Tuesday, January 27, 2015

ten tips for choosing what to draw for your portfolio, and ten ways to find inspiration

Sometimes figuring out what to draw is easy. These times come in fits and starts and can’t be counted on, especially when you need to create new art and characters for your portfolio. I’m lucky in that I tend to get lots of ideas, except when I want to make a new portfolio. Then the ideas seem to run and hide. (Argh!)

Below are ten things I do to help me choose what to draw, and ten ways I look for inspiration. (Note: Mirka suggested in the comments that you don't have to draw to use these tips. I think she's right; they work for writers looking for story ideas too. Thanks, Mirka!)

1. What are you good at drawing? What are you bad at drawing, or afraid to draw, but want to learn how? What do you like drawing? Draw one thing (or more) from each answer.

2. Draw on old images (not literally draw on the images, but draw on the ideas). Is there a way you can turn an old drawing or sketch idea into a new character or series of images? Write the possibilities on your list.

3. Are there any specific requirements for the industry you’re creating a portfolio for? For instance, in a children’s book portfolio, kid friendly art and sequential images that tell a story (featuring the same character with different poses and emotions) are important. Draw a picture or series of images with those guidelines in mind.

4. Go for a walk, see a movie, take a shower, read/watch the news, talk with people online, or clean the house. Some of the best ideas come when we’re not trying to find them. I get a lot of ideas from skimming Twitter (when I skim, I tend to mis-read tweets, which leads to silliness the original tweeter never intended, which leads to Ideas with a capital I).

5. Start drawing and see what happens. Doodling can jumpstart your imagination and pull up new ideas you hadn’t thought of. You might sketch a character you’ll want to do another sketch of, then another and another.

6. Ask someone else what to draw (in person, by email, on Twitter - wherever you talk with people). Or open a dictionary to a random page and draw the first word you see. You never know how that’s going to turn out (might even spark a story idea)!

7. Make a list of all the possible images for your portfolio. If you don’t draw everything on your list this time, keep the list for next time. I always have things left over when my portfolio is done. When I make my next list, I don’t necessarily want to draw the things from last time. However, sometimes an old list can jumpstart a new one, or there’s a leftover idea that becomes the showcase piece of my next portfolio, or it just makes me realize what I don’t want to draw this time.

8. Set a deadline (self imposed, or for something like a conference). Don’t underestimate the power panic and deadlines! They can be good motivators, unless they put you into a stress induced coma, then they’re bad.

9. Make art that’s not for your portfolio. This might seem counter-intuitive, but having fun and playing with art that you don’t have to do, can jumpstart ideas for art you do have to do. It also gives you a break and lets you play with other mediums or subjects. I find that the personal art I make bleeds into the art I make for my portfolio and makes it better. When I don’t do art just for me, my portfolio art suffers.

10. Find inspiration! Here are ten ways you might find inspiration (add to this list with things that inspire you personally):

I. Take your camera or phone out and start snapping pictures while you’re out and about, or around your home. Look at them later to see if they suggest a character or story, or if they would make a great background for an idea you already have.

II. Participate in an art or illustration challenge, or make up your own. Illustration Friday is one example. This is a fun way to draw without thinking about your portfolio, and it could end up being a drawing or character you can use. (You can see some of my Illustration Friday art here.)

III. Draw a picture about your favorite season, or the season it is now, or draw a holiday scene (doesn’t have to be a big holiday, it could be a smaller holiday, like Arbor Day).

IV. Draw your dog, cat, hamster, or fish. Or draw your children, parents, or friends (draw from life, or look through photos from a vacation, family gathering, or photo holiday cards people sent you). You might want to ask permission from people to draw them, but don’t worry about the fish. (Though if your pictures don’t look like the people you’re drawing, you might not need to ask the people either.)

V. Go to a museum. Any kind of museum will do, as long as it has something you are interested in, whether it’s art, nature, history, etc.

VI. Go on a field trip or just out for lunch. Draw while you’re there, or wait until you get home and draw the feeling you had while you are there. You don’t have to draw the actual place, people, or animals. Maybe that café was so busy it felt like a circus, or the park was filled with so many plants you felt like you were in a jungle. Draw the jungle and the circus and whatever characters you imagine are there.

VII. Keep a dream journal and draw what you remember happening. This wouldn’t always work, but if it did, it could be magical … or really scary!

VIII. Design a new book cover or movie poster for a book/movie you loved.

IX. Pick a subject and draw it every day for a week or more, like cows, or dogs. (I did both of those every day for a year!)

X. Go shopping. Seriously. Color themes and stationery can help you to think of settings or moods for your art. And if all else fails, buy a new pencil, or some paper, or paints. If you have new art supplies, it might just make you want to use them!

Note: I don’t use all of these every time – what I need to jumpstart my creativity or be inspired is different each time, which is why there are a variety of options here. I hope one (or more) of these help you choose what to draw for your next portfolio!

Off to work on my portfolio now. I thought up a really great idea when I was going through some old files …

If you're interested in becoming a picture book illustrator and/or writer, here are some of my past posts that might help:

The Path Illustrators Take To Get Their Work Noticed And Advance Their Careers

Five Tips For Illustrators  

The Importance Of Making Art For Fun

Three Ways To Make A Picture Book Dummy 

How To Write A Picture Book In Twelve Easy Steps  

If You Just Want To Illustrate And Not Write