Preparing for Portfolio Consultations

Free Resource

Whether you’re a freshly minted illustration graduate looking to find your niche, a self-taught artist looking to explore illustration as a career option, or a seasoned pro looking to explore – say – agency representation or a new stylistic direction, all illustrators strive for guidance to reach individual growth and professional evolution.

Portfolio Consultations are a great way to achieve this. They are organised in many ways and led by a variety of experts including Commissioners, Agents, Educators, experienced Illustrators and more. A portfolio consultant should offer frank, unbiased feedback, recommending practical ways to build on your strengths and existing body of work to make professional, effective presentations. 

After booking a portfolio consultation, ask yourself: What do you want to get out of the experience? It’s important to do some preparation ahead of a consultation to ensure you really get the most from it. 

Before your Portfolio Consultation

  • Read and double check all details about your meeting. If the organisers request any information ahead of the session, make sure to send these details through with plenty of time and chase for a confirmation if you don’t receive one.
  • If you don’t know much about the consultant(s), it’s worth researching them online to find out more about their career path, areas of expertise, etc. This can be helpful to further personalise any questions you have in preparation of your consultation.
  • Plan accordingly if the consultation is in a physical location. Book any necessary transport and allocate enough time to reach the destination punctually. 
  • If the consultation is carried online, make sure to gather any details needed (e.g: hyperlinks, timings, etc) to access the session in advance of your meeting. 
  • If you have any access needs, get in touch with the organisers and notify them with as much advance as possible so they can accommodate you.
  • Prepare any questions you want to ask ahead of time. If you’re unsure where to start, we’ve broken down a list of areas you may want to cover within your consultation below (in “Some points of discussion”).

Preparing your Portfolio

  • In a face-to-face situation, you may choose to present a physical or digital portfolio. If preparing a physical portfolio, aim for an A3 to A2 sized portfolio displaying up to 15 of your best works.
  • In an online situation, your portfolio will most commonly take the form of links to a website or a body of work posted on a hosting site (e.g: Behance, AOI Folio, etc), plus supporting social media accounts such as Instagram, Twitter, etc.
  • Links to career-related blogs and related side hustles, like online shops, may be acceptable on a case by case basis. Nevertheless, only show these if they’re crucially relevant to your practice and focus on presenting your main body of work first.
  • Likewise, it may be acceptable to present physical extras such as books, sketchbooks or other printed material. Again, show these if there’s enough time and if they’re crucially relevant to the session (e.g: If the portfolio consultation is themed on children’s books, then it’d make sense to show character development sketches or a book dummie during your meeting).
  • Alternatively or additionally, you may choose to supply a PDF of the work you wish to discuss. Keep this simple and limit it to 15-20 images max. In the case of sending a large file of hi-res images ahead of the session, use an app such as WeTransfer rather than emailing an attachment.

During your Portfolio Consultation

  • Don’t panic if you can’t make it to your physical consultation in time due to traffic or transport issues – It’s normal that some circumstances fall outside of your control. Check if there’s a contact phone number you can reach and notify your delay to the organisers as soon as you can.
  • Whether you’re showing your work physically or digitally, be mindful of the time spent looking at the work and aim for a snappy, well-curated presentation that doesn’t exceed 5-10 minutes tops. You can, for example, aim for a Pecha Kucha presentation style to best manage your presentation time. Ensure that the lion’s share of your allocated time is spent on receiving feedback and recommendations.
  • Be mindful of not overrunning your Portfolio Consultation’s time limit. In the case of a group portfolio consultation each participant will have a certain amount of time allocated, so try to avoid running into anyone else’s time. 
  • When presenting digitally, a laptop or a tablet is preferable. A phone, in the context of a planned consultation (as opposed to a chance meeting on a bus), is inefficient and may irritate your consultant.
  • If you’re in a group portfolio consultation, use this opportunity to connect with other participants, learn from their presentations and note any interesting points. While these sessions are led by a consultant, participants are often encouraged to also give feedback, so don’t hesitate to contribute meaningfully and respectfully.
  • As with your presentation, be mindful of time when compiling your questions. It will be more helpful to have your most pressing questions answered in detail than a dozen questions answered in a cursory fashion due to lack of time. Aim for a maximum of five and choose them with care.
  • If possible, make sure to make written notes of any feedback received during your session.
  • If your consultation is physical, it’s perfectly acceptable to gift a sample of your work to the consultant as a thank you. This can be in the form of a business card or postcard.

Some points of discussion

If you’re stuck for questions, below is a list you can use for reference. As highlighted above, make sure to personalise your questions so they’re tailored to your goals and to your consultant’s expertise.

  • An overview of the main commissioning areas, with detail on specific spheres that interest you
  • Objective analysis of your strengths and weaknesses to help you find your niche
  • How to find and approach appropriate clients
  • A breakdown of what commissioners will expect to see in your portfolio
  • How to build and maintain professional relationships
  • The pros and cons of being represented
  • Approaches to marketing and self-promotion
  • How to display work to its best advantage
  • What to take out, leave in and what to replace the things you’ve taken out with
  • Am I approaching the right clients for the right kind of jobs?
  • What areas of illustration does my work best fit into?

After your Portfolio Consultation

  • If you consultant shared their email address and consented to being contacted after the session, you can follow up via email on any points discussed. Keep your email brief and try to restrict this to a couple of very specific questions.
  • Reflect on the experience and revisit your notes, and organise them into actions you can put into place to further refine your portfolio. You can use the Two Week Business Plan as a template to set deadlines.
  • Keep connected with the consultant and any participants met during your consultation online!  

Looking for a second opinion on your work? We offer Portfolio Consultations to AOI Members on a weekly basis – Book your spot here!


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