Heart: Illustration portfolio advice

Heart: Illustration portfolio advice

By Luiza 08/03/12

Jenny Bull (pictured) is an agent at Heart Agency, which represents some of the most exciting illustrators around. She's also heading to the IdeasTap Spa soon, to give one-on-one portfolio advice. In the meantime, she shares her portfolio tips with Rosie Gainsborough...

What makes a good illustration portfolio?

A good portfolio is original and consistent in style, while demonstrating the way you communicate ideas. Including more indulgent personal projects is fine, but I think it’s useful for someone looking at your portfolio to see how you approach set briefs – even if it’s a college project as opposed to commissioned work – so that your unique way of thinking comes through. 

Is having a printed portfolio necessary? Or can you be successful with an online one?

I think both are as important as each other. While on the whole commissioners will find and look at your work online on your website or blog, for the most part illustration is commissioned with a view to being seen in print, so having a physical portfolio will allow designers/art directors to see how your work translates to that medium. You can pick out details in a physical print that may be lost on a computer screen.

Plus I think when you’re in a meeting it’s preferable to show someone a beautiful book of images rather than sitting in front of a computer screen to go through work. 

What are the key pitfalls that people often fall into when putting their portfolio together?

I think when you leave college it’s difficult to know which images to include in your portfolio and which ones to leave out – and often people go for quantity rather than quality. I’d personally prefer to see 10 or 20 really strong images than 30 weaker ones.

What advice can you give people about the best or worst way to approach a new agent or potential client? 

I think you need to put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re approaching. If it’s an art director or designer, they’re probably busy and receive a lot of cold calls or emails from illustrators wanting to show their work. So you need to make it as easy as possible for someone to view your work – a quick, polite email or phone call introducing yourself and a link to your website. Or you could send in a postcard or printed sample of your work that directs someone to your website, and follow up with a phone call a week or two later to check it’s been received, and to try and set up a portfolio meeting.

What one piece of advice would you give to emerging illustrators at the beginning of their career? 

Stick at it and keep making work. If you don’t get commissioned straight out of college, find other ways of getting your work seen. There are plenty of blogs to submit work to and competitions to enter (the V&A Illustration Awards or the Folio Society’s Book Illustration competition, for example). Not only will these act as platforms for your illustrations, you’ll continue the momentum of working to briefs and producing work at all.

A lot of illustrators will have financial pressures when starting out. Do you need to spend a lot of money on your portfolio to make it successful?

Unfortunately the cost of a portfolio can mount up – prints, sleeves, portfolio bag etc – but you should see it as an investment. If your portfolio is called out without you there, it is representing you, so needs to make the right impression and reflect a level of professionalism. You shouldn’t worry too much about getting a top of the range leather folder – there'll be cheaper alternatives – but I think spending money on the prints is really worthwhile. In the long run, it could be worth investing in a decent printer so that you can update your folio yourself.


Apply for a place on Jenny Bull’s Spa portfolio sessions at IdeasTap HQ, on 28 March.

Image courtesy of Stuart Kolakovic/Heart.

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