Lately, several of my illustration students have been asking me questions about their futures. One of the advantages of being in graduate school and teaching is that my experience is closer to the students’ than professors/artists/thinkers who’ve been in the game for a while. In many ways, I’m just a few steps ahead of them, and a little less afraid.
So, figuring there are hundreds or thousands of students who are in need of some art/life advice, I thought I’d post my answers. And I thought I’d post in parts…because I talk a lot.
1. Be Remarkable.
Your portfolio should showcase your best work. It should give viewers a sense of who you are and what you’re passionate about. It’s a space in which to showcase your intelligence, inventiveness and conceptual development as an artist/designer.
2. know your audience.
All that said, you’ll need to consider what the portfolio is for. An internship? A job? Graduate school? And then, what kind of job? For instance, the portfolio of a package designer should be different than, say, a web designer. Your compilation needs to reflect the experience and skills within the context of your specific goals. Also, is the portfolio submitted as print or digitally? This will affect your choices of typography, layout, color depending upon available resources. The overall composition of each page should be consistent, clean and minimal. The work should have plenty of room to breathe and stand on its own. As incredible.
3. Look for Bonus Opportunities.
Generally, each internship/job/school/client will want to see a set number of works. Find ways to sneak things in. For example, if you want to show some packaging you designed, create the typography or illustration that decorates the packaging, thereby adding another element cleverly into your samples. For illustrators, compile your images into a book, thereby illuminating your mad design skills.
4. Simple = good.
One of the most important things to consider in compiling a portfolio is functionality. Think of the position of the viewer. Likely, they are looking at dozens or more applicants, they are tired and it’s easy to throw out portfolios that are a pain in the ass to read. Viewing a portfolio should be like walking into a living room. If the room is a mess, you can’t enjoy the antique furniture and rare paintings on the wall…you are caught up in the mess. However, if the living room is pristine, the furniture and art looks even more stunning.
5. School + Real-World Projects.
Increasingly, designers and artists are graduating with versatile portfolios, showcasing both school-based projects as well as client-based. Anyone can do this. Self-initiate a case study in which you reimagine a current brand, or invent one of your own. Don’t wait for a teacher to assign you something. Too often, students complain that they need to be more challenged. Maybe. But you should be challenging yourself, pushing the limits of what you know and learning skills on your own. Do this.
6. Orchestrate the Experience.
Think of the portfolio as a narrative. You want to move the viewer with you, conceptually, visually. Start and end with your best pieces and see if there is a way to move through the experience logically. Categories (print, illustration, art direction, etc.) might be a good way to break the portfolio into parts, like acts. Either way, show your passions and show your vision.
Portfolio Tips from Coroflot
7 Tips from Nubby Twiglet
Guide to Using WordPress for a Portfolio – Smashing Magazine
Tips for Improving Your Design Portfolio – You the Designer
For Print Only’s Flaunt Book
Steps to a Better Design Portfolio – Jeffrey Veen
Design Professionalism – Smashing Magazine