Posted 09 May 2018

Hot tips from industry insiders on building your ultimate portfolio

Top industry insiders from advertising and branding to filmmaking, illustration, photography and graphic design offer their best tips for building your ultimate portfolio. Covering everything including advice on showreels and online PDFs to printed marketing material – we find out how to make it succinct, personal and showcase the work you love.

Don’t pad it out for the sake of length
Pretty much all the stuff I look at is online. Don’t provide a list of links. Send one link with a montage or showreel of your work. If you have designs or illustrations, they should be obvious on the screen and simple to navigate. I am stupid. Most people can’t make it through the best stuff on the web without occasionally skipping bits, so they’re not going to watch your showreel from start to finish if it’s too long.

Keep it short. People always remember the worst thing on your showreel; so don’t pad it out for the sake of length. No showreel should be longer than three minutes. If people like it, they’ll check out your other stuff, just don’t present all that other stuff straight off the bat.
– Grant Orchard, Filmmaker, Studio AKA

Make it relevant to the recipient
Less is so much more. I want there to be a real reason for every image, and only want to see the pictures you enjoyed making. If you show work you’re very proud of, it leads to being commissioned for more of the same. If you don’t love it, I am unlikely to as well. And before you reach out to people, it’s important to research whether your work is relevant for that particular publication. Do you enjoy what they are already doing? I also love receiving personal emails and newsletters from photographers; this quickly updates me on their newest work, shows they are out there taking pictures and that they have faith in what they are producing.
– Holly Hay, Photography Director, Wallpaper*

Keep it simple
Keep it simple, and be honest – don’t put shit in you didn’t do. I’ve had recent graduates put the cover of Wallpaper* magazine in their folio, when the truth is, they had a four-week internship there. This is truly puzzling and very transparent. Some of the best designer portfolios I’ve seen (physical or online) are well edited, not too slick and honest about the role they played in the project. When I look at a portfolio, I’m not looking for a superstar (that’s me, and I don’t need another one), I’m looking for someone with ability and an eye.
David McKendrick, Art Director and Graphic Designer, B.A.M.

“Show work you’re very proud of – it leads to being commissioned for more of the same.”

Try not to mix too many genres
When you’re starting out, your work will quite often cover a broad range of genres and topics. Then if you’re associated with, or signed to, a production company (as a director for example), they will usually hone a specific route for you over time, to make you saleable. That doesn’t mean you’ll be limited to just making one kind of work, but it becomes a way to help give your work commercial appeal. So if you’re beginning as an unsigned creative, have a think about the work you most love making, and how you want to present it. To a degree, there’s nothing wrong with showing breadth, but you want to try to stick in people’s minds for certain work, so that they think of you when particular projects come up. So try not to mix too many genres, or at least categorise them so they don’t all appear on the same page at once.
– Olivia Chalk, Chief Production Officer at Grey London

Take sketchbooks and create a keepsake
Personal work is always the loveliest to see. If you create artwork by hand, take sketchbooks along to show clients, agents or art directors. A postcard is still the most effective thing to leave with someone after a meeting. If it’s an image that really resonates, they will almost certainly put it on their wall and then you will always be there, reminding them that you’d like to be commissioned. Stickers are great too, and surprisingly cheap to print.
– Helen Parker, Head of Illustration at Blink Art

Tailor to online, print and presentations

Websites are your best marketing tools. It’s important to have a good presence online that clearly shows what you do and showcases your talents. Make a printed portfolio and use an iPad for showing animations. People appreciate seeing things printed, especially in the editorial industry. It’s also good to prepare a slideshow presentation of your work and practice talking about your work, methods and influences, because in larger group meetings clients often prefer presentations on a screen.
Kyle Bean, Set Designer and Illustrator

“Send something impactful and inspiring to grab their attention.”

Get it in front of people
Remember that the work is completely new to the person who’s looking at it, so give them as much opportunity to engage with it as possible. Make sure you present it in a clear way, use large images and make sure there’s not too much graphic noise around the work. Then approach people for advice, rather than a job. Find people and studios you respect in the industry, and ask if they’d be able to spare 20 minutes to look at your portfolio and offer some pointers. That’s the way to begin communication; sending an email directly asking for an internship or whether they have a junior role could shut down the conversation straight away.
– Hannah Caughlin, Graphic Design Consultant, Represent

Make it impactful
These days, more than ever, attention spans are at an all-time low. We scroll and swipe through images all day and night. Make your portfolio impactful. Whoever is in charge of the ‘jobs@...’ inbox often doesn’t have the time to go through pages upon pages. Send something bold and inspiring to grab their attention, then if you have the opportunity to share your work in person, you can go into detail.
– Adam Tickle, Content Manager, Sneakersnstuff