Drawing In A Crowd: Reviewing Portfolios With Patrick Collins

Originally Posted: Mar. 4, 2010

by Newsletter Staff

On January 12, 2010, at the SCBWI Tuesday Professional Series, Patrick Collins, the Art Director of Henry Holt, put everyone at ease with his relaxed, comfortable approach to portfolio reviews.

Conducting the reviews as if they were meeting one-on-one in Collins’ office instead of a crowded room, Collins started by getting to know each of the four illustrators, chosen from the audience by lottery.

Before looking at the portfolio, he asked the artists questions about what they’ve been working on, what they want to work on, and how they became interested in children’s book illustration.

The questions continued as he went through the portfolios and before giving his review: What was the reason for creating this character? What medium was used to create the original artwork? What is the story behind this image? Where do you hope to go from here? Is there particular advice you are seeking? Do you have any questions?

Artists should prepare for a portfolio review, Collins advised his listeners, and have some questions ready. “What you want is what you get out of it,” he said. A reviewer can give different types of feedback depending on the artist’s needs; for example, advice can range from opinions on the style and suggestions on medium to whether the artwork is publishable or appropriate for certain target age groups.

In his critique of the four portfolios, Collins included practical advice that pertained to any picture book artist. He emphasized the importance of characters; particularly that the characters must be unique through their own body language and facial expressions. Storytelling is also important. He said, “There are many different styles in picture books. [The style] must have appropriate appeal to the target audience. It also must have images that display strong storytelling.”

Collins’ comments were not just for picture book artists. Illustration for children is expanding beyond traditional picture books to include illustrated chapter books and illustrated books for middle grade. “There have been more illustrated chapter books lately,”Collins said. “There is a market for illustrated middle grade and there will continue to be.”

While the expanding market is good news, the artist faces a number of challenges. One challenge Collins talked about is the amount of unpaid time the artist must put in developing a style, understanding mediums, and creating a body of work. Then there’s the portfolio. Most artists who have transitioned to full-time illustration put in a minimum of six months just to develop their portfolio.

Collins noted another challenge facing artists is maintaining the creative energy present in original sketches through multiple iterations. So, artists should not be swayed by seeming trends. Their portfolios should only include the art style that they truly want to work in. Collins also emphasized that a portfolio should focus on one specific art style so that the art director can easily identify and remember that artist’s work.

The challenges didn’t dampen the audience’s mood. Collins’ passion for children’s book art was contagious. The audience gained a better understanding of what makes a good portfolio. The four artists received pointers on how to improve their portfolios and left encouraged by his genuine interest in them and their work.

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