I just got back from #LA18SCBWI (2018 international conference for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Los Angeles) and I’ve been taking notice of what goes into a winning showcase portfolio for several years. Here are my observations.
What Makes a Winning SCBWI Portfolio Showcase Entry
(As Far As I Can Tell)
Kaz Windness – August 2018
- The portfolio book follows the SCBWI Portfolio Showcase rules.
- Simple, clean portfolio book.
- 10-12 fabulous pieces. (Top out at 12, seriously! Show only the best!)
- Name clearly displayed, usually hand-drawn/designed by the artist.
- All pieces face upright (no turning the book).
- Typically, the art is mounted rather than displayed in plastic sleeves. This avoids reflection while viewing.
- There are no mediocre pieces or blank pages at the end.
- The art is thoughtfully organized and one piece flows to the next.
- The style feels unified throughout. No big shifts in style or media.
- Picture book appropriate art is featured. Some middle-grade work is also fine.
- The work is literary (artsy and unique) rather than commercial.
- The art is textural (looks like live media, even if digital).
- Each piece evokes a clear mood utilizing color and lighting.
- Each piece tells a story. The narrative makes the viewer ask, “What happens next?”
- 2 or 3 of the pieces are from the same story and feature the same characters.
- There are multiple projects featured and no more than 3 images from one single project.
- Few or no words are added to the art. Think clean viewing without clutter or distractions. (Hey! It’s like The Life-changing Magic of Tidying for portfolios!)
- At least a few of the pieces show characters interacting with each other.
- There are both illustrations with backgrounds and samples utilizing white space or less-busy backgrounds. (Pace so there are quiet moments in your portfolio.)
- Diversity has not been neglected. (Are all your people white? Are diverse characters drawn with respect and authenticity, not just white people with brown skin?)
- Utilizes multiple camera angles for mood, meaning, and variety.
- The artist understands color, lighting, composition and has a strong handle on their media.
- Shows children interacting with animals or adults (mom/dad/grandparent) in emotionally sincere moments.
The judges are looking for a fresh, modern and unique approach, but there have been commonalities in the winning style for the last several years.
- Flattening of perspective was a noticeable trend in the last few winning portfolios. (Example: The floor does not recede back into space, but lays flat behind the character(s).)
- Incorporation of collage with paint. Also, watercolor/gouache with pen or pencil. (Mixed media.)
- A simpler, painterly/rough-drawn approach rather than highly rendered pieces. Childlike/child approachable. (Check out Catbird Agency for style cues, but it must be your own style rather than derivative.)
- Simpler, unified, and on-trend/modern/fresh color palettes. Thoughtful use of grey.
The sample card must represent the portfolio well. This is what the judges use to narrow down their winning picks. Judges snag postcards from portfolios they like and take those cards to a table to discuss with other judges. If multiple judges have grabbed the same card, that portfolio will be fetched for closer review.
- Name clearly displayed and the same as on the portfolio.
- The art must be easily viewed, so not just a small postcard or business card.
- Two-sided is better, both sides featuring a different scene from the same project, ie. a full environment on the front and a spot illo on the back. Black and white printing on the back is fine.
For postcard printing, I like Moo but GotPrint is also recommended.
PLEASE NOTE: You get seen at these shows, so if playing to the win is going to keep publishing people from viewing the kind of work you really want to do, don’t play to the win. Do you, Boo! Plenty of illustrators get discovered without ever winning any SCBWI contest or recognition. You are already winning by showing your work.
For a portfolio checksheet, please see this blog entry:
For visual examples and portfolio tips and tricks, please see my Pinterest boards:
This blog entry refers to hardcopy portfolios. Web portfolios are similar in some ways but different in many others. We’ll save that for another discussion.