Portfolio Panic

I have been absent from my website/social media for the majority of this month. That's because I'm trying to focus on updates to my portfolio as much as possible right now, in preparation for the SCBWI Summer Conference.

I was lucky enough to win a portfolio review from art director Giuseppe Castellano at the end of May. He had some really useful things to say regarding my portfolio, all of which I agreed with but which also put me in a state of an emotional roller coaster. Some of the many thoughts that went through my head at the start of the month included, "He likes my character designs!", "I have a lot of work ahead!", "Why did I put THAT into my portfolio?", "I'll show him!", "He's totally right, what was I doing there?!", "Two months before the conference is not enough time!", "EEEEK!"

After panicking...then panicking again, I took a step back to try and break my portfolio update down into manageable chunks and take them one step at a time.

Step 1: Analyze missing elements

Some of the improvements that were requested included more work, children/people, more complex illustrations, and more attention to surface textures. 

One of the most important things I felt he mentioned was the lack of STORY in my pieces. I have lots of cute animals, but they just sit there, staring at you. What are they doing? Why are doing it? How do people become emotionally involved in my characters? 

I kept thinking of Pascal Campion's work, which always triggers an emotional response and always tells some kind of story, no matter how simple or how complex the illustration.   

Step 2: Play up strengths

I know my strengths lie with fun and silly characters, so I chose this as my starting point for the overhaul. I have a number of stories that are in my head and in my sketchbook, but nothing felt right yet. I tried a series of fox images and kept reworking them to the point that friends commented, "STILL working on foxes?" I still like the foxes, but I got their point. I put them aside. 

I kept coming back to a giraffe piece that I did, which I always loved the drawing, but I felt the painting was both overworked and underdeveloped at the same time. The character is spot-on but there is no background, he's weirdly fuzzy in a bad way, and I don't know what i was thinking with the placement of the shadows and highlights on the lower right. 


I created a story for him, I gave him a makeover, friends, and a setting. Humorous things will happen; antics will ensue.

Step 3: Work

I've been sketching furiously, working out compositions and character placement so the scenes can work alone and flow with one another. At this point I have 5 pieces in various stages from preliminary sketches to full compositions with tonal values roughed in. I have a month until the conference and plan to be working hard the whole month. 5 pieces = portfolio overhaul, but I want to be sure that the pieces are quality and not rushed. If they are not ready for this conference, I will be ok with that, because I want to give the story the time it deserves. It's worth it.