Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Portfolio Book Makeover

This week I am preparing to travel to the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators conference in LA. I am participating in the portfolio showcase, which is where all the illustrators display their portfolios in a room, and all the attendees can look at them. A jury also awards prizes to the best portfolios.

Last time I attended the SCBWI conference was three years ago. I was a new grad at the time - and I mean new. I gave my final presentation at my last art class, then rushed to the airport to catch my flight to LA. The conference started the next morning.

This year, I was thinking of just using my old portfolio book, which is one of those generic plastic ones you can find at any art store. I knew this was kind of a cheap move, but, I mean, the book is going to be open, right? Who cares if it's a little beaten up, a little blah? All that matters is the art, right? Maybe I can pass it off as some sort of commentary on the depersonalization of our consumer culture?

Then I listened to a One Fantastic Week episode about context and branding, and was shamed. I remembered a time an artist friend asked to see my portfolio book. When I handed it to him, he said, "oh," flipped through it like a flipbook, then gave it right back to me. "Geez, thanks a lot," I laughed. "Well, I just wanted to see if you did anything special with it." He said.

Awkward pause.

"It's a commentary on the depersonalization of our consumer culture," I said.

Clearly the generic portfolio was passable as a beginner, but now I'm a professional. If there was ever a time to present a beautifully designed book, it's at a conference full of book nerds. It's time to level up.

Problems with the old portfolio

An underwhelming cover. 

Clear plastic sleeves. They give a wrinkled, unsightly glare, especially under overhead fluorescent lights. (And there are always overheard fluorescent lights.)

Random white borders around each image. Because much of my art has slightly different proportions, when I centered them on each page, the white margins were a little different each time. This bothered me.

The orientation of landscape images. I had my double-page spreads printed on single pages, which meant you had to turn the portfolio sideways to see them correctly. Doesn't sound like a big deal, but from what I've heard, art directors don't like this. They just don't.

I found an Etsy shop called Sleek Portfolios that sells custom portfolios with cool laser cutouts for a reasonable price. I got my logo cut out on a glossy black acrylic cover.

Next I worked on re-printing my artwork. I used my home printer for this, which despite being a cheap HP all-in-one printer, does a surprisingly good job. I selected the pieces I thought best for the SCBWI conference and laid them all out on the floor so I could see them as a collection.

The Result

New custom-made cover! Ooooh, so shiny!

No more clear plastic sleeves! I printed my artwork onto semi-gloss paper and placed the pages directly into the book. This reduces the glare and lets the colors be seen more clearly.

Full bleed images! (Well, almost!) This allows me to show the art at a larger size. While the white margins are still a little varied, they're at least relegated to one side of the paper now, so it's less noticeable.

Landscape-oriented images are now glorious double-page spreads! I am so excited about this. No more rotating the book or tilting your head, no more awkward white margins.

The only drawbacks with this new portfolio are 1.) the shiny cover is very, very fingerprint-prone 2.) I used double-sided tape to tape my pages together, and I imagine quite a few people are going to try and separate them, thinking they're stuck. Oh well. We'll see how it all holds up at the portfolio showcase this weekend! Wish me luck!


  1. Gorgeous, Kelley! And those double page landscape displays are simply inspired.

    Love it!


  2. How you got rid of the plastic sleeves, i can´t understand how you've attached your work to the portfolio.

    1. Hi Jesus - I used adhesive portfolio inserts. You can see them here:

  3. It looks great! I really love how you solved the layout of your images with the borders. Ditching the glare of the plastic sheets was great, too!

  4. Wow!amazing portfolio. Good luck for the conference in LA!

  5. What paper did you use for your all-in-one printer? You managed to get some great darks from looking at the photos.

  6. Lovely! Your work deserves such an awesome presentation! So excited to hear how the conference goes!


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