Graphic Design and Illustration.

Archive for ‘January, 2014’

Anatomy of a Designer – The Portfolio, Part Two

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather. Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather. Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

This is part two of a multi-part post. Part one can be found here.

So now you’ve graduated, now what to do about your portfolio?

Unless you were fortunate enough to do a great deal of freelancing during your education, your portfolio will be full of mostly student work, and it will show. There is just no substitute for real work for real clients. But not all is lost.

Hopefully, your class had a course on portfolio development. I know mine did. But as someone who has been in the industry for a while, there are a few things you should be doing.

A Little Rough Around the Edges

One thing that helps out a student’s portfolio is concept roughs and thumbnails. Showing your thumbnails and early sketches for projects can help show prospective Creative Directors and Art Directors how you work and think.

The Cold Hard Facts

Online portfolios are great. They can be updated quickly and people from all over the world can see your work when they want. And I think there’s a lot of untapped potential for tablets in portfolio presentation, but you should still be investing some money and time into a physical, hardcopy portfolio. It may be harder to keep up to date, but the batteries will never run out right before an important meeting.

It also seems that quite a few publications still like to get work from hopeful illustrators via physical copies. Though depending on the type of publication work you might be interested in, your mileage may vary.

And never underestimate the computer impaired. They are still around and pop up in the most unexpected places.

Your Work Does Not Speak for Itself

This has to be the biggest mistake I’ve seen on online portfolios: no context.

Lots of pretty pictures of logos, signs, packaging, websites and apps. But nothing about why and how the design came about. It would be nice to know details about the project. Stuff in your portfolio should be projects you are passionate about. So write about it. Even just some basic statements about the goals and objectives for each project and how your designs meet those goals and objective will go a long way to flesh out a portfolio and gain the attention of prospects.

The same goes for old-school physical portfolios. Some brief, written text that goes with each image can help a lot. Especially if you aren’t there to give a presentation of your work.

Next week: Some thoughts on mid-career portfolios.

Anatomy of an Artist – The Portfolio, Part One

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather. Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

Image scanned from some really old reference material I inherited from my grandfather. Source unknown. Circa the 1930s or 40s.

This post is one of a multipart posting. I’ll be talking about the importance of portfolios in the differing stages of a Graphic Designer’s career.

Every good artist needs a good portfolio. But even before you become an artist, you have to become an art student. And that depends on a portfolio as well.

As far as I know, every fine art, illustration, graphic design and animation program out there usually requires a submission portfolio. This post will focus on that.

First things first.

The best advice I can give anyone starting out on a submissions portfolio is to read through the submission portfolio requirements. Make certain that each piece in your portfolio relates to the course’s requirements. It won’t matter how good you are, if you portfolio doesn’t meet the portfolio requirements, it’s a pretty good chance you won’t be accepted into the program. Back when I was a design student, there was a portfolio submitted where the hopeful student had a very strong and mature style already. The work was beautiful and would have probably made a great student to teach. But there was some real question about whether or not the applicant had met all the different requirements. I believe it was determined that the student had in fact completed all the requirements. But it does show that not meeting the requirements is a very important part of the submission process.

The secret of life.

Most people I know who get into graphic design are often very involved with comics, cartoons, and anime. And more often than not, a self-taught artist. Probably means copying the artwork and styles of favourite artists and pop culture characters. Sadly, most art instructors get pretty jaded towards this. EVERYONE submits comic stuff. Or most everyone. The people who don’t get noticed right away. At least this was my experience years ago when I was in school. I imagine its pretty much the same today.

Early Example

I am embarrased to say this was an early work of mine. I was in my early teens when I did this. It never made it into a portfolio (thank God), but it is a prime example of what I am talking about – blatant copying of existing comic book work with very little understanding of the underlying shapes and forms that make up real life objects in general and the human body in particular.

A really great way to combat this is drawing from life. Life drawing is a fundamental skill any decent artist has to master. It helps you really focus on your drawing subject matter. Drawing from memory (or just making stuff up) is fine, but the human mind tends to store things abstractly, so things start to look a little cartoony if drawing from your memory or imagination alone.

Life drawing studios are a time-honoured tradition. I’ve attended one on and off for over thirteen years. Not including the life drawing class I took while I was in my graphic design course. You should be able to find one in any major city. Joining one can really help a beginning art student develop a style outside of comics and cartoons.


Of course, life drawing studios are generally focused on drawing the nude human form. Though not always. Some focus on a person usually dressed up in some sort of costume. Or still life. Some may even venture outdoors for some landscapes or sityscapes. But the ones I am most familiar with are focused primarily on the nude human form.

This does present a bit of a problem.

Life drawing will help you out in fleshing out a memorable student portfolio, but as a beginning art student you might also be minor and life drawing studios might be tough to join. At the life drawing studio I am now attending, there is one young man who is currently in grade 11. I believe that would be his sophomore year for our American friends. Anyways, he is quite talented, has made it quite clear he is interested in attending an art program in the States, and he seems fairly mature for his age. At the very least he doesn’t seem to mind hanging out with people quite a bit older than he is. And considering all the things a young man could get himself into, drawing nudes is the least questionable thing he could get involved in. So it may be possible for younger people to attend life drawing provided they have talent and are mature enough.

Otherwise, there are plenty of online resources (I know what you’re thinking, and TRY AGAIN) such as YouTube drawing tutorials and the entire Loomis catalogue is now online. And trying to convince family and friends to pose for you (fully clothed) is actually pretty easy.

Isn’t this misrepresenting myself?

There are those of you where comic book, graffiti or other forms of pop art defines your artistic expression and changing everything to conform to this different style may seem like misrepresenting oneself at best, or selling out at worst. Most portfolio submissions I am aware of have at least some part set aside for a few personal pieces outside of the programs requirements. This is the time to let your personal creative side through. And trying to merge the basics of life drawing exercises into even fairly abstract or cartoony drawing forms will vastly improve your work. ANy artist will benefit from this.

Tackle the whole page.

Years ago, while attending a drawing class, there was someone attending who was interested in maybe attending Sheridan College in Ontario where they have a very respected animation program. He showed up with a tiny little lined paper notebook and a pencil to draw in. He spent most of the class hunched over these little pieces of paper, drawing tiny little drawings. For our last drawing, someone else in the class took pity on him and lent him a great big piece of newsprint and a huge chunk of charcoal. He then proceeded to draw a tiny little drawing in the corner of the paper, in much the same size as his little notebook.

I’ve never tried to get into Sheridan College, but I can only imagine the profs there would not be too impressed with that. If you have a large sheet of paper, try to fill the whole thing up.

Lastly, care about your work.

Try to represent your work in the best possible light. Folded or torn pieces of paper do not make for a great presentation. You are going to want to make certain your work is seen in the best light possible. And making certain your work is presentable shows that you are interested in your own artwork.

So that’s it. Please consider these was words of wisdom from someone whose has been there. Your mileage may vary with these helpful hints depending on the particulars for the different art programs out there. Which makes my very first point – making certain your submission portfolio meets the basic requirements of the course – the most important piece of advice I can give. The rest will depend on your own artistic style and what you hope to eventually get out of your art career.

Next week: You’ve graduated. Now what?

Drawcember – Final Update

Well, here’s the last few days of Drawcember.

Cowboy riding giraffe

A strange cowboy riding a very different steed.Shoe

A shoe. Drawn in charcoal.

Frozen Guy

And I drew this guy while watching the movie New Years Eve. Pretty much North America’s answer to Love Actually. Winnipeg (and a good chunk of central Canada) has been a bit nippy these past few weeks. It’s even been mentioned that we’re a bit colder than temperatures taken by the Mars rover!

Final Thoughts

This of course means that my little drawing challenge is now over. It was fun, but December is a pretty hectic month to be trying something like this. So I am not too certain I’ll do this again. Maybe there will be some other month I could try…

Image of the Month – December 2013


A few days late, but considering the bulk of the drawings I have completed this month, I think I can let this one pass. This is a quickie colour rendering of one of my Drawcember pieces. ANd I got to try out some funky new Photoshop brushes.

I’ll be posting the last few Drawcember images at the end of this week.


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