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Building your portfolio

Concept artist and creative assistant Arturo Gutiérrez takes a close look at what makes a successful portfolio, and how to build one!

Concept artist and creative assistant Arturo Gutiérrez takes a close look at what makes a successful portfolio, and how to build one!

Do you need a portfolio?

Building a portfolio is a complicated task, for this one main reason: we have no idea what we are aiming for. When we say the word portfolio, it seems as if its a one single thing that we have all come to agree means the word portfolio. What we usually forget is that a portfolio can mean a variety of things, and depending on what we want to get out of this portfolio, the contents of it will radically differ.

ArtStation is one of many platforms suited for presenting portfolios. There is a variety of portfolio styles within ArtStation itself.
© www.artstation.com

Usually when presenting a portfolio, it meant a style of suitcase containing samples of the quality of work that could be expected of a certain company or artist. Here, it was deemed useful to include works that had done well in the market as to imply that if we as the company or artist were to be hired, the resulting product would reach the same level of success.

I have talked with many artists that have amazing portfolios, and Ive had the great chance to have them criticize mine. There are just a few certain things that seem constant among them.

Ryan Langs portfolio is not monothematic. It shows a variety of lighting conditions along with subjects ranging from personal work to AAA movie work.
© www.artstation.com/ryanlangdraws

Apparently generally-agreed-upon-concepts

"Your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest piece." This weakest link thought line apparently dates back to Thomas Reid's Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, published in 1786. It is a very common approach to joint effort evaluation. So its better to have three good pieces than five mediocre ones. Although it also better to have five great pieces. But, how do I know if my piece is good or bad?

Lians portfolio is a show of render and composition mastery. Not as many images needed to make up an excellent portfolio.
© www.artstation.com/yanli

Theres just not enough time

Portfolios are hooks; either they are sharp and well shaped, or they let all the fish get away. Most people or companies hiring artists need to make a quick evaluation to reduce the enormous pool of possibilities they are presented with. They want to choose one out of two-gazillion concept artists in the market: there is just not enough time to read or understand each piece until later on in the selection process. Have you ever tried to fish sharks with worm bait?

There is such consistency in Nivanhs work; he has single-handedly monopolized the world thirst for skull-robot-dudes. Hes got hundreds of them!
© www.artstation.com/nivanhchanthara

This is not a portfolio

It sometimes happens, that what you think you are presenting is a portfolio, but it ends up being a quick collection of works you have done: good, bad, unfinished and everything you could fit in there. The first problem is length (most artists say four or five pieces are enough). The second problem is curation: what you end up presenting is your timeline, but what they are interested in, is in what you can do right now. Its great that you have evolved from stick figures to fully rendered people, but tap yourself on the back, and select your most recent, best pieces to date.

I really cant say that there is much more agreed upon than this. Now the question arises: how should my portfolio be?

Another very consistent portfolio! He certainly knows what he likes to do, and he is great at it!
© www.artstation.com/zz-heng

Aim true

It depends on what you want to achieve with said portfolio. If what you want is a job, then it is a professional portfolio, but if you just feel like sharing your personal work, whatever it may be, then it is a personal portfolio, and they cannot be critiqued or evaluated under the same light. A personal portfolio can only be truly critiqued or evaluated by some scope that is unique to the piece and the artist. It would be folly of me to state that personal portfolios should be this or that... but a professional portfolio is a whole other story.

Eventually what you do as a hobby will also feed into your work, and hone your skills to a great degree of specialization.
© www.artstation.com/vbulgarov

Be careful what you wish for

A professional portfolio follows economic interests. An artist compiling theirs should observe the market he/she wants to enter. If you want to work for Blizzard, then stop making images that dont look like Blizzard. You can only be hired to do what you show in your portfolio. If you want to design tanks and other vehicles for a living, stop posting orcs and elves. If you keep posting orcs and elves, you are eventually going to be hired... to paint more orcs and elves.

In case you want to keep getting hired for drawing orcs and elves keep on drawing orcs and elves. Breathe and eat fantasy.
© www.artstation.com/mischeviouslittleelf

Breathe, think

I think it boils down to being in a hurried state. We all want to have a job right now, so we go into a painting frenzy, not really thinking about where we should place our efforts.

Take a second from the tablet and the sketch pad, and think. What do you really want to paint? On the other hand, I think we should all stop thinking about how to wow other peoples interests. Whatever it is you want to paint or draw, there is a market for it if you do it well enough. I believe excellence is always ripe for harvest, no matter what your subject of interest is.

This portfolio stands out from the rest; this style is very personal and has a healthy amount of personification against the mainstream rendering style.
© www.artstation.com/kudaman

Refocus all your efforts on the thing you want to do! Forget everything else for a while. Study your next move, and make your move. Be bold and remove what simply doesnt work. Shed.

This is a great portfolio! Have you thought of trying other techniques? Is it only digital work you want to do? Are you sure?
© www.artstation.com/andreablasichsculpture

Oh and another thing...

As long as you are painting and drawing, your portfolio will never be finished. It is a task that will never be done with: updating your portfolio is a constant chore. My portfolio used to be very personal, and has fluctuated and grown into a mess, and switched from website to website, and it is what it is right now, but surely, not for long. Knowing this should free you up from feeling scared of presenting your portfolio. The idea is to get better! Critique from others, accompanied by intension from ourselves, are the hammer and chisel we need to shape our public professional presence: our portfolio.

Its all a process! This is my portfolio so far! Im always working to make it better. There are many roads to get to your portfolio!
© www.artstation.com/arturo

Related links

Check out Blank Workshops
Arturo on ArtStation
Set up your own ArtStation portfolio