Donald Wu-Building an Illustration from the characters up!

We wanted to feature a series of posts from Donald Wu’s Blog that show his development process for an illustration.

How he builds and creates his characters then goes into the final image.  It’s always great to see someone’s process! Enjoy!

Here are some sketches of a robot dinosaur character I did for an illustration idea. Here I’m playing with ideas and different looks for this character. I have yet to really settle on a specific look. I think I like pieces here and there from several, so perhaps the final rendition will be an amalgam of sorts. Though, I typically don’t go to these lengths with all my illustrations (especially for just a single illustration), whenever I can, I’ll make every effort to try and do so, cause I’m quickly realizing the benefit of it.  Since my goal is to push my character designing, I see it as a very necessary step in the process.

This will obviously be the main character of the piece. With his treatment, I kept going back and forth with the amount of fantasy I wanted to incorporate into his design. Part of me really wanted to go over the top with it and give him a steampunk edge, but with the illustration I have in mind, I thought better of it, and decided to root him more in reality.

Next comes the fun part, and that is designing the actual illustration. For me, it starts with jotting down some quick thumbnails…

For me, there’s no real set number of thumbnails I must do before moving on to the final sketch, I just keep at it until something jumps out at me, but on average, I tend to do about 5-6. With these, all I’m doing is working out possible compositions. These should be quick and loose, and I’m sure they look like nothing more than mere scribbles, but that’s kind of the point. The last thing I want to get hung up on at this phase are the details. The main focus is to explore different perspectives and points of views until I get something I feel will make for an interesting composition. Once I make my choice, I can then start on my final sketch. .


This is where I start adding in all the details, and make things look “pretty”. Next comes the color…

Check back next Tuesday as we follow Don on his next step!

Guest Post-Donald Wu – What to put in your Children’s Book Portfolio


Our guest post today comes from established Children’s Book Artist Donald Wu.  Don is a San Francisco Bay resident with a huge portfolio of success under his arm that includes more than ten published books to date. If anyone can tell you what it takes to be successful and stay successful it’s him! So please join us as Donald helps to walk you through putting together the most important  tool you’ll need to establish yourself and start getting work, your portfolio!

Every now and again, I get asked the question, “What should I put in my portfolio?”.  So, I wanted to take a moment and share some tips and suggestions you might consider when putting together an illustration portfolio. Specifically, a portfolio of illustrations catering to children’s publishing; although websites and social media play an ever-increasing role in promoting your work, having a physical portfolio will still come in handy the next time you attend a nearby illustration conference or if you find yourself lucky enough to be given some face time with an art director. So let’s get started…

First off, let’s get the basics out of the way; a typical portfolio should contain anywhere from 12 to 15 images, bound in a nice, clean, and simple, 8″ x 11″ portfolio. The thing to remember is this: showcase work and talent, so the portfolio itself should NOT distract or compete with the artwork. So rule of thumb …keep it simple! Be sure to include pocket at the back of the portfolio with postcards and/or business card for someone to take.

Now for the most important parts of any portfolio, the ARTWORK! Here are a few key points to remember:

  • Order & Pacing: Typically, a portfolio should open with a sample of your best work! The point of this is pretty obvious, you want to WOW your viewer and grab their attention right from the start. Once you have it, it’s a matter of sustaining that interest throughout the entire portfolio. To achieve this, you want to space your artwork out evenly and build a rhythm between some of your good/solid pieces and some great/better pieces. And to end it on a high note, you’ll want to include another one of your best illustrations. Ideally, this will leave them with a lasting impression of your work, or even better still, leave them wanting more!Below is a quick diagram to better illustrate this. One thing you will notice is that depending on the quality and the number of pieces in your portfolio, as well as the fact that you will be constantly update your portfolio, we will have some variations, but the basic structure should still be followed.
  • Consistency of Quality: Your portfolio is only as good as it’s weakest piece. So if you have an illustration that you are not sure about, it’s best to leave it out. To a potential client, a weak piece will also have the potential of leaving a lasting impression, but for all the wrong reasons. Your portfolio should only contain your best work, so in some cases, less is more. So remember, even if it means a thinner portfolio, only include work that you are actually proud to show off.
  • Consistency of Style: Along with demonstrating a consistent quality of work, you also want to define a consistent style in your art as well. A big mistake you can make is filling your portfolio with work in several different styles and techniques. Below are several scenarios someone might decide to do this with their portfolio. In each case, first, I’ll give the rationale behind these choices followed by reasons why you shouldn’t.
    1. By showing a wide range of styles, there is a belief that you are showing the art directors that you are versatile and capable of handling multiple mediums and styles. Instead, what ends up happening is that you’ll leave them thinking, “What kind of art will I expect if I hire you?” And this is not what is desired.   
    2. By including a portfolio with different styles, you are hoping this will help you land more jobs because you are in essence casting a wider net. Unfortunately, the downside of this is that you are also diluting your portfolio in the process. So instead of having a full portfolio of 12 solid pieces highlighting your individual style, you are only able to show potential clients 4 or 5 pieces. This will make it more difficult for them to accurately assess your skills and make them reluctant to hire you.
    3. Let’s face it, sometimes you just need a filler. You might run into a case of simply not having the number of illustrations to fill up your portfolio. So you decide to round out the 12 pieces with an illustration that’s different just to bulk up your numbers. The thing to remember is that any capable art director will see right through this as well, which will lead to them to question your experience. And just as bad, this misplaced illustration will stick out like a sore thumb and disrupt the flow to the rest of your portfolio.

    At the end of the day, the person looking at your art needs to be able to associate your name with your work. So the clearer and simpler you make it for them and yourself, the better.

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