My Portfolio Building Homework – Part 1

I remember back in college we had a class called Professional Practices where we were taught to take the best of our classwork and throw it all together in a portfolio to present to the world in hopes of getting work. For years, I presented my portfolio this way, meeting rejection every time. Little did I know, this strategy of throwing in everything is exactly what I wasn’t supposed to do.

As an art director, Jon Schindehette teaches us in his blog series on portfolio building that a portfolio should be a unique statement made especially to speak to the one you’re presenting it to. It makes a simple sort of sense realizing that companies would want to see work they’d want to hire you for, rather than ‘that thing you painted that was pretty cool that has nothing to do with their brand’. Why it took me so long to realize this, I’ll never know.

I’ve decided to write about my experiences with Jon’s portfolio building class series here in a little series of my own exploring my journey with his prompts.

What is a Portfolio?

Assignment 1
Pull out your portfolio and mentally note every image that
• Fulfilled a list
• Came from your past
• Came from a job
Note how many images are left in your portfolio, and share it with the rest of the readers.

My Portfolio (As Presented at DragonCon 2012)

The Lotus Dancer (2012)
DND Nouveau (2011, private commission)
The Gift Giver (2011)
Archangel Uriel (2008)
Holiday Nouveau (2007)
Night Blooming (2009, for Angelic Visions)
Glimpse of Eden (2010, for Angelic Visions)
Dragon Prince (2011)
Geisha and Chrysanthemums (2011, tattoo commission)
Samurai and Koi (2011, tattoo commission)
Meditation on the Rose (2010, for Angelic Visions)
Forgotten Muse (2007)

My Revelations

In the end, I’m left with only FIVE total pieces.  Of these five, only three of them are even remotely in the area of book covers and art card work.  The verdict? I need more work…and badly! And not only more in quantity, but more thematically in my areas of interest.

Admittedly, I cheated leaving Lotus Dancer in since she was from my Fake Art Cards list, but I don’t find this list necessarily destructive, as it is specifically targeted to the art card market.  We’ll see if the later exercises in this series convince me I was correct in letting her stay!

I also disagree that no old pieces should go in a portfolio, especially if those pieces continue to show a relevant level of technical expertise and your area of pursuant interest.  However, for the purposes of this exercise, anything that was over 3 years old was crossed out.

So more than half my portfolio is shot!  Onwards to discover what exactly I can do about this disturbing predicament!

On to Part 2!


  1. Nakase says:

    Well, I was putting my best work together to have it reviewed and critiqued by a certain someone. Most of my best work came from commissions. If I take those out, and things that contain other people’s characters, I’m only left with 4 little pictures. I did have 10 picked out to begin with too!

    • Well, I leave it up to you if you want to send the new or the old one! This is a exercise I’m doing because I’m already at a point that I know the industry I’m wanting to get into and what kind of work it demands. If you’re seeking general advice on your work and technical level, I’d say go ahead and send me what you have.

      Otherwise, I’m happy to look at your portfolio once you’ve shuffled it up a bit as well! Good luck, either way.:)

  2. Hmmm I slightly disagree with some of these things. Honestly, I think it is important that you have actually soms things you made for jobs in them.
    For a long time I didn’t have those (of course I did some jobs, but those totally weren’t what I wanted to do), but everytime I got feedback about the fact that it was all personal work so nobody could know what to expect if I would work with a client.

    If it’s about a ‘list’ I really didn’t get those. The only thing I know for a portfolio is that you should start and end with a great piece. The rest of the portfolio feedback I got were ideas of what market to target with it, or if I wanted to target another market to change the whole thing.

    • Petra, I suspect why Jon has us pull our commissioned work from our portfolios in this exercise is rather to have us start thinking about the difference between commissioned and personal work. From what I gather, there *shouldn’t* be a difference between the two, quality/skillwise, because we should put the same level of quality into everything that we do (or at least this is what I have understood from reading Jon’s blog in the past). If there’s a difference in quality, there is a problem.

      I don’t necessarily believe we should leave out commissioned work either if it up to par and relevant to who you’re submitting to. I’m curious to see how the next exercises round out the parameters for a portfolio. I haven’t read the rest just yet, so I’m curious to know what will stay or to for me, as well.

      In the end, I think you got the main idea right. A portfolio should be your best stuff and also relevant to who you’re presenting to. If there’s one great thing so far about this series it’s that I’m thinking a little more strategically rather than doing the scattershot I’ve been doing for my portfolio.

  3. Harley-Rebel says:

    please note, if I followed my own exercise, I’d have ONE image. Please note, I said, “mentally note”. TOo many people jumped to the assumption that I said, take it out of your portfolio. You are simply suppose to note and share what cmoes up for you…

    • Yes I noticed Jon’s later comment on how this isn’t really a matter of elimination after I had already completed the exercise. Either way, the process of thinking about the differences between what was left in and what wasn’t was very enlightening.

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