Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Curating your work, Part I, by Mike Ciccotello

So, you put together a beautiful illustration portfolio and attended a conference for children's literature. You had your work reviewed by art directors, and editors. Sure there are some tweaks to be made, but that’s no problem. It’s all part of the journey. Not only have you created a portfolio, but you've made promotional images regularly, participated in online challenges, and daily warmup sketches. Congratulations! Good for you. This is fantastic and you should be proud of the work you are doing. All of this is moving you forward.

Now, how do you present that to the world? Website? Social Media? 

Let's break this down in two parts. This post will focus on the website.

This past summer at the NJ SCBWI conference, I had the pleasure of attending, Building a Digital Portfolio, a workshop run by, Maria Middleton, art director, Random House. Her workshop spoke volumes with me. Curate our digital content. Treat your space like an art gallery. It’s not just about having a website, it’s about the whole experience. The examples she showed were clean, easily consumed, and simple to navigate. 

Shortly after the conference, I decided to revise the approach to my website and social media. If I want to work creating illustration for children’s literature, I should make sure that people know that. There was work to be done, but it was a lot of work. The only way it was going to happen was if I made the time to do it. I created a staged plan, starting with my website. 
Cleanup. Reorganize. Redesign.

Clean up your site. Don't hoard work that isn't relevant to what you want to do. 

Clean up.

The first thing I did was remove a whole bunch of old work from my site. There was too much. I was hoarding my old work. It had nothing to do with my children’s literature work… it had to go. This decision will be different for each person. I would recommend that if you choose to show the old, don’t let it out-weigh the new. 80% new and 20% old might be an easy way to think about it. Most importantly, just like a portfolio, only show your best work. Now I believe you have a little more lee way with a website, but still, it's an important note to keep in mind.

Come up with a simple way to organize your site.


Once I removed all the unnecessary imagery, I needed to reduce the number of sections on the site. I used to have multiple menu items. Now, there are three top level options: Art, Store, and About. This is directly from Ms. Middleton’s workshop. Keep your menu simple. You can reference my site to follow along -

This is how my menu breaks down
- Color – Current color portfolio work
- Black & White – Current black & white portfolio work
- Pen & Ink – Inktober and other fun
- Coffee Cup Doodles – Daydreams caught on a coffee cup
- Painting – Some of my older work
Store – Links to my online store
About – Contains my headshot, bio, and contact form
Finally, I developed a look. I went with a white background, placed imagery on paper/canvas with a slight drop shadow. I designed a simple logo that sits below the menu. The type treatment is reinforced on my business card and postcards. The image of me is in the favicon for the site and all of my social media. 

Each section contains a small gallery. The Color as well as the Black & White galleries are both designed on a similar paper and drop shadow. The Pen and Ink gallery uses a sheet of sketchbook paper. The painting gallery uses canvas and the coffee cup doodles are actual photographs of each cup. Eventually, I will phase out the Coffee Cup Doodles and the Painting section, and replace them with my 10 minute sketches, making my site completely children's literature focused. 

Why does all of this matter?

If someone happens upon your site, you want to put your best foot forward, right? The day I finished my site, I texted an author friend and asked her to take a look. She texted back saying she liked it and tweeted the link. Later that night, I got an email from my agent. She was contacted by an editor that came across my site (which I believe was connected to my author friend) and really liked my work. The editor bookmarked my site and hopes the right project will come along for me. I hope so too.

I realize our art needs to shine the most, and it should. But by following these simple steps, you can give your visitors a clear idea of what it is you do, where to find what, and how to get in touch.

Next time I’ll talk about social media and more specifically, Instagram. 

Represented by Rachel Orr
For more info contact 

Twitter: @ciccotello 
Instagram: @ciccotello 


  1. Mike -this is great! I'm in throes of updating my web-portfolio and this is really helpful. I like the 80/20% guideline. I've been telling myself to toss at least 1 if not 2 pieces every time I add a new piece... but I think the 80/20 rule is better.

  2. Great post -Like your new streamlined website. I need to do the same with mine. Focus & toss some of my illustration darlings, even If I'm still feeling sentimental about them.

  3. Great thing to do in August before everyone is back from vacation in September!

  4. Mike, you're amazing :D And the site looks GREAT!