Masterclass Report: the Portfolio Intensive

By Melissa Rozario
Imagine this: a Saturday afternoon, a beautiful white studio space at House of Illustration. You, grappling with a selection of lovingly bought cakes. Three of your closest agent pals by your side, pushing wonderfully direct and constructive feedback your way. 

No, this isn’t my way of publicly mocking you about ‘that’ entry in your dream journal. What I’m describing here, friends, is the Illustrator Masterclass. 

On Saturday 12th March the House of Illustration did indeed open its doors to the inspirational and aspirational alike - and what a productive day it was too. SCBWI called upon the collective powers of Mark Mills, CEO of Plum Pudding Illustration Agency, Nghiem Ta, Assistant Art Director at Walker Books and Ghislaine Gayyo at Advocate Art to head up this, the first illustrator focused session for the year – the Portfolio Intensive.

The premise for the day was that Mark, Nghiem and Ghislaine would rigorously feedback to illustrators with likes, improvements and ideas for future direction. Admirably (and perhaps ever so slightly alarmingly), the portfolios were looked through at a speed that seemed to say ‘I haven’t seen a thing!’ How could they have? Surely they didn’t see that wonderfully swirly pink cloud design thing at the top of the page that I know I loved. How complacent. WRONG.

The reality was comfortingly contrary. I was astounded. These are seasoned professionals. In a 30 second glace through the entire portfolio they were (as if by magic) clear on what the feedback would be. And then, carefully, the portfolio would be opened again at the start and a thorough analysis of the images would commence.

I suppose when people want your opinion on a daily basis, one would become particularly efficient at giving said opinion.

I digress.

The point is, it was evident that one was in good hands. Six(!) good hands to be clear. Don’t get me wrong, the feedback was by no means bog standard and sugar coated. Each professional was different in what they looked for, and indeed, what they offered. Let me walk you around the room…

At the far end of the studio sat Mark. He would talk markets and possible trends for the future. He is clearly quite a visionary with a penchant for cooking up ideas on the spot. He talks about how a simple comment on an illustration at the foot of his email can be converted into a commission. You see, a good agent will think on their feet and will constantly be representing you – even inadvertently. Mark makes it clear that: “The artist determines the parameters of their representation.” If he loves your work, he will find a way to make others love it too.

On the middle table is Nghiem. Nghiem wants you to be unforgettable. She gives quirky advice on how to have an active presence when pushing your work out to publishers…without overstepping the lines.

It’s really simple she says, “Be unforgettable.” She’s right. If unforgettable is not your benchmark criteria, you’re probably undershooting – try again.

And then there’s Ghislaine. Ghislaine knows the look and feel of each and every one of the 300 people that Advocate Art represents. Flick through their catalogue, randomly pick out an artwork and I can guarantee Ghislaine can tell you who that work belongs to. She is passionate about the people on her books. Ghislaine imparts simple advice that can make all the difference – tips on making your artwork pop and what palettes of colour to use.

 There is a friendly camaraderie in the room and it’s coming from all sides. Participants are definitely encouraged to be vocal and hone their own critical eye. Words from peers as well as the professionals deposited a very ‘fleshed out‘ and rounded feedback for people to take home with them. Impressively, every attendee received three lots of feedback from three different professionals in the space of 4 hours. Quite a result!

Perhaps what I found most interesting was learning of all the un-signposted avenues that illustration could take you down. Sure, you may want to illustrate for children’s books, but what if your calling is just a short car ride away - in adult non-fiction? Why waste the opportunity to truly shine by not positioning yourself properly in the market?

In short, the masterclass is a great opportunity to get to know your peers, your professionals and your own potential and I would like to think everyone subsequently left invigorated and renewed with a sense of possibility. I mean, it’s a bit like having a mentor for one wonderful afternoon, shepherding you through a confusing world.

Privileged information flying around plentifully. I found myself taking notes ferociously – but I couldn’t possibly write all of it down here, you will just have to attend next time.


Melissa Rozario is a writer / illustrator who joined the SCBWI Illustrator Masterclass team in January 2016. Contact her via


  1. I sadly missed this. Are there any plans to re do a similar session soon?

  2. In fact, it is highly recommended that writers should do additional research on the topic that they will be writing about to expand their knowledge on what the article is all about.


We love comments and really appreciate the time it takes to leave one.
Interesting and pithy reactions to a post are brilliant but we also LOVE it when people just say they've read and enjoyed.
We've made it easy to comment by losing the 'are you human?' test, which means we get a lot of spam. Fortunately, Blogger recognises these, so most, if not all, anonymous comments are deleted without reading.

Words & Pictures is the Online Magazine of SCBWI British Isles. Powered by Blogger.