Avoiding the Pigeonhole in Your Portfolio

I recently had a couple new prospective projects arise, and they both reminded me of the importance in diversifying one’s portfolio. It’s easy enough to fall into a pigeonhole, based on one’s own style and experience. My online portfolio conveys a diverse cross-section of my work—the comic books, editorial cartoons, and spot illustrations I’ve had a hand in—and highlights my cartoony aesthetic. But the recent inquiries called out a need to expand the scope of my portfolio to attract potential new illustration clients.

A Caricaturist By Any Other Name

By turning politicians into cartoon characters on a regular basis as an editorial cartoonist, “caricaturist” is a label I often wear. So it was a little odd to hear the question, “So can you do caricatures?” As I pointed out my experience doing political cartoons, the prospective client clarified, “No, like a Boardwalk caricaturist.” 


It was a good clarification, and it helped me realize that while I may view myself a caricaturist, not all “caricaturists” are the same. I’d done caricatures of friends and family before, and yes, those illustrations took a different style than my editorial cartoons. And that was the style this potential client was looking for. The kind of caricature you might get done on a whim at an event. In this case, I was able to provide a sample of my take on a “boardwalk caricature artist”, which successfully settled any doubts in the client’s head and kept the conversation going.


Taking a Different Tone

The other conversation was about a completely different type of project—illustrations for a fantasy role-playing game handbook. Now, my portfolio includes examples of spot illustrations and mentions of publications where my work has appeared. It also includes comic stories and art that span multiple genres—including sci-fi and mystery—in my usual cartoony style. As this prospective client described it, “very Sunday comics” in style and tone. “But can you tap into anything… darker?”


Again, the conversation underscored the importance in diversifying your portfolio to include the different tones and genres you might be interested in working on. I was able to point to my own resumé—including beasts and horror characters for Monster Atlas—and comparably darker work by similarly cartoony artists. Successfully making that argument, we agreed to a single illustration, just as a start to see how well my style complemented the darker tone of the work it would supplement. 


Combined, these threads were a nice reminder that the point of a portfolio is to showcase the diversity of your work and help take the guesswork out of clients choosing you for a project. If you’re a hopeful comic book artist, remember people want to see samples of exactly what they’re looking for:

  • Include sequential art pages in your portfolio, not just pinups and sketches. 
  • Build a robust portfolio that heads off the questions around what you’re capable of.
  • Show a diversity of genres and tones to avoid putting yourself in a pigeonhole.


How do you diversify your portfolio? Share it in the ShoutFyre forum!

Steve Stegelin

Editor, Artist, Letterer, Colorist Steve is the long-running cartoonist at the Charleston, SC alt-weekly Charleston City Paper, where he skewers politicians and criminals (and criminal politicians) alike with editorial cartoons and police blotter illustrations every issue. Steve was best known his indie comic book (and subsequent webcomic)  BOONDOGGLE