Maria Middleton

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: