Let's talk portfolios!
What platform to use, what work to include, what to look out for
A goal I have this year is to land my first paid illustration gig. Before submitting to publications and reaching out to art directors, I needed to revamp my website and put together a portfolio.
While putting together my portfolio over the past few days, I came across many great tips and resources that might be helpful for you and your own website! Some of the points might be specific to illustration, but most of it should also be applicable to other specialties.
Before beginning, look at other portfolios. It was really helpful to look up some of my favorite illustrators and have their sites open for reference while I was building mine out. You can keep an eye out for how they’ve categorized their work, how much work they’re showing, and what sort of context they’ve added for their work. You can also take note of the tone of their bio on the About page. These factors will vary widely (some people choose their best 10-15 pieces of work, others have 50+) but you can feel out what appeals most to you while browsing.
I also like identifying what platforms other artists are using as inspiration for templates—see image & caption below for how. It’s a nerdy tip but I am glad my developer brain can come in handy here!
Now, onto choosing a platform! Common platforms for portfolios include Squarespace ($14/mo), Wix (limited free, otherwise $14/mo), Adobe Portfolio (free with Creative Cloud), and Cargo (free to try, $13/mo).
If it’s your first time setting up a portfolio, I would advocate for choosing the path of least resistance without compromising the look and feel too much. If all your friends use Squarespace, use that! It helps so much to have people to lean on when you’re stuck fixing a tiny padding or font issue, as it can be tricky to Google these things. If you also have an online shop, consider combining platforms—here are some artists that have both their shop and portfolio on one site.
For my website, I used Adobe Portfolio since I was already paying for Creative Cloud and I liked the simplicity of the templates offered. I also appreciated being able to use Adobe fonts. If I need more control over the layout or styling, I will eventually switch to Squarespace or Webflow which allow for max flexibility with CSS/JS knowledge. I would not recommend coding one’s portfolio from scratch, something I definitely considered as a developer but it’s much simpler to rely on tools to manage your content and optimize SEO.
Add your portfolio images. This will be the most difficult/time-consuming step. Include work you’ve made that fits the market that you want to be hired in on the main page. For example if you’re specializing in packaging/branding, make those projects front and center. Your best work should be at the very top! Upload images that are reasonably sized so that your site doesn’t take forever to load.
It’s commonly said that you will be judged by your worst work, so if there is something that you’ve made that you now dislike, don’t include it (unless it happens to be work you’ve done for a fancy client that adds ~name value~). And if the style of your work has changed over time, do a decluttering of any projects that aren’t reflective of the work you now want to be doing.
If you make a lot of art in various mediums and intended for different markets, you will likely be compelled to divide them into separate categories (e.g. comics, branding, editorial). My opinion is that having one or maximum two sections for your work is ideal, since it’s much easier to see all of your work at once (see Taaryn’s tweet below and click through to read more useful portfolio tips). An exception is if you have been in your field for many years and have proven yourself in various markets, in which case people are more willing to click/dig to look at your work.
A lot of portfolio sites I see have a lot of images with zero context. Usually context will include what client the project was for, what the brief was, and final format of the illustration. If your portfolio is mostly personal work, you can still provide brief context on what the artwork is about. Adding just a line or two of description per project could make all the difference. Tom Froese speaks more on this, along with other great tips, in the video below.
And an about/contact page so people can reach you! Make it as easy as possible for people to contact you—no forms or landing pages. Have your email clearly listed, and if you’re not open to certain kinds of work, having that written on your site will save you and the other person lots of time.
As for the about page, a short and sweet bio detailing your name, where you’re from, any select clients/exhibitions/awards, and a professional photo or self-portrait illustration will do! Anoosha Syed has a great list of things you could include on your about page over on her blog.
Do a final check. Load up your site on mobile and check if things render properly and clearly. Send your site to a friend and have them check for any glaring issues. Make sure your links work and that you have relevant social media included.
That’s it! Now that you have a portfolio, you can start putting yourself out there. And if you’d like feedback on your work, 3x3 and Inky Goodness offer portfolio critiques. Remember a portfolio is a constant work in progress, since you’ll keep making new work and your older work will become outdated. I plan to revisit my site every 3 months or so to make sure it still feels reflective of me.
Do you have a portfolio website? What was the hardest thing about putting it together? Any different rules of thumb you abide by? Let me know in the comments!
FYI: Upcoming studio sale!
I’ll be launching my online shop next Tuesday 2/15 to sell various artworks and hand crafted goods that I’ve made over the past year or so. Above is a sneak peek of the items that’ll be available; all except the map print in the center is original/only 1 available.
Once the shop is live I’ll send out an email so you will be the first to know! You can also keep posted over on my Instagram. Because of this shop launch next week will be a double email week from me, hopefully with good reason :) Thanks as always for reading and I’m wishing you a great weekend!