Know Your Customer
The most common mistake that an artist makes with their portfolio is that they forget the intention of a portfolio. Too many artists look at their portfolio as a repository of the best work rather that the work that is relevant for the art director or project they want to get hired for. A game I like to play is "Guess the Industry". In that game, I flip through a book and try to guess who the artist wants to work for. If I see a portfolio filled with art work that feels very suitable for a trading card game, then that is what I expect to hear when I ask the artist who they want to work for. The truth is though, maybe 75% of the time, I can't guess who the artist works for, and that is a serious issue when trying to use your portfolio to break into a particular industry, category, or IP. If I can't guess, the chances are very good that the AD in question isn't going to feel like you are speaking to them, or even have an understanding of what they do.
If you have a book that does show that you know your customer, then the next big hurdle tends to be that you have a book that doesn't solve problems. What I mean by this can sometimes be a little hard to explain. As an art director, I look art with a number of things in mind:
Storyboard Your Presentation
One of the best pieces of advice I ever got was to be aware of the visual narrative of my portfolio. While this bit of advice is more critical for a physical portfolio, the concept is just as valid when thinking about the presentation in digital form. Now that you have pulled together work that is relative to the person you are pitching your portfolio, it's time to consider the presentation itself - which image should kick it off, how should you wrap it up, how do the images relate to each other, does the book jump around with different styles and content, Does the narrative feel cohesive and flow nicely? I like to print the pieces out and throw them on the floor and start shuffling images around and see how that affects the conversation. only when I've got a nice flow going to I start to feel satisfied.
Curate Till It Hurts
While I've got all my images on the floor, this is the ideal time to curate my presentation as well. When I'm talking about "curate", I mean it if the sense of "to pull together, sift through, and select for presentation." I tell all my students and mentees that they should cut images until it hurts. My mentor always told me to keep cutting the weakest image from my book until by cutting an image my book no longer functions effectively. There were times when I would only have 3-4 images in my book, because to have more images would have diluted my message or effectiveness. It isn't about the number of images in your book, it is all about how effective and relevant they are. Tossing in a few more images that showcase your concept skills isn't useful if you are going to be talking to an AD about a publishing gig.
Polish Your Presentation
After all of your curating, sorting, and creation of an impactful visual narrative - the last thing you want to do is be brought down by a bad presentation. I can't tell you how many times a presentation has been thwarted by disgustingly dirty portfolios, scratched sleeves, poor print quality, difficult UI's, or a host of other seemingly innocent issues. If you ever find yourself sitting down in front of a AD and uttering the the phrase "I'm sorry about....", you need to address what ever that issue is. An AD never wants to start out a relationship by hearing excuses. If there is some element of your presentation that is not reflecting the level of professionalism you want to exhibit, then consider taking care of that issue and bringing it up to the caliber you want to be recognized for.
You've got your book in order, now it is time to get in front of an Art Director and pitch yourself. This is just as much a part of the review process and making sure your book is in line - now you've got to make sure that you are as effective as you can possibly be. This is valuable both in face-to-face reviews and online reviews.
Practice Your Elevator Speech
In most cases, you generally only have 15 minutes for event based portfolio reviews. That isn't a lot of time. Whether you are in a face-to-face portfolio review at an event or convention, or doing an online portfolio review, you want to make every second count. This is where the use of an "elevator speech" can save you time, and make you more effective in your communication as well. An Elevator Speech grew out of the space where you could bump into an influencer in an elevator and have the 10-15 seconds to enroll them in your idea as you traveled between floors. The key information needed in your elevator speech is: Who you are, what you are up to, and why they should care. Keep it short, concise, and to the point. Practice it until you can effortlessly communicate your speech in lest than 30 seconds and do it even under stress.
Leave Space For Listening
This goes hand in hand with the above tip. Listening is probably the most important skill you can bring to a review. Too often, folks forget the reason they are there - to either get a job, get direction for how to get a job, or get feedback on how to improve so that you can set yourself up to get a job. All three of those require that you listen to what the reviewer has to say. I can't tell you how many times I've had artists:
• Argue with me about my feedback or opinions - Just don't do this. If you don't like the feedback you are getting, then perhaps you should stop getting reviews from people who's opinion doesn't matter to you or realize that the person you are getting the review from DOES matter, and you should probably listen to them...even if it is tough to hear.
• Dominate the conversation trying to explain why they did something, about the client they worked for, or about the process of creating the piece. If the reviewer didn't ask for any of this information, then realize that it probably isn't important to them. If they did ask for that information, answer as quickly and simply as possible. Keep the word count down, and the information content high.
Remember the age old adage - You have two ears and one mouth. Practice listening twice as much as you speak.
One of the saddest things I've ever heard at a convention was when I overheard a conversation between an extremely excited artist and their friend. Seems the artist had a very good review and the AD was very impressed with the work they did. The artist was asked to send him a sample of a specific piece after the convention. Unfortunately, the artist forgot to snag a business card. The friend tried to console the artist by recommending they hop on LinkedIn and look the AD up....it seems the artist was so excited, they forgot to note the name of the AD.
Thankfully this is something that I don't hear about very often, but I have heard from tons of artists telling me they forgot what I told them to fix on an image, or who they should contact about a potential gig. Reviews are a time of information gathering. Use your ability to take notes as a cure for nerves and chaos. Don't let that nugget of wisdom get lost!
Use this time to your advantage!
• Get the reviewers business card, or at least the addy of the submission email or URL.
• Pass off your business card or your promotional leave behind item.
• Ask for referrals and recommendations to other AD's that might like your work
• Follow up with "Thank You" emails or notes
• Add the reviewers contact information to your AD email list, and include them on your relevant email blasts (these should be different than you standard fan email blasts).
ArtOrder now offers Online Portfolio Reviews and Mentoring!
Too often we've heard artist lament that they can't get to events or conventions for portfolio reviews. So, I'm putting together a team of art directors from throughout the industry to help provide valuable online reviews and mentoring to artists looking to develop their career. Sign up for your review today!
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