Final Major Project

Portfolio Reviews

Hopes, Fears, Opportunities


I'm Tash, currently in my 3rd year at Stockport College studying a BA Hons in Illustration.
After all of that nonsense I'd love to become kind of concept artist, book illustrator (or, ideally, live off making journal comics about stupid things my girlfriend and I say).

College work
Summer project
Personal work
I wish I'd done this
1, 2, 3 Advice
Contacts with Industry
April 22nd
1:46 PM

Portfolio Review III - Megan Thomas

For my third review, I contacted illustrator Megan Thomas. I love her use of block colours and really simple cel-shading to get across volume. I have trouble with going into too much detail in my art, and I’d love to get across shape and depth in such a simple way, to know just where to put shading for it to be effective.

Here is her feedback:

I’ve typed out my notes for you below and broken it down into the portfolio layout itself and your work.


- I think the PDF portfolio set up might be too much, it’s very busy and quite complicated. It doesn’t allow you to zoom in into a piece properly to see detail. If you’re going to stick with it, I’d get rid of the wood texture in the background and go with white or a light grey, I think it detracts from your work otherwise. 
-I’d say a pdf with pages is a better choice as it’s straightforward and from experience, a lot of clients have no patience and if something frustrates them, they will move on very quickly (probably to someone else). Simple is best, let your work do the work, not the layout. :)
-I do however like the download link your portfolio provides, it allows clients to save the individual works they like very easily. This could be a plus (and one I’d recommend carrying over onto your portfolio website as well, be it making work available by right-click-save-as or including a download button.
-If you do decide to stick with this portfolio layout, the text on the popups is illegible in reader.
-The file itself is quite slow to scroll through, which may be a combination of the background and image sizes. I know you’ll have a book and a website, but sometimes clients request a PDF portfolio as well, so you want to make sure the file size isn’t too cumbersome. Yours is currently 18mb, I’d recommend between 5-7mb AT MOST. A lot of email filters will trash anything bigger. When making a digital portfolio your work only has to be 72 dpi, which will lower file sizes in PDFs overall.
-Think about the order of your work. Right now it looks as if you’ve put kind with kind, instead, think about starting and ending on strong notes, using the middle of your book for “weaker” pieces. People remember the last thing they see, so make sure you want them to remember it and never include anything you’re not proud of in your book.
-Rather than that header bar with your information, I recommend a nicely designed cover page.
-(the following are things I’ve found as I’ve worked, though tutors may have different opinions): Media type under each piece is redundant so no need to include it. If the client cares, they’ll ask. Your online portfolio can include this information if you wish, but when communicating with clients directly by book or pdf, they really don’t care how you do it, it’s your style they’re after.
-I like how you’ve sized your work on the page, always make it big! 
-I know Ian likes the icons on each page, but I’ve been told they’re unnecessary, so this is really a personal choice, but instead of your logo, maybe use the clients logo if available instead, if you decide to keep them.
-Be thoughtful about the text (font and spacing), don’t just use default texts and colours, consider how it works with your work.

I totally agree about the layout and design of the PDF. I’m not happy with it - I wanted to make it in inDesign, but I don’t have it at home and I didn’t get a chance to make it at college before Easter, so I had to stick with Acrobat. I’ll definitely be making a new one!


-I’ll start out by saying my favourite piece is your book cover for Josie Dew. Compositionally I think they’re strongest, though you do have a lot of strength in your character design as well.

I agree that one of my strongest pieces is the Josie Dew cover, but I didn’t get a great mark for that project. Apparently the flat shading didn’t show off what I could do enough, and that there was an ‘underlying sense of complacency’ about it. Being that it had to be pretty simple as it was shape based, and there couldn’t be too much detail because there was also an animated version, I was pretty unhappy with the mark I got. But it’s nice to know you think it’s strong, thanks!

-You asked how to simplify your characters - I’d say it’s something you learn over time, but do be conscious of it. Assuming you work with layers as you work digitally, try turning layers on and off and see how a piece works without that particular detail. A lot of my work usually ends with 10 or so more layers than are necessary and at that point, I go in and see what’s really needed. Having a discerning eye is key. Another trick is to think in shapes, break faces et down into shapes, this will help you see what’s redundant. Also, get opinions from colleagues or even family, they can come in handy.

-If you have any of your work in context (eg. the shirt design on an actual design, get it photographed and include that alongside (or instead of if it’s clear enough) the original work so people can see it in “action”.

I was told by someone else I should have my shirt design mocked up, too - I’m going to do just that.

- I don’t know what area you want to go into when you finish uni, or if you even know yet, but I’d recommend separating your characters into their own portfolio book if you want to go down that route as they’re quite different to your other work and are strong on their own.

Ultimately I’d like to be a concept artist of some kind, I’ll take that advice about having a separate portfolio for characters, as I think some kind of character artist is more specifically the route I’d like to go down.

- You appear to have a good understanding of colour as well, which is great! 

-I prefer your character design (the man shown in different outfits) and book covers to your portraits. I think you’ve been successful in simplifying these pieces, but they are done in a different style so that maybe it. You also have a great understanding of the human figure which is a good strength to have (so many illustrators don’t).

-I like how you’ve implemented texture into the wind and the willows cover, I’d be interested to see that in other pieces, like the deer/fox image next to it. I think it adds a warmth to your work.

I couldn’t really add texture to the Orchard competition entry because it would have been applied to the wall on vinyl so it had to be flat colours. But, as it’s own piece, I’d really love to work on it, add some shading etc, so I’ll certainly put a texture in there too.

-I’ve just downloaded the alphabet piece at the end to get a closer look and it’s also great! I like your use of the limited colour palette, though I think a bit of texture/roughness (if that makes sense) would do this piece favours as well. :)

Overall, your work is lovely and I look forward to seeing where you take it!

Anyway, I hope that’s helped and if you have any questions about what I’ve said (or want any other advice), please do get in touch. I’ll see you at your final show in June as well, I look forward to seeing your exhibition.

Best regards,

This was a great review, super thorough and I like that she gave feedback on my actual PDF too, along with my work itself. Thanks Megan!

April 21st
7:02 PM

James Chadderton

My friend Alex recommended I look at this artist at the veryyy beginning of the project, when I first mentioned I was doing something apocalyptic. They’re really cool images— and although the nature of my project doesn’t take place long after the evacuation, so my buildings won’t be as dilapidated— they’re really nice to look at to get a feel for the atmosphere, and they’re nice for the muted colour schemes too!

5:35 PM
Business cards arrived last week. Gotta love rounded corners.

Business cards arrived last week. Gotta love rounded corners.

5:32 PM

Painting Process

Thought I’d upload some progress shots of the latest piece for FMP! I might include these in the book, I think it’d be nice for people to see.

I’ve been putting off drawing buildings for the whoooole project. I dislike drawing them intensely. I don’t like drawing blocky shapes and trying to make them look right, and perspective is insanely infuriating. When I had my portfolio review with Emma Reynolds, I told her that tutors have suggested drawing buildings/outside shots, because obviously with minimal characters, the main focus is going to be on the world. When I said I disliked drawing buildings, etc, she just told me, “then don’t!” I would have sincerely loved taking that advice, but unfortunately it’s not really something that can really be avoided on this project. I haven’t drawn a LOT of things like this for FMP, but I think it’s a requirement that I have to draw some, at least.

4:10 PM


My website’s finally up, after some tweaking. I still need to connect my email to it, but the site I bought my domain/email package from isn’t letting me log in to the control panel to change it. So that part’ll have to wait, but in the meantime, have a website.

April 20th
12:18 PM

Final Major Project

I’ve been putting off making a post about this, which is ridiculous, because it’s what I’ve been doing for the past three months.

Originally, all I knew was that I wanted to create a concept art book, and I wanted it to be for a non-existent video game. I’ve been interested in concept art for a while now, since playing Ōkami and unlocking the concept art, which is beautiful:

And since playing Fable III, the art of which is also beautiful:

(last one is Fable II, but still relevant)

Something that would be absolutely amazing to have, and say I have created, is a printed art book. Not necessarily for a college project, just to have one in general. To own one, and to show one to potential clients (particularly in the gaming industry) would, I hope, come off really well.

So that was my plan. I didn’t know what the game was going to be about, what style it would be in, what kind of game it would be. Then I went back to my Moleskine and found a page of notes, and two doodles I had done, on a train to Lincoln—

—for a video game idea! how useful.

The idea was pretty all over the place at the beginning—futuristic, time-travel stuff, dinosaurs… I think I really just wanted an open-world video game with dinosaurs. Maybe another time.

But, regardless, it was the spark that led to this project. And the character hasn’t changed much. Need to work on that. Whoops.

April 19th
10:24 PM

Portfolio Review II : Emma Reynolds

I emailed Emma Reynolds, a Manchester-based Illustrator who has a penchant for children’s books. Her style is very cute and whimsical, and very character-based, which I can associate with. She was recommended to me by Jo, and I’ve heard a few people in class mention her before, so I took a look and loved her work.

She replied to me really fast, which was awesome, and within a couple of hours we’d arranged to meet at Common in the Northern Quarter. I’d never been there before, but it was easy to find. It was pretty cosy and it had a nice sort of ‘artsy’ vibe to it.

I showed her my portfolio and she seemed pretty positive about it, which is good! She had a few tips for me about ideas for FMP, including the idea of doing character turnarounds (which she said would look good in my portfolio if I was to apply for, for example, games companies), and to do expression sets to show more variation.

She said to have all the portraits (image-wise, not orientation-wise) together so it doesn’t seem as disparate, as well as grouping similar styles together. I did try to do this, but my style is so everywhere at the moment that it was kind of hard. She also said to maybe edit the files so everything is landscape for ease of flicking through. I’ve previously been told to just group portrait and landscape together, don’t intersperse, to allow for minimal turning of portfolio, but I think either way would be fine, as long as I make sure to keep them together.

I had a t-shirt design in there, and she said to either mock it up on a shirt or print out the model photo when it gets printed, and have it in my portfolio on the opposite page to show sellability, which is a really good idea.

Finally, she said not to do what I’m not comfortable with, and don’t force a style if I’m not happy with it, or I don’t enjoy doing it. I feel like at the beginning I kind of have to sell out a bit, but I have had experience with working in styles and doing commissions I don’t enjoy, and I know how much of an inspiration-killer it is. So I’ll try and take that advice as much as I can.

As I was about to leave, she told me not to worry too much about ‘style’ (which incidentally is the main thing I’m worrying about right now), and that right now I shouldn’t expect to be where I want to end up. If that makes sense. Graduating is really just the beginning, which seems mind-blowingly obvious, but it’s something I really need to remember.

9:24 PM

Portfolio Review I : Fig Taylor

We had a guest ‘lecture’ of sorts back in February from Fig Taylor. Fig is a portfolio consultant at the AOI, an Illustration lecturer, and the author of How to Create a Portfolio and Get Hired. First she gave us a talk on making a strong portfolio, how to present it to clients, etc. She is an interesting person. Kind of intimidating, but funny and definitely helpful. She was also fairly blunt, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing—I think at this point it’s better for us all to hear bluntness rather than sugar-coating.

She made several very helpful points during her lecture, including:

  • There are so many Illustrators that are 100% suited to jobs, and this has made clients ‘lazy’ and ‘spoilt’ and unwilling to take risks when it comes to hiring.
  • In her words, “Don’t send a mass email out saying “dear fuckface, give us a job.”
  • If possible, send a letter and not an email.
  • Thoroughly research potential clients you want to approach, and tailor your letter/email to them, as well as your portfolio.
  • Face-to-face portfolio reviews will most likely make the client seem rude. They’re likely to sit in silence, skim through it for two minutes and hand it you back without a word. These are the ones that will get you work.
  • Use plastic leaves, as clients “will get shit all over your work”.
  • Mount work on a colour that complements it.
  • Have pieces opposite other, don’t leave pages blank. This gives the impression that you think your work is a special snowflake and too precious to stand next to another piece.
  • Have a sketchbook? bring as an extra and offer it at the end.

And, resonatingly, on style:

  • Have a couple of different styles, maximum.
  • A definitive style is necessary. Nobody wants a portfolio with a ton of different styles.
  • If you DO work in different styles, separate them into different portfolios and tailor them to the client.

This was pretty terrifying to hear, as style is the absolute main thing I struggle with, but at least I have the consolation of knowing I can separate them out.

After the lecture, we sat down with her in small groups over the rest of the day, and she looked through our portfolios. She did the ‘quiet, flicking through’ thing, which, even though she said it was normal, was still kinda scary! Ultimately, she didn’t have all that much to say to me personally—she had seen Roxanne’s portfolio before mine, and because we work in a fairly similar way— character-based, comic-y illustrate-y digital work—she basically told me to take the advice that she’d given to her.

She said my work was comic-like, and had a manga feel to it (which is never what I really wanna hear, but oh well). She said pieces like my Fairtrade leaflet were strong, but not relating to my other work, so she said, like she did to Roxanne, to have a portfolio for game- and comic-related work, and a separate one for editorial-type work. She said to basically look at jobs in the comic industry, if that was what I was interested in, or jobs at game studios. That was good to hear as it’s pretty much what I plan to do after graduation.

Overall, a very useful and productive day!

April 15th
3:58 PM

Hopes, Fears and Opportunities II

We had a group discussion on this before the end of last module, in which we were required to write a few ‘hopes, fears and opportunities’ on pieces of paper, which were then passed around randomly and read out. It was a good exercise to do—the anonymity was good, although I would have been okay doing it normally—but it was good to hear things from other people, and to see whether anyone shared my views.

Following this, I made a post in December highlighting my key views on this subject. My main fear was basically not having enough motivation to be able to finish my final year with a mark I’m happy with. I’m not sure something like that can ever be resolved, at the very least not so quickly—having had severe motivation problems for several years, it’s not something that I can easily fix. Saying that, Final Major Project has so far, fingers crossed, been okay. Not fantastic in terms of motivation, but I think it’s going/has gone better than usual. There have been periods when working has been near impossible, as always, but I’ve managed to keep a fairly steady pace, and hopefully the outcome will be something I’m proud of. I decided to have all my research in a physical book, printing as I find it, to make sure both the tutors and I don’t miss anything. It’s a lot nicer to quickly flick through a book than it is to have to trawl through folders on my laptop to find what I’m looking fore. Much more accessible.

My ‘opportunity’ was Wildcard. As this is an ongoing thing, it hasn’t changed much either, but it’s definitely developed since last year. We’re now focusing much more on t-shirt designs than badges, which is really fun, and it’s nice to know the process of setting designs up for print. Chloe and I are also in the process of creating our own brand, which Wildcard will then promote and sell products of. It’s not particularly stable in terms of a career, but I know I still have something to fall back on after I graduate, and regardless it’s nice to have something that relates to the industry I want to end up in! Seeing my designs on physical items is always a bonus, too.

My main hope was to develop a consistent style. Naturally this also isn’t something that can be fixed in a matter of months, but I’m trying not to worry about it so much. My portfolio review with Emma Reynolds was really helpful in several ways, but I think it was the parting word that stood out most to me—to not worry that graduating is the be-all-and-end-all, and it’s just the beginning of where my art will be. So eventually I’ll have something consistent that I’m happy with, and have a way of working that I enjoy above all others, and that will be my ‘style’.

Another hope was to get a table at conventions selling my art, but I can’t really do that until I graduate due to time and money constraints. It’s something I’m going to start looking into over the summer. I have some prints to sell; the next step will be the creation and printing of the comic.
Chloe and I have a table at a craft fair in Lincoln in May, where we’re going to sell some of my prints, along with some of our t-shirts and her photography prints.

We also help out Wildcard when they have a stall at a convention we’re attending. I’m not fantastic at that kind of customer interaction, it makes me really uncomfortable, but at least it’s good practise!


(Mike praying to the card reader gods)

2:31 PM

Research - The Art of Journey

Journey is a game I have yet to play (I really want to!), but the art is just gorgeous. There aren’t a whole lot of characters in it, which is useful to see because there aren’t all that many in my project. The use of line in the character sketches is awesome–very simplistic, but conveying everything it needs to.

The buildings and landscape drawings are magnificently detailed, which is something I majorly don’t have the skill for at this point in time–but it also contains drawings like the ones at the bottom, which have much thicker lines and less detail– the perspective is the main object in these drawings, rather than minute detail, which would be much more possible for me to try and do.

2:23 PM

Research - The Art of Disney’s Tangled

Just some good Chiaroscuro-esque examples. It’s a thing I would really like to introduce in some of the art for my project, it’s incredibly atmospheric and it definitely suits the post-apocalyptic subject matter.

It’d be nice to try some silhouette sketches, just to get a feel for the atmosphere and composition of some pieces.

2:04 PM

Research - Hyrule Historia

As one of my final outcomes will be a concept art book, I naturally headed towards that area in terms of research. Hyrule Historia is the only one I own that’s video game based, as opposed to animated film, and it’s really useful to look at.

A lot of the content is character based, which I always love. Things I have taken from it are: to draw different angles of characters; to use the same shot with different clothing/equipment; different character expressions; different angles/uses of equipment, and note-making. I’ll end up refreshing the notes in Photoshop as opposed to leaving them in my handwriting, which they currently are in my sketchbook, to make it look more polished.

April 13th
7:55 PM

Urban decay hunting!

Back at the stage when Mat and I were planning to collaborate, we went with a couple of others to Manchester to take photos of urban decay for reference and use within our work. We decided to wander around the old mill area of Manchester (starting on Old Mill Street, aptly named).

We walked around for a while, with the intention of maybe heading into a couple of places, but we ended up just taking exterior photos, and decided to maybe go back at a later date with better plans if we still needed to get interior shots.

We didn’t end up working together for FMP because it wouldn’t have really been viable ultimately, but this trip was definitely worth doing, as it got me some good atmospheric shots! Stuff I can draw from and stuff I can compile together to make some mockups for landscape/building composition ideas.

I also took some more close-up shots that would make nice textures, which I can apply to my work.

7:31 PM


When I’m visiting Chloe in Lincoln, I often go along with her to the shop (she works wednesdays). Usually I just get along with whatever design I’m working on for them at that point, but occasionally specific things need to be done, like this custom t-shirt design for a client. With simple text designs like this, it’s just designed up in the vector-based program and the heat press film is run through the vinyl cutter. Then everything but the text is weeded out, and the graphic is placed onto the t-shirt and run through the heat press.

Other more mundane things we’ve done include folding inserts into t-shirts and bagging them up, then packaging them ready to be sold in either the shop or at a convention (a lot has to be done around convention time. A lot). I’ve been driven incredibly close to insanity heat pressing bags for several straight hours. But, it’s gotta be done!

7:00 PM

Manchester Museum Visit

At the end of January, in the early stages of Final Major Project, we were taken to Manchester Museum to get some primary research. Photographs, observational drawings etc.

My project isn’t too focused on the things they have to offer there- taxidermied animals, the natural world, ancient relics and artefacts etc. But, as my project is something that could encompass any of these things, it was really useful to go there and see things that could potentially influence the content of my work.

I got several photos and sketches of taxidermied animals (kind of irrelevant to my project, but always fun to draw), and some photos of nice relics and weaponry that can be used as content for my book. It sparked a few nice ideas!

Here are some of my sketches from the visit:

And some rubbings from an Egyptian relief, which was pretty cool:

Might try and incorporate the rubbings into my work as textures.