How to create a portfolio?

On Thursday we had an interesting visitor giving us an lecture about design/illustration portfolios. Her name is Fig Taylor and she is a portfolio consultant at The Association of Illustrators and the author of How To Create a Portfolio and Get Hired?. She studied graphic design but after working as a graphic designer for some time she moved to being an agent. She didn’t like working as a designer and she thought that agents have way more fun!;) Her advice on what a graphic design portfolio should be like was very useful and interesting.

No tomatoes

Fig told us a funny story about an illustrator who was very very talented. They sent him to an interview and she were sure he would get the job, but for her surprise he didn’t. She went and asked why and the interviewing company told her that they didn’t give him the job because he didn’t have any tomatoes in his portfolio and they need someone to draw tomatoes. It sounds so weird and unbelievable! Surely you don’t have to have illustrations about tomatoes in your portfolio for the commissioner to believe that you can draw one.

I guess the same in a way applies to graphic design, but maybe not in the same absurd way as the tomato story. She told us how crucial it it to understand your place in the industry and where you wanna go in it before you can put a portfolio together. If you wanna be a magazine layout designer, your portfolio must have LOADS of examples of magazine layouts. And if you wanna work in branding your portfolio must show branding. you should do mock-ups on your own that support the genre/discipline you wanna work in.


A portfolio should show your best work and who you are as a designer. Clients will always be thinking A) is this person any good, B) what is this person about, and C) is this person any use to me. And a portfolio should answer those questions.

Size-wise a portfolio should be either A3 or A4. She said she prefers A3 because then you can fit real size examples of magazine layouts and posters in it. Don’t use too heavy paper for pages, and laminate any work you especially wanna protect form fingerprints and stains. Use only short captions that are “to the point” for pictures in your portfolio.

Take out of your portfolio work that is:

  • weak
  • stylistically misleading
  • un-deliverable
  • un-enjoyable to you
  • irrelevant to what you wanna do
  • work that you won’t be proud to talk about in an interview
Digital portfolio

Designers should ideally have both a print and a digital portfolio. The digital version should be a website or a PDF. Websites are good because clients and commissioners can access it remotely and they can share it with others simply by sending a link. If you are presenting your portfolio digitally in an interview you should always bring your own laptop/tablet along with a back-up print version in case for some reason the computer or internet connection etc. won’t work. Fig said that she personally likes tablets because they  replicate print portfolios: they are easy to hold and flick through pictures, and you can also zoom in easily.

Ask yourself:
  • are you making the most of your website?
  • are you making the most of your social media?
    • commissioners may see your work in social media and like it and want to give you a job
  • is your blog professional and outward facing?
    • ABOUT-section should tell people
      • who you are
      • where you’re based
      • what’s your discipline
      • what media you work in
      • what kind of opportunities you are after
  • are you passionate about something?
    • -> start another blog!
  • where else can commissioners see your work?
  • are you entering competitions?
  • are you networking?

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