Monday, 7 November 2011

Portfolio Visit 1

Monday 7th November

10 am appointment with Helen Taylor @ Taylor O’Brien


Today I visited Taylor O'Brien on Newton Street, Manchester, for the first of my three portfolio visits this semester (and hopefully even more to follow). Taylor O'Brien work on brand inspiration usually for corporate companies such as Orange, Kelloggs and Helping Uganda Schools (whom I myself collaborated with on the Christmas story project).

Helen Taylor is the Creative Director at the Manchester office and was more than kind enough by giving me some of her precious time. To say I was nervous at the bottom of the stairs was an understatement, but by the time I'd climbed the four floors (in 4 inch heels!) I was starting to perspire somewhat.

That awkward moment when you poke you head round the door... there was no reception area, just a floor of heads staring into their machines. Having said that all the staff were very polite and friendly, and all the men are currently part-taking in Mo-vember, or so they feel obliged to tell me, only some have heavier beards than others (the banter in the office was of such a natural nature it felt endearing that they wanted to include me in it). I was worried that I wouldn't find the office due to it being down a side street off the main track of Picadilly so allowed some extra time in case I got a little lost. It was a toss up between being 20 minutes early or risking being late. From being young people have drummed it into my head to be early because it makes a good impression, yet I'm not sure if it came across as unprepared and unorganised.

Whilst waiting for my appointment slot, Helen sat me on their comfy couches, and here came my next conundrum, do I just sit? Do I check my emails? Or do I have a look at their glossy magazines? I want to look interested and not ignorant tapping away on my phone but I want to contain my nerves at the same time. For my next appointment I will take a small book based on my dissertation, if nothing else it will keep me occupied and provide another topic of conversation if things dry up.

When the presentation started I got into the flow of things quickly. Helen was great to talk to and made me feel very much as ease, she led the conversation after telling her I was unsure what was expected of me having not done a portfolio presentation before. I only have 8 pages in my portfolio and I knew before I left that this would have been a sticking point. Of course I will have a full portfolio by the time May comes but I have only just gotten to grips with a working method I'm comfortable with. I don't have any work from last year that I'm confident with.

To try and pad out what little work I had in my portfolio I took in some current work I'm working on at the moment to highlight the tactile quality my work has. Helen has suggested putting in some work from the last couple of years to show where I have come from and how I have developed my work over my undergraduate course. This is definitely something that I can aim to achieve for Thursday (my next portfolio visit with Lise Brian a The Chase). Additionally, the work I have produced for the Helping Uganda Schools project needs the type removing as it doesn't add anything to the images. Helen did say that working in industry, the type is something that a designer would usually take care of anyway but to take it off for future visits.

It was agreed that the style of my work suits children's book illustration more than it would editorial for example and Helen suggested contacting publishing houses as a way of getting my foot in the door. My attempt at contacting Penguin has proved unsuccessful, and as a large company probably inundated with thousands of emails of a similar nature everyday, I can honestly say I wasn’t too surprised. A step forward could be to contact smaller book publishers as a way of getting my name 'out there', email doesn't work as well as mail drops, mailing actual pieces of work particularly something tactile that a publishers can hold. Helen says that what works well for her won't always work as well with other agencies, but it would be worth a shot (she knows the industry much better than I do after all!). However, she doesn't recommend just turning up on the off chance that someone will have a free hour - it is a very pressurised and busy business. It could be very awkward to turn up and no-one be able to see you, on both parts.

She moved on to ask me whether I prefer conceptual briefs or being given someone else's vision to illustrate. This is a tricky one, but a question whose answer I need to articulate for if I get asked again. I think both have their advantages and disadvantages, I'd like to know that my work has some of my idea behind it too. Also, I need to add some working drawings to my portfolio to show how my ideas and work develop from their initial thoughts to the finalised product. Helen said she would always want anyone she commissions to show that they can develop ideas and realise their full potential.

I asked if they commission illustrators for their briefs, apparently where possible they like to realise the brief in house because they like the excitement of getting involved in the image making too. Obviously the more technical aspects they need to commission illustrators. Over the last few months to years they haven't commissioned that many because of the corporate image their clients want to create. However, Helen sees things going full circle and over the next few years illustrators will be commissioned more as companies want to realise something different and mould breaking for their branding.

I found the experience extremely helpful, as showing my portfolio to a potential employer first time around without any prior experience would have been awful. It gave me a good insight into what a girl should wear to these events too, suited and booted is apparently not appropriate! Smart is appropriate because I'm visiting someone else's business.

Over all, the feedback I gained was positive and very constructive, Helen didn't beat about the bush which I found endearing, I would much prefer to know where I stand and be honest. I will aim to make all the changes that she suggested before my next visit on Thursday where I will then be able to get feedback on the better version. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Helen for giving me her time and effort, it was very much appreciated and a very worthwhile experience.

From this experience I have identified that I need to be showing my portfolio to publishers and not design agencies (the work isn’t really what they are looking for after all). I have identified that I want to be a book illustrator (whether this is for children or adults is yet to be discovered). Obviously, there needs to be more work contained in my portfolio, which I already knew. And I need to keep the type to a minimum on the images, not being a designer myself I’m not really qualified to show this to its full potential. In future portfolio visits I will ask if they know anyone in publishing who could help move me forward.

Please check Taylor O'Brien out, a great team of people :o)

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