Four Simple Portfolio Tips For Illustrators

Originally Posted: April 2013

by Gina Carey

Kerry Martin, senior art designer at Clarion Books, and Lucy Ruth Cummins, senior art director at Simon & Schuster, reviewed illustrators’ portfolios, answered questions and offered advice for both new and more experienced illustrators in December as part of the Professional Lecture Series.  Here are some of the practical tips they offered.

-Make your work easy to find.

Martin and Cummins encouraged attendees to make their work available via different mediums. They both like to receive postcards in the mail and strongly advised illustrators to include a website address on their cards so that anyone interested can easily find more samples of their work. They suggested putting at least 10 or 12 pieces on a website or blog. For those who don’t have a personal site, they advised posting work on a free, easily accessible website like Flickr or Since many art directors seek out artwork and new artists online, they said, it’s important to be easy to find!

-Avoid portfolio pitfalls.

Not having enough samples in the portfolio can work against an illustrator. Cummins and Martin suggested that five pieces is too few, but ten can offer a good sense of an artist’s range and style. Portfolios with illustrations oriented in different directions cause reviewers to keep flipping the book around, which distracts them from the artwork. Cummins and Martin also advised grouping work by style. If a portfolio is not organized, they said, it can seem scattered and confusing. Cummins recommended that before adding something to a portfolio, the artist take another piece out. And of course, illustrators should always showcase their best work. “Never include something you don’t want to be published,” Cummins advised.

-Sharpen your craft.

Artists should keep working on craft no matter what stage of their careers they’re at, the faculty advised. They suggested getting a solid base in figure drawing, especially on a child’s body scale, and practicing details like hands. And while many illustrators have a distinctive style, Martin and Cummins advised that going out of their comfort zone may teach them new things. When experimenting, they said, go big, and don’t let small paper sizes limit the boundaries of your work.

-Stay current.

While a personal style develops and evolves over time, staying in touch with what’s being published now is always a good idea, they said. The faculty advised making frequent trips to bookstores to see what is selling, looking at books digitally and, for the latest color trends, checking out Pantone color reports.

Cummins will be back again this summer for SCBWI’s day-long illustrator workshop. Stay tuned for more information, and good luck making your portfolios shine!


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