Five Common Portfolio Mistakes

Five Common Portfolio Mistakes

By NellFrizzellIdeasTap 25/04/13

Whether you’re applying for an IdeasTap brief, meeting an agent, touting for business or trying to get into art school, you need to have a portfolio that looks top drawer. So make sure you’re not committing any of these portfolio errors...

1. Too much stuff

Remember how, when you turned about 19, and you were applying for jobs for the first time, and you had to rather sheepishly take babysitting and car washing off your CV? Well, dudes, the same applies with portfolios. Unless the work shows something really impressive about you, your experience or your practice, take it out. Otherwise, you’re just that person at a party who insists on showing a stranger every single photo of their phone, when they just want to get out of the kitchen and dance.

Also, make sure you’re doing a regular portfolio refresh – taking out things that are out-of-date and don’t really represent your current style or content.


2. No narrative

All good portfolios, like good sausage rolls, have a beginning, a middle and an end. Whether that journey is through your different styles, themes or periods is up to you – but someone looking at your portfolio is going to want to see a range of work, that nevertheless gives them a fairly in-depth impression of you as an artist. 


3. Diluting the good shit

It is rare that someone looking through your portfolio will take any longer than a few minutes over it. That means, rather than coming away with a specific opinion on each piece, they will be left with a general overview of your work. So, don’t let sub-standard stuff sneak in there. It’s like collective responsibility – you don’t want one bad apple to spoil the barrel. And you don’t want it to look like you’re scraping the barrel just to collect together enough.

If you want to include working ideas, or sketches or whatever, perhaps keep them in a separate, labelled folder? 


4. Bad labelling

“Oh look at this. It’s a picture of a duck. I wonder where that came from. Was it commissioned? Is it an illustration? Did they draw the whole duck or just set the type? It doesn’t say. Oh well, nice duck, shame it tells me absolutely bugger-all about their work.”

If you’re showing your portfolio to someone, presumably you’re hoping to, one day, be in a position to talk to them about your work. So, why not start now? Put in a little bit of basic information, like the title, the name of the project, who (if anyone) commissioned it, when it dates back to and what your role was. Please.


5. Saying more about yourself than you really meant to

If you’re applying for a job and all the work in your portfolio is cartoons about taking drugs, slacking off and stealing from people, then you may want to have a little think about the impression you’re making. 

Provocative work is great, if you’re being provocative for the right reason and pitching to the right people. But don’t forget – this portfolio is going to be reviewed and judged by people, often people you’ve never met, often quite important people. Make sure you’re showing them your best side.


More on portfolios... 

Heart agency illustration portfolio advice

Photography curator Greg Hobson on portfolio reviews

Commercial portfolio advice


For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit our Art & Design hub.

Image: Portfolio Mailer by scottkellum via Flickr under a creative commons license.

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