Sunday, 25 March 2012

Portfolio Visit 8 - Sarah Habershon

Portfolio Visit 5 – The Guardian

Sarah Habershon, The Guardian,

90 York Way, London

I was stunned that the Guardian even replied to my email, even if it was four months later. I emailed Sarah Habershon at the Guardian in October 2011 for the first semester’s required portfolio visits but she never replied, or at least she didn’t reply until late February. She was full of apologies for not getting back to me sooner but in the business in which she works, sometimes emails get overlooked, which is completely understandable, especially as I’m probably not at the top of the food chain. In her reply she said that she thought my work was more suited to children’s illustration, however if I was looking for something broader to let her know if and when I would be in London to arrange an appointment. To say I was chuffed to bits was an understatement. I replied immediately and left it a week to give her chance to reply, but as time was ticking away I eventually plucked up the courage to ring her directly to try and arrange an appointment which proved to be a success. So whilst I was in London, on Wednesday 21st March at 3pm to be precise I met Sarah at the Guardian’s office on York Way, London.

To say I was nervous is the understatement of the year, I mean this is the Guardian after all, opportunities like this don’t come up every day, and certainly not to me! The offices are enormous, a glass fortress, but at least they were well labelled (see the photo of me stood outside J) After loitering outside for about twenty minutes due to being overly punctual I began my ascent up the escalators into the main reception. Sweaty palms were bad enough but the temperature outside was a balmy sixteen degrees and I had a coat and cardigan on too, these things require more attention. The girls on reception called Sarah to let her know of my arrival and gave me an entry pass though it wasn’t needed as Sarah conducted her viewing in main reception.

It wasn’t a long wait before Sarah arrived and greeted me warmly, I hope I managed to reciprocate but due to nerves I have a feeling I was a bit hasty getting into the actual business of showing my portfolio and didn’t spend quite as long as is necessary on the formalities beforehand. Anyway, I showed her my work which went Ok. I don’t usually like the work ‘O.k’ to describe something but this visit was only worth that, mere standard. For the first time during a portfolio visit, some negative vibes were coming through from the work I was presenting. Maybe the professionals in Manchester are more polite particularly with them being aware that I am a third year student and have not graduated yet, or maybe the ‘big smoke’ just like to get to the point with honesty, I don’t know. As I was leafing through the pages, she seemed happy enough and appeared to warm to my work, but afterwards it all started to fall apart. She seemed to prefer the more graphical characters to the painterly narratives from the Helping Uganda project from last semester, though she wondered why my hand rendered type for the James and the Giant Peach cover was stitched. Although it has apparently been a while since she last read the story, she couldn’t remember stitch playing any part in the tale. Indeed it doesn’t, there is no mention of sewing machines, or knitting or stitching or anything related, the point I was trying to put across by stitching the type was that it is organic like the peach’s continued growth and James’ adventure and character development from his parents dying at the beginning to his more independent qualities at the end. Of course I didn’t say any of this to her, I would have felt rude, especially when it was she who had given her precious time up to see me. I suppose I could look at the appropriateness of my materials and how they are used in relation to the context of the subject, though I still like the idea and such issue has never been raised before. She did go on to say that she had commissioned somebody only recently who used stitch a lot in their work to illustrate an article on ovarian surgery, which I thought was going to turn into a positive, before she stated that I need to work with things that are totally appropriate to my technique. Also, I need to work out where it is that I want to be, do I want to pursue children’s book illustration, book jackets, hand rendered typefaces or editorials etc. For her my portfolio was too varied to be able to commission someone like me, she needs to see more evidence that I would be able to take on the task she would want to give which my portfolio lacks. There are too many bases I am trying to cover in my portfolio but all are done very thinly, for example I only have two editorials but that doesn’t show enough consistency, she needs to know that if she were to commission me that she would get something particular, it has to be, in a way, predictable. On the flip side, at university we are encouraged to try a whole host of different briefs to broaden our portfolios and show that we are flexible and capable or most things. For me, having a very limited portfolio would be a concern, for if I were to focus on just one particular area of illustration I in turn limit my chances of getting work after graduation, and unfortunately that is what this is all about, getting work.

I put my two editorials at the end of my portfolio, as we are encouraged to put the strongest work there. I don’t think that these editorials are my strongest pieces particularly, but I thought that visiting a newspaper would make them more appealing and by putting those at the back would reinforce to her that I could undertake this type of brief. Unfortunately, I think that this was a mistake. She thought that although the illustrations for the editorials were good, they didn’t show her how well I can work with space. The illustrations for both pieces are above the column with a single column of text below. For her they didn’t show her how they would appear in a single or even double page spread, there was no real context for them. Additionally, the Guardian deals with more conceptual ideas relating to work and finance rather than nature which my work seems to be more directed towards.

To say I was disappointed with the outcome of this appointment is an even bigger understatement than the nerves bit. I really wanted to make a good impression but with her negative attitude towards my work I came out feeling pretty deflated; all the wind and stuffing had been taken out of me. I left her some thank you chocolates and my business card on the off chance but chances are it probably went straight in the bin. My excitement of seeing the Guardian then soon turned into dread as I saw my dreams crumbling in front of me sat in the foyer of their offices. I thought it might even break me and my ambitions for a while, but to be fair, criticism is better to be sought than praise as I can work and develop myself from that. Here’s hoping that the next appointment will go better.

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