Okay. You have a day job, you’ve begun the process of organizing your business—now let’s move on to
Step Three. Build a portfolio.
Who is your market? Figure out who your potential customers are. Take a hard look at the work you like to do and honestly determine where it would fit—editorial, children’s publishing, game animation, corporate, advertising, greeting card (just naming these off the top of my head).
The Society of Illustrators publishes a catalogue of their annual competition. It’s divided into sections: advertising, corporate, publishing, editorial. Looking at the different styles of work in those categories may help you choose your market.
Do the research. For instance, if you want to do kids’ books, go to a bookstore and see how compatible your illustrations are with what you find in the kids’ section.
Now comes the tough love. If you want to sell illustration you’ll need to stick with one style and market that style exclusively. Don’t make your portfolio a mixed bag of styles. It’s really difficult to sell a portfolio like that, simply because an art director wouldn’t be sure what you’d deliver if he gave you an assignment. You may have to choose between two favorite styles—and say good-bye to one of them.
Put together a portfolio of 6—8 samples of your very best work. They don’t need to have been published. Get your samples scanned.
Invest in a professional-looking portfolio case. Put into it prints of your work—not originals! They should be in poly sleeves, or get them laminated. Every sample should have your contact information on it somewhere. Get extras printed as leave-behinds. On the handle, put one of those name-tag thingies with your business card—because sometimes art directors ask that you drop off your portfolio.
I was tempted to suggest burning a cd of your samples, but I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of making your images as accessible as clip art. And even in this digital age, ADs like to see printed samples they can hold. When I visit clients I take a portfolio with printed samples because often the meeting is in a conference room with no computer handy.
All this is just one guy’s opinion; these suggestions have worked for me. I’d be interested to hear if any ADs or illustrators want to weigh in.