Originally Posted: September 2013
by Christina A. Tugeau, CATugeau Artist Agent LLC
This time of year, many people love to get away to a quiet stream or isolated bit of shore and throw a line. Fishing is good for the soul. So is creating art and making a living. When you are fishing for jobs, your art is your hook — not your resume or your winning personality. Your actual work, its style, color, drawing quality, and characters, will win you assignments. As an agent, I show editors and art directors my clients’ art, and I have a tackle box full of hooks. But an individual artist really only needs one or two memorable hooks of the right kind and quality to win a job.
You have to be seen to be hired. Be sure your line and hook are in the right pond!
What to put in your portfolio: Draw kids! Show all ethnic types, sexes, and ages. Also show families and pets, different jobs and historic periods, and views of the same characters showing different expressions. Set them outdoors, indoors, in vehicles, cities, or country, and use different perspectives and viewpoints, action and humor.
Always have at least one or two sequential scenes with the same characters, as if they are in a story. This is how you show your ‘story thinking,’ and it better illustrates that you can draw characters interacting and looking consistent. Go for the moment of action: the viewer will be able to see the story and the personalities. Illustrate the character’s emotional connections.
Don’t confuse viewers with too many different styles; a consistent style helps them remember you. There is no wrong style, though you might want to avoid (most of the time) huge heads, too much brown or black, and images that are too sophisticated. And no weak pieces, ever!
A formal presentation portfolio is useful for client visits or attending conferences. It should not be too big, but make it very clean and easy to see. Use both sides of the page so viewers can see more art quickly. Keep story pieces together, and group similar styles if you do more than one. Include 10 to 15 pieces of your best work. Black and white work should be at the end and grouped together, if you do that as well.
Your website is your virtual portfolio, and it can reach more people than an actual portfolio, if people know it’s there.
How to get your portfolio out there: I have always found a simple mailing with your contact and website information the best and most effective way to get seen. I do group mailings twice a year for my agency artists. Sometimes they are full pages with one or multiple images; often I’ll use large postcards, with gloss on at least one side. Sometimes there’s a theme, which I think is fun for the viewers. I encourage artists to do one big image on the front and a b/w or smaller color image on the back with their name and agency contact info. If you are mailing singly, you need to work the images around the address areas and stamp; be creative.
Source books are very expensive, and frankly, I’m not sure of their benefit for an individual artist, although online portfolio services are great. If you do a page, send out the reprints as a mailing.
In-person visits and social media both have their place in your promotion. Visits are hard to get these days for individual artists; art directors and editors simply don’t have the time. So if you get an opportunity, grab it! Never leave behind your only actual portfolio; have another ‘leave-behind.’
I don’t advise email blasts for individual artists unless you already have a relationship with the buyer you are sending to. You do NOT want to be annoying! The same goes for cold calls. Save them for when you have an in.
Social media are great for promoting a book or project you’ve worked on, but not for getting jobs. I find Facebook and Twitter are also good for artist-to-artist contacts. And be careful what you put out there, as it’s going to be seen by more than your family and friends! Blogs are a positive too. I hope you’ll follow my blog, THE WAY TUGEAU: http://catugeau.wordpress.com.
Illustration is a commercial endeavor. You do what the client wants you to do in your style, and you get paid for it. Be sure your art is saying what you want it to say. Remember, it’s your art that will hook buyers. Your style says everything about you. Show you have a unique vision and are a visual problem-solver with your own vocabulary.
Have fun — it will show!