Earlier this month saw the return on Zoom of one of our most popular SCBWI illustrator activities - portfolio reviews. Trish Phillips reports.

Our Portfolio Reviews have changed with the current times and illustrators are enjoying a whole new experience of online reviews with our reviewers. 

This November we were lucky enough to have Libby Hamilton, editorial director of picture books at The Andersen Press, Jo Spooner, designer at Macmillan and Paul Coomey, art director at Wonderbly Story Studio. With around 20 minutes of full on feedback the illustrators were in for a treat.


Paul Coomey, Libby Hamilton, Jo Spooner


As I was helping with the individual reviews, making sure they went smoothly as planned, I picked up a few general tips which are useful for illustrators putting their portfolio together for future reviews and submission to publishers.

A comment that came up a few times was ‘stand-alone images’. When you are trying to show a variety of work it is tempting to add as many different images as possible.  Do bear in mind however, that when a publisher sees too many ‘stand-alone images’ it is challenging for them to discern whether the illustrator has the ability  to develop these as a sequence, therefore it would be an idea to include at least one or two sequences to show continuity of character and a bit of a storyline.

Also, they always love to see sketches; if you have enough room you can always add relevant character sketches or other development sketches. 


(image: @Anne-Marie Perks)
My advice to get the most out of your review is to know beforehand what you hope to gain by the end of it and be realistic within the time frame that you have, and the amount of work that you show. 

One illustrator might need an overall view of their portfolio – which pieces work together, which do not fit with the others, is there a cohesive look? Another might prefer more in-depth feedback on certain images they may be struggling with and not be so concerned with the portfolio as a whole. It might be that you would like guidance as to which of your pieces fit in with a certain publishing house – whatever it is you need, just ask at the outset. Reviewers will have their own way of working as a rule which they hope will be helpful, but would be happy to oblige if you needed a different approach.

(image @Trish Phillips)

It is your time so make the most of it and, remember, it is tempting to chat to the art director or agent that you have waited for so long to see, but the more time you spend talking, the less time they have to give you their valuable comments. Do by all means run through or explain if needed, but keep it brief.
Take notes as well or ask if they mind you audio recording for your own use, as it is often hard to remember everything they say.

Niki Leonidou writes about her experience as an organiser and co-host at the 7 November Portfolio Breakout.

These sessions are very helpful for every illustrator, beginner or senior. The art director reviewers were great in focusing on what should be included in the illustrator’s portfolio and what to take out as well as pointing out the illustrator’s strengths and which pieces needed more work.  All the reviewers were open to any questions they may have had and were a great help in getting a clear vision towards their goals. One thing I would recommend for illustrators would be to prepare questions in advance or their review. For example: Who would be interested in my work? Is my work suitable for board books, picture books, chapter books? What should I change and work on more to hit the market I want? etc. In reference to talking about yourself and your goals, yes do that but make it brief! Listening to what the art director has to say is very important. Be prepared to ask specific questions to get the most out of your review. If you don’t have any questions then just listen to the feedback and take notes. The point of view of every professional is quite personal but also very enlightening as he/she knows the industry so well. Little tips here and there may help you change your perspective towards your work so much and help you discover a new path to follow. 


One really amazing thing with these online masterclasses is that illustrators who take part are from all over the UK and even Europe. This strange global situation has made lots of us relocate in different places or has made us unable to travel around, so taking part in these masterclasses brings us closer together. It also enables us to stay in touch with our craft, show our work to great people and take good advice how to get better. 


(image: @Anne-Marie Perks)

One of our reviewers, Paul Coomey from Wonderbly, commented that he mentioned to the illustrators to think of their portfolio as a presentation, or a story, and lead the viewer (reviewer) through it. He followed from that suggestion with an understanding that he supposed illustrators preferred to hear from the reviewer more than talking too much themselves. 

Paul added about SCBWI events in general: 

I always love taking part in SCBWI events. I get to meet all manner of brilliant illustrators, including those whose styles I might not ordinarily search out. There’s a huge amount of creative talent in the SCBWI membership, and I come away from the review sessions feeling like I’ve been fed. Would definitely recommend!
Full details of upcoming Illustration Masterclasses are here
(Header image © Trish Phillips)

  Trish Phillips is an author, illustrator and paper engineer. A graduate of the Cambridge MA course, she's co-organised the SCBWI Illustrator Masterclasses for several years.
Instagram Twitter: @trish_again Blog biglittletale 
Anne-Marie Perks is a former SCBWI Illustration Coordinator, illustrator, animator and lecturer at Buckinghamshire New University. Recent books include the wordless When Dad Hurts Mum, and A Safe Place from Domestic Abuse (Books Beyond Words Publishing, London). The Silkie (Clucket Press) a middle grade novel, is now available.
  Niki Leonidou has been an illustrator since 2001 with more than 180 books with her work published worldwide, including Greece, the US and UK. Her picture book, Looking for Misty, both written and illustrated by her, was nominated for the Keycolours Award for Best Picture Book Concept in Belgium, 2014. Find her on Twitter at @NikiLeonidou.

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