Portfolio Piece Rehash: The Magician

One of the most important qualities that an illustrator must develop is a critical eye to see room for improvement.  I went through my portfolio recently and found an illustration that had been there for ages, since the very beginning of my sojourn into illustration. It was originally an exercise for the weekly illustration challenge called “Illustration Friday.” The piece just wasn’t working with my portfolio anymore, but it had enough strong points to be worth a second look.

Magician with hat

Here it is, in all its glory. Circa 2010.

Here are some of the things I liked about the piece:

  1. The magician’s personality was unmistakable.
  2. There was a lot of dynamic action.
  3. The composition was fairly strong, with the character well framed by the window.

Here are some of the issues I identified:

  1. Was this really a piece for a picture book? It seemed more like middle grade subject matter. It would be more appropriate in black and white, displayed in the middle grade gallery.
  2. What exactly was the story here? An interaction between two characters would create more narrative.
  3. There were several issues with the perspective and technique.

After my analysis, I decided to remake this piece using my black and white style. I chose a portrait format in order to enhance the drama of the magical ribbons. The open door in the background was the perfect place to add a young observer, someone to witness the magic. Here’s the final result:

Graphite drawing of a magician causing ribbons to come out of a hat, by Jessica Lanan

Have you ever redone a piece in your portfolio? How did it work out?

Portfolio Piece Rehash: The Mouse at Home
Trick or Treat


  1. by Miranda on November 6, 2015  6:02 am Reply

    Thanks so much for sharing this experience-it's always really helpful and inspiring to see behind an illustrators process I'm working on my portfolio pieces now and I thought I had a couple pieces finished but now I don't even like one of them and I want to make changes to the other! It's just nice to know I'm not the only one!

    • by Jess on November 6, 2015  6:12 pm Reply

      You're definitely not the only one, Miranda! I think it's totally normal to look back at finished work and cringe. To keep from getting frustrated, I try to remind myself that the feeling is the result of improvement :)

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