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 Moo.com 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.