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ArtOrder Portfolio Building Class #3 - Setting A Strategy

What is a "strategy" for building a portfolio, and how does it help prepare us to be powerful and effective when we create the possibility of getting our dream project?

Thursday, January 03, 2013 by Jon Schindehette in Creativity

Welcome back to class two of the Portfolio Building Class. Please make sure that you are current in the program before moving into this current phase.

Class Introduction

Class #1 - What is a Portfolio?

Class #2 - Self Assessment

Did you do your homework for Class #2? Was it tough or simple? Don't worry, neither answer is correct. If you did the assignment and learned something new about yourself, or your work, then the assignment was successful.

Were you able to identify one image that was able to answer all the requirements of question #20? If you did, you are a better person than I am. When I reviewed my portfolio, I was able to find images that answered, at best, most of the requirements, but none of them answered all of the requirements. In some cases, it was simply a matter of an image not having the appropriate content for their audience, or other times it was a color palette choice that made it not fit the bill, and sometimes it was a matter of design considerations that didn't meet the requirements. Once, I thought I found an image that met all the requirements, but after careful review, I realized that I had missed a capturing a few visual requirements of the company that I wanted to do work with. I find that is often the case, as my eye gets more educated and mature, I am able to look at perspective clients with better awareness and insight. This allows me to better understand what they are looking for, and how I can help them solve their visual problems...and in the end, it allows me to build a powerful and effective portfolio.

...and that leads us into today's class topic - Setting A Strategy

The self-assessment helps us gain awareness of ourselves, our work, and what we want to be up to. We have to have this information firmly in place before we start trying to define a strategy. If you do not know what you are up to, then you are setting out on a journey with no destination in mind. Now, I'm sure you'll have quite the adventure on your journey, but if you want to do more than just amass memories, then you have to have some kind of destination in mind. You don't have to be in a hurry to get there, and you certainly don't have to know all the twists and turns, or "happy accidents" that will occur along the way, but you've got to know in what direction to start off.

For me, I go back to my self-assessment...

I have identified the strengths and weaknesses I believe that I possess at this point in time. I know a bit about myself and what inspires or is important to me. I have an idea of what I want to do with my life and career (at least for today! It doesn't have to be "for ever"), and I have an idea who I want to do work with. Not a bad beginning.

Next, I pull up that single image that came the closet to answering question #20. I'll go over it one last time, and define all the ways that it doesn't answer all the requirements that were identified, and see if I can dredge up a few more.

For those folks that have heard me speak on portfolios, this statement will not come as any big surprise - "Your portfolio is only as strong as your worst image." Guess what, you have just defined your worst image. The image that you have in your hand, as close as it might be to the ideal image, probably doesn't meet 100% of the requirements that were defined. Right? Now, if you are one of those rare individuals that has an image in you hand that meets 100% of all the requirements stipulated, then you are are either:

Not being realistic with yourself. Dig in deeper, and learn more about yourself!

Know how to create the imagery for a powerful portfolio, just don't understand presentation,marketing, or self promotion.

Have no need for this class. You are already a success, and are just slumming. You already know what it takes to build a powerful and targeted portfolio. In fact, you should consider teaching a class and sharing your knowledge and experience!

So, you've defined your "Worst Image". Here's an image that does some things right, but doe other things wrong. I certainly don't want a portfolio filled with pieces like this...or worse. If I have identified issues with my own image, I can guess that an AD or Editor will find even more wrong with the image. So this has got to be my launching point. So where do I go from here...

Let's go back to my lists from the self-assessment. I'm going to create a fictitious set of requirements as an example. As part o my self-assessment, I defined that I was passionate about creating artwork that taught children about their environment, and invited them to take active participation in their stewardship of the environment. I identified that I wanted to do work with the Swim With The Whales foundation, and specifically I wanted to work on the touring interactive science show that they are developing. I recognized that they are looking for very approachable imagery that speaks to 6-14 yo children. Images that utilize strong outline, dynamic line quality, bright saturated colors that take natural colors up a notch, and the images need to work well in print (marketing, brochures, signage, etc.) and digital (presentations, applications, kiosks, videos, etc.). Needless to say, the images, while simplified or stylized, must be extremely accurate for biological and anatomical traits. I identified that my skills were up to snuff, but that my style is not on target and trends a little older. I need to do some research to have a better understanding of the limitations of the digital mediums, and the limitations that medium might impose on the artwork. My "worst Image" reinforces the shortcomings I have already identified, and in fact highlights an additional need to do some additional work on the "dynamic line" requirement.

Once I've really come to grips with the shortcomings and strengths, I can start to define my strategy for creating the possibility of working on the project. The next step is to get into action.

For myself, I start with creating a list of the "Ideal" portfolio that would be required to work on the whale project. After studying what they are up to, and talking to a colleague that has done work with the foundation in the past, I know that there are 4 specific images that would be ideal for showcasing my skills, my understanding of what they are up to, and my passion for their project. At this point, I will create a short brief for each image, set timelines, and establish a network of support to help me evaluate and critique the images based upon the briefs.

My briefs are kept simple and targeted. I state who the images are for, the intent of the pieces, any design restrictions or limitations that the image needs to work within, the audience, the emotional impact the image is going to illicit, any narrative the image is going to impart, and any specific content details that are required. I stay away from non-specific language or language that can have multiple meanings, as much as possible. I keep sentences short and concise. This is NOT a create writing exercise.

My timeline is clear and realistic. I define all the steps in my process - from thumbnails to finals. I establish start/finish dates for each step in the process, and I state my intent to keeping in integrity with those dates. If I blow a date, no matter what the reason, I will get back into integrity with the timeline by restating dates for each step of the process. I will not simply "wing it", or "rush" the next phase of development to try and "make up for the lost time".

My support network will be made up of people that I trust to give me honest feedback, not the feedback that I want to hear. They can give me feedback in constructive means that help to inspire, inform and motivate me to do better.

Okay, do you see how I built my strategy? Creating a strategy isn't some difficult and exhausting process. Creating a strategy is quite simple:

Identify what you are up to

Identity what you want to be up to

Identify what it is going to take to get there

Create the steps to get there

Take the steps to get there

The concept is quite simple, right? Doing it is also quite long as we take all the roadblocks out of the way of accomplishing and fulfilling upon our strategy.

Next week we are going to dig in a little deeper on your strategy, and talk about your "plan". Your plan is nothing more than the details of "how you are going to get there". This is the place where it is really easy to get triggered into the fight, flight or freeze reactions that stress brings on. Don't worry, we'll talk about that in more detail next week.

Homework Assignment:

Identify your "worst Image", and share what you learned from identifying the image with someone.

Create your "strategy" using my example as a guide

Share what you learned about yourself, the process, or the homework with someone

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