art directors

What Makes a Good Portfolio

By Sabina Hahn

The SCBWI Tuesday Night Professional Series wrapped up 2016 with Nicole de las Heras and Maria Mondugno speaking to an enthusiastic audience about what makes a good portfolio.

Nicole de las Heras loves pairing the right artist with the right manuscript and collaborating with artist and editor. She has lots of opportunities to do this as an Art Director at Random House Children’s Books, where she oversees board books, picture books, leveled readers, and early chapter books. Emily Winfield Martin, LeUyen Pham, Brigette Barrager, Josie Portillo, Ruth Sanderson, and Mike Boldt are among the artists she has worked with. Another thing she loves about her job is finding new talent.

As soon as she could write her name, Maria Modugno got her first library card. A lifelong reader, she worked at a number of publishers before joining Random House in 2012 to specialize in picture books. The books she has edited include The Napping House and stories about Toot and Puddle, Pinkalicious, and Splat the Cat. She avoids acquiring too-long picture books and tests potential acquisitions with an egg timer.


The A to Z of Picture Books

by Lauren Shapiro

Kat and Rotem“Picture books are my heart; the key to creating a true picture book all starts with the heart,” began Ms. Yeh, setting the intimate tone for The A to Z of Picture Books. “A picture book is more than just a book. Integrated into the very being of it is that closeness. A child is on your lap – there’s a hug in it.”

Ms. Yeh recounted the process of writing her first book, You’re Lovable to Me. “I knew I wanted to write about love, intergenerational love and the love of a father for a daughter. The first draft was two thousand words, and I cut it to a couple of hundred words.” As an aid in editing herself, she belongs to a group of friends who critique each other informally. She advised writers to “join SCBWI, and read, read, read – not only to see what’s out there and what people are publishing, but to get the page turns and to find what sort of emotional things touch you. The most successful picture books tap into something that we all recognize immediately even though we can’t define it.”


The Ins And Outs Of The Graphic Novel: Calista Brill, Judy Hansen and Andrew Arnold in Conversation About Graphic Novels, From Concept to Published Book

by K. Marcus

Judy Hansen of the Hansen Literary Management, LLC, a literary agent specializing in graphic novels, strongly recommends that “if you want to learn how to create graphic novels and comics, both known as ‘sequential art’, the best resources to begin with are:”

Understanding Comics by Scott Mcloud

Making Comics by Scott Mcloud

Comics and Sequential Art by Wil Eisner

Then move on to “cutting edge” graphic novels and focus on their lettering and ballooning:

Amelia Rules! (series) and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley to look at paneling, ballooning & lettering and Hereville (series) by Barry Deutsch to see paneling & ballooning. And continue to read, read, read. Calista Brill, senior editor at First Second Books, added, “Sometimes people think of comics as ‘books light’ but they are very sophisticated and kids who read comics learn to pick up on these flourishes.”

Andrew Arnold, designer at Roaring Brook Press/FSG and a comics/graphic novel author/illustrator has “learned to never underestimate how smart kids are.”

Judy Hansen went on to say that “kids comics have commercial viability and have a great possibility for ancillary rights development.”

But graphic novels aren’t only for children. There is a market for adults as well. In both age groups, Calista Brill said, “the text and art should combine to make something greater than itself.” “A panel in a comic book doesn’t want to be perfect, something should be missing so it then directs you to the next panel.” The author/illustrator needs to think about text placement and how that leads the reader through the story.


Top 5 Tips for a Good Portfolio

by Lori Richmond

SCBWI6Erica Finkel, Assistant Editor at Abrams Books, and Maria Middleton, Associate Art Director at Abrams Books, stopped by to give NY Metro SCBWI-ers the inside scoop on what makes a good portfolio. Illustrators, take note! Here are Erica and Maria’s top tips for marketing yourself:

  1. Presentation is everything

Illustrators don’t need to spend a ton on a portfolio, but the work should be bound in a book. Maria and Erica recommend showing no more than 10-15 pieces of artwork. Binders with sleeves, photo books with mounted prints, and screw post books are all good choices that will make a portfolio look put-together and professional.

  1. Mix it up…

The work in a successful portfolio demonstrates a range of emotion, body positions, perspective, settings, seasons, and characters of different ages. Mix it up even further by including samples that show characters in background environments, and some that show characters on plain backgrounds.

  1. …but not with styles

While showing a range in subject and setting will get an art director’s attention, showing too many styles will not. “It can be really confusing,” says Maria. “Books that show a single, consistent style are stronger.” Illustrators with two (very) strong styles should group them in their book accordingly.

  1. Postcards can get you hired

One important thing an illustrator can do is to mail out promotional postcards every 2-3 months. Art directors keep files of the cards they receive, and those files are the first place they’ll look to find an artist to pair with a manuscript.

  1. Don’t lose your line

We’re in the age of all things digital, and artists are creating amazing things in Photoshop. Sometimes the line between traditional media and digital media is blurred, but it can also be quite noticeable. Maria recommends that illustrators try to rid their work of a digital mark. “Make it look like you,” she says. “Don’t lose your line.”


Lori Richmond is the Brooklyn-based illustrator of A HOP IS UP (by Kristy Dempsey, Bloomsbury, 2016.) She has more than 15 years experience as a graphic designer, and is an editorial contributor to pregnancy and parenting website, The Bump. You can check out her web site:

5 Questions With Elizabeth Baddeley

SCBWILogo_color (1) (1)Last summer we hosted a contest to design a new logo for our chapter. The criteria was simple: include the SCBWI kite and keep it NYC-themed.

We didn’t envy the job of Laurent Linn, Art Director of Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers, who was tasked with picking a winner from the pool of incredibly lovely submissions. He ended up choosing a playful design that nods at one of New York’s most recognizable symbols – the Statue Of Liberty.

Get to know our logo contest winner Elizabeth Baddeley in the interview below. She’ll be teaching a hand lettering workshop coming up this November! (more…)

2013 Illustrator’s Boot Camp: Creating Characters

Originally Posted: September 2013

by Stephen Martin

There are many ways to draw a cat. It is the illustrator’s responsibility to take the author’s words and infuse that cat with traits and visual appeal to create a character that children will care for and relate to.

Patrick Collins, creative director at Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, started his morning master class by showing examples of illustrations in different styles, from the very realistic to the highly cartoony, and demonstrated how he put an illustrator’s characters and an author’s words together. (more…)

Illustrator Boot Camp 2013: Character Building With Rachael Cole

Originally Posted: September 2013

by Kristy Caldwell

Every story has characters, but not every story is character-driven. Illustrators should know that a character who is “just there to drive the plot along” will not be the focal point of the book, explained Rachael Cole, art director at Schwartz and Wade Books. When characters drive the experience the audience will “get to know who they really are.”

Development of a convincing character is a monumental undertaking because it requires unwavering attention to many details as well as to the bigger picture. Cole offered tools to encourage illustrators to keep the focus on character. (more…)

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. (more…)

Portfolio Critques With Patti Ann Harris

Originally Published: Mar. 16, 2012

By: Wallace West

Patti Ann Harris, Senior Art Director for Little Brown Books for Young Readers, critiqued the portfolios of three SCBWI Metro Members on 13 December, 2011. Aside from providing both praise and constructive criticism she offered the invaluable advice of a seasoned industry professional.

In response to the age-old question of whether or not an illustrator should restrict a portfolio to only one style, Harris said it is not unacceptable to have two different styles in a portfolio. However, the illustrator should be able to consistently deliver the styles and it should be clearly defined to an Art Director which style will be used for a project.

“It’s a great thing to experiment [with styles],” said Harris. “Every artist is always hopefully evolving and you have to give yourself permission to do this.” (more…)

Evolution Of A Cover

Originally Published: July 2011

by Bridget Casey

On May 10th, attendees of the SCBWI Metro New York Tuesday Professional Series were fortunate to hear Chad Beckerman, Creative Director of Abrams Books for Young Readers, offer his presentation, “The Evolution of a Book Cover.” Using images of book covers at different stages and vivid accounts of how these cover designs developed, Beckerman helped illuminate a process that is often mysterious to authors and illustrators alike.

Beckerman studied Illustration at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). “What I really learned was how to solve problems, and present narratives visually.” Before working at Abrams, he worked at Scholastic and Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

To highlight some of the challenges encountered while designing covers, Beckerman shared a few Abrams covers with the audience. Each book varied in style and content and required a unique creative solution. (more…)