Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Resources To Help You Create A Professional Portfolio

The number one error that young illustrators and recent graduates make is underestimating the extraordinary power a quality-based, professional portfolio presentation can make in a job or freelance solicitation interview. I have personally witnessed where the failure to invest an additional $100 in a portfolio has resulted in a job offer that was thousands of dollars less than what the work and the artist deserved. For some unknown reason, the importance of a portfolio’s appearance, with reference to its contents, is grossly underestimated.

© 2013 Don Arday.
It may only be human nature, but human nature is unwavering. Value and worth are presented materially, and potential employers view portfolios in relation to potential worth. An applicant must present himself or herself at the same level that an employer views their own business status or higher. As the saying goes, “first impressions last a lifetime”. Portfolios presentations that appear to be in an economic bracket below that of the potential employers will not be considered seriously, no matter how good the work may be.

The following is a list of resources that cover the three major formats for portfolio presentations; 1) paper portfolios, 2) digital portfolios, and 3) e-portfolios or remotely accessed virtual portfolios.

Paper Portfolios

Custom Portfolios

Brewer Cantalmo
Brewer Cantalmo have been manufacturing portfolios for professional artists and illustrators since 1928. With a full line of superb quality products, and unlimited custom manufacturing, Brewer Cantalmo is one of the premier portfolio providers in North America. We are manufacturers selling worldwide directly to the public, There is no minimum quantity required and the typical turnaround time for a custom portfolio is about 2 weeks.

House of Portfolios
Thomas Lombardo, founded The House of Portfolios over thirty years ago. He began his apprenticeship in Italy and relocated to the USA where in 1990 he single handedly established his own company "The House of Portfolios" in NYC. He is a master craftsman in the top echelon of the custom-made portfolio industry.

Bella Forte
Extremely exclusive and highly crafted, Bridget, the company founder, began her bookbinding career over twenty five years ago in Italy. After studying the arts of bookbinding, papermaking and book restoration abroad, she returned to the US and opened her first bindery in Center City Philadelphia.

Klo Portfolios
Tarlan Seyedfarshi began Klo Portfolios to customize portfolios by size, color, material, with the treatment desired by the artist. Klo does all the rest. Typography and custom graphics can be applied to the portfolio binder of case. Every portfolio book is unique, handcrafted and injected with lots of love and care.

Etsy Portfolios
Etsy the web community for artists and craftspeople has numerous listings for custom portfolio cases constructed from a wide variety of materials that range from fabrics, to woods, to metals. And although the producers of these portfolio cases and binders are “home Grown”, there may be the perfect solution for a portfolio just waiting to be purchased and put to use.

Readymade Portfolios

Portfolios and Art Cases
Portfolios and Art Cases has specialized in prefabricated portfolios since 1995. Their inventory comprises an extensive selection of portfolio types for both flat art and rolled at presentation, storage, and transportation. Portfolios can be easily selected and ordered through their website.

Archival Methods
Archival Methods manufactures and offers a wide range of professional presentation portfolios. Customer service and delivery times set Archival Methods apart form their competitors. They offer complete portfolio solutions such as portfolio and board combinations, onxy portfolios, etc. Their service is professional and pricing is extremely competitive.

Light Impressions Direct
Established in 1969, and long having been the first choice for professional photographers and museums, Light Impressions offers the world's largest variety of fine archival storage, display and presentation materials for artwork and documents, negatives, transparencies, CDs, photographs, etc. Light Impressions is considered to have set the standard for readymade archival portfolios in the US.

Pina Zangaro
For the past 24 years Pina Zangaro have been redefining the way the world presents artwork and documents by designing and making innovative, attention-grabbing and functional portfolio books, binders, boxes and related accessories for the presentation and storage of artwork and documents.

Digital Portfolios


Apple/Apple App Store
For Apple hardware devices turn to the Apple Store. The iPad has now become an acceptable portfolio presentation format for certain situations and settings. Its size is just large enough for display. The iPad Mini is also available, but due to it’s smaller size, is inferior to its larger sibling. For apps to support the pad hardware use the Apple App Store. Although not covered here, a future blog will go into detail about specific portfolio apps.

Although the name implies a Mac exclusive inventory, MacMall is a great place to get tablets and products made by other manufacturers including Samsung, Lenovo, Acer, Viewsonic, etc. PCM, formerly PCMall sells tablets manufactured by nine companies including Dell, Toshiba, Asus, Motion Computing, etc. Apps for these tablets use the Android operating system.

Portable Storage

CD’s, flash cards, and jump drives are available from local electronics stores or online from vendors like Amazon.com. These devices have the storage capacity to easily accommodate most portfolio presentations. Software to prepare the presentation for remote viewing like PowerPoint and Keynote are available from Microsoft and Apple.

Picture Frames

Best Buy
Digital picture frames offer a lower cost alternative to using a tablet to display a body of work. However, they don’t offer much in the way of versatile functionality. These frames are made by a variety of companies, some which also manufacture tablets like Viewsonic, Sony, HP, etc.


Free/Limited Free Portfolio Sites

There are a number of sites that allow an illustrator to upload a body of work. Some are totally free, while others place a limitation on the number of pieces that can be placed on the site without incurring a fee. Many of the sites provide a number of resources such as categorization, subject search engines, direct contact sales, and order taking mechanisms, etc. Researching, choosing and actually using the right portfolio sites may be a daunting task, but one thing to remember is ”it’s the company you keep” that will reflect back on you and your work. Choose those sites that project a personality you are comfortable with, and are directed to the markets you wish to reach.

Note: The site links below are for portfolio sites that do not require an illustrator to sign up webpage hosting or use unique website building features. Those sites will be featured in a future post.

Paid Portfolio Sites

There are several paid subscription portfolio sites to choose from, and the cost of having a listing on them can vary considerably, anywhere from $300 a year to upwards of $2000 per annum. Of course, the cost relates to the amount of service these sites provide. The main difference between a paid site and a free site is that the paid sites aggressively e-market your work, while the free sites do not. With the cost there are also amenities that may be well worth it. Paid sites can provide very specific individual data and demographics about who has viewed your portfolio and when. And, some paid sites can even provide the company and profile information as to who looked at your work.

Logo Portfolio Sites

Website Hosts

Any list of resources in this category will have no end to it as there are new hosting sites literally going live on a daily basis. There are many reasons that go into choosing a specific website host, ease of use, capacity or bandwidth, reliability, pricing structure, accessibility, web identity services, security, etc. Ease of use or flexibility of the website building engines provided by these sites may be the deciding factor. What is more important is to secure the proper domain name, one that will be uniquely explanatory and identifiable, i.e., your own name. A proper domain name will assist potential clients and employers to more easily locate your portfolio on the web.

Note: This is a partial listing. It is meant for the purposes of getting you started. Many of these listings are not specifically designed for illustrators, but are popular hosting sites on the web.

Disclaimer: The list of website links is provided to be a resource for illustrators. It was not intended for the purpose of advertising or endorsing one source over another. Nor is it by any means complete. There are many other excellent sources not mentioned here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How To Arrange A Professional Portfolio

So now that you have prioritized a goal, or list of goals you would like to accomplish. And...you’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.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Why You Need More Than One Type Of Portfolio

Illustrators, designers, artists, and photographers must all employ a portfolio to organize and display their work. However, the way in which to do so, and the purpose for doing so, can vary considerably. Understandably, there are a number of commercially available standardized formats to choose from to create a portfolio. Although all portfolios share the commonality of offering a sequential display of work, there are distinct format differences that function most effectively for each of the various artistic disciplines. These portfolio formats range from centuries old archival folio styles to today’s most contemporary, virtual application driven displays and web hosted presentations.

© 2013 Don Arday.
These days, illustrators often employ several different types of formats in their arsenal of portfolios. And even if the content of several formats of portfolios remains the same, it will benefit an illustrator to take advantage of the flexibility that is afforded by a range of portfolio formats to meet the viewing demands of today’s clients and employers. Whether or not it is permanent employment that is being sought after, or it is freelance commissions, it will most likely be necessary to have more than one hard copy portfolio, and more than one digital or virtual portfolio.

Portfolio Formats

To cover a gamut of requirements, situations, and opportunities, there are three types of portfolios used by illustrators.

1) A physical paper-based, hard copy portfolio.
2) A digital application-based portfolio for a portable hardware device.
3) A virtual web-hosted e-portfolio.

Each portfolio type has it’s own function and is suited to a specific manner of display and presentation setting.

Paper Portfolios

Although there are many different manifestations of paper or hard copy portfolios, they mainly fall into two formats, those that are a book or binder, and those that are a presentation box, case, or container. The two formats function quite differently with each having it’s advantages and disadvantages. Paper portfolios are clearly superior when used in person-to-person interview settings.

Binder Format
Just as the name implies, a binder or bound portfolio functions much the same way as a picture book or magazine does. Except for the first and last page of the portfolio, the binder is made up of pages that form double page spreads--one “left hand reader” and one “right hand reader”. So both sides of the binder have to be taken into consideration when designing and arranging the visual and informational materials. Due to this bound book format there are two presentation possibilities. One is to have two opposing images, and the other is to have an image on one side with information on the opposite side.

  • Many quality professional prefab bound portfolios are available in a number of attractive and durable materials.
  • Binders are lightweight and compact.
  • Prints can be inserted into acetate sleeves with no additional mounting or backing needed.
  • A bound portfolio maintains a fixed order of work well.
  • Vendors are available who can create one-of-a-kind custom ordered bound portfolios using unique materials.

  • Altering the order of work and adding or replacing work is difficult to accomplish without a domino effect occurring.
  • The acetate sleeves are fragile and tend to scuff and crease easily.
  • The glossy reflectance of the acetate pages can be an annoyance in certain interview or presentation settings.
  • There are extreme quality variances in the manufacture of prefab bound portfolios. Those with vinyl sleeves should not be used.
  • It is very difficult to choose and arrange illustrations on opposite pages that will coordinate and compliment one another.
  • It is difficult to present to several people at once or in a large group setting.
  • Binders and bound books are limited by the capacity of the number of pages or the width of their spine.

Presentation Case Format
Presentation cases or folios hold single sheets or panels that display an image or set of related images. They can be one sided or can have imagery on the front side and information on back, or vice versa. A folio can be presented by separating one panel from another, or it can function much the same way as a binder by flipping panels as they are reviewed. Case formats consist of two part boxes with a lid and a bottom, or “clamshell” case with the lid attached to the bottom.

  • The work can be seen one illustration at a time or one image per panel.
  • Altering the order of work and adding, removing, or replacing work can be accomplished on the fly with no difficulty occurring.
  • Portfolio cases can hold other promotional materials as well as the illustration panels.
  • The individual panels of images can be displayed gallery style in a large office or conference room setting.
  • The work can be passed out to several people in a group review setting.
  • Individual pieces can be left behind for job or freelance opportunities without compromising the integrity of the portfolio.
  • The substantial impression of the portfolio can impress potential employers or freelance commissioners.
  • Due to the simplicity of their construction, portfolio cases are easier to customize than bound portfolios.

  • Portfolio cases weigh more and are more difficult to transport or ship.
  • Cases are limited in capacity by their depth.
  • There are fewer professional prefab portfolio cases available.
  • Individual panels must be reinforced since they can be separated from the protection of the portfolio case.
  • Individual panels require additional time and expense to produce.
  • Panels require an additional number of materials and level of craftsmanship to produce.

Digital Portfolios

Digital portfolios have not only are a necessary element of an illustrator’s marketing materials but have become a requested portfolio presentation format. Clients and potential employers have made the conversion from hard copy paper portfolios to digital ones, especially in situations where commissions and jobs are being awarded by national and internationally employers. PowerPoint, Keynote, and Portable Document Format (PDF) portfolios are the most common of the digital formats. Digital portfolios are finite files that are application–based and exist on some form of storage device.

  • Outside of hardware and software expenses, a portfolio can be produced without any further expense.
  • A portfolio can be endlessly duplicated at very little cost using CD’s and Flash storage devices.
  • Changing the appearance of the portfolio, altering the order of work, adding, removing, or replacing work can be accomplished with no difficulty.
  • Customized versions of a portfolio can be created for individual client situations.
  • Using email to deliver a portfolio to inquiring clients and employers can eliminate expensive shipping costs.

  • Hardware and software used for the sole purpose of presenting a portfolio makes the endeavor very costly.
  • Digital portfolios are vulnerable to computer storage or hardware failure.
  • Illustrators must know how to use whatever application software they use to create the portfolio.
  • There can be incompatibilities with the software, display, typographic choices, operating system, etc. between the workflow system that was used to generate the portfolio and a reviewers computer system.
  • Digital devices require an environment that is conducive to the limitations of their display, e.g., the iPad display functions very poorly in bright light.
  • Portable digital display devices present format and size limitations, whereas paper portfolios are 100% customizable.


The latest trend in illustration portfolios is the e-portfolio, which is a totally virtual extension of a digital portfolio, but with one crucial difference.  Although it seems e-portfolios are the same as digital portfolios, the difference lies in the fact that an e-portfolio does not really use an proprietary, encapsulated software program such as PowerPoint, nor does it exist as a standardized format digital file. E-portfolios exist, not in the form of a finite file, but in the form of a website or blog, or within a directory listing (like on Behance.com), etc.

  • E-portfolios are very low or no cost distribution vehicles for providing worldwide access to your work.
  • An e-portfolio is out there and easily accessible on the web.
  • E-portfolios are very easy to alter, edit, and update.
  • The location of an e-portfolios can have a specific URL identity with the name of the illustrator or their company as the domain title.
  • A large number of works can be shown.
  • Work can be organized into categories and accompanied by descriptive texts.
  • There are many web-based venues available to “host” an e-portfolio.
  • It is easy to link an e-portfolio address to a social media site as a reference source.
  • Receiving feedback on the work presented in an e-portfolio is simple. 

  • An e-portfolio is out there and accessible on the web where copyright and image security is hard to maintain.
  • E-portfolios must conform to the format and directory access of hosting sites blogs, and/or social networks.
  • Work may be reviewed out of order, skimmed, or partially accessed with little or no continuity.
  • The portfolio must compete with all the work that is shown on web-based hosting sites that serve as directories for illustrators.
  • Many web venues are open ended, so anyone can participate making it is difficult to distinguish a professional or BFA degreed illustrator from a hobbyist or novice.
  • Unless listed as a unique domain an e-portfolio can be extremely impersonal.
  • The image quality is subject to the settings of the reviewers digital display system whether it be a phone, tablet or desktop.
  • There is no way to definitively identify who has reviewed an e-portfolio.
  • Negative or unsolicited feedback on e-portfolio blog or a social networking site may be difficult to manage or dispel.


Illustrators are now required to stock an arsenal of portfolio types for a wide range of presentation venues. Potential employers and freelance commissioners of illustration are using all forms of access to review work for the purpose of offering a job or commission to an illustrator.

When it comes to marketing illustration successfully, there is no one format that will guarantee a winning result for an illustrator. There are no short cuts, quick fixes, or sure things. It takes a coordinated set of portfolio credentials and hard work to create the greatest potential for successful job opportunities to take place.  

Monday, January 9, 2017

Strategies For Organizing Your Portfolio

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.