SCBWI member Anne Berry is an illustrator living and working in Huntington Beach, California. She’s been doodling ever since she found paper and pencil, and could get her cats to sit long enough for a portrait. At the 2015 SCBWI Summer Conference, she won the SCBWI Mentorship Program award and the Portfolio Honor Award. Read on for her valuable tips about perfecting your own portfolio and to check out her awesome illustrations!
As an illustrator, your portfolio is invaluable. In a few short page turns, it reveals talent, style, consistency, and artistic maturity. It can be a daunting task to compile a complete and working portfolio as an artist, especially for the first time. How do you know what to include? Should you group by theme, by style? Wait, can you have more than one style? Help!
When you’re starting out, you ask yourself a lot of questions. If you’re desperately wondering what others want to see, instead of trusting yourself to spend your time on what you love to draw, then you’re asking the wrong questions. You are trying to mind-read the current market, future clients, art directors. The truth is, you can’t; and moreover, you shouldn’t.
I put together a professional hard copy portfolio when I attended my first SCBWI Annual Summer Conference. The best way to describe what I felt about my portfolio was “semi-confident.” A lot of the art was not driven by a particular character I loved and wanted to express on the page, or a particular moment or emotional feeling that drove me to sketch. A lot of my pieces were fine but a bit…boring; kids at a birthday party, kids playing on a playground, a father and daughter looking at a sunset. It was what I thought people wanted to see. Sweet, but a little tepid.
During the first Illustrators Mixer at the conference, a common question was, “What made you want to draw this?” I found I was coming up short on definitive answers, and I started thinking to myself, “Wow, why did I draw this?” I started to realize art directors weren’t interested in what I thought I knew about them, but what unique qualities they could find in me.
At that convention, I saw a lot of incredible portfolios and met so many wonderfully talented and generous people. I went home with a total change to approaching my own work. Over the next year, I removed pieces from my portfolio that felt stale to me, that didn’t represent my interests. And I made new ones. Personally, I love fairytales, folklore, history, animals, so I did something profound; I started incorporating them into my portfolio! Gasp!
By the next SCBWI summer convention, I had a collection of art that far better represented what I loved. I remember feeling the distinct change of personal pride as I took in my portfolio that year. I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I was just happy that I no longer felt that insecurity and lack of identity in my art. At that summer conference, I won the SCBWI Mentorship Program Award and was the Runner Up for Best Portfolio.
A mantra so simple to follow and yet so easily forgotten when it comes to our artwork – draw what you love. People can sense when your heart is not in your creative work, so don’t let that happen! I know I still have a lot to learn and my portfolio will be changing as I do.
Here is a great tip to get you started in tightening up your portfolio: If there is a certain piece you are unsure about, ask yourself, “Am I keeping this in my portfolio because I love it, or because it was a lot of work?” If it’s the latter, that’s a good sign it needs to go! It can be hard, but the overall collection will shine brighter because of it. Fill your portfolio with concepts, characters, and surroundings that you would love to draw over and over again and maybe you will get a chance to!
Anne Berry is an illustrator living and working in Huntington Beach, California. She’s worked on various projects with publishers such as David C. Cook Publishing, All Saints Press, Living Faith Kids and more. At Bjorkman Bros, she helps create greeting cards for Recycled and Willows. Find her at www.anneberrydraws.com/, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram