Society of
Children's Book Writers
and Illustrators

April Meeting: Author and Illustrator C.S. Jennings

At our monthly meeting, in anticipation of the upcoming Austin Annual Conference May 18-19, C.S. Jennings drew attention to “Polishing Your Portfolio.” An illustrator of 24 books and author of two, Christopher Jennings is also our chapter Regional Illustrator Coordinator, so he provided a plethora of detail for attendees. Overall, he likened polishing your portfolio to polishing your windows…a job that is never really done. He likened building your career to building your own kingdom. Your portfolio, he said, is part of your kingdom, as are your website, social media and blog posts, mailings, and contests. All together, your kingdom is one large “Here I Am,” ensuring you are accessible and can be found.

Requirements for portfolios can be found on the website.

Here are some key tips:

Size: No wider than 29” and no taller than 12” when opened (For example, 11” x 14” is a good size, but 11” x 17” is not acceptable.)

NO iPads, no published books, no original artwork, no easels

Format: Your name needs to be on the portfolio; make sure it will lay flat and that you do not have to rotate it to view.

Content: 10-15 pieces “that represent you and where you want to go;” you may include sketches or a sketchbook; a dummy book can be attached with string to the portfolio for the convention’s showcase, but must be detached for the portfolio review (see website guidelines for dummy book)

Include: Bring your promotional materials with you to the conference, such as: postcards (a stack of 50 to hand out,) business cards, bookmarks, perhaps custom-made pin-on buttons

Inside Your Portfolio:

-Consider illustrating: Chapter Books, Board Books, Early Readers, Middle Grade, Novelty Books, Graphic Novels and the Black and White Only sector, which has tons of work available.

-Be careful not to chase trends…narwhals may not last!

-Editors and agents typically like to see drawings of: Children (of various races and disabilities,) Animals (in and out of clothing,) Sports (very popular,) Holidays (a huge market,) Backgrounds

-Agents look for consistency; they want to know you can carry the same style all the way through a story.

-Include drawings of what one character looks like doing different activities (sleeping, eating cookies, or running a race) 

-“Character turn” showcases your abilities to show your subject from every different angle. You can include a series of these as small spots.

Two Crucial Steps for Illustrators:

-Make and send postcards to represent yourself.

-Post illustrations to your Instagram account.

Anatomy of a Postcard:

-The bigger the better; 5” x 7” is SCBWI National Conference Size; however, 4” x 6” is common for regular postage

-Consult online industry print specifications and guidelines for postcards; consider coating the main illustrated side of postcard to prevent damage from mailing, but leave the address side uncoated for writing a personal note

-It is recommended to send a follow-up postcard to each person you meet.

At the Conference:

-If you give C.S. Jennings a stack of your postcards in advance, they will be placed into the gift bags given to visiting judges and faculty.

One year, there was a six-way tie for the winner of the Portfolio Showcase, so you never know what will happen. Someone will also win a Mentorship Award. However, winning isn’t everything…

There is an audience for everyone…so be brave! You are all brave for commencing on this journey of being an illustrator. Your portfolio’s purpose is to do an “amazing job of showing WHO YOU ARE.”