My Portfolio Needs Help

  • Hello there fellow illustrators! This is kind of lengthy...😥

    I'm new to the world of children's illustration and I keep beating myself down.
    In the past year, I applied to illustration agencies and was rejected back to back. I did get some feedback from some of the rejection letters. I was told my style was too marketable and commercial. Then I was told by someone else that my style was too traditional. Then I was told by another person that my style is already fulfilled by many other illustrators. 😕

    Because of this feedback, I question everything. I redid my website and took out a lot of work that I thought wasn't my best. Should keep moving forward with my style? I enjoy creating work with it. I just wonder if it's meant for the children's book publishing world since the feedback I received was all mentioning my style.

    With just recently joining SVS Learn, I now understand I haven't reached all of the criteria to put in my portfolio to prove I can work as a children's illustrator. I'm working on a check list to start adding more work. Will Terry's class on children's books has been tremendously helpful with that. 🙆🏼

    I'm feeling a bit overwhelmed and lost with how much I know I need to add. If you have any advice or helpful tips with this, I would greatly appreciate it! And I'm feeling down about my style as well. Maybe if I add something to it or change up my photoshop brushes a bit? The colors? The method or process of painting the work from sketches to finish? I've been told my sketches are looser then my finished work. What do you think?? I feel like I'm not standing out. If you could take a look at my website, and let me know what I'm missing, I'd love a second opinion or just any support as a beginning illustrator, I would be so grateful!

    Note: I just put some projects on my site that are not quite finished yet that are only my checklist to show what I'm currently working on. 😅

    Thank you so much!

  • SVS OG

    Hi Miranda! I'm sorry you're in a slump from those rejections. Artists tend to get rejected a lot in the early years, it's a normal process, and can be a long process. You've got to keep pushing on to find that match with the right agency!

    I think you're on the right track with Will Terry's class and building a checklist of great things to have in a portfolio. It IS overwhelming, but just focus on one thing a week, like practice backgrounds, draw different plants, or creating props for a character. You'll start stacking those skills! As you work on these pieces, you might develop a more unique sense of style (limited color palettes, use of shapes, etc). Lee White's Find Your Style is a good starting point.

    Regarding the website, I think you should be a little more ruthless with the pieces. If you want to be considered for children's books, show only pieces that are relevant to that market. Delete the Sketches and 3D tabs (agents want to see finished work that applies to children's books). Remove the graphic design-y projects (or put them in a new tab). Take out the black and white line drawings at the end of your portfolio, as these aren't the same consistency as the full color pieces you have at the top.

    Fewer strong pieces will have a better impact than lots of average pieces.

    I hope that feedback was all right! SVS just had a podcast about what to put on a website, so that might be worth a listen. And keep at it!

  • Hi there, love your website. Feel free to ignore my input as I don't really have any illustrating skills myself. My initial thought is that the eyes on all your characters seem to look a bit sameish whether they are a person or an animal - a bit scarey like they are staring at something they don't like. Before I'd even read what you wrote about your sketches I thought straight away that they looked great - a lot more relaxed and user friendly. I've not done much rendering in Photoshop as I've yet to get the hang of that - I love traditional painting so I can't comment on that side of it. Don't get disheartened though you're heading in the right direction - good luck!

  • Moderator

    I'm not sure what input to give. I'm confused by the "too marketable".. doesn't that mean sellable? Weird. I love your art.

  • Hi Miranda! I really enjoyed looking through your portfolio and 3d stuff : ) Just wanted to jump in and say that I'm in a similar situation as you and it's left me really confused. The last email I got said, "lovely work, but not what agencies are looking for" I'm not sure if she's referring to the style or if its because my work is bad.

    Following up with what @Lisa-Pickard I think the eyes could be improved if you handled them like the rest of the illustration - with texture and less gradients. I think the gradients/airbrushing is reminiscent of illustrations that appear on the outside of toys

    I think we just have to keep going and looking at the work of illustrators we really admire, and compare ourselves to that 🤞

  • Hi Miranda! It's hard to be rejected! I feel your pain. Looking through your website- your work is lovely. I think you are at a really good stage and it will just take a bit of tweaking and filling out to take your portfolio up a notch.

    First, @carriecopadraws makes some really good point, I'd agree with her assessment. I also think @Lisa-Pickard is on to something regarding the eyes. I can't quite pinpoint why, but some of the characters- their eyes are starting to stray into uncanny valley territory. It may be that the stylization of the highlights work better with a more simplified style, but they might be a little too much for your general style. I'm not quite sure, but eye stylization and expression might be worth playing with as a whole.

    A couple of other opinions-

    On your website I'd consider showing the whole image, or more of you image in the preview, or make it so when you hover over the image, the whole thing is visible. It's my opinion that you want to make the viewing experience as easy as possible, when attempting to market your work. Having to click on each image to get the whole effect may not seem like a big deal, but it's harder to get an overall impression of what someone can do, and what their skills are as a whole when you have to constantly click through and isolate the images. Make it easy as possible for agencies to see your work as a whole.

    Also as a side note, I'd watch out on your stylization of men. You don't have a ton of men, so it's hard to see if it's an issue, but I'd just be careful not to make them too feminine. Giving them a more masculine jawline might help.

    Good luck! Even though it's overwhelming, I hope you can have some fun in building up more pieces. Best wishes for you and I hope you keep us updated.

  • Hi Miranda! You have so much to work with here, don't despair! This is a longer road than some of us expected, but it's normal! Just one person's opinion, but I think you are really close and just a couple of small tweaks would make a really big difference. What has already been said about making the eyes match the rest of your illustrations with that same texture I think would make a huge difference. It seems to me like that airbrushed, commercial game board character look conflicts with the textured look you also have going that is more suitable for children's books and the result is that probably your work doesn't quite fit into either genre. If you want to get work for children's books I would lose that smooth airbrushed quality you have with parts of your illustrations. Either that or go all the way with it if you prefer that style and lose the texture. I'm not as familiar with what markets look for that more slick look, but I don't see a lot of that in children's books. Hope that helps!!

  • Pro

    @Miranda-Branley By curiosity, which agencies do you apply for? It's very important to match an artist with the right agency. I've also been told my work was too commercial for many agencies who like a more artisanal look, only to be signed by Astound Us the very same season. I'm getting regular work from them too, so clearly their clients are looking for that sort of work. Please let us know where you applied, and everyone in the comments let's suggest a good fit for Miranda!

  • Hi @Miranda-Branley, feedback is a gift you know, albeit it sometimes hurts at first.

    Your style reminds me of Dora the Explorer, which is why you are likely getting feedback that it’s too commercial.

    Maybe you will be perfect for Scholastic!? I would look up agents or art directors that work for Scholastic and see if you can reach this audience. It might give you an “in” while you continue pursuing your other Picturebooking endeavors.

    For what’s it worth, I like your portfolio. Just keep working at it and getting better. You need to get that “WOW!” Piece that blows the socks off the agents, this community, and our 3 amigo instructors 🤣

  • SVS OG

    @Miranda-Branley i know what you mean. When I was starting out, all I got was rejections left and right. One agency said that it’s currently ”in” to draw bigger, more expressive eyes on my characters, so I did but when I showed my new portfolio to a uk based agency, they said my style was outdated and not in trend. It was so confusing. What I didn’t understand at that time is that each agency/publishers have different preferences when it comes to style. Most European/ UK agencies prefer a more stylized, abstract, and quirky style while American companies prefer a more structured and cartoon-like style. There isn’t exactly one trend that these companies are following. Rather, they are basing their decisions on what has worked for them in their specific markets. Just because one agency didn’t like you style doesn’t mean you won’t be appealing to another agency.

    My suggestion is to continue your search. Find an agency where the artists they’re representing are similar to you but no quite. You need to fit in but also in your own way, stand out.

  • @carriecopadraws Thank you so much for the feedback on my site! I totally agree with you! Also I love the idea of having each week be dedicated to a piece in my portfolio. That's a nice way of organizing and tackling all of the work I have to do! Thank you so much 🙂

  • @Lisa-Pickard I should have included welcome feedback from non illustrators too! I agree! I'm looking at my work right now and I can see what you're seeing with the eyes! I'm not sure what it is that's making them look jarring.. I know it has something to do my rendering though! Thank you for the feedback! 🙂

  • @CLCanadyArts I agree I wish they had explained that better, but I understand that they have lots of other submissions to look at. I can see the commercial side of it though if that's what they were getting to! I have no idea how my style ended up looking that way. Probably my rendering. But thank you! Just peeked at your site, I love your style and your work too!

  • @Katie-Kordesh I'm so glad I'm not the only one feeling this way and going through this! Thanks for commenting! I really appreciate it! I don't think your work is bad at all! I love your style and your work definitely stands out since the style is different from others that I've seen. I do think your style fits in children's illustration maybe try doing more backgrounds and environments for your characters? 🙂 Also thanks for the feedback on my style! I agree, I realize the rendering on the eyes make them feel separate from the rest of the characters. It's funny, I work at a toy and game design company and have done some box art! Coming 2021. Maybe my style has grown into that kind of work haha! I would like to soften it so it's more children's book friendly though! I think we both have what it takes, just have to push!

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz That's so interesting and strange! I didn't think there were trends in children's illustration but that makes sense. And the fact that different countries have style preferences. I have applied to UK agencies! Beehive Illustration Agency was one of them, and they were the ones that told me they had a few artists that had already had my style. I've applied to various agencies with them having different styles of artists. I think the harsher rejections were the ones that didn't have any illustrator's with a similar style to mine lol... Understandable! Lesson learned! I think at that point I was getting frustrated. Thank you for the advice! I'll pay attention to that when I make the rounds of applying again in the future!

  • @NessIllustration Thank you so much! I'll have to create a list! I applied to quite a few. I actually applied a while ago to Astound Us and didn't hear back. Beehive Illustration Agency, Lemonade Illustration Agency, Allied Artists, Plum Pudding, the CAT Agency, KidShannon, Kids Corner Illustration, Jelly London, Painted Words, Milan Illustration Agencies, Eye Candy Illustration, Spinning Yarn Rep.. Should I create some new work to add to my portfolio and then reapply in the future?

  • Pro

    @Miranda-Branley Wow that is quite a selection! I think you can probably rule out the ones who said they were not looking for anyone with your kind of style (I'm guessing CAT agency). But if they said they had other illustrators similar to you, don't give up! Keep improving your portfolio and try them again later 🙂 Maybe next year some of their illustrators leave and there's a slot for you. My first agency was Beehive, and I applied twice to them. First time they said they already had illustrators with my style. Second time they had vacancies and signed me right away! I also applied several times to Astound and never heard back. The last time, I saw a call for submissions on Linked In for the ItsMe agency, a company that matches up illustrators to agencies. They do the pre-screening for them, if you will. I applied and the lady said I'd be a good match for Astound. With ItsMe's recommendation, I got an immediate response and was signed! The whole looking for an agent thing is confusing and frustrating, You receive conflicting feedback, and you don't know if you're refused because of bad timing / circumstances or because you're not skilled enough.

    I think you're very good! You have a solid set of skills, solid foundations, but you can probably define your style a little bit more. Your characters all fit well together (a bit too much maybe, they're a bit too similar) but the backgrounds all look like different styles from one picture to the next. The facial expressions are also very similar, try to push them a bit more and show angry, sad, depressed, laughing, etc. I would suggest to make a new set of portfolio illustrations over the next few months, focusing on a consistent style and showcasing a variety of characters, backgrounds, things and skills. Then apply another round, and the answers you get could be very different this time! Good luck hun 🙂 This too shall pass. I was in the very same situation as you about a year ago. I think all illustrators go through that!

  • SVS OG

    @Miranda-Branley hi! Yeah, I think Beehive has a more international market despite being based in the UK. That’s why they have a wider selection of styles. One agency that seems to be more focused on the uk market is Allied Artists. They are the agency who told me my style was outdated. They also blocked me after I got too annoying. LOL! Anyway that’s a story for another time. It also really frustrated me at that time. But I’ve come to realize now that it was probably for the best. My style really doesn’t fit their roster and if I changed my style just to fit in, I may not be happy and contented with the work I’ll be creating.

  • @Miranda-Branley after reading the comments I wanted to see these eyes. I think the reason your eyes are jarring is that the iris is unconnected with the top lid, especially on the more realistically rendered ones. Most eyes are the opposite. If you see the white below the iris it might look okay but over the top of the iris gives them a "crazy eyed" or shocked look.

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