A portfolio is essentially the illustrator’s answer to a common resume; it is presented any time a new job is being pursued, and needs to be kept fresh, relevant, and up to date.  Portfolios, however, have their own unique set of pit falls and rules to be observed in their creation, here are a few tips on making yours the best.

The most important of tips to keep in mind when composing a portfolio may seem like the simplest, but is surprisingly easy to forget:  only include work that you are truly happy with.  If it is not the work that you consider both your favorite and your best, your employers may expect work in a style that does not suit you or your talents.  Then no one is happy. 

That said, although the style of work in a portfolio should be kept consistent, there ought to be variety displayed in the form of technical abilities.  Unique perspectives, depiction of action and motion, competent use of light and shadow, and distortions or exaggerations of form, characters and layout are all necessities in a good illustrator’s portfolio.  Illustrations that demonstrate these capabilities will show a prospective employer that you can create characters, give them emotions, and visually tell their story.

More tips to keep in mind when choosing pieces for a illustration portfolio is to maintain focus on published works done for past clients.  As an addition it may, depending on the job, be wise to include sketches, notes and rough drafts so the prospective client can see how you put your illustrations together.  This is particularly useful if the job involves working on a team.  If the portfolio is for a first job, just out of school, the same rules apply, only use your best illustrations from school projects.
An illustrator’s portfolio should have a ‘read’ to it; a viewer should be able to pick it up and follow a flow from the first illustration to the last.  To achieve this it is best to have no more than around twenty cohesive pages of material.  Try to place what you consider your best pieces at the beginning and end to make the portfolio a memorable one.  On these pages some ten to twenty pieces should be displayed.  Each illustration should be labeled with the name of the client it was created for, creation date, the names of collaborators and the current copyright holder.  Some tips on organization: notes, sketches and rough drafts should have their own pocket, as should business cards and printouts.

After creating a first draft of a portfolio it will no doubt need to be edited.  It can be difficult to edit one’s own work, so a handy tip is having a friend or colleague give feedback on what should be kept, changed or replaced might be useful.  It is also important to know when to update an illustration portfolio; obviously an overhaul should be considered before any new interview so that only the most relevant pieces are presented to a prospective client.  More broadly, any time an award is won or a new project completed it should be incorporated into the portfolio.

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