawing with a vague goal of improving your portfolio.

    I hope this helped, and I look forward to seeing more of your work in the future 🙂



  • Great advice once again, @NessIllustration. Thank you so much for your insight.

    I did make a list of what is needed in my portfolio just last month, and I've been following it very diligently. Before that it truly did feel like I was floating into nothingness, as you said, and it's felt clearer since taking this approach.

    The accountability has been working well, too, but I guess I've been a bit impatient with myself as of late, getting frustrated about what I sometimes consider to be slow progress. I've got to keep truckin'.

    Thank you for your helpful comment. 🌻


  • Pro

    @animatosoor It seems like you're already well on your way to accomplishing your goals and didn't need the advice ❤ Great work and your latest pieces on Instagram are especially stunning!



  • @NessIllustration Aw, that's really encouraging to hear! Thank you so much. 🌻



  • @animatosoor Did You made Your list from the svs class or Your own?



  • @MichaelaH I used the PDF list from the SVS class "How to Perfect Your Children's Book Portfolio" as a guide, and then created a personalised actionable list for myself.

    I opened up a blank word document, and in it I wrote, for instance:

    1. Toy Demon
    • format: stand-alone illustration
    • emotions
    • environment (interior)
    • kid
    • creature
    1. Forest River Scaffolding
    • format: double-page spread
    • emotions
    • animals
    • environment (outdoors)

    This way I know what items in the checklist I'm able to incorporate into each portfolio piece. And then my next step would be to determine when I would finish each illustration, as @NessIllustration said.


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