Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Building my Portfolio - by Mike Ciccotello

In June of last year, I attended my first NJ SCBWI conference. I had never been to a children's literature conference. As an aspiring children's book illustrator, I knew it was important not to show up empty handed. I gathered some work that was remotely related to picture books, and ventured out with an open mind. I went with the intention of absorbing as much as possible. To my surprise, I was able to purchase a one-on-one with an art director. I also had a sit-down with an agent and a scout. It was more than I could've hoped for. I received critical feedback that I could build on.

From last year's portfolio

Shortly after that conference, I started researching more information about picture book portfolio content. I was trying to apply every rule and opinion I heard. It needed: interior, exterior, animals, children, diversity, nature, city, lighting, color, black and white, etc. My head was spinning. I wasn't thinking about my illustration. I was only thinking about a checklist. I wasn't having fun.  Are those items important for a portfolio? Yes, of course, but I was going about it the wrong way. I decided to start creating new work by participating in an illustration challenge called, Inktober. If I could create 31 pen and ink illustrations in one month, I could pull from that and create finished work to put in my portfolio. I thought it would be fun way to let some ideas develop.

From Inktober 2015
I was able to complete the challenge, and I had a bunch of work to show for it. (click here for my inktober images) I have used those images to develop new characters, environments, and stories. Completing that challenge also put me into a mind frame to continue creating new work on a regular basis. I'm not suggesting that a challenge is the answer for everyone, but you should be having fun while you are creating. Create things that interest you. Draw in a style that you enjoy. 

From this year's portfolio

Here we are, a little over a year later. I'm gearing up for my second conference at NJ SCBWI. I have a new portfolio of work, and a somewhat clearer view as a developing illustrator in children's literature. I know that I will continue to learn and change my portfolio, and that's a good thing. Evolution is an important part of the process. I can't wait to see where it takes me. (click here for my current portfolio)

Twitter: @ciccotello
Instagram: @ciccotello


  1. Great Post Mike! I know that your work has changed but it's really amazing to see how far you've come. Beautiful stuff and looking forward...I see all your hard work is going to pay off!

  2. Really interesting to see the evolution of your art and in only a year too. WOW! Great tip on doing art challenges to move your work forward. Definitely agree with having fun while creating. I believe it shows in your work. Keep it up!