My identity crisis…


I’m having a bit of an identity crisis with my style this week.
Hopefully all of you might be able to help me get myself back on track.

I took some time this morning to rifle through my old portfolios, which were gathering dust under our bed. I came across some pieces I worked on a couple years ago and decided to scan them in and add them to my website. Now… seeing the contrast between old and new that I dug up, I am second guessing my current direction a bit.

This illustration is based on a poem by Shel Silverstein titled “Captain Blackbeard Did What?” about the day he shaved his beard. I did a series in this style a few years ago (you can see more on my portfolio page) and have gotten wonderful feedback from anyone who has seen them. When I pull them out and look at them they always make me smile. However, in the past I wasn’t sure that they were colorful enough or expressive enough for children’s books. Now, seeing them side by side with my other work, I am beginning to wonder if I could find some sort of happy middle between the style and what I have been doing with my colored pencil work.

This illustration was actually a class assignment to do a book cover illustration for a classic fairy tale. I chose the Prince and the Pauper and I love the contrast between the smooth gold and the rough texture of the burlap. It was done in chalk pastels… a medium that I tend to avoid due to the mess it can make. However, I love how much movement it captured. I seem to work a lot looser in pastels… which might be something to explore a bit more this year. I also wonder if I could achieve this (or a similar) style in digital medium… something I would also like to pursue.

My request for feedback today is actually a bit more general. I don’t really need feedback on these pieces in particular. Instead, I would like some feedback on my portfolio AS A WHOLE.

NOTE: You can view my entire portfolio at

In particular, which pieces do you feel are my strongest, which are my weakest, and which direction should I go from here? Which of my styles do you feel would (if pursued more) be the most marketable (don’t we hate that word) for children’s publishing? I also need to select a group of them to print for the SCBWI show in New York this month… which pieces do you feel I should include? Which ones would you leave out?

I know that I am asking a lot of questions, (many of which are ENTIRELY subjective) but I’m hoping it might generate some good discussion that we can all apply to our work. I’m sure we all struggle with that peculiar definition of “personal style” sometimes. I know I find that I enjoy so many different techniques and mediums that I have difficulty settling in sometimes. While this in itself is a great thing, it definately makes pulling together a “cohesive portfolio” to be a challenge.

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts. And if any of you are struggling with the same thing I’d be happy to give you my opinions as well… for what they’re worth.  😉


7 responses »

  1. Hi, Andi!

    Sorry I am just now commenting, but I wanted to give it some thought.

    I LOVE what you are calling your ‘old’ style. I really appreciate the looseness of the pictures, the way the pastels add texture, and the contrast and use of space. They seem to have more depth than your colored pencil pieces. Blackbeard reminds me of David Shannon’s illustrations in ‘How I Became a Pirate’–which was one of my favorite books to read to my Kindergarten students! His illustrations are so lively, and this element of expressiveness is what draws me to those pictures. Maybe if you did some sort of a combination of your styles, you would get a little more of the texture and liveliness many of us see in your old portfolio.

    I agree with earlier comments about maybe needing a story in the prince and the pauper piece–so maybe leaving it out now would be good. Or maybe you can do some lettering and layover the picture so it is actually a cover design (with text)–because then it would make sense to include.

    I am still learning a lot about even having a ‘style’ and branding oneself–it seems limiting. I wouldn’t worry about it too much though because you have a lot of great work to show off!

    Have so much fun in NYC!!! I am jealous!!!


  2. One more thought…. which is to keep in mind that book illustration is more than just technique, it’s about telling a story. The more you can do to make your point of view unique, or tell a story, the better.
    One example that crossed my mind was expanding on the Blackbeard piece…maybe you do another illustration that shows how he looked BEFORE he shaved with maybe a *hint* at WHY (he shaved)……just a thought!

  3. I think we all struggle with this! I really like your Blackbeard style, as well as your colored pencil.

    Art Directors always say have one style and working illustrators say “bah’ to that advice! It’s all very confusing! I think it’s fine to have more than one style if you CLEARLY separate them in your portfolio. That way, it seems less confusing to the viewer, and the art directors know what to expect. Say, for instance, you label your pencil pieces as “colored pencil” and the rest, including the Blackbeard piece, as “painterly style” or something like that, then the art director can say I want an illo in that style. Make sense?

  4. I appreciate your thoughts… and they definately mirror my initial gut reactions. Something that is at the very least reasurring. I have a bit more time to do some work before I head to New York… so I will have some fun experimenting a bit this week. I might even rework one of my other illustrations as you suggest Laura… sounds like a fun challenge!

    I also love the bird piece… but am struggling a bit on how it fits in with everything I am doing. I think the biggest issue is that I love all of these pieces for different reasons. Maybe they all have a place in my portfolio and I should let go of the need for everything to be cohesive for awhile. Since I’m just getting started maybe I just need to put my work out there and see what people respond to.

    In the meantime I’ll just keep creating. Thanks again… and I look forward to seeing what the two of you are working on!

  5. It’s hard to give advice on this one, because there is no right answer. You could take on a strategy: your “old” style is in one area of the portfolio, leaving you free to develop and populate a “new” style, while still presenting both as options. I’m also intrigued to see how wood grain might play into your expression, or some sort of textural element. That is #3, but as long as you are clear that you can deliver more than one style, then it’s a strength.

  6. Hi Andi!
    Boy can I relate to your dilemma!! I am experiencing the same sort of identity crisis.
    The problem is trying to come up with a look that will get you work and at the same time be artistically satisfying. You may need to ask yourself what kind of work you want to get in order to determine what is marketable.

    I could see your pencil style working very well for magazines and children’s educational product.
    There are nice story-telling details in these pieces and fun, interesting compositions. The one piece I would remove though, is the king, since there really isn’t anything new added to the story to make it stand out.

    Your “Blackbeard” style is a little more editorial and would probably work well in the trade market.
    (I really like it by the way!) Can you do a few more pieces before the conference? I would love to see one of your colored pencil pieces replicated in this style… just to see how it looks… might be a good exercise to try to figure out how to combine these two styles. I just love the looseness of the pastel pieces! “The Prince and Pauper”, is beautiful and does have a lot of movement, but it looks like a “still life” rather than a narrative illustration. I would probably remove that one.

    I think my favorite piece is the bluebird on birch—it’s so fresh, has such beautiful design and movement!! I want to hang it in my studio!
    But that’s a THIRD style you’ve got going on. That’s the kind of piece that might work well for a site like “Oopsy DAisy” (check it out if you haven’t already) You don’t get paid up front, but you get a commission on the prints they sell.

    I’ll keep thinking on this and will add more later…. but this is my 2 cents off the top of my head for now…. I’ll be asking for YOUR input soon……. and I can’t wait to hear how it goes in NY!!


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