Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Arranging A Professional Illustration Portfolio

So now that you have prioritized a goal, or list of goals you would like to accomplish.’ve decided what it is you would like your portfolio to do for you, in other words, you have a strategy in mind. And…you’ve selected the format, or formats, you feel you will need to be prepared to achieve your goals. And…you’ve taken advantage of resources that are available to provide the best portfolio formats for what you need. And…you have acquired the portfolios, equipment, software, output papers, etc. And…you have created a body of work to choose from, which actually was the first hard part. Now comes the next hard part, which is selecting and arranging the work you wish to present.

© 2013 Don Arday.
The proper arrangement of your work can have a profound effect on the reviewer who looks at it. So it is important to spend time selecting, revising, and reviewing the order in which you place your work. In galleries and museums there is actually a person who’s job it is to do just that, the curator. You must think of your portfolio as a sort of traveling exhibition or gallery, with you taking on the job of a curator. Your portfolio will be putting on a show for the reviewers, whether you will be present as the master of ceremonies or not.

Coming up with the right arrangement for your work can be more difficult than it may seem. What makes it difficult is the fact that there are no hard and fast rules to doing it. However, there are some guidelines that can be quite helpful, and those guidelines ring true when it comes to how a portfolio is reviewed in reference to a reviewer’s attention span. So forthwith are some suggestions and points to consider when arranging your work for your portfolio.

Subject Matter

The display of subject matter is an extremely important consideration when sequencing work. Although color schemes, picture formats, and style traits will influence the opinion of a reviewer, subject matter, a.k.a. image content, is the number one center of their attention. A reviewer will examine all aspects of the illustrations for their content. For realistic illustrations, they will note the figures or characters shown; how they are dressed; their posture and expression; the setting they are placed in; the objects that are situated within the setting; the attitude, mood, and atmosphere that is being visualized; the narrative the illustration is communicating; etc. For more stylized, non-figurative, or technical forms of illustration, reviewers will focus on composition; the representation or stylization of forms; the choice of elements or objects included; the juxtaposition of objects; if idea based, the concept the illustration is communicating; etc.

Depending on what the overall desired purpose of the portfolio may be, the selection and arrangement of subject matter can vary greatly. Still, for general showing situations it is best to include a range of subjects and settings. Alternatively, showing illustrations produced for different clients or purposes is another way to show a range of imagery. Even in situations where an illustrator’s work is extremely specialized, it is possible to present it to its best advantage by separating like images from one and other in the portfolio sequence. It is particularly important to avoid any kind of qualitative comparison. For example, let’s say that an illustrator has two portraits of famous musicians in their portfolio. If the portraits are shown adjacent to one and other, or one after the other, a reviewer will invariably pass judgment on them by picking the one they feel to be most successful, thus diminishing the value of the other one. It is also important to avoid any quantitative figuring. In other words, avoid giving a reviewer the opportunity to note that your portfolio has five of one type of illustration and only one of another type.

Color Schemes

Color schemes are an important indicator of the visual range that an illustrator possesses. So an illustrator that uses the same color palette over and over again will be less attractive than one that shows versatility when it comes to color usage. Now, as illustrators and artists, we are predisposed to favor certain color and color treatments, and that is perfectly alright, but when it comes to the arrangement of works in a portfolio, there is no need to overemphasize this by, lets say, placing all the cool colored pieces together, and likewise grouping all the warm colored ones, or any other specific color schemed works together in the portfolio. By disbursing the order of works with similar color palettes, a portfolio can appear to present a greater range of breadth concerning color. If works that use a similar color palette are shown in an adjacent order, a reviewer will get the impression that the illustrator has a distinct color bias.

Series Works

A series is comprised of two or more illustrations produced for one assignment, like a brochure, a storybook, an editorial article; or illustrations produced for a set of like assignments, such as a book jacket series, poster series, etc. There are two common misconceptions when it comes to showing an illustrated series in a portfolio. The first is that the entire series must be shown, and the second is that the series must be shown together and in order. Almost invariably, a series, and especially a series that is comprised of several pieces, is going to have one or more pieces that are not as successful as others in the series. Although the thought of editing a series is a hard pill to swallow, it will not only strengthen the appearance of the series, but also the look of the overall portfolio.

Even harder than editing a series down to its best pieces, is the notion of splitting up the series when sequencing the works in a portfolio. A series shown all together has a tendency to interrupt the natural progression of how a reviewer moves from one illustration to another. Also, a series of work shown together is apt to become a dominating part of a portfolio, its own section so to speak. I have seen portfolios that contain 15 pieces total that included two series of 4 pieces each. Shown in succession it called attention to the fact that the illustrator was only presenting 9 assignments. In this instance, the progression of work in the portfolio would have appeared much more even by splitting up one or both of the series.

Style Traits

Many illustrators have a style, and within that style there is usually a range of variation. This is only natural since as illustrators we are constantly striving to improve on our craft. These subtle variations that occur naturally in the work should be recognized and considered when arranging a portfolio. One example of a stylistic variant could be an evolution of the color palette that an illustrator uses. Another may involve a deliberate stylistic adjustment to suit the display space an illustration is produced for, e.g., simplifying a color palette for an illustration that will be published on the web, or using a higher keyed color scheme with less detail for an illustrated logo. It is perfectly acceptable for marketing reasons to include these types of variants in a single portfolio.

For young illustrators who are still exploring several manifestations of their style, it is particularly important to present work that embodies this exploration in a manner that actually emphasizes its variety. This also applies to service illustrators who work in many styles.


There are three choices regarding the page orientation of a portfolio; 1) landscape; 2) portrait; or 3) a square. The rule of thumb is to go with the picture orientation that is most predominant in your work. So, if you do a lot of full-page editorial work, the portrait format is probably best. If you illustrate scenic landscape settings then the landscape format will work best. The idea behind choosing an orientation is to allow for each image to be displayed at a respectable size. That may be all well and good, but which orientation should you choose if your illustrations are both portrait and landscape in nature? The simplest solution would be to go with a square shaped portfolio. It may be the simplest, but from a practical standpoint it isn’t the easiest. A square portfolio would most likely have to be custom built, and digital displays, like tablets, simply aren’t made to be square, so for reasons of practicality, most illustrators choose either portrait or landscape.

Having made the choice one way or another, work that doesn’t match the orientation of the portfolio is somewhat compromised when seen in the wrong setting. For instance, a landscape-oriented illustration that is displayed on a portrait-oriented page will appear much smaller and somewhat less significant than the portrait illustrations that fit the format so well. There are two alternatives to correct this situation; 1) make all the portrait illustrations smaller to match the size of the landscape illustrations; or 2) position the landscape oriented illustration on its side. This will require the portfolio to be turned by a reviewer to view the landscape piece. Obviously, neither is a great solution. I recommend the second alternative, and here’s why. The illustration is more important than the portfolio, in other words the most important consideration is to make the illustration look the very best it can. By turning it sideways, the illustration can be shown at the same scale as the other portrait-oriented works, and it will be larger and more impressive on its individual page.

Nitty-Gritty Considerations

In addition to the overriding arrangement considerations that have already been discussed, there are a number of other considerations that are nonetheless as important.

1. The scale areas of the illustrations displayed should approximate one and other. Since nearly all illustrations have different proportional dimensions, this may require size adjustments to individual illustrations to make them appear consistent. Illustrations that appear larger will also be interpreted as having more importance.

2. Illustrations that are displayed adjacently, or that follow one after the other, should compliment each other. Strive to achieve some sort of visual or contextual transition.

3. Illustrations should be displayed at a respectable scale. White space or border should not dominate the “real estate of the page”.

4. Original artwork should never be incorporated into a portfolio. However, an original or two can accompany a portfolio when there is an in-person interview.

5. Illustrations should be accompanied by, but not dominated by, text that provides information about the illustration to support it for situations when you are not present.

6. The name of the illustrator should be on each page or file in case a reviewer removes individual illustrations from the portfolio.

7. Logos or identity imagery that appears on a page along with an illustration should be treated in a manner whereby it does not compete or diminish the illustration it accompanies. A small graphic or monogram can work to reinforce branding, but if too large or placed improperly, it can also cause a visual distraction.

8. Limit the number of orientation changes, or turning of the portfolio that may be required on the part of the reviewer. In other words, group several portrait or landscape oriented illustrations together to minimize turning. Note: For digital tablets, it may be advisable to lock the page orientation so the images will remain in one constant position.

9. Know whether the choice of illustrations and their arrangement in the portfolio will have to be changed frequently, or can remain constant. Some illustrators create different arrangement schemes to suit different types of interviews or clients.

10. Be very selective, “less, is more”. If two or more illustrations are demonstrating a particular subject, then consider choosing only one of them to represent it. The same goes for demonstrating certain skills, showing specific clients, etc.

11. Smaller illustrations, like spot illustrations, should be grouped together on one page provided they relate to, or compliment one and other.

Some Handy Arrangement Tips

1. Lay the illustrations out in a space that will allow them to be seen all at once to view them gallery style. It will be much easier to arrange and see how individual illustrations coordinate with one and other.

2. For purposes of analysis only, group illustrations by category, either by subject, color, style, series, or orientation, to recognize the similarities and differences among the illustrations.

3. After arranging the illustrations in order from beginning to end, reverse the order, and then review your choices again.

4. Go through the exercise of forcing yourself to eliminate one piece from your portfolio. By doing this, you can identify a work that may be unsuitable, or the first one to be replaced when you introduce a new illustration.

5. Consider sectioning for organizational purposes. This works well for portfolios that contain many pieces. Sections such as magazine, advertising, book, etc. could be established to help a portfolio appear easier to review and more organized to a reviewer.

Job Interview Preparation

After sending out a cover letter with your resume or making a phone call and possibly sending out some select samples of your work, comes the interview. Contrary to what many artists think, the quality of a portfolio is not the exclusive thing that will land you a job. You may have heard the saying “the work speaks for itself”, which may or may not be true, but most certainly, the work can’t speak for you. You will have to be interviewed, and how well you prepare and perform during an interview, will determine whether you are, in the end, hired for a position.

Pre Interview Preparation

1)    Do Your Research - Prepare by researching the organization. Get to know the kind of work they do and the markets they serve. Know who their clients are and look at examples of work they have produced. Use the most current information possible. Do your research before you make any contact with the organization.
2)    Know Your Interviewer - Get the name of the person you will be interviewing with. Note whether they are a Human Resources (HR) person, or a creative person. Know their job title and what they do. If they are a creative person then research the particular work they have produced. 
3)    Research the Job - Begin with the job title. Try to learn things about the specific job being advertised. E.g., Art Director, you should know what an art director does. Read job descriptions carefully to direct your preparation. Also research the industry. E.g., Flexographic Publishing, do you know what that industry does?
4)    Match Your Suitability – Determine how well you qualify for the job. Define criteria determine where, and what kinds of jobs, to apply to. It may be location, size of company, type of work, benefits, etc. Assess your strengths and weaknesses relative to the job description. Don’t be discouraged; it is rare that any applicant for a position is a “perfect match”. 
Special note: You may not find out the specifics of the job you are interviewing for until you are actually in the interview.

General Preparation

1)    Know Where to Go - Obtain maps and any special directions well in advance of the interview time. Know the floor and office number, parking instructions, etc. It is enough to worry about the actual interview without having to worry about a parking space.
2)    Be on Time - Take the trip to the company location in advance if necessary. Always overestimate the amount of time it will take to get there. If you are early, you can always go into the restroom, to wash and collect your thoughts.
3)    Dress for Success - It is not necessary for you to try to know or mimic the culture of the company you are interviewing with, i.e., Hawaiian shirts, etc. Neat, professional dress or even suit clothing is preferable to casual. If you arrive overdressed, it will look like you have another important interview to go to afterward.
4)    Rehearse - Check over your portfolio. Review some questions to prepare your answers. The more interviews you do the better you will get at interviewing.
5)    Gather Your Materials - Create a checklist of items to bring, directions, money for parking, portfolio, business cards, resume, sample leave behinds, note pad, datebook, etc.

The Interview

1)    Plan on 15 to 30 Minutes - There is not much time to tell all the great things about yourself or your work that you could, or all the clever anecdotes you would like to tell. It will either seem like it only lasted two minutes or like it lasted two hours depending upon how it goes. 
2)    Introduce Yourself - If you encounter people at different times, be sure to tell them who you are and perhaps use an identifier to refresh their memory such as “We spoke last week” or “I just graduated from RIT” or “Bob Dorsey recommended I meet you.”
3)    Remember Names - It sounds simple, but it’s one of the biggest mistakes inexperienced job applicants make. Remember or write the name down of all people you interact with from the receptionist to the interviewer, and others you may be introduced to. Ask for business cards, this will help when it comes to spelling a name properly in any further correspondence.
4)    Your Elevator Speech - Compose a single or two sentence sales pitch that promotes you and your work very positively. The answer to “Why hire you?” including your strengths, abilities, and what is unique about you. Now is the time to promote yourself.
5)    Keep the Conversation Going - Answer questions concisely. Be conversational, but try not to be long winded. Should lulls in the conversation occur, you could direct the attention of the interviewer to your portfolio.
6)    The Portfolio - Your portfolio is your interview godsend. It will keep the interviewers attention on your work and off of you. It is your visual aid, and it will help you tell your story. It will preempt a host of questions, but remember the portfolio is not a replacement for you. It may provide the visuals, but you will provide the voice and movement.
7)    Critique Etiquette - You are going to receive a critique of your work, and in some cases it may be a type of harsh critique you may not have expected or were prepared for. It is important not to be taken off guard or to let your emotions flare or send the interview into a negative spiral. Even though you may think the interviewer is being offensive, you should always maintain a professional demeanor. Conversely, know how to politely take compliments; you will probably get a fair share of them.
8)    Ask Questions - Based on the research you have done about the company, you should ask questions about the number employees, the work spaces, thinks that you observe, etc.
9)    Concluding the Interview - There are several courses of action that could occur at the end of an interview. Always be polite and professional no matter what the outcome may be.
1)    You are told your work is spectacular and you are offered a job.
             You can ask for time to consider the offer. 
          A week is not unreasonable. 
2)    You are told someone else will need to see your portfolio, you are offered a second interview.
                            You should consider this a good sign.
3)    You are told that you will be contacted in the near future.
   Ask when you might expect to be contacted. 
   If you do not hear something you can contact the company.
4)    You are told that the firm is not hiring at the moment.
   Ask if you can check back with them in a month or so, 
   and ask if they, could recommend where else you might interview.
5)    You are told that your work is impressive but not the kind needed by 
      that firm.
   Ask if they, could recommend where else you might interview.
6)    You are told that you are not ready for a position at that company.
   Ask what would be required for you to obtain a position there.
7)    You are told you need to go back to school.
   Ask specifically what your deficiencies were, and what they would 
   recommend for you to improve your portfolio or presentation.
If no suggestion or final summary is offered by the interviewer then be prepared to ask about the potential of obtaining a job, or recommendations of other companies you should contact, or suggestions that would improve your portfolio, etc.

The Follow Up

1)    Following Up – Write a note, send a letter, or an email thanking you interviewer for the interview and any useful comments or help they might have given you. If you were applying for an open position, you can call back after a week or so to inquire if the position is still open. 
2)    Checking Back – If there is no position or it gets filled, you can still approach the company after a few months have passed as long as you have added new work to your portfolio.

Question Preparation

The following are examples of typical questions asked during interviews. You can prepare for upcoming interviews by giving some thought to how you would answer them.

             Corporate Questions

1)    What do you know about our company?
2)    Why are you interested in working at our company?
3)    What skills or expertise do you have to offer that could benefit our company?
4)    Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?
5)    Do you have any experience working on a team or collaborating with other artists?
6)    How well versed are you in business software applications, i.e., Excel?
7)    What two or three things would be most important to you in your job?
8)    What motivates you to do a good job?
9)    What do you see yourself doing in three to five years?
10) What would you say are your strengths, and your weaknesses?
11) What are your salary requirements?
12) Are you willing to undergo a physical, psychological, and/or drug test?
13) Are you willing to work as contract laborer for a period of time before being hired as a full time employee?
14) Are you looking at other job possibilities?
15) Do you know anyone who works for us?
16) Do you have any questions to ask during the interview?

             Field of Practice Questions

1)    Why did you choose illustration as your course of study?
2)    How much time on average do you put into one of your illustrations?
3)    When given an assignment problem, how do you go about solving it?
4)    How did you execute this illustration? (About a specific piece in your portfolio)
5)    What would you call your style of illustration?
6)    Have any of the pieces in you portfolio been in competitions?
7)    How familiar are you with image-based software, i.e., Photoshop, Illustrator?
8)    How familiar are you with page layout software, i.e., InDesign, Quark?
9)    How familiar are you with web creation software, i.e., Flash, Dreamweaver?
10) How familiar are you with animation software, i.e., Cinema 4D, Final 
      Cut Pro?

Be prepared for improperly phrased or baiting questions. These type of questions get asked more commonly than one would think, especially during interviews that happen over lunch or dinner where alcohol is present. By knowing how a question should be phrased properly it will be possible for you to restate it before answering it.

             Improper Questions  Proper Version (In Italics)

1)    What nationality are you?                        
          Are you entitled to work in the US?
2)    Where were your parents born?               
          No proper version.
3)    How old are you?                                    
         Do you meet our company minimum age requirement of 21?
4)    What is your marital status?                     
         Can you work overtime or travel?
5)    Do you plan to have a family?                 
         No proper version.
6)    Are you living with anyone?                    
         No proper version.
7)    What clubs do you belong to?                  
         Do you belong to any industry organizations?
8)    Do you have any disabilities?                   
         Do you need special accommodations to perform your job?
9)    Do you have any chronic health conditions?
   Are you willing to undergo a physical or drug test?
10) Have you ever been arrested?                  
         Have you been convicted of (a crime relating to job performance)? E.g., cashier – stealing?
11) What is your sex or preference?               
         No proper version.
12) What is your height and weight?              
         Do you meet our standards to perform the job of an airline host/hostess, mover, diver, etc.?
13) What religion do you practice?                 
         No proper version.
14) Are you Republican or Democrat?           
         No proper version.
15) How do you spend your spare time?        
         No proper version.

Minimalist Illustration In Advertising

Although we don’t think of illustrators as being minimalist artists, or an illustration as having minimalist characteristics, none-the-less, there are great examples of illustrative minimalist work out there. This is particularly evident in advertising where an illustration is used to fulfill the need to visualize a concept by way of a style of rendering using a particular type of media. In most cases this means creating visual interest and also attractiveness, usually by adding details and embellishments to fully depict the concept. Conversely, minimalist illustration goes in the opposite direction by taking subject matter that is present in a concept and rendering it with less detail than it has in reality, while retaining some form of specific reference to it.

Minimalist Illustration Vs. Conventional Symbol Design

Minimalist illustration diverges from symbolic design as pertains to the purpose and intention of an image. Even so, the difference in appearance between the two forms of visualization may not be so apparent. Although they are similar physically, and also with regard to an amount of detail, or lack thereof, and both involve some form of stylization and simplification of a subject, each functions in a different manner. Minimalist illustration seeks to specify a single subject even though the subject is rendered in a symbolic manner, while symbol design tries to represent the subject generically on the whole. A comparison of the two images below demonstrates this.

Minimalist illustration for Pantone Color Systems. Agency, Young & Rubicam,

Symbol Design for Gweezy. Agency, Florin Gabor Studio, Montreal.

Minimalist illustration for self-promotion. Agency, Josh Brill Studio.

Symbol design for Puget Sound Partnership. Agency, Monumental
Design House.

Minimalist Composition Vs. Conventional Composition

Conventional illustration composition presents a subject or narrative within a contextual setting, or at the very least, suggests one through compositional devices, even if the imagery is not fully rendered out. A minimalist illustration appears independent of a setting or composed environment, usually in a void or non-suggestive space. All focus is on the subject as an object that acts as a conveyance for the message content.

Client, Animaster Animation School. Agency, Rediffusion DYR, Bangalore.
Client, Animaster Animation School. Rediffusion DYR, Bangalore.

Client, Sports Association for the Handicapped. Agency, Age Comunicações, 
São Paulo.
Client, Sports Association for the Handicapped. Agency, Age Comunicações, 
São Paulo.

Client, Sensodyne Toothpaste. Agency, Grey Advertising, São Paulo.

Client, Sensodyne Toothpaste. Agency, Grey Advertising, São Paulo.

Minimalist Advertising Vs. Conventional Advertising

Up until now the material presented here has focused on the form and appearance of minimalist advertising illustration, but there is an underlying purpose for its use as it relates to advertising visualization. To editorialize, conventional advertising seeks to attract, educate, explain, and persuade a viewer to subscribe, believe in, advocate for, support, and/or buy a product service or message. Minimalist advertising is based on the same principals with a couple of exceptions. It’s alternative purpose is to challenge the viewer to participate in translating the concept behind an image, entertain the viewer by editorializing a message through the presentation of an image, and to influence a viewer, even a non-visually educated one, to recognize the visual form of an image and read it as verbal narrative message. As such, marketing by using minimalist advertising encourages conceptual thinking within a viewer. This is shown to have a profound influence among those audiences that respond to conceptual coaxing.

Client, Jeep. Agency, BBDO Proximity, Malaysia.

Client, Jeep. Agency, BBDO Proximity, Malaysia.

Client, Alka Seltzer. Agency, BBDO, Paris.

Client, Alka Seltzer. Agency, BBDO, Paris.

Client, Canon Powershot. Agency, Giovanni+DraftFCB, Brazil.

Client, Canon Powershot. Agency, Giovanni+DraftFCB, Brazil.

Client, Federal Express. Agency, BBDO, New York.

Client, Federal Express. Agency, BBDO, New York.

Client, Polo Mints. Agency, JWT, United Arab Emirates.

Client, Polo Mints. Agency, JWT, United Arab Emirates.

Client, Levis Slim Jeans. Agency, JWT, Mumbai.

Client, Levis Slim Jeans. Agency, JWT, Mumbai.

Client, Corre Cutia Bookstore. Agency, Lápisraro Comunicação, Belo 

Client, Corre Cutia Bookstore. Agency, Lápisraro Comunicação, Belo 

Client, IKEA. Agency, JWT, Warsaw.

Client, IKEA. Agency, JWT, Warsaw.

Client, Listerine. Agency, JWT, San Juan.

Client, Listerine. Agency, JWT, San Juan.

Client, Staedtler. Agency, Simple, Santiago.

Client, Staedtler. Agency, Simple, Santiago.

Client, Smart. Agency, Conexão, Rio de Janeiro.

Client, Smart. Agency, Conexão, Rio de Janeiro.

Client, Oogmark Opticians. Agency, LG&F, Brussels.

Client, Oogmark Opticians. Agency, LG&F, Brussels.

Client, McDonalds. Agency, TBWA Paris.

Client, McDonalds. Agency, TBWA Paris

Client, Nabisco Oreo. Agency, Pixonal, Dokki Giza.

Client, Nabisco Oreo. Agency, Pixonal, Dokki Giza.

Minimalist Fees Vs. Conventional Fees

A debate exists concerning fees as related to minimalist illustration and conventional illustration. One school of thought believes that illustrations should be priced according to what is involved in their execution, i.e., the amount of time and detail they take to render, while another school of thought believes they should be priced according to the value of their concept. Rightfully so, minimalist illustration subscribes to the latter, taking a cue from graphic designer’s fees for logo and symbol design. Although a minimalist illustration may not take long to render, in most cases there has been a substantial investment of time in its conception and design preparation for execution.