SCBWI BI CONFERENCE 2022 Illustrator Portfolio 1-1s

If you’re an illustrator or an author/illustrator, this year’s Conference at Manchester Metropolitan University provides you with the tantalising opportunity to show your work to some of the most respected industry professionals around, and to receive their invaluable feedback. Mike Brownlow reports.

This year we’re thrilled to have secured the services of Ness Wood (award winning art director, book designer, lecturer and educator), Emma Layfield (Editor and Picture Book Development Director/North Hachette Children’s Books), plus two distinguished agents, Penny Holroyde of Holroyde Cartey, and Arabella Stein from the Bright Agency.

No matter what stage of your career you’ve reached, whether you’re a published or yet-to-be-published illustrator, the idea of showing your work to experienced industry professionals can be scary. But if you want to develop your craft and progress in the world of children’s books it can be an incredibly useful step, and might well provide you with career-changing advice.

If you decide to take the plunge, there are a few dos and don’ts that we advise you to follow.

Firstly, you’ll only have a limited time to show your work, so we recommend you bring a maximum of two of the following to be reviewed: 

• a portfolio of 15 printed examples of your work

• one book dummy with rough illustrations plus text 

• Up to two finished picture book texts

• One developed storyboard with thumbnail illustrations plus text up to five pages (maximum 50 frames) of a graphic novel or comic book project

• a digital test or storyboard for one e-book or app. 

If you don’t fancy carrying a portfolio around with you at the conference, it’s quite acceptable to display your work on a device like an iPad, a laptop or even a phone. The important thing is that what you want to show is clearly displayed to maximise its impact.

Choosing what work to include is always a tricky problem. It’s best not to overwhelm the reviewer with too many styles. Choose one style, or at most two, that you’re comfortable working in, and that most vividly demonstrates your unique approach to illustration. 

Remember to show work that’s appropriate for children’s publishing. Advertising and design work, no matter how professional and accomplished, might not work in the context of picture books. 

Being able to show that you can draw children and animals in a variety of poses and facial expressions is of course very important. 

If you choose to show a physical portfolio, it’s best to display printed examples of your work rather than original artwork, for security purposes.

An illustrator showing her portfolio in a 1-1

The cost of the reviews this year will be £40 for SCBWI members and £45 for non-members. When you buy your conference ticket via the SCBWI-BI website, make sure you request an Illustrator 1-1 Professional Review on the booking form. All attendees who register an interest in having a professional review will then be sent an email option to purchase a 1-1 session with one of our four reviewers. Booking will open on Monday 12th September. There are a maximum of 20 places being offered for illustrator reviews this year. If you’re not among the initial lucky applicants, you will be placed on a waiting list.

If you’re offered a portfolio review, the email we send will ask you to supply us with a few representative jpegs of your work, a short bio and/or web link. We’ll also ask you to name the two reviewers you’d most like to look at your work. Although we’ll do all we can to make sure you get your first choice, due to pressure of time, we can’t always guarantee that this will be the case. 

In the unlikely event that your review is cancelled at short notice, you will of course be offered a full refund. 

This year we’re aiming to do all the Illustrator Portfolio reviews on Saturday afternoon, between 4.00 pm and 6.00 pm in 20 minute slots, allowing a five-minute turn around. 

You’ll be given the time of your 1-1 and the name of your mentor beforehand. These details will also be pinned up at the conference. On the day, there’ll be signs directing you to the room where the reviews will be taking place, and volunteers to show you to one of the four reviewers. We’ll probably be setting up a dedicated WhatsApp group for the duration of the conference, to enable us to do things like double check your times, and so you can leave any comments you might want to make. 

Remember, 20 minutes can go by very quickly and a review can often be overwhelming. If the reviewers are comfortable with the idea, it might be worth your while making a recording of their comments.

For more advice on putting together a portfolio, you might like to check out the following:

• John Shelley’s recent article in Words & Pictures
Portfolio Advice
Surviving your first portfolio review by Jane Heinrichs from Words & Pictures
Why booking a portfolio review is a great idea by Alex Wilson from Words & Pictures
Portfolio intensive feedback by Trish Philips 

Further Questions?

If you have any questions/queries about Illustrator 1-1s at the SCBWI Conference, that are not answered by our FAQs, please email: 
Mike at or
Paul at

*Header image: Tita Berredo 
*Feature images: Paul Morton


Mike Brownlow has written and illustrated many books for children, most noticeably the multi-million selling, award winning Ten Little series, now on its twelfth title, and Little Robots, which became a much-loved TV series, shown in over 70 territories. He’s worked for many leading publishers, including Orchard, Bloomsbury, MacMillan and OUP. His agent is Caroline Walsh at David Higham Associates. Mike has three grown-up daughters, and lives with his wife in Somerset. Visit his website here


Stephanie Cotela is the new Network News & Events Editor for Words & Pictures magazine.

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