What Art Directors look for in portfolios? - Sarah Davis

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

Back from my first SCBWI conference in Sydney. There were many highlights for me; one of them being Sarah Davis’ presentation on What Art Directors look for in portfolios.

Sarah spoke with ease, confidence, and warmth, and her expertise shone. She cleverly used examples of DaVinci and Picasso’s art for her mock critiques to give us greater clarity, which I won’t be doing in my post. However, here are the key points from her presentation.

The Magic Ingredients:

#1: Technical skills

- Confident use of techniques/mediums

- Ability to draw

- Understanding of formal elements of art: light, tone, form, structure, mark-making

#2: Genuine feeling for characters

- Warmth, ability to connect and empathize

- Mood/Emotion

- Expressiveness of pose

- Interaction between characters – establishing clear relationships

- Interesting personalities

- Character consistency

#3: Narrative!

- Tell a good story

- Narrative clarity and continuity

- Emotional punch

- Sense of potentiality - what's happening? what's going to happen?

#4: Research the market

- Genre appropriate

- Age appropriate

- Publisher/s you’re submitting to

- Your competition. What makes you special/different/better?

#5: Interesting voice

- Energy, ideas, freshness

- Interesting use of media

- Unusual concepts

- Expressiveness

#6: Be a nice human being

- Ability to deliver on time and to specifications

- Ability to follow a brief

- Professional, collaborative

- Openness, dependability, and flexibility

#7: A killer portfolio

- Demonstrating the above 6 ingredients

- Only include your strongest work

- Cohesiveness and depth

In summary, there are no short cuts. We have to put in the time to do the work... lots of it. She’s provided us a good check list, but there’s no cookie cutter answer. Art Directors just know it when they see it.


Our adventures to The Children's Bookshop in Beecroft >

If you’re interested in what else SCBWI SYD 2019 had to offer, like Allison Tait and Valerie Khoo’s presentation on How to make yourself more marketable as a writer for example, please check out their official blog.

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Cindy WM Chong

Artist & Illustrator | SCBWI member


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