How to build an illustration portfolio

By heather at 10:46 pm on Wednesday, June 13, 2007

portfolioA portfolio is an illustrator’s visual resume, intended to communicate to a potential client / employer what you are capable of and the caliber of your creative work. A portfolio, much like a resume, should constantly be kept up-to-date with your best pieces.

Here are some tips to help you build & maintain your portfolio…

What should your portfolio look like?
Lucky for us, illustrators have a lot of freedom when it comes to how to present their work… we’ve got creative freedom to let our personalities come out in our portfolio cases / books, and that’s a really lovely thing. But at the same time, it’s important to still have your portfolio give your potential client / employer the clear impression that you are a professional and can be trusted to work with on their project. So try to keep in mind :

  • Your portfolio should be easy to handle and durable… bent, scuffed, or ripped pages just look sloppy!
  • Occasionally you will be asked to leave your portfolio behind, so make sure it is ‘user friendly’
  • portfolio case / book : ready-made portfolios can be found at art supply shop. But if you’re in the mood for something different you can make your own from almost anything… binders, boxes with printed & laminated loose pages in them, accordion books, photo albums, scrapbooks. The sky’s the limit really! For a while there I sported a lovely cheetah print portfolio, meow!
  • What colour should I pick for the background layout pages ? Keep the background colour of your portfolio simple… 50% gray is often the best for illustrators, as it doesn’t affect how the eye sees the purity of colour in your work. 50% gray is like sniffing coffee beans after sniffing a bunch of scents in a perfume shop… it levels everything out visually and allows you to appreciate each piece on it’s own colour merit! But any neutral colour will do if you’re not a colour maniac like me!
  • How many pages should go in my portfolio? Try to keep the book to about 20 pages… each spread should complement / relate to each other. You don’t want 2 different projects ‘fighting each other’ visually on the same spread.

What should go in your portfolio?

The simplest answer to this would be : put in about 10-20 samples of your best work. But if you want specifics :

  • Illustrators should focus their portfolio and put samples in that relate to the industry they are trying to work in (i.e. video games, storyboarding, children’s books, editorial, etc) or medium they work in (i.e. watercolour, ink, oils, digital, etc.) Try to limit yourself to only showing a few mediums / styles of illustration, as these styles are your “brand” which you want to be easily identified and remembered from one viewing of your portfolio.
  • Fine Artists should show their most recent body of work, emphasizing on the concept of the work. If you have more than one body of work, then group them together so that they don’t conflict with each other.
  • Try to limit your portfolio to 10-20 of your BEST pieces. Only include your best pieces in your portfolio… it’s better to show less great pieces than lots of mediocre pieces.
  • Published Work : focus primarily on your “real” projects for “real” clients, be they for books, greeting cards, digital, web, or whatever. If you’re fresh out of college and don’t have any ‘real’ projects in your portfolio, don’t worry about it, just show your best college pieces.
  • Sketches & Concepts : some clients like to see “how you work,” so it doesn’t hurt including roughs, notes & sketches in your portfolio to complement the finished pieces.
  • Don’t show work you don’t want to. Seems like a simple thing, but some people feel under pressure that because they’ve done something it should go in their portfolio… if you don’t want to do MORE work in that vein of the industry, don’t bother putting it in your portfolio.
  • Edit, edit, edit! Take a step back and try to look at your projects objectively.. if they don’t wow you, they won’t wow your prospective client / employer. If you have a hard time being ruthless and cutting out pieces from your portfolio, have a colleague / friend help you out!

How should you organize your portfolio?
This is really personal preference, but you can order your portfolio chronologically, by category (by medium, by what the end product is, by client, by campaign….)

  • Label the pieces in your portfolio with the client’s name, art director / collaborators names, date, and who the copyright currently belongs to.
  • Loose samples should be kept as tidy as possible, so perhaps add a pocket to your portfolio, or place in an envelope those odds & ends that you wish to bring to the interview.
  • A pocket for your business cards and leave-behind printouts
  • Place your best pieces first and last in your portfolio… wow them going in, and wow them going out!

How often should you update your portfolio?
Your portfolio should be as up-to-date as your resume, so update your portfolio :

  • whenever you’ve completed a new project
  • if you have won an award or received a review on your work
  • before an interview : each of your clients will have different needs, and it’s good to review your portfolio to make sure the samples are appropriate. You don’t want to have children’s book samples in an interview for an in-house advert

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Filed under: business of illustration

13 Comments »

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Comment by Melissa

July 11, 2007 @ 5:29 pm

This also is another great article. I have to tell you, your writings have been a complete blessing to me. When I was 18 years old I dropped out of art school. I am no 30 trying to pick up where I left off. So your information has really brought me up-to-date. Thanks ever so much and keep writing!

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Pingback by Linkswitch - My Ten Favourite Freelancing Blogs - FreelanceSwitch - The Freelance Blog

November 30, 2007 @ 4:49 pm

[…] Heather Castles is a heck of an illustrator, and on her blog she writes quite a few posts about the “Business of Illustration” which includes great freelance articles like How to Build an Illustration Portfolio and How Much to Charge for Illustrations?. […]

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Pingback by thinkerpool.com: » Linkswitch - My Ten Favourite Freelancing Blogs

November 30, 2007 @ 5:07 pm

[…] Heather Castles is a heck of an illustrator, and on her blog she writes quite a few posts about the “Business of Illustration” which includes great freelance articles like How to Build an Illustration Portfolio and How Much to Charge for Illustrations?. […]

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Pingback by 十大接活博客 | 自由天空-我爱Freelancer

March 1, 2008 @ 1:34 am

[…] IllustrationCastle Heather Castles 是一个出色的平面设计工作者,在她的博客他写了很多关于“Business of Illustration”的文章,主要介绍平面设计者接活时的经验。包括: How to Build an Illustration Portfolio 以及 How Much to Charge for Illustrations? […]

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Pingback by King Clan » Post Topic » 十大接活博客

July 20, 2008 @ 11:00 pm

[…] IllustrationCastle Heather Castles 是一个出色的平面设计工作者,在她的博客他写了很多关于“Business of Illustration”的文章,主要介绍平面设计者接活时的经验。包括: How to Build an Illustration Portfolio 以及 How Much to Charge for Illustrations? […]

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Comment by Edrian Thomidis

October 4, 2008 @ 6:38 am

This is a great article. Thanks for posting it!

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Comment by Maja Wolnik

February 21, 2009 @ 1:36 pm

Hi Heather,

What size would you recommend to create original artwork? I know that when you scan images they have to bi hi-res 300 dpi but I’m not sure which scale I should work on in the first place? I’m a bit confused, your advice would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks,
Maja

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Comment by J

August 6, 2009 @ 10:07 am

This was a helpful article. If anyone has the time to do so, go to your local bookstore and look up “HOW TO BE AN ILLUSTRATOR” by Darrel Rees (Laurence King Publishing Ltd. It is a fantastic book worthy of purchasing and using as a point of reference and much more.

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Comment by TJLubrano

September 16, 2009 @ 2:57 pm

A very good and useful article! Thanks so much!

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Comment by Patrick McWhorter

December 3, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

What type of paper should work samples be printed on?

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Comment by Lorence

August 7, 2010 @ 11:51 pm

FolioFox,a portfolio website which provides gateway to artists to explore there creativity toaudience around the globe.It encourages new talented artists to create there portfolio and let people know that how talented your.It provides 500 images upload,so lots of space to explore your imagination and share it through Foliofox.It also offer you to share your album with art directors directly from your gallery.

www.foliofox.com

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Comment by balendra

December 11, 2010 @ 3:48 am

really looks nice, the color schem and compositon work well

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