Though I am still at the beginning of my illustration career, I’ve been through a few portfolio reviews to help me get on the right track.  Take this from an experienced novice who has sought out a lot of advice from those in the field.

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I love doing pet portraits but this will never get me a book cover job.

One thing that is brought up a number of times over and over is draw what you want to be drawing.  Not in the moment, but overall.  What do you see yourself doing?  If you enjoy drawing bots, draw bots.  If you enjoy wolves, draw wolves.  Try to focus the majority of your work, even casual stuff, on the stuff you want to be doing.

As you post your work and build your portfolio, remember you are building your brand.  When people look to hire artists, most do not have the imagination to picture your style on a different subject.  If you want to be drawing dragons, you must be able to show potential clients dragons you have drawn, it’s really that simple.

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Yes, I can do dragons, you won’t be disappointed!!! My style is a lot like this.

If you only draw what’s popular or what gets views, it’s very easy to accidentally typecast yourself into a role you may not want long-term.  While a piece here or there isn’t an issue, and experimentation is good for the soul, be careful of diversifying too much and simply expecting that clients will understand that what you really like is something not represented much.

Worse, many art directors need you to not only draw the subject they want, in the style they want, but also in the format.  If you want to be doing Magic Cards, you format should be horizontal with a particular ratio, and with strong compositional elements.  If book covers are more your thing, then a vertical format is best.  This you figure out by scoping out what has been done, and reproducing those elements.

Ultimately, your portfolio should represent what you actually want to be doing as well as what is marketable.  This means that if you are not getting hired for the jobs you’d like to be doing in the future, then you need to build your body of work on your personal art time.  If you don’t have personal art time, then you need to make some.  Call it professional development if it makes you feel better about it, and pencil it in!

Advice I need to take myself 😉  Hope to have more illustration style works shortly as we normalize my son’s sleep schedule.  Gryphs has been my main focus but I’ve started to work again towards a portfolio that can get me where I want to go.  The number one advice I got from art directors was that my skills were decent for being self-taught, but that my style was not marketable for the fantasy market.  I plan to make some tweaks and have my things re-evaluated sometime next year.

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