5 Common Pitfalls Of Concept Art & Illustration Portfolios

I’ve said it before: The only way to truly succeed in a creative career is to do great work and be great to work with.

If you craft a strong concept art/ illustration portfolio it will demonstrate both of these values at the same time. And that strong portfolio will dazzle any recruiter or art director you encounter.

But a strong portfolio consists of much more than just the art inside.

In this article, when I say “portfolio” I don’t just mean your physical book of work or your website.

In this article, “portfolio” also means all of your related communications via email, cover letters, resumes and in-person with your recruiters, potential art directors and future colleagues.

Your Portfolio is a physical representation of your professionalism and potential.
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Is Your Portfolio Helping You Or Hurting You?

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a physical representation of Ray Stantz's subconscious.

The Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is a physical
representation of Ray Stantz’s subconscious.

Every concept art or illustration portfolio communicates a message about the artist to whom it belongs.

Many artists are not in control of the message that their portfolio is sending.

Most artists are not even aware when their portfolio is actually sabotaging their chances of getting hired.

We all need to set the highest possible standards for ourselves because the competition for concept artist jobs and freelance illustration gigs is very high.

So here are the top five most common “Portfolio Pitfalls” that you ABSOLUTELY want to avoid while crafting your own creative career.

You might find this post to be uncharacteristically sarcastic and intense at times. But I’m hopeful that you will find the sarcasm entertaining and the intensity inspiring.

Don’t settle for less.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, laugh at and learn from our mistakes and share the lessons learned with others in hopes that our own painful experiences can spare someone else from repeating them.

So let’s keep an eye out for the Concept Art & Illustration Portfolio Pitfalls that you definitely want to avoid!

Portfolio Pitfall #1: Unprofessional Communication:

Homer Simpson gets accepted into college and proceeds to light his high school diploma on fire.

Homer Simpson gets accepted into college
and celebrates by lighting his high school diploma
on fire, chanting “I am so smart ‘S-M-R-T!’”

Before I rant, I’d like to encourage those of you who DO practice perfect professionalism in your emails, cover letters, resumes & conversations:

Throw yourself a party! You have already raced ahead of MOST of your competition!

Keep your standards high and you will dazzle your future art directors and recruiters with the promise and security that radiates from your well-written communications.

But for those of you who don’t punctuate, spell check or practice general manners… Good luck with that.

Unprofessional communication is, in my opinion, the #1 greatest portfolio pitfall and, sadly, it’s probably the #1 most common.

This statement has also been confirmed by every animation recruiter with whom I’ve spoken about the topic.

There’s not a lot to say here that we don’t already know…

SLOW DOWN. DU AY SPEEL CHEK. capitalize.

Have someone else check your grammar (someone who has actually read a book or two).

The animation industry is based on relationships. If we begin every potential relationship with an untidy, misspelled, poorly written, slang-laden communication, the relationship will last about as long as it takes the receiver to click “DELETE.”

Unprofessional communication is the hole in your career boat.
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Also: Be concise and efficient in your communication but beware of projecting self-entitlement.

An email like:

hey check out my work http://myportfolio.deviantart.com thanks……joe

…will be deleted immediately. If you don’t care. We don’t care.

Humility and gratitude create a strong foundation of true relationship. And true relationship is the foundation of true success.

Portfolio Pitfall #2: Your Portfolio Doesn’t Fit:

Marty McFly's future-jacket is literally one-size-fits-all

Your portfolio must prove that you are a good fit
for any studio to which you apply.

When the work in your portfolio is irrelevant to the job for which you’re applying, it will confuse or inconvenience the hiring managers who are reviewing it.

If you want to work on the story team, you HAVE to show storyboards in your portfolio. In fact, the portfolio should contain MOSTLY storyboards. MAYBE a couple of character designs or paintings on the back two pages and ONLY if they are REALLY good.

If you are applying to work as a character designer but your portfolio is filled with logos you did for your grandma’s punk band, you will just waste the time of those generous enough to review your work.

Why not submit relevant work and make the most of an opportunity?

If you don’t yet have any relevant work, for crying out loud, be patient and wait to apply until AFTER you have crafted a relevant portfolio. I know it sounds harsh, but trust me, you’ll thank me later.

Just because you got paid for an illustration doesn’t mean it’s portfolio-worthy.
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Every portfolio you submit is going to be unique.

Customize your concept art portfolio to fit your desired studios. Customize it to fit the specific position for which you are applying. Customize your illustration portfolio to fit your desired clients.

Do the research. Ask good questions of people who know more about it than you do and apply that knowledge to your portfolio.

Use the Internet and the “Art-Of” books and the Blu-Rays as your guide. Slow down. Think it through. Talk to your art buddies about it (make sure they are the buddies who will really tell you the truth).

What do you need to put in and what you need to cut? Less is more.

It’s a GREAT feeling to actually replace the old work in your portfolio with new, better work so hurry up and get some new work done!

Portfolio Pitfall #3: Ambiguous Intent:

Wile E. Coyote Straps Himself To A Rocket

What are your plans? If you don’t make them clear
to your recruiters and potential art directors,
they will backfire.

I ask: “What kind of job are you looking for?” and you say:

“I’ll do anything.”

Don’t burden the recruiter or art director with the decision of where you belong.

This is your life. This is your career. You decide on the goal and pursue. Revise as you go.

When you take responsibility outside of the dream job, the hiring managers will be more likely to trust you with the responsibilities that come with the dream job.

If you don’t know what kind of job you would be good at, it’s fine to ask people – just don’t get that mixed up with an actual job application.

For more about this check out my article called Is Your Concept Art Portfolio Versatile Or Just Confusing?

Portfolio Pitfall #4: Unprofessional Presentation:

Your portfolio should tell a story.

…and NOT the story of your growth as an artist.

Only show your best work!

Now, obviously, by “Your portfolio should tell a story” I don’t mean that your portfolio should be a series of sequential illustrations.

I’m talking about this whole “your portfolio is a physical representation of your potential as an artist and as a human” thing. And if your portfolio is unprofessional, it’s likely that you will never become a true professional.

Jeffrey Lebowski meets The Big Lebowski and learns that "The bums will always lose."

The Dude meets The Big Lebowski and learns that “The bums will always lose.”

Your portfolio should communicate your “story” clearly even when you’re present while someone flips through it.

When assembling your concept art or illustration portfolio, ask yourself if the moral of the story inside is “I’m the best artist for the job.”

For Digital Portfolios (Website, iPad, PDF etc.) :

  • No haphazard collection of JPG or PSD files.
  • No pixellated, low-res images.
  • No huge PDFs (manageable file sizes only).

For Physical Portfolios:

  • No loose pages.
  • No original work. Nice, consistently-printed pages only.
  • Website address on every page.*
  • Design it like a nice “Art Of” book.
  • Try to maintain consistent design from page to page.
  • Leave space on the page to let the art “breathe.”

*This is my own opinion and is not, to my knowledge, a widely accepted in the industry. You might also want to include your name and phone number (if that number is not likely to change in the near future.) Personal logos and snail-mail addresses don’t add much and they just waste precious page space but I’ll have to do another post about all that…

Design the layout of each page of your portfolio just as carefully as you designed the work on the pages.
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Be creative. That’s what you do. Spend the money to make it look nice. Don’t let cost-cutting prevent you from making the cut.

Portfolio Pitfall #5: Too Much Art:

Mr. T could be accused of wearing too much art.

Mr. T could be accused of wearing too much art.

Don’t crowd the pages with too much art and don’t crowd the portfolio with too many pages. As I said before, less is more. Cut cut cut.

If you don’t have enough good work to fill the portfolio, get a smaller portfolio. I think twenty-five pages is about the limit.

An overflowing portfolio is like one of Carlos Santana’s guitar solos. Even though the work might be demonstrating technical prowess, too much of it is downright exhausting.

It’s a pity when someone crafts a portfolio full of fantastic work that wears people out. Don’t over-stay your welcome.

Special Thanks: I would like to thank our “anonymous recruiter” (a bona fide insider from one of those “big studios”) for the wonderful insight that helped to make this post even more valuable.

What is the best Portfolio advice you’ve ever heard or received?

Share your thoughts in the comments!

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{ 101 comments… read them below or add one }

Mike Golden

So in other words, portfolio presentation is very similar to resume presentation. Each resume or portfolio should be specifically tailored to the job in order to showcase relevant abilities, and the ‘presentation’ is more than just the physical work or the resume itself, it includes all of those interactions that go together to make up the ‘interview’. Makes sense to me!

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Chris Oatley

You got it, Mike! Although I, personally, prioritize portfolio OVER resume in a big way. So when I’m in a pinch and I’m trying to decide what to focus on, portfolio always beats resume.

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Phil Rood

Note to Self: Remove Grandma’s punk band logos from my portfolio…

This, along with your earlier Portfolio Pitfalls, series has given me a lot to chew on as I approach putting together a book and online portfolio.

I’d also like to point out a related piece of advice from you from Chris’s ArtCast when he said that “projects are the new resumes”(paraphrasing) While I don’t think that projects should or could take the place of a traditional portfolio, I can say that that advice has helped push me to finishing some projects, and that I have landed freelance work as a result of someone seeing other projects I’ve worked on.

I think that falls into the idea of the portfolio as the whole enchilada, fitting in with your professional identity that you present to the public.

Just my (long-winded) 2 cents…

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Chris Oatley

This is so encouraging to hear, Phil. I’d love to know more about these projects you’re finishing…

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Phil Rood

Thanks for the interest Chris. A couple years ago, I made a poster that I put up for sale and that led to me landing a job illustrating a children’s book. (“Mom’s Backyard Zoo” by Susan Ferris… http://philrood.blogspot.com/p/for-sale.html) In shopping the book around to my local libraries and books stores, I was hired for a couple spot illustrations by some independent book stores(indie stores are the best!). It’s a great example of how finished projects have led to other finished projects, and it’s also led me to want to finish more and more work and keep raising the bar on myself. I am currently working on a couple short form comics(drawn and waiting to be colored) and am writing and thumbnailing illustrations for my own children’s book, which is all new territory for me as far as writing goes.

I appreciate you asking about this Chris and for all the content here, at Paper Wings and on your podcasts, it’s been really encouraging and helpful as I step out of my comfort zone.

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Chris Oatley

WOW! It’s so inspiring to hear about how you got out there and beat the streets to land some good gigs. Amazing.

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Jennifer Sample

When you mention no original art in the physical portfolio section above, what do you mean by that? For example, I create an illustration in marker or some other non digital media, do you mean to include a print copy of that work, as opposed to the original illustration?

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Jennifer Sample

I realize I replied to another person’s comment rather than to the whole article, I scrolled down a little too far, and it was my first time commenting on one of your articles, I apologize.

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Tegan Clancy

I have just started created new excitin work for my nex portfolio and this is very timely advice. I did take your advice last year and had a 10 piece portfolio, neadless to say I culled like crazy to achieve this, but the result was very clear directional advice where my strenghts and weakness were, and a great building block to go forward! My simple graphic design advice would be to make your artwork the same size on each page of your portfolio, in the same position, understanding different pieces have varrying hieghts and widths, rescale so all have the same width or hieght, and it will create a consistency to the portfolio. Thanks again chris

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Chris Oatley

Yeah, Tegan! The bunnies and architecture you posted are nice!

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Tegan Clancy

Thanks! I’m preparing myself by creating a strong “city” foundation before tackling my next background design!

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Andy Walsh

Question: It says web portfolios and then digital portfolios – would a digital portfolio be a PDF book? Is it advisable to send a PDF book via email to potential employers/hirers? I always assumed a web link would be best. Thanks :)

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Scott Wiser

Hey Andy, I think you’ll want to have both ready. From what I’ve seen, each company will request a format they prefer in viewing your work – I’ve seen requests for both pdfs and weblinks. The digital portfolio / PDF book should be well designed, like an art book (Chris said this above, but I had to remention). When I send any application by email – or when I send any email these days, I always tack the link to my website at the bottom . It could be cool to provide a link on your website to download your pdf portfolio as well.

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Chris Oatley

Great tip, Scott!

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Chris Oatley

Whoops!

Sorry for any confusion, there, Andy.

When I say “Digital Portfolios” I mean Web, iPad, PDF and anything else that might eventually evolve from those formats. Basically, anything on a screen that is not limited by scarcity of paper, ink, delivery, shelf space etc…

When I say “Physical” or “Book” I mean a more traditional, physical portfolio with pages of art and a cover.

I do recommend web links over emailing PDFs unless you have an invitation from the person to send a PDF.

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Chuck Hues

Thanks for saving me on the ‘PDF vs/ Links’ advice. ~Was about to spend several days creating the best darned PDF showcase EVER~~sorta thing.
Glad to get that time back BEFOREHAND!
This is great stuff! Thanks Mr. Chris!

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Mike

Great article Chris– LOVE the pop culture references– hahah Mr. T, stay puft and the dude all in article– its gonna be hard to top that!!!

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Chris Oatley

I was thinking the same thing. It’s all in there! :)

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Petra van Berkum

These tips are pretty useful, though I do wonder why you’re saying ‘original work’ shouldn’t be in a digital portfolio. I’m a starter and I just don’t have that much commissions or projects to show, while I do have personal works that are sometimes even better than some of the commissioned work I did. So how should a starter handle with that?

What also worked for me is to go to portfolio review events. Here in the Netherlands there is an event for students and starters in the field and you can get like three portfolio reviews by well known profs, for only 15 euro’s and it really helped me to understand what works and what not. My art school also organized such an event themselves, which was really useful! I don’t know if these things also happen in the USA or elsewhere, but it certainly pays of to show your portfolio to people and ask what they think of it professionally wise. :)

Then again, I think this also comes from experience ad it takes a while…I’m still not that confident about my portfolio and I actually know what to do about it, but It takes a lot of time to get where you want when you’re already graduated and need money.

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Heidi

Hi Petra,
I think when Chris says “original work”; I believe that he is referring to the actual physical piece of art work. I think he is meaning make sure that it is a copy. That way if you have to leave your portfolio with someone, you won’t have to stress about getting it back.
I am in a similar situation as you described. I am currently finishing school and the few pieces of paid work I have done are not included in my portfolio since they are not relevant to an animation portfolio. Portfolio construction can be a confusing and laborious task. Good luck to you.

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Petra van Berkum

Thanks, but I don’t understand how you could put physical work in a digital portfolio, maybe I’m confused or missing something here..
Thanks anyway, good luck to you too!

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Chris Oatley

Petra – That was my mistake. I meant to write “Physical” instead of “Digital.” It’s fixed now. So sorry for any confusion.

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Scott Wiser

Hey Chris, love these tips – glad to revisit them. I was wondering if another portfolio pitfall could be “Lack of New Work.” I see this especially with animators, but I’ve seen it with other artist as well – and it surprises me. But for me personally, I wish I could pump out the new work faster – to constantly push the quality of my reel higher and higher (and get rid of the old, inferior work). Even when you are incredibly “talented”, isn’t a Growing, evolving portfolio stronger than a stagnant portfolio?

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Chris Oatley

Of course.

I just would caution anyone not to add a piece to their portfolio just because it’s new. It has to also be good. And if it means cutting another piece to fit the new one, then the new piece has to be BETTER than the one that might get cut.

It’s the same dynamic we encounter with pieces we were hired to make. As I said in the article “Just because you got paid to make a piece of art, doesn’t mean it’s portfolio worthy.”

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Scott Wiser

And a wise bit of caution that is!

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Mark Armstrong

Great advice all round, Chris, but the words that stood out for me were, “Cut, cut, cut.”

And yes, that’s something that Mr. T. should consider with his jewelry portfolio– tho I wouldn’t say that to his face, course. : )

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Chris Oatley

Awesome.

And me neither.

I have been Mr. T fan for as long as I can remember. He’s just so awesome.

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Manelle

“Cut cut cut” is my favorite advice lately. When I give myself a limit on how many pieces I can have in my portfolio, and I stick to it. I really have to look at each one and decide why I want it in there. Then hopefully only the best and most relevant pieces are left.

Also if your not great at cutting out pieces come back to it weeks or months later. I sometimes see things I didn’t before and I can cut more if I need to.

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Chris Oatley

Great point, Manelle.

When I’m in “Cutting” mode, I have to recruit my artist friends because I’m too close to the work to know what I should and should not cut.

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Lindsey

Very sound advice. “Digital portfolios” and “web portfolios” tripped me up for a moment; I thought they meant the same thing.

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Chris Oatley

So sorry for the confusion there, Lindsey. My mistake. It’s fixed now.

When I say “Digital Portfolios” I mean Web, iPad, PDF and anything else that might eventually evolve from those formats. Basically, anything on a screen that is not limited by scarcity of paper, ink, delivery, shelf space etc…

When I say “Physical” or “Book” I mean a more traditional, physical portfolio with pages of art and a cover.

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Sam kirkman

Very timely Chris! Being so limited technologically as I am, I’m trying to use a template to put together my first, real portfolio site. Do you think this is a no no? I don’t think I could afford to have a site professionally coded & designed. I’d really appriciate your first impression of what I’ve put together.

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Chris Oatley

Sam, I’m a big believer in Wordpress. You can use the free Lightbox Gallery Plugin to make an interactive slideshow portfolio with just a few clicks of the Mouse.

I’m also not a fan of static portfolio sites.

I’ll be posting more about this in the future but for now I’ll say that NO ARTIST needs to hire anyone to build a site from scratch for them. All you need is Wordpress and a gallery Plugin.

There are also Premium Themes you can buy if you want to get really fancy, but, still, trust me. Stick with Wordpress unless you’re both a programmer and an SEO expert.

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sam Kirkman

That’s a relief to hear. Now my curiosity is up. Blogs & other social sites more important? I’m a lookin forward to what your thinking.
One thing too I appreciate about your post Chris is knowing what it is you’re applying for or the type of work your going after. It’s hard to decide isn’t it? It also changes as we are exposed to more and more avenues of creative endeavor.

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Annamarie Mickey

This was a really great portfolio post, and kind of comforting to someone like me who really doesn’t know how to put together a portfolio!

I have a question about digital portfolios, though. Is it more advised to make your own website for a porfolio, or can “premade” porfolio websites be considered professional? I’m thinking specifically about deviantART’s Porfolio option for premium members. It’s a really nice, slick, professional-looking program (or at least I think so, and I’ve read other artists affirm it as well), and doesn’t even have any links to dA itself (unless you were to put such links in). It’s an easy way for me to present the best of my art, but would professional companies dislike it because it’s technically through another website?

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Scott Wiser

Premade sites are just fine. I know WordPress also has some great options for elegant galleries and personalized sites – you might want to check those out. Just be sure your gallery focuses on your work, contains your contact info, etc. I agree that Chris did a great job clarifying the standards that will grab professional attention and I’d refer back to his tips often as you continue to build your winning portfolio. Happy travels!

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Chris Oatley

Those dA premium portfolio sites are really nice.

It doesn’t matter where you host the site as long as the service is stable, fast-loading, uncluttered and easy to navigate. The dA sites are, in my opinion, all of those things.

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Kevin Cameron

It was good to look over this while I’m adding new work to my portfolio! Thanks Chris!

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ChrisOatley

Oh, Sweet! Thanks, Kevin!

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Lucy

Hi Chris,

I just want to say thank for you creating this website. You have given me more information and confidence than my school could ever provide!

I have a couple questions about the physical portfolios. Could you give a visual example of a good physical portfolio to look out for? I’ve seen portfolios ranging from leather covers to metal, to even custom handmade. Also, is it bad to have images varying horizontally and vertically in a portfolio? Or will I have to edit the images to follow the direction of the portfolio? For example, if I bought a horizontal tabloid size portfolio, will I have to edit the images that are vertical to become horizontal for consistency?

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Chris Oatley

Lucy,

I have opinions about all of these things, but ultimately, it doesn’t really matter. What’s really important is that the work INSIDE the portfolio is very strong.

I plan on offering a portfolio workshop in the future (after my Digital Painting Class ends). In that class we will go through the actual construction, layout etc. so you might want to enroll in that when it is offered. There will be plenty of visual examples there.

I recommend a cover that has your art on it so it’s not just a nondescript, black leather book. In regard to the horizontal/ vertical problem – in my opinion – I think you should lay the art out so that the art is as big as possible on the page, regardless of horizontal/vertical. …but you can group your horizontals and verticals together so there is less rotation of the book when someone looks through it.

Glad you have found the site useful and inspiring. That’s definitely the goal.

Thanks so much.

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ryan adams

Thanks Chris! – this has really made me think about my next application – i knew the basics but most of the information has been really helpful! :)

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ChrisOatley

Great to hear, Ryan. Hope it helps. More good portfolio stuff to come!

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Rebecca

This is a great help for any person trying to apply for the industry. However, I am sightly confused at number 3. See what if you are a student who has just started on their path to an animation career and you are wanting to start about any where to learn. Such as basic things clean up artist, inbetweener, or any small job that most animation student should know how to do.

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ChrisOatley

Rebecca, I understand that although “intent” generally gets harder to determine the younger you are, the stronger the “message of your portfolio” is, the better your chances of getting hired. Often, focus will strengthen your art and your portfolio as a whole. If nothing else, focus on and play to your strengths. Does that make sense?

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Fransisca

Hello Chris,

Thanks for bringing this article up, i really need this.
I have some question about portfolio, i already did some work as Illustrator for Children Book and Cover Book Artist. Honestly i’m not liking the style that i did for the job, but writer and publisher really really like the style and that kind of style is the popular one and you can easily to get job as Children Book Illustrator using that style, in short…it does sell.

But i felt i already founded what kinda of style that i want to develop in the future, so my question is should i still put my previous work at my portfolio site? even though the style is not really my taste, but its does sell (at least in my country), since this words kinda bugging me “Just because you got paid for an illustration doesn’t mean it’s portfolio-worthy.”

Thank you, i hope you understand what i’m trying to say because i still do a mistake when writing English since its not my native but i want to learn to do it better. I hope you don’t mind some mispelled or wrong grammar.

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Chris Oatley

Fransisca,

I completely understand. This is a common struggle for illustrators.

I like doing lots of different styles and that’s one of the skills I have a reputation for. That’s why I show lots of different styles in my portfolio. I can start on a new project and match the style on the first day.

But that’s harder to market and it’s definitely not for everyone. If you put that work in your portfolio and that kind of work is popular in your country, you’ll probably get more offers for jobs like that.

If you’re just going to turn them all down then I don’t recommend it. But if you don’t mind working in those styles, they pay well and you need the work, then maybe put the work in your portfolio for a while. You can always take it out later.

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Nat Alt

Another great post making some really key points Chris, thank you. I would add that it’s not good enough to have only a physical portfolio. This should be a redundant point but I’m staggered by the number of illustrators who still only have a physical portfolio.

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Chris Oatley

Good point, Nat!

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Reuben Yeo

Wow, I have to thank you greatly for this, it’s going to be a great help when I craft my portfolio in the near future.

Just need to clarify on one thing, though. In Number 4, under the physical portfolio section, when you say ” No original work”, does this mean artworks that are done for personal use, and not artworks done for companies/projects? Or is it something else entirely?

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Chris Oatley

Hi, Reuben. “Original” as in – not the actual, real, drawing or painting if the piece was done traditionally. Prints only.

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Chris Oatley

By “original work” I meant actual pages pulled out of your sketchbook or traditional paintings on paper, board or canvas. …that statement only applies to traditional media. With digital, every page in a physical book would have to be a print. …but I still recommend keeping the style of print the same from page to page.

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Ross Patel

This is how many industry professionals review demo reels and portfolios:

1) Don’t rely on Sound/Background Music
I watch reels with the sound off. If you are relying on the viewer listening to your audio for an art reel, please put text on the screen saying so.

2) show your best stuff first, and make it prominent
I often watch them in fast-forward, stop and rewind if something is interesting.

3) Contract info in the front AND the back!!
If your contact info is not on the presentation I will have to dig for your info…bad. The most important intent of a reel is to get a call-back. make it easy for me to do that! start and end your presentation with your name and contact info.

4) The bad detracts from the good. It’s not a zero-sum game!!
For every good piece in your portfolio/presentation, you get a mental +1, for every bad piece you get a -1. yes, you read that right. Bad artwork actually ‘detracts’ from the good work. If you have 10 samples and 6 are good and 4 are bad, that gives you a 2, not a 6. If you put only 6 peices up for review and they are all good, you’ll get a 6!!

Best of luck, ask for critiques if you get a rejection, sometimes people will give you a harsh critique, and you might need that to improve.

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Chris Oatley

Great, great points, Ross!

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Angela

Hi Chris,

thanks for the informative post. I will take your “cut cut cut” advice to heart. Don’t want people to acquire wrist strain picking up a portfolio!

Also – do you recommend putting a resume in a portfolio if none of the work is art related? Would potential employers want to know that I have had previous work experience prior to becoming an art student or are they only concerned with the art itself?

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Chris Oatley

Hi, Angela.

I’m sure there are recruiters who want to see a resume. Some applications require one.

But if you’re going to a convention and you’re just going to be hanging out and showing your book around kind of informally, I recommend keeping the resume out of the book.

The only artists I see who have resumes in the portfolio are folks who don’t have much experience.

So, my advice is to keep the resume out of the book. Let the quality of the work speak for itself. …especially if you don’t have a lot of experience.

Instead, you can just talk with the person who is looking at your portfolio about the noteworthy things you have done on various projects and for various clients.

They will already know if you don’t have much experience, so why shine a spotlight on it by putting a thin resume in there…? Know what I mean?

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Zachary

Hi Chris,

Thanks for putting the thought and effort into sharing this advice with us! It’s especially helpful for me, as I didn’t figure out I wanted to get into concept art until after school. I studied Animation and Illustration so my portfolio is filled with all sorts of different stuff. It’s all work I enjoyed doing which makes it difficult to focus a portfolio.

I had two things that I wanted to ask about. Firstly, I’ve heard some conflicting advice between putting the kind of work you want to get paid for (sci-fi vehicles) and showing art directors what they want to see (UI.) How can you cater a web portfolio to individual studios? It scares me to limit my portfolio when there appear to be so few jobs.

Finally, I know AD’s like to see ideation in a concept. How can I show this without showing too much?

Thank you for your time and generosity!

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Vale Fdez

Hi Chris,
Thank you so much for share such an interesting and important information, it makes me think about a lot of stuff that I didn’t consider before. I was wondering though, when you write “no original works” in the physical portfolio, you mean that you should put copies on it?
Thanks ^^

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Alexandra Bond

Question: In a web portfolio, is it ok to have a broad range of artwork as long as it’s categorized into separate, tailored, pages that can be sent to specific employers or types of clients?

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chris soldano

Thank you so much for this site. As an artist that got disillusioned by being offered a job jr year at SVA only to have their bubble burst after graduating leading to retreating into easy mode Graphic Design. Only to MANY years later find GD to be so constraining, unrewarding and not for me.

This site was just what I was looking for. Again, thank you.

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Bill

Hi Chris,

This has been beyond insightful to read.

I wanted to ask you three questions if I may.

How do I present my work so that its refined enough to tell a sence of story yet not so refined they say “go into children’s books” I know a background is children’s books is sometimes recommended for visual development artists at Disney.

Is it a good idea to include” rough “digital sketches of (vehicles/props/characters) to show thought process before revealing the finished ” polished” concept, or is it irrelevant?

How much should you stress mastering maya if you want to be a concept artist?

Thanks for your time and what ever advice you can give,
Bill

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Liz Heller

Hi Chris, thanks for blogging this useful post!

I have one question if I may ask. Let’s say an illustrator wants to send a potential client samples of only their most relevant portfolio work to that particular client–Would sending them a link to a custom sample site of your work (as well as a link to your whole portfolio site) or offering to embed (in the body, not attachments) images in an email be effective?

Thanks for your time in advance,
Liz Heller

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Pat Marconett

Great tips!
A few I have come across:
*Printed portfolios should start & end strong. Online folios should have your best pieces up front.

*show your thought process

*and spend some serious time assembling a portfolio. Every choice you make says something about you.

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Varsha Venugopal

Thank you so much for your advice, sir. But I have doubts, sir. Can we include both illustrative works, comic works and our 3D works in a single portfolio? or it should be made in such a way like art portfolio and 3D portfolio?
If so, what is the page limit for a physical portfolio and the time limit for the showreel?

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GHOSTSHRIMP

so i follow this link off FACEBOOK and what do i find? a list with the same old boring generic advice that every high school art teacher tells their students. then i look at the website and what do i find? the same old generic and boring work! what a surprise! want to work really hard only to become replaceable in an industry full of clones? follow the advice on this website! or how about this instead?

1. do work that is so personal and unique to yourself and who you are that only you could do it.

2. work harder than everybody else, and have tons of fun doing it, until nobody can do what you do better than you.

then it’s not gonna matter if you spell check your emails or how many pages you put in your portfolio. people will seek you out for what you do and you won’t have to compete with all the other generic and boring work out there!

-TWEET THIS QUOTE!

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Karen Jackson

Thank God someone thinks like me. I’m so tired of everyone saying just use a WordPress template and keep it simple with no thought to design etc.

I’m going to follow your advice. Now back to trying to create a unique portfolio site and work my butt off.

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Chris Oatley

You’re right about personal work, which is exactly why we talk about it so much on this site.

But you should keep in mind that not everyone had access to a privilege like the high school art class you are describing. So, no, Ghostshrimp, it’s not the “same old generic advice that every high school art teacher tells their students.”

You were fortunate to receive quality advice about portfolios in high school.

However, the completely self-centered approach to art-making that you’re describing will not guarantee success any more than perfectly-composed emails.

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Kream

This is by far the best and genuinely honest tip I’ve ever read online.

I also found this 5 common pitfall list interesting and true for a kind of Industry, Chris, I don’t think the Ghostshrimp approach is meant to be self centered, it all comes down to that famous quote : “Why be something that you’re not ? ”

What you quote (I believe) applies mostly to big Hollywood studios (since you quote your source, and I’m not overlooking the talents out there, far from it), yet there are careers that can be made outside this system where versatility is key to success and specialization a burden that can prevent from having these gigs (small boutiques, indie studios or even any clients outside the film biz…).

If you have any insights from this kind of professionals that would be awesome to share as many may not or want to work for corporations.

I agree writing decent emails is the bare minimum ;)

Keep up the good work.

K.

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Will Gidman

Thank you so much for putting up this post. Its brilliant advice to say the very least.
A few of these kinds of things were stated by my tutor at university during our “Marketing and self promotion” lectures and project, but they were more aimed at a the broader illustration/illustrator industry rather than concept art. So it was nice to have advice specifically aimed for concept artists and animation studios.

One piece of advice i was given by my tutor and a visiting artist was, “your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest work in it”.

Thank you again for your advice and insight

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Rachel Brenner

I know an example of a portfolio created as an Artbook. I bought Amanda Visell’s “Popping Through Pictures No.1 ” Her book is thick cardboard children’s book with no text and her child’s book style with something wicked on the side.

But personally I do pitfalls 2-5 , sadly. I really love the layout like an artbook idea, no other articles I’ve read has had this advice. All I mostly see is the ” Put in only your best work.”..well with me it’s hard to know what is my best and I choke with indecisiveness. I have to ask my mentor to rifle through it while she helps me weed it out. So getting a second or as many opinions as you can.

Class Critique Excercise for teachers: Have the students partner up, exchange portfolios, and critiques each others’ work. They may get up to five minutes for each person. If one has memorable work that makes the reviewer stop and stare at the portfolio, the artist should use a Post- It Note to mark the page. By the end of the class, the pics that weren’t marked are the ones that should be cut or worked depending on the feedback.

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icarus

hi, this was very helpful as I have been asked to submit my portfolio recently. But the problem is, it wasn’t specified in the email on how to submit – online or personal? I e-mailed my resume, so does that mean the same goes with my portfolio? also, I didn’t understand the “no original work” . What did you mean by it?

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James Fuqua

Something you said really made my ears perk up. When you were listing things in our portfolio to avoid you listed ‘No original work’. Now does that mean we shouldn’t include art with characters we’ve created ourselves to demonstrate our skill and we should just do work of other licensed characters? I’m a little confused on this point. Thanks!

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Jennifer Sample

(Copied from a below reply accidentally placed on another person’s comment chain.)

When you mention no original art in the physical portfolio section above, what do you mean by that? For example, I create an illustration in marker or some other non digital media, do you mean to include a print copy of that work, as opposed to the original illustration?

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Joy

thanks for the advice…
just wanted to ask a question…
why not to put original art work in physical portfolio?

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Chris Oatley

Originals could fall out and get lost. Then your original is gone forever…

Originals could (and likely will) get damaged.

If the original is on illustration board that makes it very difficult to turn the pages.

For that matter, various types of paper and board will make it very difficult to turn the pages.

I recommend high quality prints on the same kind of paper for every page of the portfolio.

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Sean Nakamura

Thank you Mr. Oatley. This post has definitely cleared up my questions about what should go in a portfolio. My problem was that I have Visual Development work, Character Designs and 3d Models. I will now make 3 separate portfolios for each focus. My portfolio before this post would have really confused a recruiter. Thank you for taking the time to reach out and guide other artist that are trying to break out into the industry.
Thanks again.
Sean Nakamura

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Bex Eden

Thank you so much for this great advice, my portfolio really did need a do-over and this has given me the guidelines to sort it out!

~ Bex

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Karen

I loved this. Although my work is not for this industry, I enjoyed your honest opinions and the truthfulness of your words. This could apply to any portfolio or resume!.. Thank you.

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Aamir Shahzad

Well some brilliant ideas to make an awesome portfolio.
These are very helpful in creating as well improving portfolio
websites.

Aamir Shahzad
Front End Developer
http://www.aamirshahzad.net

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Jordan D

So when it comes to making a portfolio for an audition type thing, how many pieces of art would be like a small portfolio without overwhelming it? It’s always so hard to judge how many to put in and I know it can be difficult and like mentioned turn people away if you add too many.

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Chris Oatley

As many professional-quality pieces as you have. However, I don’t recommend including more than 25.

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Daniel

Great article. I’m wondering, though, should the portfolio I’m currently ‘constructing’ actually say, ‘Portfolio’ on the cover? Or is that tacky?

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Robin Smith

Chris,
Will you create or have a guest blogger create, a post on creating a bible for animated TV series? I’m struggling right now to create one and they are tricky, each is unique and even what to include is not clear cut. As the calling card and pitch to a new series, a bible can make or break the sale of a project.
thanks,
Robin

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Chris Oatley

Hey, Robin! What questions do you have that aren’t already answered here: http://chrisoatley.com/animation-pitch

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Chet burgundy

Great article! Do you think a blog spot is a acceptable and professional place for my portfolio? Will I be more respected with a regular web site as opposed to a blogger page? Thanks

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Filasis

Awesome article! Im happy to say i follow all of this advice (except i have too much art in my portfolio and im not always sure what people want to see). The problem I have is always needing to get better first before i try and get a gig. I just keep working on that and end up never actually submitting my portfolio anywhere.

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Harshavardhini

Really Informative. Thanks a lot Chris. I would Follow all these and gonna prepare my Portfolio. Thank you Once Again.

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jackie Light

First, I’m impressed with how many people you have responded to. It’s nice to know you care about your readers. I’ve gained some good insight from your advice. Grammar is a big thing for me (meaning I am not the best at it )

Second, I was wondering, as someone re-entering the field, what should I put in my Art Directors portfolio. How many logos? How many campaigns and such? I keep hearing “well rounded”. Does that mean with a variety of mediums per campaign? Like social, print, guerrilla, tv etc.? I’m in a time sensitive situation and would like to concentrate on only my best.

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Karen

I’m going to a conference and I’m thinking it might be convenient to have my illustration portfolio on my ipad just in case I meet a perspective client. Does anyone have an portfolio apps they really like?

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Paul

Thanks Chris for the great advice, I’ll use it as a blueprint for developing my own.

Can I ask, how much is experience valued over ability in this field? For example, someone breaking into Concept Art.

Also, I’d really love to see a sample portfolio if you could link some, something that an Artist has created ready to send out to studios etc

Thanks again,
Paul

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Dykeisha Hill

This is good advice for someone like me who wants to be a concept artist. I want to know what should i put in a portfolio as a concept artist? I have characters Im working on, some paintings…etc.

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Good way of explaining, and nice article to obtain information concerning my presentation focus, which
i am going to present in university.

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Rob Orchanian

Looked through your website but could not find the place to post a classified. I need both a graphic artist and writer for a preschool TV series Pitch Bible. You can see our characters, the VEDGE’ Kids at our website: TheABCsofNutrition.com

Also, I apologize for not starting a new thread for this comment, but I couldn’t find the proper blog page.

Thanks,

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