As an artist, you already realize the importance of a great portfolio. When you start applying to jobs your resume is only one piece of the puzzle. Sure, it might suggest all the years of training you have and where you have worked before, but a resume doesn’t give any indication of your artistic talent. And that is why having a great portfolio is so important.
Having an up to date and well-rounded portfolio is the best way to showcase your talent, especially when you’re in the market for new jobs. Really, you should keep your portfolio ready to go all the time so if anyone asks for examples of your work and what you can do you will be ready. But if you’re like most individuals, once you’re working, you forget to add to your portfolio.
The good news is that if you find yourself in a predicament to quickly get your portfolio in top shape before an interview you’re not alone. But instead of scrambling to scrape together a half-hearted attempt at showcasing your talent, you can put together a portfolio to be proud of. Here are five excellent tips to help make your portfolio better.
1. The Order of Your Art Portfolio Matters
One of the fatal portfolio flaws is when you stack the deck with all of your best work at the beginning. But think about this: when someone is flipping through the pages for the first time if they see your best work and then keep paging through to less impressive material it doesn’t leave them with a good lasting impression when they get to the end.
Of course, you want to make a good first impression! If you accept the fact that you’ll never have a second chance at a first impression then you definitely want to start out with your most eye-catching artwork. But since the order of your portfolio is very important, you’ll want to follow this up with something other than the second-best piece.
Filling your portfolio can be complicated but it’s easy to remember this one big thing: don’t go best to worst! Take some time with your artwork with a judgemental eye. This could be difficult but evaluate your work as though you have never seen it before and rank the pieces. Many art schools will also have portfolio reviews which can be helpful as you start your career.
If you find it difficult to figure out your ranking, ask a trusted friend for their help. (Bonus points if they have art experience.) If you have a mentor or someone from your art class to help you it should be easier to narrow down which pieces have the most heart and technical merit.
After you figure out which pieces you want to include in your portfolio and what work is better kept out, you’ll be faced with the next challenge. Putting your work in order. Daunting perhaps, but you will want to keep a consistent journey through your work. Running up or down a scale doesn’t work as well as jumping around.
Put your best piece in the front. Hook ‘em in with your amazing talent, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that! After you’ve put the artwork you’re proudest of first, take that runner up piece and stick it right at the end. That way, you end on an up note and leave the interviewer wanting to see more of what you can do.
With your entire portfolio, you will want to stagger your work, and put your weakest pieces you’re planning to include towards the middle. That way you showcase yourself in the best light possible and you are more likely to have success at job interviews and portfolio reviews.
2. Stay On Topic
Let’s face it, you’re awesome! You’ve probably created art that can appeal to many different demographics and in many different styles. But all of your artwork doesn’t necessarily belong in the same portfolio. So if you’re setting up a new portfolio you might want to consider your audience and styles and separate them into different options depending on your goals.
Let’s say you’re really talented at drawings aimed for preschoolers, but you also enjoy drawing characters for horror cartoons and films. It seems pretty obvious that your two audiences aren’t going to be impressed by the same body of work. (Preschoolers would likely be terrified of your work in the horror genre, after all.)
The good news is, there’s no rule that you can’t have many different portfolio options ready to go for whatever job opportunities arise that you are qualified for. In fact, having many portfolios is the secret to finding a great career in art because you aren’t limited by a specific field or genre. When you see a lead you’ll be ready to leap into action and apply with the correct portfolio.
There’s really no such thing as a perfect portfolio, so don’t worry about that aspect. But if you want to show off your work well it’s best to stay on the topic you want to be considered for instead of veering off in a conflicting direction. Focus on who you hope your audience is going to be as you pick and choose what to include in your portfolio.
3. Customize Your Artistic Portfolio
Just as you’ve sorted your artwork examples and samples into different portfolios depending on what job you may get, sometimes you may have to cater even more specifically. If you have an interview at a company or for a special project, you will want to target your work to them in a really focused way to stand out from the other candidates.
If you have a dream job you can create a specific portfolio for your targeted company so you’re always ready to go, or you can pull together something once you’ve landed an interview. If you’re hoping for them to hire you, customizing your portfolio to their wants and needs can be especially helpful.
Don’t fall into the trap of creating work like what they’re already drawing or designing. A solid company already knows what they’re capable of, but they’re hiring because they want to branch out and get some new minds working for them. So take a look at all of your work and find pieces to add to your portfolio that complements their style and brand identity.
Avoiding mimicry can be daunting so break it down to easier terms: what do you like about the style of work the studio is already creating? Is it their use of color? A specific geometric pattern or even a medium they stick to? The pieces you have that fit into the realm of what you appreciate is going to stand out when someone is paging through the portfolio checking you out.
It’s advantageous to make potential employers feel like you’ll fit right in with their current team. That feeling is much more likely when your specific style would work so well with what they’re already creating. Then it will be far more likely they’ll hire you! Pick the work that shows your talent and skill. An interviewer is looking for what ideas you have and what you can add to their business.
It might go without saying but your art portfolio is no place for your fan art. (Even if the company you’re interviewing at is the creators of your favorite characters!) Keep your portfolio professional and save fan art for your social media accounts. Your portfolio is an excuse to create a gallery on the go.
4. How Many Pieces Should You Add To Your Art Portfolio?
You’re probably wondering how many pieces you should include in your portfolio, especially if you’re starting from scratch. The secret here is that you don’t want to be overwhelming. Including somewhere between ten and twenty pieces is (arguably) the perfect amount of artwork for a single portfolio.
Consider this: If you include too many different things to look at during an interview, they will spend less time on each piece and may miss some of the details that you had hoped to show off. Remember that a good interviewer will ask questions about your work while they are looking through your portfolio, don’t add any additional time they may not have allotted for by including too much.
It’s better to narrow down your best pieces for your portfolio and you can hold up the work you are the proudest of as an example. Just because something doesn’t make it into your portfolio doesn’t mean it’s not great. After you’ve focused on customizing for a specific employer and saying on topic, you may just have too much to show.
This can be a good thing, however. Having great work in a secondary portfolio means that you can save pieces in reserve for a second interview or to show upon request. If someone requests to see more of your work at a different time you shouldn’t show up with the same materials. Having some backup pieces ready to go is excellent planning.
As an artist you’ve probably taken a lot of classes and have many different styles of artwork to choose from, keeping it organized and stored safely can help you create your portfolio(s) so that you will be ready to rock any interview.
5. Make Your Art Portfolio Personal
The whole point of having a portfolio is so that people can get to know you through your art. So make sure that your portfolio is ready to go and reflects who you are and what you have accomplished through your time in art school and your professional career up until this point. The one other detail you don’t want to forget is a great cover letter.
Whatever you do, don’t just search the web for “awesome cover letter ideas.” You’ll just wind up with the same impersonal letter as everyone else. That is not what you need when you’re ready to stand out and show your motivation.
So write something personal for the studio or company that you’re hoping to entice with your portfolio. Generic cover letters will not get you as far as a personal letter. If you’re going to put effort into creating an awesome portfolio screwing it up with a poor cover letter is foolish!
It’s likely that a studio is getting enough applications and portfolios submitted so they can be as selective as they want. Don’t allow yourself to get passed over before they even look to see your creative side because of a weak cover letter.
Being able to communicate is just as important as having artistic talent when it comes to getting the best jobs out there. Speaking directly to the people you are hoping to work for and expressing yourself can help you stand out in a great way. Share why you would be a great addition to their brand and how much you’d appreciate being interviewed.
You may have the best portfolio in the bunch, but if your cover letter isn’t great it’s possible no one will ever look at the work you’ve collected and prepared to be seen. Skimping on a cover letter is an easy mistake to make, so don’t fall into that terrible trap. Write a personal letter every single time you plan to present your portfolio.
Making these few changes could be a total shake-up of your portfolio or it could be relatively simple depending on how along in the process you are. Keeping these awesome tips in mind should hopefully bring about some positive changes in your artistic career.
These tips can help you whether you’re putting together a physical portfolio or an online option. Keep your work solid and on topic, don’t overload your portfolio with too many samples and with a great cover letter you’re already on your way to the next step in your career as a professional artist.