I’ve been getting a lot of emails lately asking me for portfolio advice, so I thought it might be helpful to make a general post on the topic.
When it comes to building a portfolio of work – to show online or to a potential employer – the most important thing to remember is that originality is key. Having work that looks really similar to another artist (especially a well known artist) isn’t always the best direction to head in. It’s perfectly acceptable to be influenced and inspired by awesome work – but it is NEVER okay to closely imitate a style you’ve seen before. (Yours won’t look as good as the original, and it will come off as a cheap attempt to look “good.”) Have a unique voice and be your own artist!
In my opinion, the best way to look “good” is to fill your portfolio with work that you love creating. If you’re super into animals – draw all the animals you can. If it’s patterns that get you going, repeat away! Don’t get me wrong, showing that you can do a range of things is great, but it’s more important to show that you love something. (Or a few things, if that’s the case.) Call me a hopeless romantic, but artwork made in love will almost always have an unmistakable quality of joy between the line work, brushwork, or colored patches.
It frustrates me to see a lot of my peers flustering around trying to figure out what to “make” for their portfolio. Building a portfolio isn’t always about creating a whole new body of work every time an opportunity comes up. A portfolio is meant to be a snapshot of an artist’s abilities to date. That means that at any given time – every artist has a portfolio of some kind. (Maybe that collection of work isn’t applicable to every job opportunity or application purpose, but it’s still a portfolio and it should represent the artist.) If you’re giving your artwork consistent attention and time, improvement will come and a portfolio will naturally develop.
Hate what you’re working on? Maybe you shouldn’t be doing it. Unless it’s a practical learning tool – like figure drawing or observational painting – working on assignments that you hate won’t help you breach new creative ground. The key to helping yourself enjoy those assignments you “hate” is to find ways to turn them into the ones you love. I realize this doesn’t make complete sense – but go with me on it. If you’re crazy about surface design, but not so into painting still lives – find a way to bring the aspects you love about surface design into the painting. Spread your colors, balance your negative space, and experiment with how various areas of the canvas communicate or connect with another part. Love affairs can’t exist in a vacuum, so finding ways to breach your design interests with fundamental learning objectives will only make your work stronger – and probably help you accomplish it all a little faster, too.
Do what you love – and find ways to see the “not so fun things” as they may relate to your full time affection grabber. Building a portfolio shouldn’t be about making things that will appeal to a certain company – it should be about creating things you love. It’s your passion that will attract an employer, not your ability to half-heartedly cater to their design needs.