Sunday, August 24, 2008

10 Things I Hate About Your Web Portfolio

I am an illustrator just entering the children's book market. (Currently illustrating a new work with HarperCollins.) I have a blog of course, and don't particularly find it a taxing labor to keep up. (What artist doesn't like another venue?) But I am curious to know whether I'm just belching my thoughts into the ether (and for a slew of other illustrators,) or whether artist's blogs are perused by editors and art buyers. Is it a valuable way for an editor to find/get to know an illustrator? Do you regularly view artist's blogs? Did you just snort like a train whistle and say: "Like I've got that kind of time!!!???"
I do not look at artists' blogs regularly. But I do have cause to look artists up sometimes, and I'm shocked and irritated when I find they have no web portfolio of any kind. WTF.

I was, in fact, just browsing a bunch of new artists' portfolios this week. Actually, I'd like to say something about that. (Though as I am an editor and not a designer, you can feel free to take this with as much salt as you like.) Here are the things I'm looking for when I browse artists:

Yes, this ought to be a no-brainer, but it's clearly not. If you can do people, show me that. If you can't-- if your proportions are always a bit off and you can't get a 3/4 profile right and you can't figure out why your children just look like short adults, then for the love of mike don't do people. You're conveying that you have no idea when your work is subpar and when it isn't. Do some adorable animals-- we have lots of work for adorable animals.

Mood and Character
I see some really charming stuff sometimes-- art that would make great merch. That's right, I mean art for posters or bedding or sippy cups or some crap like that. Because all it is is decoration.
I'm trying to tell stories, here. Give me a hand, for chrissakes.

Have you noticed the way many children's books are funny? That's because human beings like to laugh. And publishers need illustrators for those funny manuscripts who --shocker!-- have a sense of humor, too. When telling a joke, author and artist must be a team, or the joke will fall flat. Imagine Laurel and Hardy, but instead of Laurel, you've got a guy named Snorel who is really, really tired of Hardy's antics and is projecting a strong "was that supposed to be funny?" vibe. The thing is, it takes real skill to put a sense of humor into your art. Those people who can are golden.

Your Own Style
For frike's sake, don't fill your portfolio with the assignments you and everybody else at your art school did. Because they're going to look like everybody else's. It's nice to give brand-new artists a shot. But if I can get the same damn look and feel from somebody who already knows all about the business and has a track record of making their deadlines, who am I going to go with? You must stand out.
The usual suspects:
  • Very traditional-looking portraiture. (Congrats. I know it takes skill. Also, snore.)
  • Disney has come for your soul (and career). (Hey, you can do Tinkerbell! ...I don't like Tinkerbell.) Know who you can work for with that style? Disney.
  • Fricking cartoony find-it-on-any-damn-greeting-card art. (Do you ever eat vanilla ice cream and wish it was... you know... less flavorful? Do you feel the same way about a lot of "art"? I don't.)
Children's Work Separated From Adult Work
So I can tell you know there's a difference between what plays in the two industries. And yes, two industries. It's not just "the book industry". This falls under the same rubric as authors who don't read children's books. No interest in the field in which you're trying to find work? You are such a waste of my time.


BonnieA said...

Oh, hey! Can we have a portfolio review clinic next? :-)

Christine Tripp said...

Bonnie YES, great idea, I'd "try" to be brave about it:)

OK, so not to sound all full of myself but (if not me, then who)...

I think I have all the points checked.

People, Mood and Character, Humour, Your Own Style (if it isn't, I don't know who's it is, as I escaped art training of any kind, I even once failed high school art class though they had me illustrate the year book)
YET.... I am decidedly NOT "golden" (other then in my years... almost!)

Editorial Anonymous said...

Uh... really? Wouldn't you rather have an art director's feedback?

Christine Tripp said...

Wouldn't you rather have an art director's feedback?

Funny enough, though I had started out with the idea that choice of illustrator is UP to the AD, I found out differently. Editors have a lot of say in the matter it seems, you can correct me if I am way off base on this. I now have the impression that, while it is still an AD that digs around for a good match of illustrators for the manuscript, it's a group effort, no?
I guess what it is, is that all opinions from the industry are helpful (though admittedly a bit painful) From agents to AD's to, ED's.

BonnieA said...

I agree with Christine--at least for the projects I've worked on, the editor has had just as much input as the AD, if not more.

I'd LOVE to have your feedback. I'm just in the process of overhauling my site, and it would be great to have your input!

Andy J Smith illustration said...

GREAT post! And it's VERY good to hear from someone who isn't an AD or Designer for a fresh perspective. Thanks!

Elizabeth O Dulemba said...

I agree - it seems the editors have a lot of say in the illustrator who gets matched with a manuscript. In fact, I send more postcards to editors than I do to art directors (also, there are just plain more of them). I'd love to read more about your thoughts on all this.

Anonymous said...

Yup. I've inferred that as well.

Christine Tripp said...

To add to this, I don't know of an AD with a blog similar to this, where there is actual feedback and better yet, cutting critique, the only kind that really, after the ego pop and shock, makes you strive to best yourself.

Anonymous said...

Well, I've had my book critiqued by editors, ADs and my beloved artist friends. And they all have likes and dislikes. What does that tell you? They all have soft spots, agendas and programs. What it tells me is that I have interest with different houses in different projects or styles. That is just fine with me.

And then there is the writing. Same scenario. And that is just fine with me too.

Sometimes I wish I were a novelist. Ya know?

Christine Tripp said...

I don't feel it's exactly fine. I strive for more then I even know exists. I continue to look for as many opinions as I can scrap up. Other illustrators kudos keep us going (without my fiends comments I would have given up long ago so that makes them super important but...) they are not buyers. They may or may not be taking into account the bottom line of what sells, what doesn't, at any given time. We need any and all opinions of those directly connected to the market, day to day. Those who experience the veto power of book sellers (who I don't think had this power before the mega chains came to be) Who know what the marketing and sales people want to push, think they can sell.
Seems there is so much more involved then most of us know about, that I would love all input, hard as it is to take. This doesn't mean I would or COULD change what I do, just good to know what is lacking and if it is possible to change something, then go from there.

Anonymous said...

WHY would you have given up, Chris?

We are not blind here.
Come on. You are very talented.

Christine Tripp said...

Anon 6:30, thank you but there is so MUCH talent out there that there are certainly times, usually when work is slow or has grinded to a hault, that we all start to self doubt. There are 100's of new books out each year, all containing such wonderful art, you really have to wonder how or why lil ol you would be picked for one of them:) Just as the seeming reality of how futile it is begins to crash down around you, that's when your peers all start to chime in, pumping up that deflated ego a bit.
As wonderful as that is, it just serves to keep you in the game. A constructive critique can give you the skills to play it and hopefully (we all are such hopeful types:) win!

Anonymous said...

That was me. I don't know why it came in as anonymous, Chris. Yeah, that self doubt thing. It really is for the birds.

Hope is a good thing. :)

Paul Schmid said...

Thanks EA, much useful info here.

Anonymous said...

Dear EdAnon,

Do you have any favorite sites? I assume you like clarity of design and organization plus a little fun.

Among my favorites:


Anonymous said...

I did a portfolio critique once, and one woman had nothing but elephants in her portfolio. I asked her why. She said. "I like elephants." Well then.

Since consistency is such a huge deal, I like to see something showing the same character carried through multiple poses, expressions, etc.

Anonymous said...

I'll bet she really digs Babar and Elmer.

Elmer Is []
and Babar is ()

Anonymous said...

"Uh... really? Wouldn't you rather have an art director's feedback?"

That's an idea: find an anonymous art director who would critique web portfolios and post them alongside your own critiques. Mine isn't ready (I wish it were), but I'm sure there would be a few takers.

Thanks for the insightful post.

Unknown said...

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Tom Barrett said...

Thanks for the "no-holds-barred" post on portfolios. I am working on one now, so this is great insight!

Anonymous said...

I guess everyones a critic,I just wonder if people can judge there own work on the same standard they veiw others? I don't think so,people always like to think they are the best.

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