Part 1 of 4

If you’ve ever asked yourself:

Confused Mariana from the École Napoléon series.

  • What should I include in my portfolio?
  • How can I stand out from the crowd of artists just as talented as I am at a job fair?
  • What format should my portfolio take: a book, a folder, hand-made…?
  • … and many other questions that can, quite frankly, drive an inexperienced artist insane.

This series of articles is for you. In this series I will attempt to answer these questions as I build my own portfolio from scratch for the SCBWI 20th Annual Winter Conference, occurring February 2019 in NY. I invite you to join my journey from the very beginning, until the final article in which I will share my NY experience.

Before you get too excited and scream: “Yes! This is what I have been searching for. Thank you [insert deity of choice]!!!” I have a confession to make. I have never gotten a job using an artist’s portfolio. All the jobs I received were due to the word-of-mouth or via websites, my own and the commonly popular ones, like Etsy.

If you have not met me before, you also need to know that I am rather an unusual artist. I do not fit pre-set checkboxes. I’m a classically trained animator, who made her living painting portraits and freelance illustrating, before creating Mili Fay Art. I have the skills to create a live action/classically animated movie from scratch. I can build and publish a book in print, e-book, and Mobi formats. I’m also willing to learn whatever I need to to get the job done. I do not fear technology, I embrace it, but I also enjoy being traditional. I do not have a single drawing or painting style, but tend to push my style in different directions for different projects.

I think that’s all you need to know before we begin this journey. So, without further ado, let’s get on with it.

Step 1: Research

It is very Hermione of me, I know, but I never begin anything unfamiliar without extensive research.

As I read article upon article about creating artist’s portfolios, I came across two common rules:

  1. Create a portfolio specific to the job you are seeking.
  2. Stick to a single style, so that companies who wish to hire you will know what to expect.

I have no issues with rule number 1. I have many issues with rule number 2.

Let’s begin with rule number one. It is deceptively simple, but if you have ever tried to follow this rule, I bet you anything that you got stuck when the time came to choose your artwork. The only advice I can give you here is that you should find an artist whose job you wish you had and ask them for advice. Most artists are not as fearful of sharing what they know as you would imagine, and those who are are not mature enough, so you should stay clear of them anyway.

Therefore, if you wish to apply for a character designer position at a studio, study the studio’s style, and see if you can talk to one of the artists, or even the director in charge. Terrifying, I know, but this is the time when you have to become a fearless warrior, not stay a shrinking violet. The worst that can happen is they say no, and you will be in the exact position you were before.

If you wish to illustrate covers, have illustrated covers in your portfolio. If you are applying for a picture book job for young children, study the published books, and bring something fresh to the styles that are shown.

As I have never gotten a job with a portfolio, here is my favourite article on creating an illustration portfolio I’ve discovered in my research. This article links to other great articles, so feel free to explore.

My case and troubles with Rule 2.

MFA Portfolio Instagram Poll

The people have spoken and I will do my best to share what I know.

The SCBWI published a page that outlines exactly what is expected from me as an artist for the SCBWI 20th Annual Winter Conference Portfolio Showcase.

I have never attended one of these events before. I’m not sure what to expect. Also, I was not sure what to do with this portfolio. Do I create a portfolio pretending I am looking for a particular job? Do I stick to artwork focusing on a particular age group? Do I follow the sage advice I’ve read in the articles, or do I take a huge risk and do something I have not come across in my research?

What would you do? By the way, the tickets and transportation costs for this event have reached CAD$1200.

My whole being is telling me to take the risk. This is not the time to play it safe. I need to stay true to myself and show whoever is judging this portfolio who I am to the best of my current ability. My reasoning is simple, I do not wish to work with people who will not appreciate me for who I am. This portfolio exhibition is not about finding a job — I’m compiling a list of agencies and publishers I will be submitting my work to in the future to find a job — this experience is about finding a kindred spirit who will be a partner in my future career.

I am more than an illustrator. I’m an author, a publisher, a filmmaker, and animator. Thus, I’ve decided my portfolio for this particular event will take the shape of a published hard-cover book. It will include my Portfolio divided into different age groups, an illustration interview (YouTube Video and written), social proof, and a comment section for the judges (if they wish to offer some constructive criticism).

Building my portfolio will continue in the following article, for now I leave you with these three action steps:

  1. Write down why you are creating your portfolio? A job? An event?
  2. Write down, what do you wish to say with your portfolio? Why should they hire you instead of the amazing artist standing next to you? What makes you perfect for this position?
  3. Research. Read all the articles and watch all the videos you can about creating a portfolio for the position you want. Take notes. Write down questions. Then, find an artist through social media, introduce yourself and politely ask him/her if they would not mind if you ask them some questions (do not send them a list of questions, and keep your inquiry to a sentence or two).

Happy hunting!

Mili Fay