How to build your illustration portfolio

Fri 1 Jan 2021

When you’re starting out as an illustrator, having an impressive portfolio is vital. Your portfolio is a visual resume, showing prospective employers a body of your best work, giving them an insight into who you are as an artist, and providing you with an opportunity to make an outstanding first impression. Here are some tips on how to maximise that opportunity.

1. Get a website

As well as a physical portfolio, you’ll need a website. Freelance illustrators without an established online presence are all but invisible to potential clients. Creating a professional gallery that displays your best work in an organised, attractive layout and makes it easy for prospective clients to get in touch is vital for launching a successful illustration career. Ensure that you:

  • Optimise your images for the web before you upload them (slow loading images will result in a high bounce rate from busy prospective clients).
  • Update your site regularly – that includes replacing your old work with newer, more advanced artwork.
  • Organise your site into clearly defined sections and limit the number of images in each section to around 20-25 of your best pieces.

2. Exclude your early work

Although it can be tempting to demonstrate how you’ve grown as an artist over the years, resist the temptation to include your early illustration work in your portfolio. Prospective clients only want to see your best work and with limited time to review multiple portfolios, less is definitely more when it comes to building a strong body of work. Keep your portfolio clean and minimalist, using a single illustration per page, and pare it down to around 10 of your best pieces.

3. Focus your efforts

Your portfolio should show who you are as an artist and appeal to the types of clients that you want to work for. Giving yourself self-assigned projects that are relevant to real-world applications can help focus your efforts so that you have a body of work featuring the type of illustrations you’d like to be hired to create.

Want to work in advertising? Set yourself a creative brief for a specific brand. Interested in children’s book publishing? Work on book covers for your ideal target market. Focusing your energy on the type of artwork you want to create professionally will give you a stronger voice as an artist and show prospective art directors the types of projects you should be commissioned to work on.

What's it like to study illustration online? We spoke to Falmouth Flexible MA illustration student Deborah to find out:

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