Illustration portfolios come in a variety of formats. Some are limited to an Instagram page. Others are housed on a dedicated website. I chose to add a page to my existing website, at least for now, with examples of my work, including the range of media and styles I am competent in. This is the bare essentials you should find on illustrators' portfolios.
Then there are the menu of services an illustrator can provide. Of course, illustrations are the primary service, but the book layout, character design, and cover may or may not be included.
- Layout includes how the book is chunked into pages. Whether a single sentence or a whole paragraph is on a page, where the characters are, the action on the page, if it is single or two-page spread, and where text is going to be. Layout must be carefully considered to ensure the book is dynamic and interesting.
- Character design is more involved than many authors seem to realize, and some illustrators create a separate contract for this service, though most include it in the project. The end result should reflect the look of the book/illustrations, which also influences the scale and proportions of the character and scene (a more cartoon look will usually exaggerate proportion, for instance). Character design also includes things like color as well as line work. Line work can change everything about the look of a character. These two examples I put together use the same scale, painting technique, and color, with only the line work differing between the characters.
- The cover of a book is all about capturing attention, and while it should reflect what a reader will find inside, just copying an illustration and slapping it on the front of the book is not a good option. The cover involves text, often varying text color and scale, as well as text positioning. The cover is more about marketing and you can have your illustrator draw for the cover but have someone else complete the cover using that illustration.
Then there are revisions: some illustrators see multiple revisions as part and parcel of the work, others charge separately for revisions. Most illustrators include a set number of revisions for a project, and additional revisions will cost more. This information is usually discussed during the contract phase and will not be found on the illustration portfolio. If you are an illustrator, you should think ahead about what you think is reasonable! As an author hiring an illustrator, be honest with yourself; are you going to be very picky and want illustrations to be refined until they are just right? If so, make sure you are clear about that with illustrators before you sign a contract! Once an author has approved an illustration, it is final. Any requested revisions to a final illustration will cost more and may not be done in the agreed upon time frame because it will be based on the illustrator's availability.
Then there is the book formatting piece, which can be very involved depending on where and how authors are planning to publish their book. Most authors that seek out illustrators are self-publishing, and the formatting depends on which media and outlet they plan to publish (ebooks like Kindle Direct Publishing [KDP], for example, or paper and ink publishing). If an illustrator does not have experience with the platform an author is working in, there are going to be struggles and frustrations along the way. Being clear about expectations (and experience) up front can mediate the issues, but it is very unlikely that it will be smooth sailing. Hiring someone who has formatting experience in that platform can eliminate those issues.
I feel very comfortable with the layout, character design, illustration, and cover pieces. Once I have secured an agent, I hope to share the process I went through with my own children's picture book. But as an illustrator, I will not offer formatting services because I know that it would be more cost effective for an author to hire someone who is experienced.
Now, you've probably noticed that I have mentioned contracts a number of times. You absolutely need a contract! A contract protects the author and the illustrator. It should discuss payment, rights to the work, timeline, deliverables like the number of complete illustrations or pages, and of course cost breakdown. It should be specific regarding things like revisions, as well as what course of action will be taken if the author wants more revisions.
I will be writing a follow up post on the cost/pricing of freelance illustrators. Until then, I hope you have found this information helpful! Follow me so you don't miss anything.