I attended three illustration workshops in January and February. The talks were given by Steve Metzler (Dutton), Patrick Collins (Henry Holt), and Regina Griffith (Egmont). Here are some notes from those sessions that I thought might help both illustrators and writers.
Steve Metzler gave a talk about Dutton, then
reviewed several portfolios, including mine. I learned almost as much
from what he said about other portfolios as I did from what he said
about mine. If you have a chance to have him review your portfolio, take
- Characters are selling in picture books and graphic novels,
especially quirky characters (like Fancy Nancy, Skippy Jon Jones, Diary
of a Wimpy Kid, and Baby Mouse).
- A good character leads to a good story.
- He likes to see people in portfolios, not just animals.
- 2012 is supposed to be the height of the new PB market (baby boom in 2006).
- If you’re an illustrator, also be a writer.
- He works on everything from PB to YA.
- Sees a need for graphic novels for boys (7-9 year olds).
- Don’t ever do a PB dummy where it’s all the same (all full page spreads, all vignettes, all single pages, etc.)
Patrick Collins gave portfolio reviews to three
lucky people, followed by Q&A at a local SCBWI meeting. He didn’t
review my portfolio, but I learned a lot from the portfolios he did
- A publisher might choose your art or your writing, but not always both – even if you do both.
- Try to have a focus in each image. How do you get the focal point
of the image to come forward and have everything else fade into the
background? Try varying the tones/values.
- Kid’s books are all about characters and storytelling.
- Pay attention to how you draw people and animals and how you incorporate them into your backgrounds.
- You really need to put in the time to make progress if you want to have a career in art.
- Make sure you have character in your characters. They should look
like living people, not mannequins. (You can achieve this through
expressions, body language and interaction between characters.)
- Need to have more than one perspective/point of view.
- Think about how you can show focus in a busy image. You don’t want people to miss the important part of the scene.
- The reason an art director looks for a consistent style is so they
know what you can/will do if they hire you. You can always market a
different style later. Show your best style at the time.
Regina Griffith gave a talk about Egmont, then
reviewed several portfolios, including mine. As with Steve Metzler’s
talk, I learned almost as much from what she said about other portfolios
as I did from what she said about mine. Regina was really great about
reviewing a portfolio and then talking about what was working or not
with the whole group. If you have a chance to have her review your
portfolio, take it.
- Not publishing many PBs right now. Focusing on older books.
- She’s looking for a broad range with real kid appeal.
- Most of the books on their list right now are US books, but they do have a couple that are foreign books.
- No graphic novels yet, but maybe in the future.
- Can’t imagine not liking animals in clothing. It depends on the
text though. (In response to a question about anthropomorphized
- Picture books should have a plot.
- In a crowd scene, everyone should have different personalities.
- Page turn surprises in picture books are a good thing.
- It’s good to show you can fill a page with spots/vignettes or with full page spreads.
- It’s good to have black and white images in your portfolio when picture books are in a slump.