Monthly Archives: April 2011

What do you need to get work?

I’ve talked about needing a portfolio before being able to get work, but it also goes beyond just that. You hear more and more about needing an online site, and it’s true, so many art directors and image coordinators would rather you send a link. I would much rather send a link then have to mail samples. But I’ve also found, this hasn’t eliminated the need to have a physical portfolio. Sometimes an art director wants to meet in person. I just recently did that, and was asked to bring work to show.

When you have an online portfolio, it’s easy to think, but all you are going to see is what is on my site. But that’s not always true. I have lots of images that aren’t on the site, that just as easily could be. And I have lots of spot illustrations that aren’t on the site.

First, spend some money on a decent portfolio. Mine is from Kolo a company that makes photo albums and scrapbooks. But many of their books can also double as a portfolio, since they come with letter size plastic pages to insert your samples. It’s cloth covered. has a window in the front where I can place a custom image. The plastic inside is a high quality and doesn’t get milky over time. And, it’s only $30.oo That’s pretty cheap for a presentable portfolio. I’ve known friends to spend hundreds on portfolios, to impress.

Trying to impress with spending a lot on a presentation concept is mixed. If it’s related to what you do, yes. For example, a friend once spent about $150 on a custom made box for his portfolio as a photographer. Each photo was mounted and matted, he could fit about 12 images in the box, there was a cloth pull tab to remove the stack, because they fit so tightly. It was very impressive.

Did it ever get him any work? I don’t think the box itself it did. BUT what it did do was let ADs know he respected his own art and was serious about it. Which is what your portfolio should do. Hence it’s worth spending some money.

Because while a nicer portfolio might not get you more work, you can be sure that a cheap one could definitely say something about you that isn’t true. It’s one of those, “When it’s right, people won’t notice, but if it’s wrong, it’s going to stand out.”

What you put your physical portfolio in is the same as what you might wear to an interview.

Also, your portfolio could also be on something like an iPad. More and more art directors are will look at your work on such a device. The image is clear enough and large enough for them to get a good sense. If you have such a device, don’t hesitate to take advantage of it. However, an iPhone isn’t the same. It’s way to small.  (Thanks to Reed Bond for reminding me of this!)

I’ve talked to a lot of different illustrators, and one thing that comes up is getting postcards. Should you or shouldn’t you?

I once ordered a 1,000 postcards, to do mailings. I ended up sending out over half of them, the rest I threw out, because I had moved and the information on them had become outdated. It was very time consuming, and costly. And I don’t think I ever got a single job from doing that.

When I work on site for a client, I often see promotional post cards from illustrators scattered about. For the most part, they seem forgotten. I seldom see art directors or designers putting them up in their office or cubical.

But I still think it’s a good idea to get some. Not for mailing to Art Directors, but to hand out, or as a leave behind. If you go in for a portfolio review, they often want something to keep, with your information. This is a perfect use for a postcard. If you do trade shows or conventions, the same. You can hand them to people interested in your work. It’s bigger then a business card so your image is better represented then it would be on a business card. Putting a postcard in someones hand is far more effective then mailing them one. And with better print on demand services, you don’t have to order so many. And it’s much cheaper these days. Some services, like offer the ability to have multiple images on postcards and business cards, for no additional charge. That way if you can’t decide on what image you want, you can pick several.

Regardless of what you do decide to use to present your work, always have business cards, and always carry them with you and don’t be afraid to hand them out. Also, don’t stress out on making the best business card you can, that will stand out and make everyone notice you. Are you a designer? Then have a serviceable business card. Pick an image that you feels best represents your work, and make sure all your contact info is on there. When it comes to info, I do believe that it’s possible to go over board. With Twitter, facebook, Tumblr, flickr, and all the other social networks, sometimes people tend to link all those (I do).

To me, and this is my personal opinion, having a long list of where people can find updates and info from you, seems kind of desperate. Sure people like to get their info from one source, which is why I have them all, and link them. But I tend to direct people to my website, from which they can then get the info to my other accounts/profiles.

But to each their own. Some people think providing all the information saves people the time of having to go to a website, and such. And, they are right. To each their own, really.

The great thing about PDFs, they cost nothing, and you can change them around as much as you want. If someone wants samples, you can email them specific images. You can burn the file to a disc and leave it with them for pennies. So yes, having a PDF ready to go is important.

I’ve never been asked for a resume for freelance work. Only when I am applying for long term production art work where I will be working on site. I still have one ready and updated.

To me, a portfolio these days is actually a multi-piece of self promotion. It’s never just a site, or a book. Use whatever tool you can to get work. The more tools you have, the more you can do, the easier it will be to get things done.

Being Ready

One thing I picked up from working at a corporate job was the importance of being organized. It saves so much time and energy and frustration. For example, I have a folder on my computer called Illo-clients, and each client gets a folder in there. Inside that each project for that client gets a folder. Sometimes I go farther and will have folders for pencils, references, and finals.

I work bigger then I need to. It’s easier to reduce then to increase. Some clients want actual size, and that’s what I deliver, but I still may work larger, in case I need a larger version later on. I also save a low rez, an RGB version, and the original layered Photoshop file.

I have a folder called Freelance Information. Inside are all my folders and files to deal with freelance work. Paid and unpaid Invoices, samples, resumes, and more. (Legal information, contracts and documentation, I keep in the client folder in the illo-client folder, since that’s organized by client).

The other day, I had to reorder business cards. The site I order from had my past orders, and I could just re-order. But I wanted to change the back information on one style of card. I had originally ordered these cards 2 years ago. But because I keep things organized, I found the PDF I needed quickly in the right folder, uploaded it, and didn’t have to recreate the PDF.

Same with samples. I have layouts for when I am up for a temp job that wants to see examples of photoshop work, production art work, layout and such. Just as I have samples showing illustrations. They are all laid out in an InDesign file, that I can add to as I complete an illustration. It’s part of my work flow. So when I need to send out something, I can just PDF those pages I feel the client would respond to best.

Also, it means I’m not left scrambling to pull something together. And I’m also able to customize what I send, rather then just send the same thing. I’m certainly not going to send every illustration I’ve done for a boating magazine to someone looking for a childrens illustrator, no matter how whimsical the art for the boating magazine was. I’m going to send those that are more story focused in execution then editorial. There’s a difference in what you might come up with for the assignment for each.

Keep in mind, not every thing you do is portfolio worthy. Also, not everything you show needs to be something you did for pay. You really don’t have to say who the art was for, but certainly showing a mixture of self directed work, and work for pay says, I am always working to improve my art, talent and skill.

Being organized often takes a few extra minutes once you are set up. Most people stumble getting set up. Just keep it simple to start with. Two main folders. Clients and Freelance Info. In clients, you break it down by each client. How you organize within a clients folder, that’s up to you. Time will tell if you need to add or subtract from your organization.

Same for Freelance Info. Invoices paid, Invoices Unpaid (I actually suggest getting some invoicing software if you can), promotional materials such as business cards, postcards, adds in trade magazines or shows.

Have a blank invoice ready to go, so you can send it with your final art. You don’t have to be fancy. If you are not a graphic designer, don’t stress over your invoice design. After all, an Art Director hopefully isn’t going to spend time sitting and looking at it, they are going to pass it on to accounts payable! Here is what my invoice looks like.

The only design element I put in was a graphic from this site, to tie the two together, and that’s the image at the top. It’s a nice graphic, it’s representative of my work, and it works well in the space. It also allows me to then break the invoice down into logical sections. There’s the to and from section, with all my information (TIP: Always make sure you spell the persons name correctly. No one really likes seeing their name spelled wrong). There’s the invoice number and the date. As a side note, you can use any system you want for numbering your invoices. I’ve yet to work with a company that gives me an invoice number. Sometimes you might get a purchase number from the company. Just add it and your invoice number. It’s really simple. And the date. The date is very important when dealing with clients who are late to pay. No date makes it easier for them to slide on payment. It doesn’t get them off the hook, but with no official date, they can try and slide things a few weeks.

I also include an option to pay via Paypal, and I’ve had smaller clients take this option. You pay a fee to get your money, but it’s pennies on the dollar. Some clients are quick to pay this way if it’s an option. No check to cut, no stamps, click, click, done.And when you get paid, take a few seconds to update your records.

Being a little OCD bout these details will save you a lot of time and frustration later down the road.