My Two cents on Portfolio Reviews

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PascalCampion's avatar
You know, I see quite a bit of portfolio on a regular basis, and even more so when I go to comic con and CTN.

This time around was the same thing, I saw quite a few portfolios. Some good ones and some that miss the mark.

There were a few in particular that caught my eye.. a few extremely good ones, and a few that just didn't work, and I wanted to try and share my opinions about portfolios in general.

This is just my point of view, based on MY experience and definitely not a definitely law, rule, or "must do". Just what I noticed in many student's and young professional's portfolios.

The first thing that strikes me is how similar portfolios can be from one student to another..I can almost always tell when one student is from Art Center, San Jose State, Otis, Sheridan or any other major school. It's a good thing and a bad thing. Mainly a bad thing though

Just a few personal thoughts on portfolios since I just came back from comic con and saw a ton over there.

Your portfolio should be a reflection of yourself , not just your skills. When you do a portfolio and go shopping it around, or just ask for some feedback, the person you are showing it to doesn't know anything about you. Doesn't know how long you took to draw this piece or this piece, and quite frankly, does not care. Do you know how long it takes to make a commercial? a movie? does it matter when you are in the movie theater and watching it? The same goes for the reviewer. The number one thing that matters( at least to me) is how enjoyable the experience of going through your work is.

It doesn't have to be funny, or cute creatures.. I very often appreciate portfolios that are fairly gory and bloody, or of other nature, as long as I can relate to it somehow.

The way I relate to a portfolio is through the quality of the images in them..and this is what I consider to be quality work.

1 If you are images tell a story, you are more than halfway there.
2 if your story is crystal clear, you are ninety nine percent of the way there.
3 if your stories are clear and personal, you just broke the house.

You'll notice that neither in 1 or 2 is there any mention of technique… and, oddly enough, there is still no mention of it in number 3 either.
You know why?

Let me make this clear.
When you are showing your portfolios to people, you are selling ideas and personalities.
Not how you handle Photoshop, or perspective.
Not how you mix your colors, or how many different variations on a tree you can create.
These are exercises you do in school to develop your skills that are used to create stories..which is what I look for.
I am not saying that technique is not important, but I see it as a skill that is very similar to writing.
When you are a kid, you learn how to draw letters, and eventually words and how to write..and you forget about it.
You use that skill to write essays, and novels, and letters to your mom, girlfriend or potential employer.
When you send a letter to a potential employer, you are not showing them how many different ways you can draw the letter A, or B, or Z.
You write ideas.. you try to show this person who you are and what is interesting about yourself.
The better you write, the better you will be able to convey these ideas..but if you have no ideas to convey, all the nice writing in the world won't amount to much.
In a similar fashion.. if your resume is fifteen pages long, most people won't want to read it, especially if you are just showing declinations on the letter M and N, and how well T and H can go together.

Back to Portfolios.
Images are beautiful letters, beautiful words and it's easy to get caught up in the "how it looks" bit..much more than with the alphabet( unless you look at how old Manuscripts were written), but they still function like words and paragraphs.
In some ways, if you use them correctly, they actually function better. If you are careful enough, you might be able to express emotions and feelings that you wouldn't necessarily be able to do with words. You can suggest images that don't exist, and you can make someone feel something… very much like a great writer can create worlds that do not exist.
You can , and you should do that as well in your portfolios.

I understand it is easier said then done, and a lot of you think they have nothing to say.
I disagree.
I think every single person has something to say in a unique way.
Maybe you don't have something DIFFERENT to say, but the way you are going to talk to your best friend ,your mom, a complete stranger about how you feel about ice cream will be different from person to person.
The way you and your neighbor see the sky and the clouds outside your window will be different and unique.

As an artist, you are an author, not just a mechanic.
As an author, you develop your technique to fit your vision.
This is what school and teachers are here for. They are not meant to transform you into an artist… you already are one. They are here to help you develop the tools you need to fully express who you are and what you see.
This is what most people in the industry are looking for.
People who can use the skills they have to share visions.
You need both.
You don't need to possess ALL the skills in the handbook.. that would be impossible because that handbook is being written as you go along.
There definitely fundamentals that have been around for centuries and that will always be around, but techniques change and evolve with you and with society.
The latest software you are going to be be so good at might not exist in three or four years.. but if you are using this software to express your ideas, chances are you will be able to do it somehow with a different piece of software, or a different type of tool altogether.

Last week, I saw two portfolios of note.
One from this young artist from Mexico who could barely speak English.
He did comic books, and was there with his other friend, who didn't speak English Either.
He showed me his work, and was very shy about it.
When I looked at it, my first reaction was.. ha.. this is not my style, this not the "look" I like.
When I read through the first story he had, the hair on my arms were raised. I loved the story.
It was simple, clear, and easy to relate to. it was a love story.. love gone wrong if you want.
Technically, there were some issues in the pacing, there were a few frames here and there that were not totally necessary and some that could have have been totally cut out… but the overall point of the story came across loud and clear and it worked.

His second story was a sci fi story…once again..not my cup of looked like a mix between Anime and something else that I didn't know and that is not necessarily my favorite type of art.
Here again. the whole story worked, and there were NO WORD BALLOONS. He hadn't had time to put them in.. but the story still worked.
There were again some things that were not necessarily working with layouts and pacing, and the look of it was something way more bloody than I cared for, but it worked.

My feedback to him was that his work was awesome. I saw some issues here and there, but in spite of these, his stories worked very well.
I didn't feel like I should tell him what to fix, because although some parts were clumsy, they were not broken. It was imperfect, but it worked.
The point I am trying to get across here is that even if it's not perfect, your stories, your images can work. And that's really all you can ask for.
Perfection doesn't exist.. we strive for it, but we know that no matter how close we get to this ideal we have, it will always move a little further back, always out of reach.

The other portfolio I saw that made an impression was for the wrong reason.
This young girl who had just graduated showed me her work and everything in the book was an exercise she had done in school.
Technically, it was all good. She actually drew and painted better than me( which happens VERY often) BUT… there was very little personality in the book.
When I see something like this, I usually pick apart the technique because that is the only thing that is presented to me. And that is what every recruiter will do..if you just show him how well you draw your O's and your T's, they will just look at that, and not at the bigger picture, they won't read the text and will just get very nit picky on those things.
That's what I did.
I also encouraged her to put all that aside and to use her own experiences in life to come up with stories that she could put in images…and make them as honest to what she felt as she possibly could.
This girl has so much skill, but it seems that along the way she forgot to use them for what they were meant to be used.

And that is what I see a LOT in portfolios.

This my advice to you guys when you are prepping your portfolios, when you are in school,when you are relying on your teachers.
Remember WHY you want to be artists. Remember that you ( most likely) were draw to this because of the cartoons, comics, films you have seen as a kid that made you laugh, and cry, and wonder.
Remember that your teachers are there to help you but they won't transform you into artist. They can just help you find your way, and develop the tools you need to get there.
And remember that you are special and unique. That even if everybody else in the class, or around you can draw better, color better , animate better than you, it's about what YOU are going to do with your skills that matters, not how many skills you have.
And that's what you should be showing the world.

That's my two cents.
Once again.. that is just MY point of view.
I am sure many many people will have different opinions, sometimes contrary ones, but this is what I think and this is what works for me.
© 2013 - 2021 PascalCampion
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A57's avatar
Thank you. I am currently studying and we're compiling our portfolios according to our projects. I always feel they don't fully justify my potential, your article has encouraged me to rethink my portfolio.
M-A-F's avatar
 I'm happy because I thought portfolios would have to be all that work I spent in school drawing stuff like apples, animal skulls/still life etc. which I was good at but 1. I don't understand why anyone would care about those and 2. it's boring and makes me forget why I'm drawing 

I still need to get any idea about what's included in a portfolio believe it or not but it's still a relief :thumbsup: I'm not expected to be a robot~
Raxel1447's avatar
Thank you for posting this. I'm getting ready to move to a new art college, and they require a portfolio. I was getting super nervous because my technique, despite the fact I've been working at it for nearly five years, isn't the greatest. I found this inspirational. I was so caught up in technique and whether or not my art was good enough (the fact I have a lack of positive AND negative feedback coming in doesn't help...) that I forgot why I loved drawing and writing in the first place: because I had a story to tell.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank you so much.
KindCritic's avatar
I love your Cicero icon! :D
LunaMach's avatar
this is the best journal I've read in a few months, really.
I've always been confused about what i am supposed to do with my skills and what to put in my portfolio that i still need to do. And when you talked about the ice cream. Oh God, that made so much sense to me i almost cried.
I thank you very much, it made me think a lot about what i want for my self as an artist!
Congratulations for the good work, and thank you again for the help!
sade-no-1's avatar
Thanks for posting this, it really helped me understand what people look for in a portfolio. Especially as a 16 year old art student in London, a lot of people at this stage forget what art is to them because even though eventually we come up with our own ideas after researching other artists and copying them and making transcripts; we forget to really listen to ourselves and what we want to say to the world.
I guess that's why when I look through my work I'm not really satisfied even though technique may be good.Yes, as art students we have already begun developing our own styles of drawing and painting, so just in that we can't really compare ourselves with each other because we're all good at different types of art. But reading this gave me a different kind of motivation to actually incorporate 'me' into my work.
DoOp's avatar
I really like what you had to say, it is definitely easy to lose yourself as an artist when you're learning so many technical things. Thank you for this awesome journal : ).
TheGalleryOfEve's avatar
Thank you so much, I'm sure this will help a TON of people!!! :iconflyingheartsplz::iconsweethugplz::iconflyingheartsplz:
Do7anii's avatar
I don't usually read a long journal, i just skip it.. but this one made me go all the way. Thank you, this made me think of what i should do as i will be applying for university soon. :] :heart:
Bonka-chan's avatar
This has been a really great help for me especially because I'm going to be at CTN this year with my portfolio. Thank you so much for posting this! It's helped build my confidence and direction in what I can and can't do.
MaelynnHann's avatar
This was extremely helpful, thank you. I thought I already knew what needed to be done for me to complete my portfolio but you gave me even more perspective.
Phosphorose's avatar
Awesome. Thanks.
plumes7278's avatar
Oh, well. Now I can understand two or three things better. First: That's another why I love your gallery.
Second: that's why I find really difficult to appreciate my own portfolios both for drawing and for photography, even when I am sure I put my favourite works into them.

Three: this thing comes up very often with comments and favourites through different galleries: skills-showing works get a lot of visit and sometimes favourites too, but when you browse them, you usually have a quick look, you add them to your collections just because your eye is satisfied at the moment, and then you forget them quite quickly, or maybe you'll remember about the kind of lines or the peculiar style of the artist.
Differently, conceptual works or any works bringing an idea or a story inside, well, they are full of comments. Because the author gives you his point of view and in some way you feel like you have to leave your (written in this case) point of view, which can be the same or not. And it happend to me that I like to go and search again for those communicative works, even if they're tecnically not the best.
One of the main problems about this, is that with the skills-showing works, you get satisfation looking at them, and when you move your eyes everywhere else, the emotion ends. With conceptual works, your mind is satisfied when you're looking at them, but also when you're not. Because once you saw them, the feeling keeps coming up to your mind every now and then during your day.
And that's all is the big gap i think. You said it clearly, I completely agree.

Four (and last one, i promise): I have been in London last month, just for 10 days. I attended a design corse at Ual, and I can suggest it for anyone who wants to be obliged to make works with ideas inside, and not tecnically good ones. Why? simple. We had to make 100 projects in 5 days.
The teacher gives you a task, and you have to develop it with any materials you want (they seriously give you anything you could need for it) and you have from five to ten minutes for making it. It has to work well and to be understandable for any people in the world, and it has to be very quick and functional.
In a morning you come up with something like 25-30 projects, and then you have to show them to other 10-12 people from all over the world. They'll tell you if your idea works or not.
I found it really difficult but really useful. The name of the corse is "100 design project" and the teacher is Rod Judkins.

Thank you for writing this journal, I'll save it and I'll read it again next time I'll try to create any portfolios.
And sorry for my english, I usually make a lot of mistakes and it's quite difficult to explane this kind of things in different language for me. That's why I have to write a lot, and that's why I prefer images (if and when they work) to tell things to the world ;)

Thank you a lot :)
windboi's avatar
this is just great! Thank you for saying this, means a lot to me !
windboi's avatar
my pleasure 
CourtneyBowen's avatar
Great post, thanks for sharing!!!!
dothaithanh's avatar
This one is a great advice, which i want to hear for a long time. 
lol . Thanks!

spookytree's avatar
very encouraging post absolutely love it :D
spookytree's avatar
Not a problem, it was my pleasure. your blog was very uplifting and inspiring:) it gave me new perspective to look for my personal art style:) thank you.
EbolaSparkleBear's avatar

:iconscreamingmonkeyplz: Not only are you a phenomenal artist you're also a magnificent advisor.:icontrophyplz:

I always thought it was a rule to have stories with no words to show your ability to communicate in silence.

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