Monday, March 16, 2009

Art Day: strengthen the weak spots in your portfolio

I’ve heard many art directors and editors say, “you’re only as good as the weakest piece in your portfolio.”

With that in mind, I’ve decided to work on some of the weak spots in my portfolio. I’m going to give myself assignments (like the 14 week novel writing project). You can do the same assignments or create your own assignments to address your needs.

The first thing I’m going to tackle is background. A strong or interesting background can add depth to picture book illustrations. It’s also a nice contrast to my simple character based images.

Portfolio Assignment #1: A one-month study of backgrounds and landscapes, broken up into 4 week-long categories.

The goal for the first three weeks is to do lots of quick sketches (at least one a day) of each subject, while paying attention to composition. Think about your portfolio goals while sketching. Gear the size, shape and composition of the sketches towards what you want to illustrate (picture books, novels, covers, graphic novels, etc.).

The goal for the final week is to put it all together and create sketches that you can use for portfolio pieces.

Week One – Cities and towns
Week Two – Country landscapes
Week Three – In the house (kitchen, living room, the MC’s bedroom, etc.)
Week Four – Add characters (Create a finished sketch in each category. Use your previous sketches as starting points if you want. Leave room for titles or PB text, pay attention to composition, and watch out for the gutter.)

Anyone else need to work on their backgrounds? Or maybe give yourself a different assignment?

Next month I’ll be working on expressions (because nobody is happy all the time, even if they were in my portfolio when I first started).


  1. Another thing about portfolios, (and I am not sure if you covered this) is that you should have samples of what you like to draw. If you hate drawing bicycles, for example, don't show illustrations of them.

    One example from my personal experience: I illustrated a couple John Deere board books last year and they called because I had tractors and farm illos in my portfolio.

    A group of illustrators where I live get together for lunch every Wednesday and this is a frequent topic of discussion :)

  2. Good luck in adding to your portfolio!

  3. See, I like to draw everything.

    I would like to focus on layout- creating more dynamic compositions, and I would also like to work on some historical scenes. Which means research.
    But that's what challenging yourself is all about, right?

  4. Whew...that's a lot of work for one month. Have fun sketching!

    Interesting assignment. It might also be a good way to see what works in your style and what doesn't. For instance, I don't see myself illustrating anything with very crowded scenes like busy villages or carnivals, and some people are great at that.

  5. Awesome plan! I may have to adopt that system for my writing!

    Best of luck to you!


  6. Great points Christina. I haven't done a post about what to include, or not yet. I suppose I should do one of those soon. The John Deere example is a good one. You never know what image people will connect with.

    Thanks Kelly!

    Right Lily! I need to work on layout and composition too. Backgrounds are step one for me. Good luck with your layouts and with the historical scenes (that sounds cool).

    Adrienne, it doesn't have to be a lot of work ... I didn't say the sketches would be good ;) Ha! Good point about seeing what works or doesn't for your style. I'm trying to push the limits to see what works (my style isn't great for crowd scenes either, at least not yet).

    Christy, thanks for the luck! Hope you can find a way to make the system work for your writing.

  7. Thank you for providing such great suggestions. I know I have to include more backgrounds and this is really a nice way to get organized about it!

  8. Cyn, you're welcome - hope the suggestions help! Thanks for stopping by.

  9. great project! I am going to try some of your suggestions