3 Illustration Portfolio Tips

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As I’ve had a few emails from new illustrators with questions about my Owlstation portfolio, I thought it might be helpful to write a blogpost to share some tips and advice for creating your first website. Firstly a disclaimer *I am not an illustration portfolio expert!* however I do enjoy a creative and fulfilling freelance career and I’m very happy to share with you what I have learned (and am still learning) as I grow.

I’ll keep these short and stick to 3 portfolio tips for now. If you have any further questions on these or would like me to elaborate, please feel free to leave a comment! Finally to note that this advice assumes you’ve already made some initial steps on your path as an illustrator, perhaps by taking a course or lessons online and want to keep things moving…

1. You Need a Portfolio!

If you’re looking to pursue a career in illustration, you’ll need to get your work out there. Most clients will expect you to have a portfolio website that shows off a selection of your best work. When starting out, and even later on – think quality over quantity.

Select a handful of relevant projects that you’re proud of, for each of these select a few, strong images that best show off the work you did. Make sure they are high resolution, not blurry or pixellated in any way. Nowadays I like to include one or two process images as well – a scan of early sketches or high quality photograph of relevant sketchbook pages can give a client insight into your process. But these should come after the final images, a dessert after the main meal!

Include some information about the project/illustration; perhaps what you did, the goal, how you achieved it. But keep this short and use simple language, no need to be poetic or flowery here. A spelling and grammar check afterwards and you’re ready to publish.

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Carbonmade’s Website Design Tools

2. Choose a Good Template

My very first website looked hideous. I didn’t know much about website tools and picked a very clunky, free service. It was difficult to use and the ugly template made it look like a website for a bank designed when the internet was first born.

Luckily, I followed my instinct that there had to be a better way and moved on. The template I have now is very clean and simple. A white background, a home page with evenly spaced images, my logo at the top and a neat menu button. I have four main pages – a home page showing my projects, about page, contact page and a page link to this very blog. Tapping a project thumbnail on the home page opens a new page where your project images can be viewed. Navigation is simple.

Having poured over many illustrator’s websites, most have a very similar approach. I like to think of it like a gallery in the real world – white walls, space for artwork to breathe, minimal text, no nonsense!

3. Find a Good Service

Unless you’re going to build and code your website yourself, you’ll need to find a portfolio/website service that works well for you and fits into your price range. As this is the shop front to you career as an illustrator, it’s worth investing a little money and time into making your portfolio the best it can be.

I use Carbonmade which has served me very well over the years. It has a selection of cleanly designed, ready to go templates (called themes). It’s very user friendly and quite affordable. I use the ‘Whoo’ option which is approx £9 ($12) a month. I hear very good things about Squarespace and know they offer loads of different templates that also include blog or news pages and shop features, which could be very useful as you expand your practice and start selling work.

I use Behance for my digital freelance portfolio (I keep my digital and hand drawn portfolios separate, but that’s a whole other blogpost right there!). It’s free and pretty easy to use. I understand it’s fairly well respected and is a great platform for sharing work too. Ultimately, you’ll need to do a bit of research and find what works best for you, but hopefully these suggestions will help you get started.

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Behance

There’s lots more I could say about how having a portfolio is a constant task, that it always needs checking, updating, trimming and cultivating…that looking at other illustrators websites is very helpful when creating your own and so on… but I’ll leave it here for now.

Good luck! If you’ve found this helpful do pop back as I’ll be sharing more of my illustration learnings in the future.

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Park Drawing

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My goodness, Summer has jumped over the top of Spring and suddenly landed! What a glorious bank holiday weekend we’ve just had. I love to draw outside, and the long, cold Winter we’ve had has really made that difficult – sketching with gloves on just doesn’t work.

We set up camp in Alexandra Park, armed with picnic blanket, reading material (Moominpappa at Sea), ice cream and chilled tins of pop. Being pale, English types we had a generous layer of sun cream applied. We stayed until the shadows grew long and I enjoyed exploring and pushing the vibrant colours I saw in the foliage with my bright, Crayola felt tips. More sessions like this please!

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Owl Cat

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A rare sighting of an Owl Cat. Part owl – part cat, it dwells in trees, curls up in the sun and stares regally down at lesser species…I’ve been enjoying experimenting with Indian Ink in my sketchbook lately! You can get a variety of shades from mixing the ink with water. Using a range of brushes can create very different textures too.

Old Man’s Journey

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I had such a pleasant experience playing through Old Man’s Journey. Created by Austrian game studio Broken Rules, it’s an emotional game told through stunning illustration. I found it so refreshing – the perfect choice if you’re looking for something different to play on your phone.

I don’t want to give too much away but at the start of the game our white-bearded hero receives a letter. We never see the contents but after reading it he promptly packs his rucksack and sets off on his journey.

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He walks through pretty little towns with houses like jewels, rolling pastel coloured hills, over train tracks, up narrow winding roads and even sliding down waterfalls. The art is style is just so beautiful! Clearly the creators know their way around a colour palette! They layer soft textures and play with composition to draw you into his world.

The atmosphere builds as the journey continues. The weather changing from gentle sunshine to howling winds and driving rain. The carefully considered SFX build the world even more. Tiny sheep bleat and miniature bells can be rung. The original score means that even playing through trickier puzzles is a relaxing experience.

The puzzles themselves are unique to me. In order to progress, we must use our fingers to literally move mountains! Pushing hills closer together and rearranging the landscape to make a safe way through. Whilst some levels were trickier than others, the puzzles never feel frustrating and the super minimal UI keeps the screen free of clutter.

The story is an emotional one. More is revealed as you progress and you start to build a picture of this little character’s life. I love to play and work on games that make you feel something. If you’ve got any suggestions for games that you’ve enjoyed – please do share them with me!

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A Witch’s Garden – Game Update

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My Unity game ‘A Witch’s Garden’ is taking shape! The 2D games tutorial that I used as a starting point was a great way to kick things off. It makes use of the ‘Playground Project’ a very useful pack of ready made scripts and assets. After making their demo game, I was able to move on and use the scripts like puzzle pieces to create a simple, object collection game.

Initially I used the pack’s existing spaceship art to get the foundation of my game working, then I was ready to replace them with my own, witchy designs. I’m so inspired by beautiful, artsy games by developers like State of Play and Simogo,  making my own game has given me the opportunity to explore styles that I haven’t had the chance to use for client work yet.

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In A Witch’s Garden, you control a disembodied skeleton hand, guiding it around an ethereal garden to collect glowing pagan symbols whilst avoiding the monsters that lurk there. It’s going to be a long journey to finishing my game and I’ll have to remind myself to be patient, but the fact that i’ve already got the foundations in place feels like a big achievement. My next steps are to add as much polish as I can and then explore how I can share it with you all to play!

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The Playground Project is a free resource created by Ciro Constinisio 

Tove Jansson & the Creative Process

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As a long time fan of Tove Jansson’s illustrations, seeing the exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery before it closed was a big treat. Though the Moomins took centre stage, there was an excellent variety of her work on display.

Watercolours and drawings from Tove’s illustrated versions of Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit. Large oil-painted self portraits and abstracts. Also a selection of her political cartoons and magazine covers, some of which were created during the Second World War. There was even a series of models, like this one of Snufkin (below) that I took the opportunity to sketch!

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However, what I enjoyed most about this exhibition was the touch of insight it gave me into Tove’s creative process. Evidence of pencil lines not quite rubbed out underneath delicate ink work. Some barely perceptible tippex-like corrections on typography. Roughs and layout sketches shown next to final versions. I noticed that a few of the watercolours had sections which appear to have been carefully cut out, perhaps by scalpel, and removed or replaced with a new layer of card fixed precisely in place over the top.

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It was very heartening to see these little human touches and imagine that even my illustration heroes made/make changes and tweaks to improve their work. That things don’t always come out perfectly first time and that there are many different ways to create. It’s all part of the process and one that we don’t always get to see – especially in today’s slick, Photoshop world.

I love it when illustrators share what goes on behind the scenes and how they make their work. I’ll be sure to share more of my creative process this year too!

The above Tove Jansson Illustration from Alice In Wonderland is used here without permission via Pinterest. 

Bird Themed Personal Project

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I’ve been working on a bird inspired personal project, on and off, for a couple of years now. It started with a visit to the Barbican to see ‘Magnificent Obsessions’. An excellent exhibition displaying the private (and in some cases bizarre) collections of famous artists, including Andy Warhol’s cookie jars and Peter Blake’s Edwardian dolls and puppets.

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I enjoyed drawing Damien Hirst’s taxidermy birds. Trapped in a glass bell jar, they caught my imagination and an idea for a book cover project slowly developed. Through this personal work i’ve been able to explore digital colouring, hand drawn typography, composition and print – though as is often the way, it’s had to take a back seat to other projects when life has been busy.

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However, I’m now on the home stretch! I’ve been making final adjustments this week as well as having fun with some more digital colouring/ bird experiments which I thought I’d share. If you have any personal projects or side hustles that your excited about this year, I’d love to hear about them!

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Photograph of Taxidermy birds used here without permission.
All other images are my own.

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