Portfolio Panel Highlights:
Start portfolio with the piece that most clearly showcases who you are as an illustrator and the sort of work you want to be hired to create.
Begin and/or end portfolio with an introductory page including your name, contact/social media info, and a small illustration.
Arrange portfolio in order of target age (young adult to middle grade to picture book, for example) or arrange in sections (characters, comics, picture book spreads, for example) with dividers.
Quality over Quantity:
Include fewer pieces of the highest quality, rather than many pieces of lesser quality in your portfolio. You will be judged by the worst piece, so make sure all pieces are of the highest quality. Only include work you actually want to be hired to do; if you hate dragons, don’t include dragons.
The physical portfolio book can be just as much of an expression of your voice as the illustrations inside; have fun with it! Consider different-colored covers or materials. You can even make your own portfolio book.
A square portfolio format will do the best job of showcasing both landscape and portrait pieces. Consider printing landscape pieces across two pages, so they’re not rotated or shrunk to fit on a single page. Orient images all the same way for ease of viewing.
Showcasing portfolios online allows freedom to format images differently, but keep them at similar or same width, so image size isn’t drastically changing as viewer scrolls.
What all winning portfolios have in common is a strong, clear, cohesive voice. Having many pieces in your portfolio is less important than all the pieces you do have clearly communicating who you are as an illustrator.
Every few years ask yourself: does the portfolio communicate who I am as an illustrator now, or who I was two years ago? Remove even strong pieces no longer relevant to work you want to create now. Continually remove and add pieces as you grow and change as an illustrator.
Social media, website, and conference target audiences may differ. (You probably shouldn’t include a dancing margarita illustration in your SCBWI portfolio, even if it’s super fun!) It’s imperative to keep in mind who your audience is for each respective body of work, and curate your portfolio for that specific audience.
Conference portfolios can be platforms for getting work, but don’t necessarily expect it. (Some Austin SCBWI members have earned book deals from their winning portfolios.) It’s also possible for work to come in years after a conference. Continually reach out to people you want to work with and keep reminding them of who you are. Keep your social media updated because you never know who might be looking at your profile. (Some SCBWI Austin members have landed agents and commissions through Instagram.)
An exercise you can do: think of three words that describe what you want your work to convey. When you are deciding whether or not to include a piece in your portfolio, consider whether it fits all three of those words.
How to Find Your Voice:
Voice can sometimes be a difficult concept to wrap our heads around; check out Rovina Cai’s terrific essay on finding your style/voice. The three different elements of style she discusses could be helpful prompts for coming up with your three descriptive words. https://www.muddycolors.com/2018/09/rovina-cai-on-style/