How to Prepare for a Portfolio Review as an Illustrator
Question: Can you give me some good pointers/advice about preparing for meetings and how to conduct yourself in a meeting?
The Internet makes it easy to share your work and cultivate digital relationships. But there’s a still a need to form human connections with the people you want to work with.
Remember when you applied for your first job? You researched the place where you wanted to work before you called. Setting up a portfolio meeting is very similar to setting up your first job interview.
© Daniel Fishel Illustration + Design
Research and First Contact
As an illustrator, you have a very specific type and style of work, so you need to pursue opportunities that your images would work best for. You wouldn’t schedule a meeting with a teen magazine and show them epic sci-fi/fantasy oil paintings. Start by picking out the publications that use your style of illustrations, using a tool like the Agency Access database.
After you create a list of publications you want to contact, you have to decide if you’re going to call them or send them an email.
If you call, be brief and get to the point. Hello Joe, I’m Dan Fishel, an illustrator based in Queens, New York, calling to see if you had a couple of minutes in the next week to set up a portfolio meeting. Sometimes you’ll get a brief answer. Sometimes you’ll move right into an actual conversation. Be prepared for both.
If you send an email first, keep it short and sweet, with an introduction to who you are:
My name is Daniel Fishel and I’m an illustrator in Queens, NY. I hope you’re enjoying the fall weather … I’m glad to have my pumpkin spice lattes again.
I know you’re busy, but I’m hoping you’ll have time Tuesday morning, Wednesday afternoon or anytime on Oct. 23 to schedule a brief portfolio meeting. I really think my illustrations would work well with XYZ Book Publisher.
I totally understand if you’re too busy on those dates, so maybe you could suggest a date and time that works best for you. Please feel free to view my work at o-fishel.com. Thanks for your time.
Prepping for the Meeting
You have your meeting – now it’s time to do some prep work.
This is the cornerstone of your meeting. An 11x14 screw-post portfolio is better than a 9x12 spiral-ring binder. It’s easy to turn the pages of a screw-post portfolio, which offers a virtually seamless design, and 11x14 is a nice viewing size – your images are neither too big nor too small. Also, I recommend a book of about 15 to 20 images, with six to10 of those diverging from whatever’s on your website. This adds a “new work” component to the discussion, in addition to examples your contact has already seen.
Have a lot of promotional pieces on hand, in case that meeting with one art director becomes a meeting with the entire design team. And make sure they’re something that will stick around for a while. Postcards, zines, small silk screen/letterpress prints, buttons and small posters are perfect leave-behinds. A business card – better suited to public events where art directors might not want to carry around your poster or a bar where you randomly come across an art director – is not.
Some illustrators have sketchbooks that easily equal their portfolio; others have sketchbooks that are at odds with their portfolio content. If you think it’s beneficial to bring your sketchbook along, bring it. Some artists have gone so far as to create mini portfolios or zines out of scanned sketchbook images.
You don’t have to wear your Sunday best, but don’t stroll in wearing sweats, either. Depending on the work environment where you’re attending your meeting (you did your research, right?), keep it semi-casual – a nice shirt and clean, polished shoes go a long way toward developing your professional, easy-to-work-with image.
© Daniel Fishel Illustration + Design
If you’re not from a “big publishing” city like New York, it might be wise to visit the location of the meeting a day early – for a dry run, so you’ll know how long it takes to get there, for instance.
Minutes before the meeting
You’re 10 minutes away from your meeting with your dream publication! Don’t freak out. And remember:
- Every art director is different when it comes to portfolio reviews. You’ll meet art directors who are cold to the touch, review your book quickly, ask a question or two and kick you out in five minutes. You’ll meet art directors who are super personable, tread slowly through your portfolio and engage in a real conversation about who you are. Everyone has his or her own way of perusing a professional’s portfolio, so be prepared for anything – and open to however the art director wants to proceed.
- Be confident, be humble, and be flattering. It’s ok to be a little nervous, especially on your first few client meetings, but keep in mind that you both have a goal to achieve during the meeting. The client wants to know if you’re easy to work with, have applicable work and are somewhat familiar with what they do. You want to form a relationship that leads to work down the road, communicate why you think this could be a great partnership and reaffirm that this client would work easily with you.
- They’re just like you! Remember when you were a teenager and you saw your chemistry teacher at the market? It’s a weird experience, when that teacher goes from a creature that punishes you with homework to an actual human who shops for food. Well, clients are people, too. If your interview is not so rushed that you can you make a little small talk, try to hold off on talking shop for a while. You’ll find the client also has a deep love for Internet cats, a weird obsession with unicycles, or whatever. Connecting interests via small talk can be a great icebreaker.
If you come out of your meeting with positive vibes, congratulations. Unless the art director instructs you to contact her the following day, “friend” him or her on Facebook or expect an assignment, just write a nice follow-up email, three days later. Keep it pleasant and very short.
Remember, kindness and pleasant persistence can go a long way. This way, when you send another email in two months to tell them you’ve updated your website, they’re more likely to respond positively.
Daniel Fishel is an illustrator and hand letterer who originally hails from the Keystone state but resides in Queens, NY. Daniel's has worked with a range of clients such as The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe, Nylon Guys Magazine, Arizona Iced Tea, Lands End, No Sleep Records and many others. His work has been recognized by American Illustration, the Society of illustrators and 3x3 Magazine. Daniel Fishel Illustration + Design
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