Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Illustration Portfolio Organization: 1. Strategies


The importance of organization or sequencing of work in your portfolio, cannot be over emphasized. The portfolio presentation is “the moment of truth”, it is your audition, your 15 minutes of fame, your opportunity to shine, you ticket to paradise. The presentation of your “book” is nothing less than an audition of your work. Performed before a select audience. That audience may be keenly interested in the work or nonchalant. It is your responsibility to capture the interest and attention of the reviewer, and you only have a short span of time to do so.

© 2013 Don Arday.
You might have noticed that many TV commercials start off with an attention getting and sometimes disturbing visual or noise. The sponsor needs to interrupt your concentration to the show you were watching and have you place your attention on the product being promoted in the commercial break.

Similarly, when your portfolio comes in front of a reviewer, it must distract them from any problems they are working over in their mind, and interrupt them from their subconscious routine that day.

How a Portfolio Works in a Personal Interview

It’s always best when you are able to present your portfolio in person, though a portfolio that is presented in person must work differently than one that is dropped off or delivered to a reviewer. Since you will be presenting the work along with verbal information about it, the sequence of work should match your narrative, and the narrative should be rehearsed to take full advantage of the content and context for your illustrations, similar to a Powerpoint or slide presentation. If for some reason the narrative you plan doesn’t fit with the imagery you show, then change your selection or sequencing of the images—or change your discourse.

How a Portfolio Works in an Impersonal Review

Unlike a personal presentation where you are present to explain your work, in an impersonal situation, your portfolio alone must speak on your behalf. Therefore it is important to provide accompanying information that will pertain to the content and context for your illustrations. The work should relate to the person that is reviewing it within the context of their company. Although it is not necessary for every work to directly fit the review situation, your portfolio should have some examples that are on target, and those illustrations should be shown first, even if they aren’t the best pieces in the book.

Portfolio Organization Strategies

Some sequencing strategies work well in general review situations where presentation circumstances are informal, vague, or even unknown, while other strategies are best implemented for a specific review. Below are different ways a portfolio can be organized and sequenced.

Beethoven’s Fifth (Qualitative Demonstration)

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony serves as a flawless presentation of examples of musical ideas. The music progresses through several different stages, ranging from bold and commanding to atmospheric and ethereal, from fast-paced to slow and deliberate, and from light-hearted to serious and commanding. The Fifth begins with a bold, simple statement to immediately capture the listener’s attention and ends with an equally strong finish that leaves a lasting impression. Like Beethoven’s Fifth, a portfolio should present a well-composed succession of work that demonstrates the best “tonal” range the illustrator is capable of.

Mount Everest (Skills Development)

One of the greatest challenges to mankind, the ascent of Mount Everest presents another example of how a set of skills can build upon one and other in sequence. A “Mount Everest” portfolio like Mount Everest begins with simpler situations, and parallels the learning process as it progresses to much more advanced solutions. The organization of work progresses from your more ordinary illustration examples to unique and extraordinary ones. This kind of portfolio structure must also be organized with illustrations ever increasing in intricacy, which requires forethought and preparation. The final illustrations in the portfolio are examples that demonstrate the most progress of your knowledge.

The Great Pyramid (Assignment Progression)

Differing from Mount Everest, the focus here is on types of assignments rather than skills. This structure involves sequencing work based on the audience it serves, starting with the most general, and progressing to the most specific. Work shown represents a range from the ordinary types of assignments to much more exclusive ones. The “Great Pyramid” portfolio begins with work produced for general audiences and progresses to examples of work created for very specialized markets. The final illustrations in the portfolio, i.e., the top of the pyramid, show the most narrow and selective purposes for the work.

The Swiss Army Knife (Collection Array)

As we all know, Swiss army knives were designed to be multifunctional, and this form of portfolio structure serves the same purpose. However, this portfolio form is more about selecting examples of your work that demonstrate a variety of assignments and less about focusing on a narrow collection of work or creating the ideal sequence of illustrations. Its purpose is to show a great range of experience through the display of single examples of each type of illustration. Graphic design portfolios often use this kind of configuration—one corporate identity, one brochure, etc. The work can also be selected to show a variety of media, range of assignments, an assortment of markets, a diversity of clients, etc.

The Story Book (Narrative Correlation)

Most effective for portfolios that will be presented in person, this organizational strategy follows the organized narrative that you will use to accompany the work. The narrative will emphasis your skills, qualifications, experience, etc. Like an actual illustrated storybook, the arrangement of pieces acts to illustrate the points you wish to get across about yourself in an interview. So, the story, or speech, is developed first. Afterwards, the illustrations are chosen and arranged to parallel the story. The effect is much the same as a Powerpoint presentation. This strategy is very effective at keeping you and your reviewer from being side tracked by any off topic conversation that may occur in an interview.

The Time Machine (Chronological Sequence)

This strategy is strictly based on the chronological order of your work, and like the storybook strategy, it is very efficient method for keeping an interview on track and effective. The arrangement can begin with your earliest example and progress to the most recent, or it can start off with your newest piece on proceed backwards in time to the oldest. Either way, the effect is to take the reviewer through an historical span of the work you have produced and its outcome. Reverse chronological order is better in interviews where the time is short. Time may be so short that the last few pieces in your book may only be glanced at. Chronological order is more effective in interviews where the reviewer has more time. This arrangement leaves the strong impression at the end of a review, while reverse chronological order has its impact at the start of a review.

The Double Sided Coin (Dual Purpose)

Many employers and commissioners of assignments are looking for illustrators and designers that possess more than one area of expertise. This rather specific organizational strategy is for artists who have produced independent bodies of work in two separate visual fields, for example, graphic design assignments and illustration commissions. Essentially, the portfolio is split in half, with each type of work comprising its own section. The work is not comingled, but is arranged and indexed into two separate sequences. This strategy allows flexibility for job searching in two separate but associated fields. The separate sections can be flopped to suit the main purpose for the portfolio review. The advantage of this type of an arrangement is that it avoids leaving a confusing impression with a reviewer about what it is you have done in the past, and what you are offering do for them in the future.