Every good concept art portfolio showcases the artist’s versatility.
But many artists think they are demonstrating versatility when they are actually demonstrating a lack of focus.
It’s good ol’ fashioned fear-of-commitment.
In my post about The 5 Common Pitfalls Of A Concept Art & Illustration Portfolio and our ‘Paper Wings Podcast’ episode Ten Steps To A Winning Portfolio we advised that artists demonstrate specialization in favor of versatility when applying for a job in a creative “pipeline.”
Artistic specialization can drastically benefit your career as a concept artist (whether you’re a character designer, layout artist, environment painter or some other type of conceptual illustrator).
So, today, I’m going to challenge you to reconsider the way you’re pursuing your creative dreams as I debunk The Myth Of Versatility…
A Strong Concept Art Portfolio Is About TRUE Versatility.
True versatility is ALWAYS a good thing.
My own versatility has been a major plus for my career.
I went from working on Disney Fairies movies to expanding the world of Pixar’s Cars with Planes. The only things Fairies and Planes have in common are eyes, mouths and wings.
To work in animation and video games etc. you have to be versatile. But true artistic versatility just means that you have a few areas of specialization.
You acquire specialization in multiple areas with time and experience.
That’s true versatility.
What’s The Job?
My friend just applied for a job as a story artist at Disney. When I looked at his work I saw page after page of beautiful, appealing character designs, some logo designs, a couple of full illustrations…
…and zero storyboards.
The work in the portfolio was great but almost completely inappropriate for a story position.
A story portfolio needs storyboards.
If he had a portfolio full of great storyboards would it be appropriate to add a few pages of character designs to demonstrate his true versatility? Sure.
Versatility is appealing when it doesn’t muddy the message of the portfolio and confuse portfolio reviewers. In this case the message should have been: “I am a talented, consistent, experienced story artist! Oh, you liked my boards?! Well, I also do great character designs! Check out these last two pages that showcase my five best character designs!”
You take responsibility for deciding what kind of job you’re pursuing and then make sure that your portfolio clearly communicates.
Don’t put the burden of the decision on the recruiter or editor who might hire you.
The kind of work in your portfolio should be the kind of work you’re pursuing.
In short, you get what you give.
Specialization & Your Big Break:
The term “pipeline” refers to the ordered process of making animation for film & TV, mainstream comics, video games etc… The “pipeline” is also known as the “production schedule.”
You will find a pipeline anywhere there are a bunch of artists working together to create a much larger final product (like a movie).
The quality of that final product depends on whether the artists in it can consistently and efficiently deliver quality.
The people in charge of running the pipeline efficiently – producers, editors – are looking for artists who can fit within that pipeline and keep it running smoothly with as little drama and disruption as possible.
Specialization = Dependability = Hire-ability.
Your portfolio MUST showcase great drawing and painting, but it also has to communicate how you could fit into a production pipeline.
Your portfolio must convince the recruiter or editor that you could very well be the best choice for the available position.
A Note To Freelance Illustrators:
Freelance illustration isn’t what I think of as a “pipeline” job like animation, video games or even most mainstream comics.
Sure, you have an Art Director and you pass the work off to the layout department but the final piece of art is pretty much the work of one artist.
Here the specialization/ generalization boundaries are perhaps a bit blurry.
There are some illustrators out there who are working steadily and they have multiple styles and they do lots of different things like logo design, web design etc…
But if you’re sending your kids book to a company that does snowboard graphics you’re probably lacking in focus and the message of your portfolio is probably very unclear.
The snowboard company probably doesn’t care that you’re versatile enough to do a kids book……that is, until you build a real relationship with them and that’s something interesting that they eventually learn about you.
And, really, the illustration rock stars are known for a personal, signature style – which brings us back to specialization.
Maybe It’s Time To Focus?
…and maybe you’ll get better jobs by demonstrating one (or a few, if you insist) areas of specialization.
Check out my resource page for Concept Artist Jobs if you want to learn more about how to have a successful career as a concept artist (or, for that matter, any other kind of creative career).
How about YOUR Concept Art Portfolio? Does it showcase TRUE versatility or is it just confusing?
If your portfolio is confusing, what could you do to focus?