Part 2 of 4

In the previous article, I’ve stressed the importance of research. Now that you have the information you need the time has come to create a plan.

Step 2: Plan Your Portfolio

A portfolio is not just a collection of your best drawings bound into a neatly packaged book. Your portfolio should reflect who you are and why you are the best person for the job. If you need to, write down what position you wish to obtain on one post-it note and why you should get this position on another. When planning your portfolio keep referring to these post-it notes. If the artwork you are including does not fit both of these chief purposes, leave it out.

My Case


SCBWI 20th Annual Winter Conference Portfolio Showcase, a.k.a. Let everyone know I am the greatest illustrator on the planet. (This is not the time to be modest or make excuses. Even if you do not believe this, when creating your portfolio pretend that you do. If you do not believe you are good enough, why should anyone else?)

Why me?

  • I can create a professional book from scratch by myself.
  • Draftsmanship — there is nothing I cannot draw.
  • Empathy — emotional connection with the story/viewer.
  • Adaptable — I can adapt my style to suit a project’s needs.
  • Maximum output with minimal input. — I do not need to be micro-managed.
  • Neat and organized.
  • Dedicated.
  • Easy to work with. — 100% client and customer satisfaction.
  • Tech savvy. — I can work with Cintiq, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, HTML Markup…

Or, keep it simple:

The Perfect Illustrator:

  • Emotionally connected.
  • Easy to work with.
  • Extremely skilled — author/illustrator/publisher.

How many art pieces should I include?

According to online research, ten to fifteen is the desired number. You really should show only your best work and make it relevant to the position you are seeking. Any artwork you doubt even a bit does not belong in your portfolio. A portfolio should be your calling card, an introduction. If the prospective employer wishes to know more about you, he/she can invite you in for further discussion.

To make it easy for the prospect, always include your contact information, URL to your website, and 1 – 3 relevant social media accounts in your portfolio.

Thought 10 – 15 sample illustrations is the recommended number, do not be afraid to ignore the suggestion if it does not meet your purpose.

My Case

Instead of the suggested 10–15 illustrations, I will include twenty pieces in my portfolio. My reasoning is that since I’m not seeking a position for a particular job, I need to show what I can do. I’ve divided my portfolio into common publishing age categories: 0 – 6 (baby to pre-school, usually board books and young picture books), 3 – 8 (picture books), 8 – 12 (middle-grade), 13+ (YA). Whoever is looking through the portfolio can choose which age level to view.

What should I include in my portfolio?

This depends on the position you are seeking and you should have the answer if you’ve followed through the action steps suggested in the first article.

For an illustration portfolio consider storytelling. Your portfolio should tell a story. Think of it as illustrating a picture book about your abilities. Look through published books and take notice of the styles. (For example, books for youngest children tend to have illustrations made up of simple shapes and bright colors.) Show expressions and action, show that you can create a two-page spread, possibly include your illustration process, show that you can tell a story with images.

You should also include your best work in the beginning and the end of your portfolio, because you never know which end the viewer may choose to look at first.

Thumbnail your portfolio.

After you’ve selected the illustrations you wish to include, you should create a logical progression within your portfolio. Before I beginning putting my portfolio together, I thumbnail a visual plan for the entire portfolio. If I notice an imbalance in the thumbnail stage, I take away or add new illustrations.

The above is a thumbnail plan of my portfolio.

Just as an author begins with an outline, plan your portfolio with thumbnails then work from your plan.

Action Steps:

  1. Answer the What? and Why You?.
  2. Choose 10 – 15 best pieces of artwork. Keep referring to 1 as you do so.
  3. Create a thumbnail outline of your portfolio. Make sure everything flows and that your best artwork is at the beginning and the end. If you can, only include your best artwork. If anything makes you wonder or cringe even a bit, discard the work.

In the following article, I will share with you the tools I used to create my portfolio.

Best wishes!

Mili Fay