Tips for Illustrators: Make Your Online Illustration Portfolio Stand Out

Today on the Bright Blog, Bright USA Managing Agent Alli Brydon shares 12 tips for curating a strong online illustration portfolio. As a Bright agent, Alli manages a boutique list of trade authors and illustrators and is always looking out for surprising and fresh artwork from new, emerging talent.

Alli recently attended the SCBWI Midsouth Conference in Tennessee, where she and Random House designer Katrina Damkoehler conducted a breakout session about online portfolios, with an eye to inform the crowd about how art directors and agents view an artist’s portfolio online. They reviewed portfolios in front of a live audience and explained their gut reactions and thoughts about how the portfolios would sit in the picture book market.

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Alli Brydon and Katrina Damkoehler during the 2016 SCBWI Midsouth Conference (photo credit: Scott Soeder)

Read on for the importance of having an online art portfolio that stands out (in a good way!), from an agent who is always on the lookout for new talent:

1. This may seem obvious, but have a web site (in addition to your Behance page, Facebook page, Twitter profile, Instagram account, or Pinterest page)!  Link to that site’s URL on all social media sites. Make sure your URL is simple and clear.

2. Make your web site easy to search and easy to scroll through all the pieces of art. If an art director or agent has to navigate back and forth from page to page or project to project, they might tire of it and perhaps move on.

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One pet peeve is if the “forward arrow” shifts and moves because the size of each art piece changes throughout the online portfolio. Try to find a web site design/interface that works for what you’re hoping to achieve.

3. It’s helpful if your web site’s landing page shows thumbnails of your work. Let a viewer get a wider sense of the variety within your portfolio. Make them want to click!

4. Avoid any wackiness on your web site in terms of font choice, layout, or background. Make your web site easy to view and easy on the eyes using a blank (preferably white) background. Check your site regularly from multiple devices to make sure it functions properly—test loading speed and layout on computer, phone, iPad, etc.

5. Don’t forget to add your contact details. Your email address is enough, if you don’t want to put down your phone number. Filling out a web form sometimes feels like I’m sending a message out into the ether. I always wonder if it will ever get to that person. I do understand that web forms are designed to help prevent spam from cluttering your inbox. So if you still want to use one, when replying to someone who might have a project for you or want to rep you, please send a screenshot or quote the original message they sent.

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6. Show less, better work. If you need someone else’s eye to help you edit and curate—please do! There have been times when I like about 75% of someone’s portfolio, but 25% turns me off. Cut out that 25% that will make someone pass over you.

7. If you are illustrating for children and for editorial and for advertising and for whatever else, make those sections distinct, separate, and clearly labeled.

8. If you are also a photographer or crafter, don’t put those images on your illustration site. Have a separate site for that, or send them to your Instagram or Pinterest pages which are specific for these genres.

9. I personally don’t love Behance because it sometimes feels like a dumping ground for an artist’s work, especially with the WIP section. But there are people who love looking at Behance (the search functions are actually great). And as long as you have your well-curated, easy-to-read-and-navigate website link at the top, that’s all I need.

10. If you use Pinterest or Instagram to showcase your artwork, tag it effectively so that it will come up properly in a search.

11. For Twitter, make your banner and profile pic spots work HARD for you. Put your best work up there, and rotate it as you have a new “best piece you’ve ever done.” Don’t put your photo on your profile pic—put your artwork there. Use the small amount of real estate you have on Twitter to your advantage.

12. On Twitter, sometimes it gets confusing if you’re constantly retweeting others’ work instead of showcasing your own in your feed. BUT, if you have your website at the top in your profile description, and it’s clickable, this doesn’t matter. And, I like to see when artists retweet and support each other. Twitter is a really nice community for artists—get yourself on there if you’re not already.

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As an illustrator, always keep learning, developing and working on your portfolio.  Interact with other illustrators; the supportive online illustration community can be incredibly helpful in honing your craft and advancing your career. Don’t be afraid to share your work—get yourself out there!

Follow Alli on Twitter at @AlliBrydon to keep up with the latest Bright news!