I used to throw everything I could jam pack into my portfolio thinking that would get me more work. How wrong I was! It wasn’t until I figured out a specific system for creating and getting the word out on my portfolio that the jobs started rolling in.
Have you ever gotten to the point where you realize your portfolio has become large and unfocused? Clients are either bored flipping through your work or, worse, they can't figure out what the heck you do so they can’t give you work.
So how do I know what to keep?
What’s a designer/artist to do? Here are six questions I use to get my portfolios shit together.
Does it add anything new?
This is a key to keeping your portfolio fresh. Nothing numbs attention faster than seeing the same thing over and over. That doesn't mean it shouldn't work with other pieces in your portfolio, but it should offer something new and refreshing. If you have a portfolio full of character designs featuring two legged humanoids, maybe that one of the six-legged elephants is what can set you apart. Have a whole lot of black and white? Maybe a shot of color is what it needs.
Does it give you something to talk about?
One thing I've found from countless portfolio reviews is you should intentionally plant things in your portfolio that have a good story. It could be a crazy behind-the-scenes about how you made a certain design choice to rescue a project from failure or a unique way the final art was used. This lets you show off your design knowledge and your ability to articulate your choices. A portfolio review where you can hear a pin drop is never a good thing. It's a collaboration, show'em your personality!
Does it tell the right story?
One of the most important purposes of your portfolio is to show your prospective clients exactly what you do and the kind of work that gets you excited. No matter how much you love a piece, if it doesn't match with exactly the kind of work you want then leave it out. I know from my own history, you leave in that one piece you hate, maybe because you love how you handled the lighting and next thing you know you're getting hired to create more like it! When in doubt, ask yourself how you'd like to create 5 more of the same thing.
Is it your best work or are you just checking boxes?
Here is where you need to be honest with yourself. Don't add pieces of work just to cover your bases. If it's of inferior quality, it's better to leave it behind. It's better to have a hole in your game then patch it with bubblegum! You may not have to go back and start over, maybe the idea works, you just have to spend a little more time on perfecting the execution. Even your worst piece should be a cut above!
When is done done?
I get this question all the time. Your portfolio is yours. It is perfectly fine for you to take projects beyond when you client considers it down. I have lots of work that differs from what the client has ultimately signed off on. Sometimes there ends up a disagreement on what direction a project goes, sometimes you may just feel like something should be different. It's YOUR portfolio, as long as you aren't offending anyone or violating your contract, feel free to give it a little bit extra love.
Speaking of contracts, that brings me to our last point.
Can you show this in your portfolio?
I know, you just worked on an exciting project and you want to show the world the amazing art you created. Slow down, take a deep breath. Make absolutely sure you are legally able to post it. Talk to your client, re-read your contract BEFORE you hit post. This can make or break your whole career as well, a mistake can seriously damage you credibility as well as your wallet. A lot of art is produced with huge lead times. Print jobs, such as cover art can have 6 month leads before a cover is even revealed. Some art markets, such as concept art, can have all the artwork created held under wraps. That's correct you can work on a job for a year plus, and never have any of the work you can show publicly. As always, when in doubt, leave it out... or better yet figure it out!
I hope these questions help to ease your decisions on should it stay or should it go. Narrowing down a portfolio can be excruciating, especially because you have invested so much of your time and energy into the creation of the work. Sometimes it's best to let someone in the know to help make those decisions for you. Sometimes it can make all the difference or at least ease the pain of having to drop your favourite piece for the betterment of the whole.
So now what ?
Portfolios can always be a tricky thing. I know I've literally reviewed thousands of them over the years, whether it be from students or hiring artists. Sometimes it's hard to judge the difference between what's helping you and what's hurting. I always recommend getting some fresh eyes on it from someone who isn't so personally invested (i'm looking at you mom!). If you need help and don't know where to look you can reach out to us let for a portfolio review.