Debbie Ridpath Ohi reads, writes and illustrates for young people. Every few weeks, she shares new art, writing and resources; subscribe below. Browse the archives here.

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Debbie Ridpath Ohi FAQ > Miscellaneous > Help! I'm about to participate in my first SCBWI illustration portfolio showcase. Any advice?

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This is a list of questions I am frequently asked. Here's a list of links to my more popular pages. Thanks for visiting! -- Debbie

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I've only entered two showcases, so I strongly advise you to ask those with more experience for wisdom. And do check out the SCBWI Illustration Mentee posts which include portfolio advice (KidLitArtists.com), especially this round-up of tips.

In my limited experience, however, I can offer the follow tips:

1. Make sure you read over the showcase guidelines closely for format and content restrictions. Doublecheck deadlines, dates and times.

2. Include at least a couple of image sequences that tell a story, rather than all standalone images. In those sequences, make sure your characters look consistent throughout (e.g. proportions don't change, etc.). If you can't keep your characters looking consistent through a short sequence, editors and publishers will think you won't be able to keep them consistent through a whole book.

3. Only include the illustration styles with which you are comfortable working. What if an art director or editor points to a drawing and says, "I love this style! Now I want you to illustrate this whole book with this style." Will you be thrilled? Or filled with dread? If the latter, then think twice about including that style.

4. Include backgrounds in at least some of your images to prove that you can do them. 

5. When organizing your portfolio, keep in mind that the first few pages are the most important. There will probably be dozens of portfolios in the showcase -- possibly more -- and it's highly unlikely anyone is going to be flipping through every page of every portfolio. In my observation, a typical (not a judge) portfolio visitor will flip through the first few pages but then may skip to the next portfolio if nothing grabs them right away. If I was going to enter another portfolio showcase, I think I'd probably cut my portfolio down to 10-15 pages; my first was way too long. That would increase the possibility that someone would be more interested in looking through the whole thing, and I'd only include my very best.

6. I've had conflicting advice re: number of styles I should be including in my portfolio. My first portfolio had at least 4-5 different styles. Some of the SCBWI Illustrator Mentors told me that I needed to cut down the number of represented styles to 1-2. However, one of the Mentors said one reason I was picked was because I had so many styles AND that I did them all well. Also, the publisher who offered me a book contract because of that portfolio said that as far as he was concerned, the wide range of styles was a plus.

From Justin Chanda at Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers on why he liked my portfolio:

There was a sense of whimsy and definite style. I loved the assorted cast of characters, but I loved your point of view just as much.  I remember there was an illustration of a robot who had lost his arm and one of a little girl looking at these tiny monsters.  In both instances I got a clear sense of character, a sense of humor, and a sense of style.
 
On a side note, when it came to the judging: The judges were in disagreement over who should get first prize at the show.   There was some concern that your portfolio had too MANY styles in it. And there were some other beautiful, delicate drawings alongside your more “cartoon” style.   In all of the images, though, I saw the point of view of the artist (you). And I saw a consistency of technique and skill.   In any event, we were split and there was a push for  an artist who had a portfolio that was very, very good and had a more “focused” presentation.  
 
Eventually I gave up arguing my case but it was reported to me later that I muttered (audibly), “Well, ok then. We’ll give Debbie 2nd place ... but I’ll also give her a contract.”  I will not deny saying that.

So my overall take on the whole multiple styles issue: Traditionally, most industry people tend to prefer 1-2 illustration styles being represented in your portfolio. However, some (like Justin Chanda, who is now my editor) may feel differently. And he DID offer me a book contract. :-)  Several, in fact! 

For more info about how I'M BORED was created (includes process sketches and quotes from Simon & Schuster art director Laurent Linn as well as editor/publisher Justin Chanda), see my I'M BORED Scrapbook Blog

An aside: I had a number of people compliment me on my handmade cloth portfolio cover. My illustrator/seamstress friend, Beckett Gladney, created that cover for me. You can browse her other portfolio and notebook covers or order your custom-made portfolio cover in her Etsy shop.

For more info:

The SCBWI Illustration Mentorship award winners who post in KidLitArtists.com sometimes post about how they won or include portfolio tips in blog posts. See their advice here.

Last updated on May 9, 2012 by Debbie Ohi