View Full Version : Building a portfolio

10-07-2004, 09:34 AM
I've been so inconsistant with my artwork for the past few years, dabbling in this, dabbling in that, and I've finally decided to quite fooling around and get a darn portfolio together to look for freelance work. I'm not the greatist illustrator in the world, but I think I have enough talent to at least make a very modest income. On ebay I was making 4 - 5 hundred a week, and that would be just fine. Ebay kind of sucks though because for me to make that much money I was churning out five paintings a week, and I just don't work that fast.

I'm just wondering how many pieces you need to put in your portfolio. Right now I only basically have two - if you look on my website there are five recent acrylic paintings, but four of them are a set that go together. If anyone here who is experience in the illustration market could take a moment to check out my work and tell me what I should be doing in order to get a portfolio together and market my work, I'd be very greatful.

I'm most interested in getting into the fantasy art genre, but if you check out my "minis" gallery I do some more cartoony work, I'm just not sure what kind of applications this style could be use for.

Thank you!

10-07-2004, 10:55 AM
It's my belief that the more specifically you're able to market your work, the better. There are too many general illustrators out there. If you're lucky enough to have one type of work that you really enjoy doing, then start checking the markets for it. There are niche markets out there that generally go overlooked.

For example, one cartoonist I know does nothing but business cartoons. He filled a need by offering hundreds of cartoons in various sub-categories to businesspeople who are looking for a cartoon to use in their presentation or newsletter.

The key, of course, is marketing yourself. Mostly this just means bugging the heck out people on a regular basis. The most common method for this now is postcard mailings done on a quarterly basis.

An effective portfolio needs at least a dozen pieces representing not more than two different styles. It's good to include at least one black & white piece. You can fine-tune this toward whatever markets you're hitting.

10-07-2004, 12:18 PM
I have been pondering portfolios myself lately, as I have been slowly updating mine. Ted's advice, is of course golden and he seems to be better at keeping his answers shorter. :)

Here's my take:

How many pieces you will need depends on who you plan on marketing to. If you plan on submitting to sci-fi publishers each one will have standard submission rules and you would be best off contacting each and asking.

Probably the first thing you should do is get a copy of the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines 2004 edition. It's arguably the best reference for Illustrators, and has a wealth of information broken down by types of Illustration and Graphic Design. It doesn't have a section on portfolios but it will give you an idea of what is needed for each industry.

Beyond that, I think you have enough on your site, to at least get started. I would include the Tarot pieces, the Fantasy pieces, and the Mini's. They all show consistency in style and color usage.

As an Illustrator you will most likely keep your originals and supply digital scanns to the client, so to some extent the size of the original becomes less relevant. Although it can be a factor. The most important thing, though, is to show consistency of style throughout your portfolio.

If you choose to market yourself directly to individual businesses and buyers, like I do, then your portfolio will take a littlebit different direction than if you were submitting to publishers and magazines and the like.

Let me see if I can explain this coherently. In many ways the two portfolios are the same. They are a collection of images you have created arranged in a pleasing manner to showcase your skills and get you the job.

The portfolio you take to a job interview or to a portfolio review at an agency will mostly be a collection of 10 or more images, probably not to exceed 20. It may include some limited text stating size, medium, may or may not have a copy of your resume and client list. Most of that would be largely irrelevant to an art director. What an Art Director needs to know is can you be consistent, follow direction, and meet deadlines. From what I've seen, most folks with this type of portfolio carry the larger sizes, say 11x17 to 18x24, couldn't tell you why, that's just what I've observed.

If you choose to market yourself in a direct business to business type manner your portfolio becomes more of a sales tool or book. It is designed for a more targeted purpose of leading the prospective client through the sales process. It is most likely going to contain more text (though still not a lot) that will enhance the sales presentation you are making verbally. Here a resume is of little use. Consistency is still important. Size should be smaller, say 8 1/2 x 11, as you will be carrying it everywhere and often, so it is best if it fits comfortably in a briefcase or tucked under your arm.

In both cases you will need 'leave behinds' and 'mailers'. Most mailers take the form of postcards, but it is a good idea to have some 8 1/2 x 11 samples that can be mailed in a 9x12 envelope when a prospect askes for more samples. These can also serve as your leave behinds. You will also have to become fairly proficient at writing letters. So you will need a letterhead and business cards.

As Ted said you will want to fine tune your presentation to whatever market you are after. Thats why I said in the begining that if you are going to submit to publishers it would be best to do some research on the submission guidelines for each one.

I have carried most types of portfolios at one time or another. Right now mine is of the sales book variety as I market directly to businesses. As I revamp it I am building what I am calling a 'double portfolio'. The concept is simple, it consists of two books. One is a consise selection of work arranged specifically to lead someone through the sales process. It will contain probably no more than 10-15 images and will take aproximately 5-10 minutes to proceed through the presentation. This book will be handy when meeting someone for the first time or leading a prospect thru the sales process. The second book will be a more comprehensive collection of work that can be referred to to target more specifically what the client is looking for. The second book may never come out in a meeting but will be onhand to refer to when a prospect needs to see something specific.

Sorry if I ramble too much, I do hope this makes things at least as clear as mud. :p

10-08-2004, 10:57 PM
Of course...with limited pieces you are speaking more about start up opportunities it sounds like.

Myself...I just finished last week a 40 some page Adobe Acrobat format CD rom portfolio.

It has an introduction, an artist statement, background on plein air painting, and then a gallery with thumbnails that enlarge when clicked on them.

I like the idea of having a half-dozen with me wherever I go...and one never knows when the opportunity to hand one to someone (gallery owner...art director) comes up. As technology, it offers a unique appeal to the curious.

My regular portfolio I ordered from Light Impressions (they are online, and you can order a catalog). It was about $120 for a very nice black fabric covered four ring binder, clear pages with a black page insert and I created 8 x 10 digitally printed images of my work. Again...an intro page, artist's statement, a page of my gallery representation and shows and so forth.

good luck


10-17-2004, 03:36 PM
Hi Brenda, could you post the link to your website? You have me intrigued...