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Both Hands On The Pencil

3. Portfolio

Your portfolio is the most important tool in your marketing and promotion kit. In this day and age there is absolutely no excuse for not having a dedicated domain and a selection of work available for browsing. The costs of web hosting are very reasonably priced and ready to go portfolio templates have never been easier to use. If you don’t feel like spending half your work day hanging out on social media, the very least you should do in terms of promotion is to have a proper think about curating your best work on a place on the web that you have control over. Even if your portfolio runs on a third party system that you upload work to, make the effort of buying a domain name and forwarding your visitors to said portfolio. Carve a little niche on the web and be the proud owner. Don’t stop playing around with the looks, content and details of your portfolio and even if you are happy with the end result, your portfolio should be on your agenda constantly.

In the last blog I shared that I believe the centre of our focus as a freelance creative is the fact that our job is for and with people. In the next couple of blogs we will dive into the more tangible aspects of our work practice, this week the subject being our portfolios. What role does Both Hands On The Pencil, the people factor, play in our online presentation, our professional website in particular? Your portfolio is your shop’s window. A good shop has an inviting window, displaying their best goods in a way that makes the customer wants to come in, interested to know more about the product. Interested to buy the product. A good shop mixes up the appearance of their windows often, always looking to surprise passers-by. It’s a process that is constantly in motion. Treat your portfolio like you’re curating a shop window. My path to becoming a freelance illustrator started with graphic design. My first portfolio was a mix of design projects (brochures, cd packaging) and illustrations (book covers, editorial). Over time I realised I wanted to do more illustration work and less design projects, so I rebuilt my portfolio from scratch, showing only illustration projects, and the best illustration projects I had done so far. I experienced one project would lead to another because of the subject matter or illustration technique. Working for one client brought me on the radar of another client, so the specific projects I showed on my portfolio had a big impact on my future workflow. Over the last couple of years I’ve found myself narrowing down my portfolio based on style also. I believe working towards one style aesthetic makes it easier to get hired, and it speeds up the work process because you hit the ground running, both on a briefing level as well as having an efficient routine in place.


Treat your portfolio like you’re curating a shopwindow


A portfolio is not just throwing work into the universe, hoping some of it will randomly capture the attention of a client who then hires you. The goal of your portfolio is to specifically show a targeted group of people the very best you can do. The level of focus on an audience varies from illustrator to illustrator, but the principle of a commercial portfolio is to show new and existing clients what they can and cannot expect when hiring you. Your portfolio therefore is a reflection of the stuff you’re good at, enjoy doing and would like to do more of. Your portfolio should speak to a zoomed-in audience and should communicate the same way you would in a one-to-one conversation. Understanding that this job is for and with people means your portfolio is for and with people as well. This means your portfolio shouldn’t be a playground for your personal projects, or a sketchbook of video game fan art. Your portfolio needs to show you understand working within boundaries (for instance, the layout of a spread of a magazine, or a template design for cardboard packaging). Scrolling through your portfolio should prove you know how to work with people, that you understand commercial briefs and feedback. Include a bit of the sketch process, or a round of colour variations that didn’t make the cut. It doesn’t have to be images, you can explain the project’s process in a couple words. Share information about the team you worked with. If an illustration was used for a book or magazine cover, do a mock-up or take a good picture of the printed version. Show context. On the other hand, be aware your portfolio is for professional eyes. Don’t overexplain things. Quality over quantity. Visit your site on different devices and screen sizes and aim for a smooth browsing experience. That means the selected images should work well together, the site should load quickly and the number of items shouldn’t be too overwhelming. Frequently go back to your site and remove the weakest items replacing them with better or more relevant work.

Think about ways to categorise your work and find the best outlets for each category. Start a blog for a more sketchbook type approach, use twitter to include dialogue with your artwork, start a separate Instagram account for artwork based on a personal interest or style explorations. And know that nothing is definitive on the internet. Try out a certain direction with your portfolio, see what sticks and don’t hesitate to mix it up and start over again.

In the next blog: The anticipated topic of how to incorporate Both Hands On The Pencil in your acquisition process. Thanks for subscribing to the newsletter and sharing this blog! Jump in with questions on twitter.

– Wijtze


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