Portfolio critique?



  • Hi there!

    So it's been about a year since I started getting a portfolio together for children's illustration. I participated in the SCBWI showcase in LA last year and am planning on doing it again this summer. I'd love to have some honest feedback of what is missing in my portfolio or if my work is not quite there yet. I also have my portfolio separated into traditional and digital styles and would love to know which you think is stronger.

    I've queried 12 agents with a book dummy, have had a couple of requests to see more books (which I don't have yet), and silence from the rest. I have no idea if it's my dummy or my work that is lacking but I want to shape everything up before querying more and going to the next conference.

    Thank you so much!

    www.natalielundeen.com

    Screen Shot 2020-03-09 at 10.38.59 PM.png


  • SVS OG

    I can't offer any business advice, but I'll give you a quick take on your website/portfolio.

    You're work is gorgeous. I find both your traditional and digital work to be equally strong.

    I'd consider getting rid of your fine art section. While the work in it is gorgeous, I feel like it doesn't connect enough to your illustration work and is therefore a little distracting.

    You have a good variety of images- you have single human, human/animal, multiple animal, and wide shots of multiple people- but you don't have 2 or more people taking up a larger portion of the composition. I think adding a couple of illustrations with 2-5 people, larger in the comp would help round out your portfolio a bit more. Maybe a family or a friends scene.

    Great job overall and best wishes for you. I would definitely be attracted to your work when picking out books for my kids. I hope you get signed soon!


  • Pro SVS OG

    I think your work is awesome, very accomplished and rich and definitely spot-on for children’s illustration. You have children, animals, scenes, full-spread, vignette, etc.... definitely enough to showcase what you can do. I would expect it’s only a matter of time before an agent signs you on, and you should continue querying knowing that it’s a patience game.

    I’ve seen all type of solutions for website organization and I cannot claim I know what works, but here are some unsolicited suggestions:

    • I would remove the distinction between traditional and digital media. The work looks and feels very similar and no AD cares how you do the work until AFTER they’ve chosen you based on your style (there’s one exception to this I know of: a pub house who will not hire any digital artist...but that’s their bad IMMO). As is, it feels distracting, as if there was a difference which is not really there. In most cases, the AD will mention which piece or pieces they find particularly appealing for the job at hand, and then you know which technique they prefer without having to discuss it at all.

    • I agree on removing the Fine Art section entirely. Maybe you can put some of that work in your “about” page, to show where you’re coming from;

    • The section “sketchbook” has some delightful work in it that you could well include into your main portfolio...I know some ADs like to see a sketchbook section, so it’s up to you.

    • The “Wall art” section is a bit puzzling. Is this work intended for licencing? Or are these murals you have actually done (in which case, a photo of the wall in the physical space would be interesting). In general, you should try to focus your website as much as possible to the kind of work you want to do and licencing/surface design and children’s books are two very different businesses with practically no point of contact (unless you’re so famous as a book illustrator people want to licence your book art). Some of that art could work well also in your main portfolio, but certainly not patterns or more decorative art. I see you have some of that in your Etsy shop (lovely shop, BTW!), and maybe that’s the only space it should have. This type of art is generally not commissioned, so it’s not clear why you have it in your portfolio unless you’re looking for licencing deals - which may put off a literary agency.

    • You have enough images overall to consider removing some that are maybe not at the same level as the overall portfolio. This is always a very subjective decision: each of us has images they feel strongly about and others you’re not so sure...My personal reaction is that the three darker/muted ones at the end of the traditional section silence the lively color of the rest of your work, but that’s only a subjective opinion.

    One thought I had looking at your work is that it looks very “European”. I don’t know if this has a role in why you have not received a response so far. Tastes and styles in different markets are very different, and it’s really difficult to really pinpoint what the differences are. The European market, particularly the British one, likes styles that are a bit more graphic and more “naive” in the rendering style. The US market absorbs nearly everything, but styles that have more volume rendering and draftsmanship involved are easier to place in the US. The German market prefers more traditional-looking, un-stylized work. I don’t know if this can be explained in any other way than by looking at a lot of books published in different markets....
    Anyhow, your work has some characteristics that fit well in European markets - the use of dot eyes or very small eyes, the naive, texture-rich rendering, the graphic quality of the composition, moderate shape stylization. Maybe it’s an idea to look at agencies who serve both markets, like Bright, for example...you may have less luck with agencies that specialize on the US market only. I
    don’t know if that plays a role in the lack of response so far - there can be a million reasons - but maybe it’s something to consider moving ahead.



  • My background is in oil painting, so I am drawn to your fine art page. Your paintings are beautiful! I know it would be a different style, but that bottom right fine art piece could be done digitally too. That piece may or may not be what agents are looking for when it comes to digital illustrations, I'm too early in this process to know that, but to me it would be a beautiful style. As a matter of fact it inspires me to think about moving my digital style in a more 'painterly' direction.



  • @TessaW Thank you so much, Tessa! I appreciate the input on losing the fine art section--I've been on the fence about losing that so it's good to get an outside opinion. And thanks for the suggestion on adding those couple images, I agree.

    P.S. I loooooove that nightfall piece you did! So beautiful!!



  • @smceccarelli Simona, thank you SO much for taking the time to go so in depth on this! Everything you've said is so helpful. I will think about how I can reorganize what's in my main portfolio and I think you're right about losing the purely decorative wall art and fine art stuff. I guess I can see a lot of that wall art being used as a board book style so I didn't want to lose it, but I'll figure that out.

    I appreciate the mention about losing those three darker images as well--it's hard for me to get rid of some of my babies but I think you're right.

    And that's funny you say that about the European thing--pretty much every illustrator I really love is European, or an American with a European style. Definitely something to consider!

    Thank you so much again!



  • @deborah-Haagenson Thank you so much, Deborah! I really appreciate your input!


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