Saturday, 28 April 2012

Portfolio Visit - Johann Chan at Digital Arts

My first portfolio visit in London was at Digital Arts magazine with Art Editor Johann Chan. After arriving at Euston train station I had about an hour to compose myself before the meeting - I was feeling pretty nervous at this point! The Digital Arts office was on busy Euston Road and was situated in quite an imposing building. After signing in and travelling up in the lift, I arrived at the Digital Arts floor. There was three doors and I had a mini panic attack as I wasn't sure which one to go in! However, after a quick peer through the small windows I managed to locate the right one. The lady on reception was lovely and made me feel more at ease. The offices were really amazing and had lots of meeting rooms, large desks and a funky waiting area. I only had to wait a couple of minutes before Johann arrived and greeted me very warmly. We went into a large meeting room which was quite scary, but I tried to keep my cool!
We started off with chatting about what I was in London for and I explained a bit about what I was doing in Uni. Johann then said that he gets loads of emails from students requesting portfolio visits but he doesn't always have the time to see them. But as my email was so polite and enthusiastic, he couldn't say no to me! I thought it was really nice of him to say that (plus the lecture that Stuart from Thoughtful gave on constructing emails was thoroughly worthwhile!).
We then went through my portfolio and as we were sat opposite each other, I was careful to face the book towards him (another tip from Stuart!). He liked my James and the Giant Peach book cover and was interested that I was shortlisted for the competition. He liked the typography and the fact that I had illustrated the lesser obvious characters. Next up was 8x8 and, like other visits, he seemed to like the spot illustration a bit more than the main one. Perhaps this is because it is more graphical and sits in its own shape, much like the Wellspring.
In his initial reply to my email he had stated that he really liked my Wellspring image and again, when we reached it in the portfolio he commented on how he loved the arrangement of all the elements. He also liked the elements themselves and in particular the fact that he could see I'd hand drawn them first. It became apparent, as we went through the rest of the portfolio, that he liked the work where it was fairly obvious I'd hand drawn it first. This was really surprising as no one has ever mentioned this before. He was curious to know more about my working process and was quite interested when I told him I draw things out first in my sketchbook and then trace over it in Illustrator with the pen and shapes tool. Johann found this intriguing and said it was a different way of working - he liked it though, as many digital illustrators use Illustrator as their first port of call.
Everything in my portfolio has been drawn in my sketchbook first, but over time I've tried to develop a personal style. In my earlier work, such as James and the Giant Peach and Wellspring, the style is quite soft and is less graphical. Whereas I have tried to progress my style and move away from that sort of illustration, Johann liked it as he said he could see more personality. He said he didn't not like my other work, just that the 'hand drawn' pieces appealed to him more.
After finishing looking through my portfolio, we talked about what I wanted to do after University and the ways I could go about getting work. One particular piece of advice Johann gave stuck in my mind, as I thought it was really useful. He said that rather than contacting art directors with your 'normal' work, you could mock up an illustration to suit their needs. For example, if you wanted to get commissioned by a health magazine you could find a relevant health article, illustrate it, and send it to the art director. Johann said art directors, more often than not, don't have time to trawl through lots of illustrators, so if you present a piece of work they could easily see fitting into their publication, you're more likely to get a job. Of course, this would take a lot of time if you were to do it for every publication you wanted to work at - but for bigger clients, I think it's a really good idea.
At the end of the meeting Johann gave me a couple of Digital Arts magazines, which was awesome as they're £5.99 each and usually only available through subscription! I then gave him a business card a box chocolate biscuits to say thank you. He loved the gesture and said it would be sure to keep me in his mind. Sure enough, a little while later I saw that he had mentioned me on his Twitter feed. Love the picture of the chocolates and business card! Thanks Johann!

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