How to Create a Design Portfolio that Wows

You probably know that for any professional artist — or anyone in a creative field — promotion is everything. You can’t waltz into galleries anymore with your paintings in tow. Dozens if not hundreds of other artists have beat you to it. You can’t march into an audition and convince the director to hire you (sorry, Lea Michele on “Glee”). It’s even hard for writers: Our cold pitches fade into the snowy drifts of the editor’s desk, no matter if we’re published authors with hundreds of clips.

These days, everyone has to demonstrate not only their talent, but also their marketing prowess. And that means your portfolio has to wow the editor/agent/curator, even if your work is objectively amazing.

Here’s how to do it:

Establish a presence on social media

Everyone wants to know that your work can find an audience. That means you have to go ahead and build one on your own, rather than expect the publisher or director to do it for you. Your marketing savvy is the key to setting yourself apart from the crowd.

And as you may have noticed, digital marketing is the name of the game. Take time to craft a compelling digital presence. You don’t need to have a profile on every social network, but check as many boxes as you can. Aim to be regularly active on networks that others in your field tend to use. Dancers and visual artists tend to use Instagram; writers and filmmakers often use Twitter; artisans and crafters use Pinterest; fine artists can be found on Ello. Bonus points if you run a successful Patreon and/or YouTube.

Make your digital presence complement your print portfolio.

Don’t make the mistake of trying to shoehorn your print portfolio, if applicable, into a website. You need to display your work in a format that works for the web. Aim for immersive, flexible experiences rather than simply tossing static images or PDFs onto a WordPress site.

Consider using the digital experience as a counterpart to your print portfolio. For example, your print portfolio could include stills from your film, with a QR code to direct the viewer to the trailer. Overall, your digital portfolio should be immersive and experimental, while your print portfolio can be more formal and demonstrative.

Add a bit of story to your portfolio pieces.

Anyone can slap together their best work, but people who would hire or commission you want to know how you work — and that the work is yours and yours alone. Show how much you care about your work and share a bit of the backstory to each piece.

Talk about your influences, processes, and inspiration. Aim to produce this supplemental material in a format similar to the final work. For example, if you are a graphic designer, you could share the initial sketches that you did with pencil and paper. Filmmakers could record a selfie video of them discussing the inception of the film. Writers could write a brief personal summary of what the work means to them.

Wrapping Up

A strong portfolio is one that sells you as a creative human. You’re more than your art, and anyone in the position to hire you wants to get a sense of your personality. Let your portfolio reflect that by demonstrating your social presence and sharing your unique story.

Whenever possible, look for innovative linkages among the different aspects of your portfolio. Can your writing samples be supplemented by Pinterest pins in which you give out writing advice? Would your paintings benefit from a behind-the-scenes video on YouTube? Think outside the box to improve your chances of getting booked — and better connect with your general patrons, as well!

Originally published on Creative Juices, our Medium publication.

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