Posted by: Kathy Temean | August 21, 2018

ASK CAT – Two Must Haves Portfolios

On the third Tuesday Christina or Christy Ewers Tugeau of the Cat Agency will answer questions and talk about things illustrators need to know to further their career. It could be a question about an illustration you are working on, too. Please email your questions to me and put ASK CAT in the subject box.



It’s August already!  The end of summer and the beginning of a fresh, new FALL is nearing!  Funny how a time can be both sad and so exciting at once!  So let’s look ahead as we still live the summer ‘ease’…..

Fall is the time of new energies, conferences, new beginnings, reorganization, and professional promises to oneself….rather like a new year.  The most obvious attention focus is your work and how best to show and promote it. I’ve written of this before, but we received a well stated question about portfolios – for the beginner perhaps….how best to set them up. It’s a very timely question this time of year and so we’ll address that. It might be helpful for even the most seasoned artist as we reassess ourselves this FALL!

There are two MUST HAVE portfolios….First and foremost an online website, and then a physical portfolio for showing at conferences, reviews, and visits with buyers.  We’ll look at both, but they do overlap, of course.  You can use the same images in both, but it’s fun to have some surprises in each as well. The WEBSITE (and you can do other on-line presences, but do a website for sure!) should be clean and easy to see and navigate. No ‘cute’ gimmicks or annoying movable parts if possible. You want them to come back and the ‘cute’ isn’t after the first visit! We recommend a home page with larger thumbnails so that at first glance viewers can get a nice overview of your work and style. Have about 20 of your very best and most recent works there. Color pieces should be together; group repeat characters in different situations seen interrelating; style types grouped together, with black and white on a different page or separate on the same ‘work’ tab. If you have VERY different styles (and we suggest limiting this to only two styles presented) ….like highly realistic and then quite stylized, (and you want work in both)….have them on different labeled pages (same website). CONSISTENCY is a magic word. Being MEMORABLE is a must ….and you can’t be memorable if you show a confusion of styles and mediums. It’s the wrong message even if you are good at them all!  Makes them think you can’t see the differences.  Keep it simple….and clear. And remember not to use old/outdated work!!

About paint styles and mediums: We feel work can be shown together that uses different mediums if the STYLE is the same. If your style varies as the medium varies then show it grouped together separately in all watercolor for instance, then perhaps painted cut papers, or oil. But the STYLE is what  is most important…. it’s how they will expect you to handle characters, scenery, expressions, color etc.  You can talk with the buyer about their favorite method of illustration after they’ve contacted you for a job. OH, and ALWAYS ask what their favorite pieces were for every job….it’s so helpful for producing what they ‘expect’ Expectations are most important to get clear from the very start.

As to subject: if it’s for Kidlit…. well – KIDS!  all ages, sizes, shapes, ethnic backgrounds, and show them interacting when possible; that tells a story! Be sure to show same characters more than once for a couple of images…so it ‘tells a visual story.’ Show different expressions, perspectives, inside or out locations etc. Just be sure they are CONSISTENT in character. It tells buyers so much to see this in a portfolio….very confirming of their trust and expectations for you. In order to hireyou, they need to be completely comfortable with what you are likely to do for them. It’s quite different than buying a finished art piece. They are buying a trust in your promised and perceived abilities. Along with kids, show adults and certainly animals alone or with the kids, if that is your ability. Mystical subjects are fun, as are monsters and robots and whatever you love to do. But we truly believe that if you want to do illustration work for children’s literature, you need/should show children! It widens the range of potential work. Keep working at it until you are completely comfortable drawing your characters and their movements. It’ll come… show ONLY your best! NO WEAK PIECES in either portfolio!

Now for a Physical Book: 9×12 add-on pages (black paper inserts sets off art nicely) is a nice size, but it can be slightly smaller or larger…not too large for oh so many reasons!  Here you will want to show 12-15 prints of your best work (published too if you have some)…. with the emphasis the same as for the on-line suggestions.  Group by style with color separate from b/w (maybe a couple of pages of b/w at end if you do it well and want to do it professionally.) We like a book that is CONSISTENT in style as it’s a fast opportunity to make an impression. Keeping it SIMPLE helps this.  Viewers sometimes only take a minute or less to flip through a portfolio showing. Even during a visit they will move fast….the OVERALL impression must first capture them.  Then an outstanding piece or two might stop them in a great way.  That’s IDEAL! Put your best/favorite at the beginning, and also at end….leave them with a bang! (if they get that far.)  One image usually per page, though you can break it up (like a picture book) with maybe two vignettes on one or two pages. Great if you can get the book to ‘read/flow’ like a picture book. That helps their imagining your work IN a picture book! Again, like on-line, you’ll want to try and do one or two that are consecutive narrative images from the ‘same story’… same characters, different spreads. Try having three images from one of your stories in fact. You can ‘borrow’ a well known story, or just make up a series of images that feels like an actual story. If you have a dummy of a story you’ve done, you should show that. That illustrates how you might ‘think’ a story.  If your portfolio is in a showcase be sure to safely attach the dummy to your portfolio.  During a visit you can mention the dummy and they’ll most likely want to see it. You might want to have an extra copy with you to leave behind when they love it!  That reminds me, it’s a good idea to have a smaller, inexpensive physical portfolio for leaving with an editor or art director if they request it. Never ever leave your  bigger good portfolio behind.  And don’t SEND it…use these smaller inexpensive ones. Most ‘sending’ is done digitally now anyway. It’s a very good idea to have postcards of two images each (front and back… 5×7 at least…all your contact info and name clearly visible) to leave behind whenever you are showing your physical book.

This is the basic information for your new FALL portfolios !! = Create, then beautifully print your best, most proficient, memorable work and show it off in a clean, simple, stunning manner both on-line and in a ‘book’.   It’s rather like the first day of school each Fall….. new outfit, new crayons, new haircut maybe, but it’s still YOU making a great first impression!  Remember, often you only get ONE CHANCE to make a great first impression.  Knock their socks off!

A thought for next month, perhaps, send me/Kathy an illustration you have a question about and I’ll try to answer your question in a way that helps ALL artists and you. No guarantee we’ll use yours, and you have to be comfortable with the image being seen by everyone who follows Kathy, but I’ve done this before and it’s great fun. Let’s give it a try something new for summah! Send your question and image to kathy.temean(at)! Include your bio and picture.

Christina Tugeau
The CAT Agency Inc.

Thank you Chris for another great article. I am getting out my sketch pad to do some blind contour drawings. 

Please help keep this column going by sending in your questions.


Hope this illustration by Constanze Von Kitzing ( will inspire everyone to look for an illustration and send in a question to Chris and Christy. Constanze  was featured on Illustrator Saturday.

Send them to kathy(dot) and put ASK CAT in the Subject Area.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. Thank you so much! Again I have learned more from you dear Chris!!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: