Are You Ready for the Illustrator Showcase at the 2019 Sydney International Conference?

One of the most popular elements of our SCBWI conferences is the Illustrator Showcase. A chance for members to show off their artwork to publishers from Australia and overseas. Our next conference is Feb 2019, so now is a great time to start thinking about Perfecting your Portfolio. With that in mind, we are re-posting the feedback and advice we gathered from art directors and publishers:

In the illustration world, you need to be seen to be hired. The Illustrator Showcase is an opportunity to get your work looked at and considered by a very impressive number of publishing professionals—including art directors, editors, publishers and agents.

During the Illustrator Showcase we make sure that publishers have every opportunity to view your portfolio, collect your postcards and business cards and revisit your work on the Showcase website. Publishers take away sheets filled with notes and fistfuls of business cards, so that's got to be good!

But the effectiveness of the Illustrator Showcase begins and ends with the quality and relevance of the work in your portfolio. In effect the Illustrator Showcase is a job interview. You wouldn’t go into a job interview wearing your gardening clothes and without preparing your resume, would you?  So, the first step in this “job interview” process is to Perfect your Portfolio.


Perfect your Portfolio

Ideally, a portfolio should be refined to a “professional standard” before it's submitted to a publisher—whether that's through a slush pile or the Illustrator Showcase

Now, please don’t confuse “professional standard” with “published”.  We've had a number of illustrators offered contracts as a direct result of the Showcase—and many of them were previously unpublished. The difference is that they had something in their portfolios that grabbed the attention of a publishing professional.

The feedback we’ve had in the past is that on the whole publishers were very impressed by the high standard of the work, and seemed very excited about what they'd seen. We were also consistently told that the event itself was incredibly useful to them.

We gathered some general feedback about the standard of work through informal interviews with publishers during the Showcase. The points that were raised most were:

  • In some portfolios there were lovely images, but they didn't show characterisation (character in different situation) or they didn't tell a story. It's vital to develop visual narratives and expressive characters if you want work illustrating children's books. 
  • Some people need to curate their work—don't include too many images, or poorer quality images mixed with more finished work.
  • Some people looked like "one trick ponies" and needed to show more range, while others looked like "four people did the work"—so the take home message from this is probably to find a middle ground. Identify what you do well, find a consistent style that works for you, and then show a range of subjects and approaches within that style. One comment was that a portfolio should help an Art Director know what they'll get if they hire you, so some degree of consistency and coherence is good. 
  • Need to see new work—some portfolios had mostly old work that they had seen before. 


Resources to Perfect your Portfolio

So we’ve established that we all need to cast a critical eye over our own work. This can be a daunting task but we’ve pulled together a few resources to help:

Join an On-line Critique Group—SCBWI Australia East & New Zealand offers free On-line Critique Groups. These include groups specifically for illustrators and should greatly help people from any location "get together" to give and receive the necessary preliminary feedback on their portfolios. As long as you are prepared to be an active participant in the critique group, you can join as many groups as you like.

Putting together a Prize Winning Portfolio
Molly Idle—SCBWI Member (and recent Caldecott winner!)—put together this excellent blog post about how she perfected her prize winning portfolio.

 Molly writes:
“At the first SCBWI conference I attended in LA, 12 years ago, I was fortunate enough to sit in on a workshop with Dilys Evans—agent, founder of The Original Art Show, and author of Show and Tell: Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration.

Dilys said that whenever she was considering representing someone, she would pick out both the strongest piece and the weakest piece in their portfolio, and she would take those pieces to a meeting of her staff. There, she'd hold up the best piece, which presumably would get "Oohs" and "Ahhs". Then, she would hold up the worst piece...

Now, when she said this—almost every person in that workshop cringed. I knew we were all thinking the same thing... "What would they say if she held up my weakest piece?"

I resolved then and there to take anything "cringe-inducing" out of my portfolio.

So, whether you're in it to win it—or just to placing your work out there to see and be seen—putting together a portfolio that is both professional and personal is essential.”

Mentee portfolio to Grand Prize Portfolio Winner
SCBWI Member Juana Martinez Neal tells how she improved her portfolio from a Mentee portfolio to a Grand Prize Portfolio winner.

Check out the Interview with Donna Rawlins and the brief for her Workshop. Both are insightful and give a glimpse into what an art director will be looking for when they view a portfolio.

Writing with Pictures by Uri Shulevitz
This is an oldie but a goodie. Make sure your illustrations “Tell a Story” and are appropriate for the Children’s publishing world.


Don’t Stop with your Portfolio

Your Illustrator Showcase “job interview” doesn’t stop with your professional portfolio. There are a few additional things you need to consider to polish off your presentation.

Business Cards—Have some.

Postcards—The feedback from the last Showcasewas that the publishers liked to have postcards to take away. Many publishers commented that they liked postcards that had a selection of images available— they were useful aids for remembering a specific image from the portfolio that excited them.

Created by SCBWI member Dana Carey, the Sub It Club “Postcard Post Archive” is a very useful overview on illustrator self-promotional postcards.

Dana writes:
“There are lots of companies online who will print your postcards., Modern Postcard, Overnight Printsmoo… They all have specifications (templates, sizes, file formats) that you need to follow. Read carefully so you get the best result for your money.”

Website or Instagram account—If you don’t already have one then get one! Remember, you must be seen to be hired and a website is ideal for illustrators to showcase their work. The Illustrator Showcase is an excellent opportunity to get your website details directly into the hands of commissioning art directors, publishers and agents.

There are many online platforms to create you own website including WeeblySquarespaceWordpress and flickr.

Make it simple and easy to use. Consider things from the point of view of the busy publisher or art director. Do they want to wait while fancy animations or graphics load? Do they want layers of menus? No! They want to get in there, see what you have to offer, read a bit about you and (hopefully) contact you to offer you a commission! Don’t make them work for it.

Your website or Instagram represents you on a job interview. Make it professional and personal.


And finally, please remember that the Illustrator Showcase is a Showcase—
NOT a critique session!

The event is set up to be as pleasant and easy and welcoming for publishers as possible so that they'll be eager to attend—they're giving up their time to be there and we've been very careful to make it feel like a fun, social event for them.

Rest assured that each portfolio has been directly viewed by editors who are actively seeking new talent, their business cards and work samples have been eagerly collected, and they are now on the radar of Australia's leading publishing houses.

What each illustrator gets from the experience is the opportunity to have nearly 50 top publishing professionals cast a serious eye over their work! This is certainly not a minor perk—it's VERY hard to get publishers to view your portfolio if you're acting as an individual freelancer.

The Showcase isn't a vehicle for feedback or critiques. We will make other opportunities available at the Conference for Portfolio Critiques, but the Showcase is a separate experience. Participation in the Illustrator Showcase is a very real tangible investment in your illustration career but only you can make the decision if you want to invest your time and money to prepare and send your portfolio specifically for the exposure.

Good luck polishing those portfolios! We can’t wait to see what you come up with. 



Marketing Magic with Jacqui Barton and Angie Schiavone May 20

You have almost finished your book, you have taken it through the many drafts, the artwork is almost done, it feels like all that hard work is coming to an end….BUT now to the fun part….how to make sure your book makes a splash when it’s launched.

 Jacqui Barton

Jacqui Barton

Whether you’re pre-published, have one or many books published, it is important to promote your books so they find their way into the hands of readers who will love them. This process begins long before the book hits the shelves. But how do we do it? Where do we start? And is it the same strategy for each book?

On May 20, highly experienced marketing expert, Jacqui Barton, answered all our marketing questions and gave practical and simple advice on how to build your profile and create the best conditions for your book’s successful release.

Here's a little of what Jacqui had to say:

  • As a kid who arrived from Chile at the age of 7 with no English, Jacqui quickly developed a passion for learning English. From the 3rd grade books were hugely important, and an author visit from H. E. Todd, changed her life. So began a life of loving books.
  • She has been a teacher, drove the Magic Schoolbus for Scholastic, driving authors to regional schools, worked fro Pearson Education and now as the Education and Marketing Manager of HarperCollins. Her main task is to worm out how HC books fit into the education market. 
  • Her aim is to get HC books in front of booksellers, buyers, distributors and educators.
  • With a new book, the author is the #1 asset to the publicity campaign.
  • HC main questions are: How can we promote the author and book and how can they create a splash and keep the momentum going after release?
  • Publishing houses have lots of books to promote so authors/illustrators need to be very proactive in promoting themselves and their books.
  • Twice a year, HC have a creators' day, where they talk about strategies for promotion and publicity. 
  • Create a website that reflects you and your work. Add an option to sign up for a newsletter.
  • Interviews: local radio, TV, newspapers, websites. Approach media in areas where you book is set, or community groups/societies which reflect your book or characters.
  • Approach bookstores to do launches/events/readings/workshops/sign books.
  • Even if you're not a fan of social media, it is very important. Choose the media that suits you best eg blog, twitter, Instagram, Facebook.
  • Post regularly, not only about your books, but more broadly about who you are as a creator and person. eg interesting articles.
  • Post fresh content.
  • Tweets with images are more likely to be retweeted. 
  • Reviews are very helpful to get the word out there about your book.
  • Write guest blogposts for friends.
  • A person who has built up a good social media following eg like Jen Storer who has her blog, Girl and Duck.
 Angie Schiavone

Angie Schiavone

We also heard from our new SCBWI reviewer, Angie Schiavone, who will soon begin a regular review of SCBWI books called, Angie’s Reviews. Here's how you can put your book forward for review. 

When you have a new book released, firstly congratulations! Then let us know by going to this link and filling out this form:

You will find options at the end of this form to have your book reviewed.

  • YES, I would like this book to be considered for 'Angie’s Reviews'

  • Review Copies: YES, I understand that if my book is chosen for consideration I will need to forward a review copy to the postal address that will be provided and that sending a review copy is not a guarantee that my book will be reviewed.


Hope to see you at a SCBWI event soon.


Stephen Michael King @ Pinerolo

Saturday 19 May — PICTURE BOOKS @ PINEROLO. We must be doing something right as these one-day courses are now in their 12th year! Anyone who has ever wanted to create a picture book or just to learn about the complicated journey from idea to finished book, would gain enormously from this day. Stephen Michael King is world famous for his amazing picture books. Booking and payment essential: $160.

Sunday 20 May — OPEN DAY @ PINEROLO. We’ve persuaded Stephen to stay on so that we can have a day at Pinerolo for people to come and meet him, talk to him, hear stories, buy books and have him sign them. There will be stories and activities for children. 


For more information, please go to