Today we are starting a mini-series about portfolios. Since portfolios are a keystone in starting your career as an illustrator/artist we want to make sure we cover the topic as best we can. We encourage comments for this since there are a lot of ways to approach the topic, and want to make sure we can incorporate anything we may have missed previously in the next part of the series. We also love to hear from you, so don't hesitate to get involved.
Erica: It's pretty obvious how important a portfolio is to an artist long before you use one in the acquisition of clients. You start prepping in high school and submit them to colleges, attend "portfolio days" and ask for advice on what to include. Just like a resume, you have to have one if you want to get work. It has to highlight all of your best attributes and showcase your talent, your perspective, and not only what you have accomplished, but hint to what you are yet to accomplish.
Long after college, and after you have started working with various clients, you have to update your portfolio on a regular basis. If you never show new work, then maybe you aren't practicing anymore, maybe you quit, or maybe you have no ambition, and worst of all (in my eyes) you aren't growing and progressing as an artist. If you show everything you do, you could be showing work that actually deters clients. So what do you include in your portfolio? Obviously you show your best work; however, illustration and arts in general are highly subjective and are perceived differently by each individual. Something you, or your friends, love and think is amazing may not be the same thing that an art director or client may view in the same light. Needless to say, this complicates the task at hand and can make the process an exhaustible trial.
Take time to research how your work is received by others, your friends and family will always provide valuable insight, but don't forget to ask professionals, teachers, and other persons who can supply a more objective and varying impression. Family and friends may tend to provide responses based on what you want to hear because they know you and probably have an idea about what you spent more time on, what means more to you, etc. If you ask people less connected to you personally they are unlikely to be so subjective and can give you valuable feedback by doing so. Likewise, people such as teachers/mentors, professionals, and those that circulate the arts industry often have seen a lot of work from many different people and can give you well rounded and informed opinions and advice. Be sure that if you take the advice of others, it is not based off of the feedback of isolated individuals. Look at the results of your survey as a group, and act on what was said most by everyone. Don't ignore individual comments, but make sure that you aren't reacting to them too much or it could deter you.
As the artist, you are the person most connected with every piece that you have made. You know what went into it in every aspect, what it means to you, etc. This can often blind us to the actual "value" of a piece. However, as the artists we have the final say in what we do (unless we are talking client work, that may be different) and if we did something we loved in a specific piece, but maybe it didn't show as much as we wanted, it is still up to you whether or not to show it. Keep your wits about you, think everything through, and take your time to ensure you are choosing wisely.
Take these into consideration when you are deciding what to bring to the table: How old is the work? Is this your strongest piece/body of work? What is this showcasing? What did you do this for (school, work, personal, commission)? Does your work show your growth as an artist? Does the work as a group show a defined voice? Does the work show versatility in skill and application? Does it look like it was all created by one individual? Would you feel comfortable showing this to an industry leader as a representation of your complete body of work?
Jo: Whatever your portfolio takes in the form of the key thing to remember is that you need to sell yourself as it's pretty much a visual representation of who you are and what you do.
Here's some key points when building your portfolio:
- I've learnt that your portfolio changes as you develop as an artist. Your portfolio will of course change over time, both go hand in hand.
- It can be a difficult process so asking for other peoples advice is another good thing. I find that this process can often leave you feeling a little flustered!
- Begin to think what areas of the design industry you either see yourself in or what you have actually done i.e. categorising your work looks more professional rather than having loads of images in a random order.
- It's nice to have a balance of work from the past and the present. From prospective clients the variation of work means that you're still a practising artist/ illustrator.
- Less is more. Seriously.
The last time I looked at my portfolio I thought to myself "Why the heck did I have this in it?!" Looking back I was sort of guided by my tutors to include work which they thought was appropriate and, well me, I took a step back and let them do it.
Now I know what I want to do and what my aspirations are for the future. I have to do all the work now and not my tutors!