Folio illustration agency, established London 1976

Curate your portfolio

There is a big difference between a commercial portfolio and a personal one. A commercial portfolio is specifically designed to get you work. It should be carefully considered and curated with the client’s needs in mind.

Illustration of a man putting together a jigsaw

Illustration by Owen Davey

 

Quality Control

When putting together a portfolio it can be difficult to know what to include, and even more difficult to know what to leave out. Not everything you make should go in your portfolio. Not only is it a way to present your work, it is also a way to show clients that you can edit and curate your work. You need to be selective.

A blog or social media are good places to post all your work, but your website/ portfolio is your shop window and should be carefully designed to attract clients. Owen Davey doesn’t show every job he works on. Not only would it be unmanageable, but he knows his work well enough to show only what clients want to see.

A new illustrator will spend months creating and putting together their first commercial portfolio with well-thought-out illustrations, which will hopefully lead to their first jobs. It can be tempting at this point to upload all this new commercial work as soon as possible and assume these projects will lead to even more work, when it’s actually the first selection of illustrations that you have had time to consider and curate that are attracting the clients.

The chances are that your first real jobs won’t be particularly mind-blowing; you will have limited time, you are still finding your feet. Don’t rush to update your portfolio with every new job you work on. Consider each piece carefully on its own merits and decide if it is worthy of going in your shop window.

 

Include a Range of Commercial Subjects

If you have a lot of illustrations of food in your portfolio, you are going to get asked to make more illustrations of food. It’s only when you show potential clients that you can do other things that you will get more varied projects to work on.

Often clients will want to see an example of a subject to confidently commission you, so it benefits you to show potential clients that your style can be applied to lots of different things.

Portraits, maps, buildings, animals, people and typography are all great commercial subjects. If you look at the categories on any illustration agency website, it will give you a good idea of what subjects are popular.

 

Keep it Simple

Your website is a tool to show your work. You don’t need an expensive, complicated design. Keep it simple and think about what a potential client wants:

  • Easy navigation
  • Fast-loading images – learn how to optimise images for the web
  • Big images
  • Contact details

If you are captioning your work, don’t over-do it. Remember three C’s, Context, Client and Credit:

Web header illustration for [client name] – Animation by [animator name]

This helps a viewer imagine how the illustration was used, potentially impresses them by name-dropping an awesome client and gives credit where credit is due if anyone else was involved in the final product.

Universities encourage students to create printed portfolios, but they are rarely requested in the early days of an illustrators’ career. Don’t worry about a print portfolio until you are specifically asked for one. It may never happen, so don’t waste your hard-earned cash on beautiful books and expensive printing until you absolutely have to.

 

Your Commercial Portfolio

There are a lot of great resources available to help make your portfolio the best it can be. How to Create a Portfolio and Get Hired by Fig Taylor from the Association of Illustrators is perhaps the best book available on the subject for graphic designers and illustrators. Keep the points below in mind when creating and curating your portfolio and take a look at some of your favourite artists’ work and see how they do it.

  • Include a range of commercial subjects.
  • Keep the design simple.
  • Only put work in your portfolio that you want to get hired for: if you hate illustrating maps, don’t put them in. If there are maps in your portfolio, a client will assume you want to do more of the same kind of work.
  • Don’t put any work in your portfolio that is of a quality you can’t make consistently. Be confident that you can work to that same quality every time; if you can’t, you risk disappointing your client.
  • It is okay to show personal work in your portfolio as long as a client can see how it could be used commercially. Does it communicate its message effectively?
  • Say less, show more.