Illustration Masterclass Series - Portfolio Intensive on the 18th April 2015

Portfolio Intensive groups underway! Emma Farrarons, Picture Book Designer
from Macmillan Children's Publishing, looking at portfolios.

Every year, the Illustration Masterclass Series runs a valuable event called the Portfolio Intensive.

It always happens in the spring, nestled usually between Bologna and the London Book Fair. The goal is to bring aspiring, student, and established illustrators together with art directors, designers and agents. For new illustrators, it’s all about seeing where they might fit in this highly competitive industry and what gaps they need to fill. For established illustrators it may be to find new avenues to pitch their work, and to get valuable feedback on the gaps that might be missing to make those unexplored inroads to new clients and projects.

Other opportunities include making new connections with other illustrators and maybe down the road this might lead to forming online or face to face critique groups. Critique groups can be the backbone to helping illustrators develop necessary visual storytelling skills and honing drawing and painting styles.

Though the purpose of this article is to promote the Illustrator Masterclass coming up on the 18th April at the House of Illustration, I thought it would also be good to pass on a few tips to putting together a portfolio and to pass on a few links for further research.

Before that, let me introduce our reviewers.

Ali Ardington, Art Director, Stripes Publishing.

This will be the first time we’ve had Ali Ardington with us for the intensive. Ali is Art Director for Stripes Publishing, part of the Little Tiger family. Their books range from 6 to teens. Ali came to Stripes after working as Deputy Art Director for Orchard Books and Senior Designer for Penguin Books.

Will Steele, Freelance Senior Designer,
Penguin Random House Children's Publishing.

Will Steele is also with us for the first time. He currently works with Penguin Random House Children’s Publisher as a Freelance Senior Designer where he commissions design, photography and illustration, taking projects from concept through to print. Before that, Will worked as Art Director of fiction at Templar Publishing. 

Ed Burns, Advocate Artists Agency.

Back with us again is Ed Burns from Advocate-Art Agency. He founded the agency in 1992 with a group of illustrators, “who liked the idea of having an agent but not the other things that often came with that.” They are now the World largest Illustration Agency by art sales ($7 million per year) 500 illustrators and 150 art photographers with 20 full time staff. They’ve also expanded their service by starting a sister company called Collaborate Agency under Caroline Burns. To find out more go to: and

We are bringing in another surprise reviewer for the 18th April Portfolio event at the House of Illustration. More will be revealed closer to the date. 

Portfolios come in the form of digital online websites and portfolio sites like the AOI (Association of Illustrators), and, or on iPads and physical print portfolios, which can be expensive to put together. So, do you need both? Yes.

Your portfolio should put them at ease, letting them know you will be able to deliver what is exactly in your portfolio! It’s not a bad idea to ask yourself if you were hiring yourself, would you? 

Most art directors and commissioning editors do not have the time to see as many physical portfolios as they would like and do spend their valuable time online looking for illustrators to meet their current publishing needs. A good guideline to follow is; keep your online presence up to date and if you do have the opportunity to sit down with an art director, have a physical portfolio ready to show. You will need to consider content and presentation in the form of what container holds your work and how you decide the viewer looks through your work in both digital and physical formats.

When pulling together your portfolio, keep in mind your goal for showing your work and your audience, the art director, agent or commissioning editor. Remember, when they look to hire you, they are putting their reputations on the line. Your portfolio should put them at ease, letting them know you will be able to deliver what is exactly in your portfolio! It’s not a bad idea to ask yourself if you were hiring yourself, would you?

Best practice in this area is to show one style at a time in your physical portfolio, and it should be the one that best suits the area of illustration you want work in.

Whenever we talk portfolios the question that comes up most often is about showing styles. The way I’m defining style here refers to the techniques and overall look of the approach used to specific content. A good guideline is to only show those styles you are equally competent in. If you are still developing a style, wait until it is at the level you consider as good as your other stronger work. Best practice in this area is to show one style at a time in your physical portfolio, and it should be the one that best suits the area of illustration you want work in. You can show other styles on your website because it is easier to compartmentalise your work in a clear and understandable way. Something else to think about is it’s good to be known for something you do very well. Consider honing the style and content you want to be known for.

The following is a list of other areas you need to have, or work towards, in your portfolio for working in the children’s book industry.

  • Consistency of work, referring to keeping a consistent level of expertise to your drawing and painting (digital or traditional). Of course we all have less successful outcomes, just don’t put them in your portfolio! 
  • Consistency of style, already addressed earlier in the article. Style is what happens overtime producing consistent work and making conscious decisions on how to approach that work. If you are not sure what your portfolio is saying, ask someone else to look at it and tell you what they see.
  • Consistency of character, very important to any sequential storytelling genre. Show you can illustrate a character in a sequence from different angles. You can also show this in a character sheet. 
  • If you want to illustrate for children, illustrate children and illustrate to the age you want work in. We all know that animals in children’s books are children, so make sure they look like young animals.
  • Unless you have a very good reason for it, don’t have the character looking directly at the viewer, the viewer is not part of the scene! Characters are the actors on the stage and they need to interact with other characters, their environment and the objects in that environment. Unless your main characters are animals, it’s a good idea to show different races and mixing up boys and girl characters in your sequences. 
  • Don’t put in random images that don’t look like they are part of illustrating for children. You know the ones I mean. Art directors flick through work very quickly, because they know what they are looking for, and can tell within a few images if your work can meet their needs. Other things that can be good to show are interiors and exteriors and objects that populate your character's world. Show different times of day or moods being sure to integrate your character in those set ups. Consider time frames, historic or contemporary and do the research to make sure you’ve got it right. Even imaginary or fantasy worlds have a set of rules. 
  • Be sure your portfolio pieces look like assignments, and if you don’t have any, give yourself assignments based on the appropriate age range and content you want to illustrate to. Include black and white images and colour images arranged in your portfolio in a logical manner. Something I’ve heard over the years is to treat your portfolio like a story. How does it open, what happens next, and next, then how does it end? One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to put in too many images. Ten amazing pieces are all you need. Unfortunately, it will be that one weak piece you decided to keep in that you will be remembered for. 

Here are a few links for you to read more on putting together a children’s book portfolio:

If you wish to know more about how the Intensive is run, find out who the surprise reviewer is and to sign up, go to

Anne-Marie Perks is a published illustrator author and art educator who has served as Regional Illustrator Coordinator for the British Isles Region since 2001. The second of her wordless book series with Books Beyond Words, Finding a Safe Place From Abuse, will be available April 2015. Keep up to date with current news at and tweet @annmarieperks.


  1. Great and practical as well! Thank you.
    Where is the House of Illustration located?


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