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My First Portfolio Review

SCBWI 2019 ENCORE! North for Illustrators

Back in September I went to my first SCBWI workshop in Nashua, NH. One day, five presentations, and my first portfolio review ever. I was randomly matched with Mary Jane Begin and my review lasted about 15 minutes. So while it was a short review, it was very useful - especially in getting me to actually complete a portfolio.

Mary Jane Begin is a Professor in the Illustration Department at Rhode Island School of Design, where she has taught for 27 years. She is an Associate Professor in the Masters in Children’s Book Writing and Illustration Program at Hollis University and a Professor at Lesley University, College of Art and Design. She teaches online courses on color, composition, character development and media with and She is an award-winning illustrator/author of picture books with seven of her titles translated into Chinese, including My Little Pony: Under the Sparkling Sea and The Dragons on Dazzle Island. In 2018, her title Willow Buds, The Tale of Toad and Badger, won the prestigious Bing Xin Children’s Literature Award in China. - SCBWI website, 2019

Below I discuss briefly my first portfolio draft, the comments I've received on it, and my plans for my next draft due by March 21st in time for the SCBWI Agent Editor Day (the next step up for networking and feedback!).

My Portfolio Then

Below are the images included in my portfolio in order of display. Only one image per spread with the exception of the first two images. The first spruce image was my title page with my name. At the end of my portfolio I had a pocket with business cards to take. The portfolio itself was a simple, black hard bound book with plastic sleeves for the images. I found it at Michael's Art Supply Store. Most of the images included were scans, a few were photo prints. The scanned images were of much better quality and I will need to make the effort to ensure I only include scans from now on.

Most recommendations says to include anywhere from 10-20 images. I went with twelve as I felt it was not too long but could include what I wanted to share. In this case, it was a series of three (watercolor bears), a mix of my watercolor style and my collages, and two works in progress. I wanted to show a range of work but confined to two styles max. I tried to include characters, humans, landscapes, and a mix of horizontal and vertical pieces ending with what I consider to be my strongest work.

Going into the critique, I was looking for feedback on watercolor versus collage styles and the characters I was working on. I knew putting the one unfinished story in the middle was a risk, but it was a narrative I didn't want to skip. Overall, I felt pretty positive about this book and still do. I don't love the middle images and I am not sure about the variety of styles, but I felt okay if not amazing going into the critique.

The Feedback

From Mary Jane, I received some general advice and a few specifics. The book itself works, title page was simple and successful, the cards at the end were good. There prints were good, but some were better quality than others. She thought I should look into copy print and pattern design. Loved the insects and goldfish. Did not love the watercolors or earlier collages. Basically, the more recent work was stronger and I should aim to build my portfolio in that style. I need to work on my people and I can either just never do people, or for a better chance at work, I need to spend time developing my human characters.

In addition to Mary Jane's advice, I showed my portfolio last month at my regional Northampton SCBWI crit. The advice from them was more mixed. Remove the spruce and sunflower because they look like prints, not illustrations. The goldfish does not fit and the title page should seem more consistent with your tone. There was a split on whether to go all collage or keep the new collage style (with paints on top, seen on the insect pieces) and the watercolors (Mama Bear series). All agreed the middle spreads do not work well and I need to work on my human characters.

Overall, I agree with the advice I received and really appreciate the support and positive feedback, especially on the collages. I am certainly going to take some of the practical advice. I do not think pattern design interests me, but it always good to know of other ways to use your art for work. The one thing that leaves me still confused, even months later, is how I feel about the watercolor style. Taking the girl aside (because I agree she needs more development) part of me really likes the harsh watercolors with layers. But, I do think the collages speak to people more and have an interest factor that feels very natural for me to create and play with materials. I will have to experiment more and build more works, I believe, before I come to a full opinion.

The next three weeks are going to be busy. I intend on making a lot of changes, though expect realistically I will not make as many as I would like. To start, the title page and sunflower image are more visual attuned to cards or prints, which is not what I am trying to sell myself as. So instead of the spruce, I would like to choose one of my insects or animals as a spot image. The next two images (Walking Home with Grandmother and granddaughter and Brooklyn Sunflower) don't accurately represent my current style. They will disappear. I hope (though not sure it will happen) to redo the Mama Bear spreads as collages, redo the two middle spreads with the girl on the beach and in the desert, add 2-3 new images from a new book dummy to make up for the removed spreads, and consider ending with an image besides the goldfish (though I love him, most of my work is not so comical and it may not represent my tone well).

So basically, I want to change everything but the book and the bugs. In April I will try to post about what was accomplished and the resulting feedback. So wish me luck and concentration (I will need it!)



About Me, Fia Sutton

Hi & welcome to my blog! I am a children's illustrator living in Brooklyn, NY. I create handmade collages, 

watercolors & books that celebrate color, acceptance, & discovery. I am a creator of messy mistakes & happy surprises.

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