Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Portfolio and promotion

What is a portfolio and what should I put in it?

A portfolio is a collection of your best work, perhaps 12-20 pieces, usually in colour but with some black and white if that is your preference. Most illustrators nowadays have on-line portfolios either on their own websites or as part of a group website eg or

“Portfolio” also refers to a hard copy of work that can be mailed to publishers with colour copies of artwork (never originals). According to Christine Thornton on her website, this should be "clean, professional and a standard size like 8.5-by-11 inches." When promotional samples are sent to publishers, the illustrator can mention an on-line portfolio in the hope that an art director will look at it.
"Basically, a children’s book illustration portfolio should show subjects that children enjoy and that commonly appear in children’s books so publishers know you can draw these subjects well," states Christine.
She suggests that it might be a good idea to include a series of one character performing different activities with various facial expressions and body language to show the ability of keeping a character consistent over several images. Animals are another popular subject, both naturalistic and anthropomorphized.
"Include detailed settings for some of your illustrations. Remember your audience, and craft a visual world that is engaging to a child. The best illustrations are those we wish we could enter. Consider showing a variety of settings like a neighborhood, a city scene and a classroom."
Style is what gets an illustrator noticed. Style is the way we draw and like our portfolios will continue to develop and evolve. Christine Thornton quotes Anne Sibley O'Brien who writes columns for the national SCBWI Bulletin. O'Brien interviewed art directors and compiled the following list of what they hope to see in an illustration portfolio:
• A sense of storytelling
• Pictures that set the mood
• Central things that children love
• A full, rich look
• A sense of character
• A sense of anticipation, making the viewer want to know what happens next
• Illustrator’s trust in her or his own skills
• Consistency in character
• Authenticity
These were really useful tips and ones which I will take on board when I put my portfolio together in the coming months.

For now I have made a mini portfolio using a landscape format and stab stitch. But I have spent a lot of time updating my website so that it now acts as an online portfolio, showing my illustration work alongside my writing and community art work


 On another website, Jennifer Farley, a designer, illustrator and design instructor based in Ireland. She writes about design and illustration on her blog at Laughing Lion Design and suggests five tips for portfolios.
1. Show Only Your Best Work
This may sound obvious, but only include your very best work. It’s better to have three or four really good pieces of work than ten pieces of rubbish. A bad piece in your portfolio is like a bad link in a chain, it will bring down the overall quality and integrity of everything else you have in there.

2. Know Your Strengths and Focus on Them
If the term “Jack of all trades, and master of none” comes to mind when people see your portfolio, then there is a problem. It may seem tempting to be able to offer ALL types of design services, or ALL types of illustration styles but that tends to make everything you do look lacklustre. Be really, really good at one or two things and stay focused on them.

3. Include the Type of Work That You Actually Want To Do
If you hate making banner ads for example, do not include them in your portfolio because you can be absolutely sure that’s what you’ll get hired to do. If you don’t have any professional experience in the area that you want to work in, create some dummy work and make up your own projects and mockups. Write your own design briefs, or find some on the web and create some high quality work for yourself.

4. Group Similar Disciplines
Group your work together logically. Organize the portfolio into categories (for example, Web Design, Logo Design, Packaging, Children’s Illustration, Medical Illustration).

5. Keep It Simple and Just Do It
For online portfolios make sure your site is easy to navigate through and completely foolproof. Provide good quality images without pixelation or distortion. Don’t agonize over your portfolio to the point where you paralyze yourself, and don’t spend to much time drooling over other people’s portfolio. Certainly you can take ideas and inspiration from others but ultimately you have to just sit down and do your own. You can tweak your portfolio along the way and as it grows you will add and remove pieces, so just do it!

Thornton, C. 2008. Demystifying the Illustrator Portfolio, available at April 20, 2014
Farley, J. 2010, Five Tips for Preparing a Design or Illustration Portfolio, available at April 20, 2014


Interview with Suzanne Watts

Hilda Must Be Dancing
Gloucestershire born and bred, Suzanne studied a foundation level art and design course at Gloscat in Cheltenham, and then went on to study Illustration at Falmouth College of Art (now University College) in Cornwall. Over the years she has worked in various areas of illustration including the greetings cards industry, producing selections of cards for The Paper House Group and Setu
Design as well as working with the Oxford University Press illustrating educational books for schools. But her main focus of work is within the Children’s Picture Book field. With the help of her agent, Eunice McMullen, Suzanne has worked on commissions for the U.K. and U.S. markets. Published work includes The Little Tiger Press, Simon and Schuster and Harper Collins.

I asked her a few questions concerning her work.


When I was a child I spent a lot of time outdoors in the country side and I loved animals especially horses when I came home I would try to draw them. I also had a Disney annual and a Rupert the Bear book, the bright colourful images and line work really inspired me and I would sit for hours copying the pictures. This combined with a love of books and a very active imagination was the start of my interest in illustration.


I have worked in lots of different mediums over the years including oil paints, acrylic and water colour but my favourite is Alkyd. It is a fast drying oil paint which I have found to be ideal for illustration work when you have short deadlines to meet. Also the paint mixes beautifully and a fantastic intensity of colour can be achieved.

Hilda Must Be Dancing


As I specialise in Children's illustration my work hasn't really been that varied. I have worked on picture books, in poetry book, book covers, educational books and greetings cards.

Sketchbook work, Suzanne Watts

HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR WORK (what are your intentions?)

My style is intended to be humorous and fun for young children to enjoy. I try to fill my pages so that there are other things for children to point out and enjoy talking about besides the actual storyline. For example in Hilda Must Be Dancing there is a small bug on each page waiting to be found. My work is colourful and vibrant because I love the process of mixing paint and laying colours side by side. I would hope that my work would inspire children to want to be creative.
Scenes from Hilda Must Be Dancing


I have enjoyed all of my projects but the one that really stands out for me is Hilda Must Be Dancing.
This was the first book that I was involved in with Simon and Schuster in New York and they gave me the freedom to take the artwork where I wanted it to go. The story was beautifully written and a joy to illustrate.


What tips can I offer up and coming illustrators? Well I would say keep knocking on doors and get your work seen. Absolutely don't be put off if you receive lots of negative comments from publishers or agents. If you really want to find work in this incredibly competitive industry keep pushing and eventually you will get there.  When I started out it was a case of cold calling and sending photo copies of work out to publishers. Now a days with the internet it’s so much easier. There is also a lot of help and support to be found on illustrator forums. 

from Bear Hugs

 To see more of Suzanne's work visit:

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Updating my CV

I am fast realising that writing a CV at 45 is very different than writing one at 19 or 20. My employment history covers 27 years and I have a clearer idea of what I want to do although that doesn't mean to say it is set in stone. Having interviewed over 300 creative people in the past five years, I know that to work in the creative industries, one has to be flexible and adaptable.
I have been reconsidering my CV and have got a couple of versions to play with. My strengths are the fact that I can write and illustrate and it is these two skills I want to push forward so I have based my CV on this. But I also have one for just art purposes as well, concentrating on exhibitions and illustrative work/commissions before broadcasting and media experience.
Before I revamped my CV. I looked at what examples there were that were creative and stood out in a good or bad way. These are some that I found.

Personally, although I like the creative thought, there is a danger of over doing the design at the detriment of the content. I also looked at some websites and advice concerning CV writing. Some of the key tips I picked up were these:
  • You never get a second chance to make a first impression. 
  • Most employers prefer the chronological CV eg. 
Personal Details
Name, address, telephone numbers, preferred e-mail address, date of birth and nationality - I would argue DOB is not necessary.
This should be a few sentences or short paragraph describing your key skills and experience. Tailor it to the position applied for. Detail professional status and career development along with immediate ambitions. Keep it short and to the point.

Professional and Academic Qualifications
List most recent achievements first. 

Employment History
List all previous employment in reverse chronological order. Start with details of  current employment. Use bullet points to outline main responsibilities of the role. Account for any gaps in employment history.

Unless they specifically relate to skill requirements of the position applied for, it is worth considering omitting the rather dated tradition of listing personal interests. 

Some applications may be supported by a portfolio of your work. State on your CV that a portfolio is available on request. 

It is not necessary to include details of referees at this stage. However, you may want to state that references are available on request.
  • Do not hand write a CV.
  • Use good quality white A4 paper to print CV 
  • Use clear typeface.
  • Ensure layout is evenly spaced and easy to read, using subheadings
  • Keep all information on CV concise and clear. Short simple sentences.
  • Check spelling and grammatical error
  • Keep CV up to date
(Available at April 4 2014)

With this in mind I looked at my original CV - which was this:

I then rewrote it as an artist. This CV went to the Museum in the Park when I handed in my professional proposal for my art residency. I condensed it into one A4 sheet which with hindsight meant the font was too small and it does look squashed.

Having redesigned my business card, I decided to incorporate this into my CV to make it look more unified. This first version doesn't include a full account of my employment history and emphasizes my art experience.

Then I redid it with a full account of my employment history. This version I will send out for work in the creative industries where writing is a skill employers are looking for, as well as illustration/art design


Saturday, 12 April 2014

Illustrating for Cotswold Life's June issue

Originally this piece on Stow on the Wold was meant to be published in the May issue of Cotswold Life, which would have been out mid April, but the advertising team asked if it could be held for June. It gave me a little longer to try out some techniques for one of the illustrations I wanted to get done - concerning St. Edward. Stow on the Wold is the highest town in the Cotswolds and this quote (which has no source) is often used to describe it:

Stow on the Wold, where the winds blow cold and the cooks can't roast their dinners

Last year when I visited it was snowing, and this time although the sun was out there was a bitter chill, so I couldn't resist using my humour in one of my illustrations.
This is the text from my feature to which this illustration relates.

There is a saying of Stow that as it is the highest town of the Cotswolds, it is a few degrees colder than elsewhere. On my last visit it was snowing, and today, although the sun is out, the air is chilly and I struggle to sketch the wonderful architecture and landmarks without shivering. I can’t resist adding some woollen accessories to my drawing of St. Edward who looks exposed to the elements as he looks down from his namesake town hall at the busy market area and The Cross below. Windows don’t appear straight in places and buildings are wonderfully old which add to Stow’s charm.

St.Edward's Chill. Graphite with free-hand embroidered stitch, Tracy Spiers
The other illustration I did was directly from my sketchbook, which I took back home and worked on of Stow's Market Cross.

original sketch on site of The Cross in Market Square, Stow in pen and wash

final image for publishing purposes
The Cross, Market Square, Stow
An archway alongside St Edward's Church, Stow which I chose not to finish and include

THE TEXT which the illustrations accompany

My dad can’t quite believe it. He is watching his daughter batting with the bat of all bats – the very one belonging to William Gilbert Grace, or W.G.Grace, considered by many historians as the greatest cricketer of all time. If we had arrived in Stow on the Wold a few minutes earlier Dad would have been the 4,000 visitor to have been to the town’s Cotswold Cricket Museum - believed to be the only one of its kind.

Minutes before I ask owner Andy Collier, “why cricket?” Immediately I realise it is a rather silly question to put to such an enthusiast. Before I can take back my words, a gentleman on the next table to me in Grace Tea and Coffee Lounge – part of the museum complex – replies: “And why not?”

Why not indeed? After all no one else has taken their private collection of cricket memorabilia – built up over 25 years - and turned it into a public attraction like this.

“It’s been the love of my life all my life. It started when I did an exhibition in Guildford two years ago and we raised £900 for charity over one weekend. Those who came were so gobsmacked by what they saw, it encouraged me to do something with it,” recalls Andy, who moved to Stow with his wife Marian when they saw the ideal building for their museum and café venture.

“When we first opened, a lot of people thought it was a crazy idea. Why would you want a cricket museum in Stow?  But it has received such an enormous amount of interest and as a result the collection is growing.”

My Dad has certainly been bowled over and I leave him talking to Andy.

Incidentally Andy and Marian have helped bring more visitors to Brewery Yard in Sheep Street, not only for their enterprise, but because they are now the focal point for Stow Info, the town’s Tourist Information Centre. Go Stow, an independently run visitor’s centre run by Sue and Walter Hasler, closed down last January, due to lack of financial support from local authorities.

“By having the tourist information point here means it brings people over to this part of Stow, and although the market square is the main hub of the town, it is making this a busier place,” admits Andy.  

It is this main reason that Jill Lawrence opened up Vivant in Brewery Yard at the end of October. Her attractive light and airy shop is what this French name suggests – it’s alive with colour and vibrancy. Full of hand-made arts and crafts displaying a range of unique workmanship, the gallery-like setting acts as a showcase and market place for artists all over the country as well as for Jill’s own beautiful exquisite jewellery.  

“I left a busy and demanding career behind me and with amazing support from my partner Steve, we have been able to focus full-time on this business. It is very satisfying to think that making something can give a bit of pleasure to someone else.  I am very excited about all the wonderful products that are in the boutique, showing off such fantastic creative talent for everyone to enjoy,” says Jill, who chose Stow because of its quintessential English qualities and the fact it was a bustling market town.

Royal Academist Mick Rooney has chosen to show his 70th birthday exhibition, “The artist at 70 - SINGLE STOREY (pictures from a bungalow)” in Fosse Gallery in Stow rather than in London. It finishes on May 31st, so if you are reading this before then, there is still time to see it.

Gallery owner Sharon Wheaton has staged many major exhibitions for the RA out of London and is now recognised as running one of the few specialist galleries offering the work of Royal Academicians and established artists in a rural setting. She has been thrilled to show the paintings of Mick Rooney which explore inner mythologies, neurosis, dreams and secrets that are so much a part of today's social landscape.

“I feel very privileged to be staging such an important exhibition for a leading artist. The fact that someone as senior and prestigious as Mick has decided to come here rather than exhibit in Mayfair is very exciting,” exclaims Sharon.

The central theme of Rooney’s work is mankind; sometimes in stories from his own personal history, his travels and small events of the everyday.

“This collection arrives in faith and hope, consisting mostly of stories both mythological and fundamental as maybe tiny additions to the great genealogical panoply of what inwardly makes us tick,” he says.

There is a saying of Stow that as it is the highest town of the Cotswolds, it is a few degrees colder than elsewhere. On my last visit it was snowing, and today, although the sun is out, the air is chilly and I struggle to sketch the wonderful architecture and landmarks without shivering. I can’t resist adding some woollen accessories to my drawing of St. Edward who looks exposed to the elements as he looks down from his namesake town hall at the busy market area and The Cross below. Windows don’t appear straight in places and buildings are wonderfully old which add to Stow’s charm.

While I am here, plans for a proposed doctor’s surgery are on show. It is on the field where the famous Horse Fair - a traditional fair for gypsies and travelling people to meet up and trade - takes place twice annually in May and October. This is an event which attracts hundreds and is steeped in history.

Markets have been held in Stow on the Wold since Henry II granted a charter over 900 years ago. The town is a wonderful myriad of quirky side streets – where sheep would have been ushered on their way to the market square – now lined with antique shops, art galleries and other individual independent stores. Evidence of history is all around.  The King’s Arms, on Stow’s historic market square played host to King Charles I before the Battle of Naseby and St Edward’s Café, originally St Edward’s House, dates back to the early 1700’s. It’s also a throwback to Stow’s original name Stow St. Edward or Edwardstow, referring to St. Edward, a missionary who lived as a hermit. Another landmark is the 15th century Market Cross, built as a symbolic reminder to medieval traders to deal honestly and fairly. Wool shaped Stow’s history and defined its character and reputation.

Parking is free in the centre for two hour, which makes it perfect for a visit. Being self-contained, the town is accessible and easy to shop in. People come and go which gives it character and life. While I am there a coach load of visitors arrive to look around, enjoy afternoon tea and admire the historic landmarks – including the unusual back door of St Edward’s church, which appears hidden between two trees and inspired Tolkien.

There is a warming old-fashioned community atmosphere in Stow. One is made to feel welcome. It is what helps the businesses thrive too.

Hamptons Hampers in Digbeth Street, featured in Rick Stein’s book, “Guide to the Food Heroes of Great Britain” and run by Richard and Claire Bufton, has been a strong presence in town for 26 years. They have around 100 different cheeses and a staggering choice of preserves, chutneys, chocolates, smoked duck, local hams and olives to make the perfect hamper.

 I think the reason Stow is thriving is because it is a very traditional town with lots of family run businesses. It means we can provide a great range of shops which is beneficial to both locals and visitors coming to Stow.” 

Claire has recently started creating what she calls “Sweetielicious,”  amazing cakes made entirely with vintage sweets and not one bit of sponge to be seen.  They have been selling as fast as she can make them.

“We all remember the sweets we used to have as children. I have been asked to make a number of wedding cakes. What is different about these is that you have to eat it from the middle out as they are crammed with sweets only with not one bit of sponge to be seen,” she adds.

She is passionate about providing for the gourmet lovers, just as Andy Collier is about sharing his love for cricket with others. As I score 100 not out with W.G. Grace’s bat, I can’t resist eating one of Claire’s freshly baked cheese straws. With so many people so enthusiastic about what they do and provide in Stow, there’s something special here. It has certainly bowled this maiden over.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Designing a business card

As a freelance writer I have had my own business card to hand out to people I interview and meet, but as my supply rang out a few weeks ago, I thought I would have a go at designing another, this time incorporating illustration. I chose the complimentary colours of yellow and purple and used the shape of a typewriter as my base. Writing is what I have been doing for 27 years and I can't push that aside, rather it is something I can celebrate alongside my work as an illustrator, so I can offer the whole package so to speak.

I looked up some websites that gave a few tips on business cards and the key points that came out were these:
  • The size. The most common size is 84 mm x 55 mm but it does vary. I rang James & Owen in Stroud, a long serving very helpful stationers and they said they make 86 mm x 54 mm. I realised I needed to take account of a Bleed and that the image needed to be 300dpi for a high quality result.
  • Colour mode. It’s a good idea to work in CMYK colour mode as opposed to RGB. CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (Black is known as Key and is used in colour printing. However I only have Photoshop Elements at the moment and it doesn't allow me to choose CMYK, so I will have to see how the colours come out.
  • Prepare for the Bleed. (That is unless the design background colour is white.) This involves highlighting an area surrounding the document, usually 3 mm thick with the same colour as the background colour of your card design. This prevents any ugly border strips from turning up on the edge of the cards.
  • Avoid using borders just in case they get cut unevenly.
  • Use complimentary colours that are comfortable to the eye.
  • Readable text. This needs to be at least 8pt and in bold.
  • Include important information:
  • Make sure you include all the information on the back of your card that you think the client would find useful.
    • Your name – Put the name your contacts know you by.
    • What you do – Remember to include what you do or what defines your job scope.
    • Contact information – Phone number, e-mail, work address, social media profiles etc.
    • QR Code – QR codes are a great way to visually present web addresses, phone numbers or vCards.
With this information I set to work.

I drew out my design and pinned it to some teabag paper and Calico

When I stitched it, I realised the back of the fabric was better so I went with this shape

I continued sewing until I had my boxes

I added the lettering on Photoshop as it proved too fiddly on the sewing machine

Then I added phone numbers and contact details

I sewed my name on the sewing machine and added it to the top box
I realised that the font wasn't big enough or bold enough, so I altered it to 20pt on Photoshop



 Having realised the font wasn't bold enough, I went back to the drawing board and added a button pencil and redid the colour.
These designs were my final versions. I went for white writing for my email address and website in the end as it stood out. On the back my original stitching design to put on my blog and the fact I offer a PR service to artists



Friday, 4 April 2014

Interview with Illustrator Hannah Dyson

Illustrator Hannah Dyson has worked for The Guardian, BBC Worldwide Publishing, Channel 4 and other well-known organisations. She admits she enjoys drawing animals and anthropomorphic beings and it her sense of fun, application of colour and ability to capture expressions we are all familiar with that make her illustrations so enchanting. Hannah studied her BA in Illustration at Brighton (1990-93) before doing an MA in Illustration at the Royal College of Art. I asked her the following questions:

The Little English Club for an English/French educational website

What or who inspired you to become an illustrator?

I loved drawing from an early age as most illustrators will tell you. When I did
my foundation course I basically looked for a course that was all about drawing and found that Illustration not fine art was the closest to that. I grew up with books by Maurice Sendak, Richard Scarry imprinted on my mind but really it was drawing itself that got me motivated.

What medium do you prefer to work in and why?

I did a lot of print making on my degrees and that helped me learn how to use colour and create a background by using shapes and texture. I've always appreciated line work and use pen and ink and the computer.

How varied have the illustration commissions been over the years?

Once you have done one job in a certain way you become the person who does say ...animals or humour or whatever. Sometimes art directors and commissioners don’t have time to think what you could be used for so they look at your latest job and if that fits the bill. I have done editorial and book illustrations.

How would you sum up your style and intention for your images? (is
it to amuse, to inform, educate etc)
Ideally I would like my stuff to be beautiful but humorous too. Not pretentious.

What has been your favourite project to date?
I did my perfect job was a fashion double page spread for the Independent where I met the fashion editor and we sorted out what outfits she wanted and I used my 'Animodels' to illustrate them. Really delicious fun.

What tips can you offer up and coming illustrators today?
I think it’s good to keep an open mind about what you might end up doing. The truth is most illustrators have to work another job alongside their illustration careers as the competition is stiff. This is not a bad thing as it offers a wider experience. Also, today the web and all the opportunities for self-publishing and self-promotion has opened a way for artists to be more in control and not wait for those phone calls.........