Besides the reviews I had from teachers in college, I had three different Portfolio Reviews and I thought I would talk about the experience here.
My first Review was at my first SCBWI conference in 2018 and it was with Art Director. Since this was my first experience I was incredibly nervous but he was a very nice guy who put me at ease almost right away. My portfolio at the time was still pretty disjointed, full of college work and of pieces made in different styles and different media, so it is no surprise that the reviewer stressed that I needed to find my voice or my style. This is something that frustrated me a lot in the beginning, something I had heard from others too but that did not make sense to me. I love experimenting with new techniques and I like a variety of things, how was I supposed to stick to one? Well, I have to say that a little over a year later things are starting to click and there is definitely a consistency in my work that wasn’t there before and if I had to pinpoint when and how that happened I am not even sure I can say, but the portfolio review definitely confirmed that I had to find a way to stick to one style and also gave me the courage to get rid of some pieces that, while good enough for college, were not necessarily good for my portfolio.
My second review was in May 2019 at another SCBWI conference and with a super talented illustrator. Since I wanted to know more about my website besides my portfolio and I took my tablet with me as well as my physical portfolio to have him experience the website first hand. The most useful recommendation that he gave me was to organize my website so that the images in the gallery itself were more thematically organized and to reduce the number of tabs in it. As for my style, I feel like the reviewer was an extremely nice guy but perhaps too nice. I know it sounds mean, but I need to hear some negatives about my artwork, or at least things that could be improved, because if my art was perfect I would be getting hired left and right and I wouldn’t be getting a portfolio review. So, there is a balance between wanting to encourage an artist and giving them useful advice. You don’t have to be mean but also being too nice is not helpful, so I have to say I wish he was less “nice” to me.
My latest portfolio review was just yesterday and it was an emailed review. It was the cheapest of the three and I loved the emailed video format, it gave me time to sit down and listen and digest all the information. I also wonder if it gives the reviewer a buffer so that he is not too scared of “hurting your feelings” and more willing to be honestly critical? I am not sure, but I did like the format. This reviewer gave me a lot of practical and concrete things to look at, both about my website and about my art in general, while being supportive and encouraging at the same time. I was called out on using the same texture/brush too many times, I think that’s the advice that made me think the most… on one hand, it gives a certain consistency to the look of my illustrations, but on the other I see where he was coming from and definitely plan on adding some more variety to my textures. It was also very useful to see him navigate my website and point out things that could have been easier (although not all of them I am able to fix with my limited web design skills).
To conclude, a few thoughts about portfolio reviews in general. Are they useful? I think so. I think they take time to sink in, mostly you need to take that information and let it sink in. Rarely I have gotten advice that was concrete enough that I could say ” I will implement that today” (excepting maybe for some of the things in the last review) but never the less there were things that resonated later or sunk in and produced results almost in a subconscious way later on. That is not the only reason why they are useful though. They are useful because showing your work to someone is sort of like therapy. Bear with me: in therapy you talk and talk and the therapist most of the times just listens; as you talk you realize things, you realize you know the answers already and all you needed was the time and space to get those things out. I feel that the process of getting your portfolio together and talking about it with someone is very similar: just looking at all your work together and taking the time to reflect on it is very useful, although of course some good advice is never amiss!