How to put together a great portfolio!

  • Hi guys!

    I've been seeing a lot of posts regarding portfolios lately and it's great to see so many fellow SVSers looking to send their amazing work out to publishers and agents!

    I was recently awarded the grand prize of the SCBWI Summer Spectacular Portfolio Showcase 2020 (still hard to believe!), so I figured I must be doing something right! 😂

    I've written a post on my website about my thoughts and tips on the things I followed while working on my portfolio and wanted to share it with all of you, in the hope that you may find it helpful.

    There's not really anything new that I've said, but hopefully, it can act as a reminder of the important things 🙂

    I'd love to hear any feedback or questions you may have, or even if there's anything you'd like to add to the list!

  • @Neha-Rawat

    I'm currently putting together my portfolio for my first portfolio review (my SCBWI region is running an Illustrator's month, and I'll be submitting as part of that event) and this is SUPER helpful! I've been taking a long hard look at everything I have in my portfolio and I have a feeling I'll be revisiting your blog post more than a few times during my last two weeks of prep!

    I really, really appreciate the info on what you left OUT of your portfolio and why - Everyone seems to talk about leaving stuff out but they never show the work or explain the thought process, so having that was super valuable (I have roughly twice the work I need right now)

  • This is so well written and very generous to share. Love it!

  • Wow, lovely portfolio! Guess I am late to the party, congratulations on receiving award and thank you for writing such detailed advice.

    If you start topics such as "how winning award (or getting an agent) has changed/helped my illustration career", I would definitely want to read, haha 😀

  • @korilynneillo That's so exciting! I'm glad you found it helpful! Best of luck for your review!
    I have so many more pieces that were at some point part of the portfolio and got bumped out or were a very close choice. The main reason for replacing artwork was to maintain my 12 piece number. I'm sharing a few more here:

    neha rawat almost portfolio pieces.jpg

    1. I loved the story and lighting in this one, but I wanted to have more animal pieces so replaced this with a similar night scene piece with the animals sleighing down the snow hill.

    2. I loved this when I created it, but I felt the animals weren't anthropomorphic so this got replaced by the jungle birthday scene.

    3. The point of this was to show character consistency. This was part of my online portfolio for a while and I think contributed me to landing my first picture book deal with Candlewick Press which is also about the relationship between a grandfather and grandson! 🙂 Got bumped out because of the witch series.

    4. My critique group suggested including this piece to highlight my ability to illustrate different moods and also the lighting. No particular reason except that it was too sad to see 😅

    5. My Slowvember/Draw 50 things piece submission. I actually took the DFT class after I illustrated this (so silly of me) which is why I could later point out so many thing I could have done better so it didn't make the cut.

    6. Drew this for an indoor scene. But at that time, I had the bushfire narrative sequence also included and the expressions of the characters/mood weren't all that different.

    7. Finally, my first version of including diverse children. Of course, at that time I didn't draw any noses on my characters and this just seemed out of place and was later replaced with the indian family/tug of war scene.

  • @TessaW Thanks! 😃

    @idid Thank you! Haha! It's still a little soon to tell how my agent and the award has impacted my career, but I'll definitely give an update!

    I would like to say that I landed my first international picture book deal with Candlewick press by just emailing publishers my portfolio (which was different from the current one). It's paying pretty well as per my standards of a starting illustrator.
    This is how I got representation as well! And even though I'm super grateful the work that my agency is getting for me, they are with tight timelines and starting pay.

    This was all the result of months and months of learning and working on my portfolio 🙂

  • @Neha-Rawat Wow! Huge Congratulations! Things are happening really fast, isn't it? Looking forward to hear/read more of your new book (when you can share them) 😊

  • @Neha-Rawat the blog post is fantastic. I love seeing your very analytical way of appraoching yoru portfolio. I will defintely borrow some of your thoughts to sharp up my portfolio.

    I also love your elaboration on how you took out pieces and why in this thread. Looking forward to read your book.

  • SVS OG

    @Neha-Rawat This is very well done, and especially well-taken is the point about being ruthless with cuts. It's also very interesting to see what you excluded and why. It's a great moment when you get to the point where you have such a consistently good portfolio that you can be ruthless!

    It's an interesting point you make about the sad hospital scene. I think I know your work well enough by now to recognize that your favorite kind of scene shows (if I can describe it), a sense of humor with a little bit of tenderness and a bit of mischief/irony, especially with the animals. There is a lot of dancing and there are a lot of genuinely happy smiles. And this sensibility also shines through in your color choices and drawing style.

    Thank you so much for putting this together! I'll definitely be taking your advice as I'm working on a portfolio at the moment. And congratulations once again!!

  • An agent reached out to me yesterday, and embarrassingly, I had no portfolio. I quickly whipped this one up this morning on 'behance'. Is that an acceptable website to use?? Is it best to pay for a website? I was looking for a 'free' option since I was certain that must exist, but maybe I'm just being cheap.

    Should I get a real website? Are these illustrations ok?
    The agent more or less said I should be doing graphic novels... not something I've ever really considered since I was just trying to wrap my head around cover illustrations and picturebooks. I see the point they were making though, with my style..
    Anyways, is Behance an acceptable site?

  • Pro

    @kylebeaudette Since you're already using Behance, I suggest making an Adobe Portfolio. You can import your Behance projects into it, but it looks like a professional website. It's free with any plan of the Creative Cloud subscription. It comes with a address, but you can buy a domain on for $8-$10 a year and link it to your portfolio. It looks way more professional and for that price, even I am not that cheap lol. The Adobe portfolio is an easy block builder, so within 1-2 hours and under $10 you could have a full-fledged professional portfolio website to send that agent 🙂 By the way though, I checked your Behance and I think you should completely separate your sculpting from the illustrations. It's completely different, doesn't target the same market, audience, tone and feel, so I can't imagine it would ever have any overlap with your illustration clients. Also I checked your Instagram and though your illustrations there are sparse, they seem to be of higher quality than those you've chosen to show in your Behance gallery.

  • @NessIllustration I don't have a creative cloud subscription though...:(
    I know what you're saying about the sculpting... but I'm looking to use sculpture for cover designs, so I really want to highlight it. It's kind of the thing I do that I'm at all known for. I'd feel weird not including it, but yeah. I hear ya.
    As for the drawings, many of them are olllld. I for sure need to make some new work to better promote myself. I've been working on sculpture pretty much exclusively for the last year and half.

    What other websites are good for a portfolio? say for 10-15 bucks a month?

  • Pro

    @kylebeaudette I suggest then 🙂 That's the cheapest you'll get.

  • @NessIllustration thanks!
    I hate to be cheap, but I also don't want to needlessly spend too much money on something that can be found for less🙌

  • @xin-li @LauraA Thank you for your kind words. I'm pretty confident you guys will come up with amazing portfolios! 😃

    @kylebeaudette I think @NessIllustration has given good suggestions about the websites. It's ok to start out on free platforms, but investing in a website or domain name makes it more professional.

    I personally think that having a portoflio on behance is acceptable but you'll really need to make it look attractive. I understand right now you've done a rush job, but maybe look up tutorials/tips on how to make it look more professional and work on it. For example, you can add WIP images and photos from different angles and some write up about the character for each of your sculpture projects.

    I also think that having sculptures and digital art together would be confusing to the viewer about what kind of work you would be looking for. You could also check if you can separate the 2 styles in different behance accounts and promote them independently? (This is just a suggestion)
    This would, of course, be easier to do on a website since you could just have dedicated tabs/pages for each type of work.

    Did you ask the agent how they found you? And were they looking to represent you for your digital work or sculptures?

  • @Neha-Rawat
    Yeah, it is a total rush job, haha! I threw it together to send to him over instagram, so he'd have something to show his agency or whatever...I don't know how any of this works.
    I think if I got a website I'd for sure separate the sculpts/digital illustation/sculpture with sets as cover images, good point.
    I wasn't actively looking for an agent, but he represents some of my favourite artists and this could be a good opportunity for me, even if I'm not ready for it at all. I don't know how he found me. He just messaged me saying I should do graphic novels, that the advance would be very high. I asked if he'd represent me and he told me to send my portfolio. That was yesterday, and I just sent him this awful behance one. Probably shouldn't have...

  • @Neha-Rawat Very helpful information! Thank you for taking the time to post this 😃

  • Pro

    @kylebeaudette It's true that if he only messaged you yesterday, it would have been reasonable to make him wait a few days before replying, and that would have gotten you time to do a portfolio a little bit more put together than this. I don't think most people expect you to answer their messages within the hour! Next time take a minute to breathe and think it through, and you'll be fine 🙂

  • @NessIllustration I actually have a question regarding replying email to anyone ... I came from an industry in which most people reply email within hours, if not within 24 hours .... Me and my colleagues always reply email in the evenings and on weekends and on vacations. This is something that is deep in the industry and is also written in our policy ... Guess I am too biased based on my personal experience, but in the publishing industry, what is really tolerable in terms the time it takes to reply a normal priority email? 24 hours, 3-5 days?

  • Pro

    @idid I haven't seen any official guidelines or anything, since the publishing industry is made up of so many contractors who do their own thing, and 9-5-ers who, from my experience, answer the next business day or sometimes take longer. I know many popular artist are famously bad at clearing their email and reply to their backlog every few weeks or even months! I personally reply as soon as I get an email just because I like to keep things moving fast to the next stage, but it sometimes takes days to receive an email back. Really, don't sweat it too much! You certainly aren't required to answer within 24 hours, and certainly not on evenings, weekends and vacations.

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