An outstanding illustrator portfolio makes all the difference between you getting hired.
It encourages clients to hire you, helps you receive more commissions, and brings in more revenue overall.
The better your illustration portfolio is, the more successful you will be.
That’s how highly I rate an illustrator portfolio.
Unfortunately it can’t be average, it can’t be good, it has to be outstanding to really receive the commissions that you desperately want.
The world of illustration is crowded market. Hundreds and thousands of illustrators are competing against you. For this reason, you need to make sure yours is the best. Your portfolio gets you noticed in a world full of other illustrators screaming for attention.
I’m constantly tinkering and improving my illustrator portfolio, with the focus on creating something outstanding. Mine isn’t perfect, but I’m coming from a place where I have built a strong body of work which is constantly improving.
Using my first hand knowledge I’m sharing tips and tricks to help you create an outstanding illustrator portfolio. Enticing clients to work with you, a portfolio which you would be proud to share, whilst maintaining a clear and direct style.
You’re going to discover tips on how to improve your offline and online illustrator portfolio, and learn how to create a portfolio which attracts even the hardest critic! I believe it’s paramount to becoming an illustrator, so sit back, and let’s get started.
What Does A Perfect Illustrator Portfolio Look Like?
The perfect illustrator portfolio showcases your skills as an illustrator. Your quality of work, your exceptional experience / clients to your illustration style has to blow clients away, feeling like they just HAVE to hire you.
This portfolio converts potential clients into customers. Clients expect the same portfolio illustration style when they commission you, and are filled with confidence and trust in your ability to do a good job for them. This is evident in your experience which is on shown within your portfolio.
You can’t please everyone, but the clients you do want to attract hire you time and time again.
This is the perfect portfolio scenario that you should always try to aim for every time you edit, refine or create your illustrator portfolio.
With this in mind, here’s my tips to help you nail these points, and create a portfolio which is out of this world.
Build a portfolio which focuses on quality, rather than quantity.
How Can You Create An Outstanding Illustrator Portfolio?
Show Your Best Work First & Last
When others look at your illustrator portfolio, first and last impressions count.
You’re remembered from these impressions.
First impressions are important in all aspects of life (including your portfolio).
You want to amaze others by your first image (which introduces them to your portfolio and starts on an good note), but you also want to leave them with an amazing illustration (that they will remember).
This might sound like a given, but it sometimes goes overlooked with a physical portfolio.
It’s a bit different for an online illustrator portfolio. Users might not travel down a page, so you want to arrange your best work at the start of your online portfolio or above the fold.
This draws people into your website and keeps those bounce rates down. Create that ‘wow’ moment from the get-go and you’ll have fans for life!
Tip 1 – Physical portfolios: your best illustrations first and last. Online portfolios: best pieces first
Let Your Work Do The Talking
As a creative, you want your illustrative work to do the talking.
This is what the likes of Art Directors (who commission commercial illustration on a regular basis) are truly interested in, and hire you for.
Focus on your work and nothing else.
So how can you let your illustration work do the talking?
– Arrange your illustrations on a white background
– Remove gimmicks
– Make it easy to navigate and discover more about your work
– For a physical illustrator portfolio, keep your text to a minimum and give a brief explanation of each project (remember to focus on your work)
– Online portfolio: add more content and an in-depth feel to each project, which can also help SEO
– Create a super clean website
I believe the more refined and focused you are, the better your work will appear.
You need to think about the type of illustration that you want to be hired for. Is it publishing, advertising or editorial? Have a think about what this, and make sure this is clear when designing your portfolio.
Really celebrate your work!
Tip 2 – Remove gimmicks, place your illustrations on a white background and make it easy to navigate
Focus On Your Branding
Much like a company’s brand – text, images, and colours need to be consistent.
If you look at popular brands, you will see that they stay consistent with everything they do. From marketing, their communications, to products.
You remember consistent brands.
Take this forward when designing your illustration portfolio.
Use the same typefaces, the same colours, the same messages, everything. You want to guide people effortlessly and consistently throughout your work.
This leaves a good impression of professionalism, but also helps them remember you in the future.
For example, I use orange within my branding. I love orange, and hopefully I’m remembered for it too (as it’s a bit different).
Tip 3 – Create a consistent look and feel to your portfolio (your branding)
Have A Consistent Illustration Style
Much like a consistent brand, you want to have a consistent illustration style too.
Clients want to know the sort of style they will receive if they commission you. The worse thing is to have an inconsistent style.
This leaves potential customers confused about the work they will receive.
We like knowing what to expect, hence why the biggest companies out there are so popular – think about a shop, restaurant or holiday vacation you have been to more than once.
You went back there because you know you wouldn’t be disappointed, as they always offer a good service, and you’re satisfied by the outcome.
Encourage a client to keep working with you by showing a consistent style.
Tip 4 – Make sure all of your illustrations have a consistent style
Practice, Refine And Improve
Always refine, improve and experiment with your illustration style.
An outstanding illustrator portfolio, as I said previously, it’s all about your work.
You’re judged from the outset, so if you’re not happy with your current portfolio, or you feel your current illustrator portfolio is just average, keep improving until you’re happy with it.
This will take your work to new heights, and your illustration portfolio will benefit as a result.
Here’s some ways you can improve your work;
– Draw and practice your craft everyday
– Push your skill boundaries and learn something new
– Go above and beyond for clients
– Ask others for their advice and constructive criticism of your work
– Surround yourself with inspiration, go to art galleries, immerse yourself with creativity
– Work on personal projects
– Collaborate with a fellow creative
– Learn a new discipline
There are a few ways to improve and refine your illustrations – work hard and you’ll be rewarded!
Tip 5 – Work daily on improving your illustrative style and your portfolio will improve
Include Commissioned Work
Clients want to hire an experienced illustrator, so make sure your showing your commissioned illustrations.
This gives you an advantage, as you’re not just an amateur anymore, but a fully grown professional.
Social proof is crucial and gives you the edge.
For example, if your portfolio included illustrations for Nike (I chose a big company on purpose), potential customers and clients will assume you know what you are doing, and are amazing at what you do too.
If you don’t have any commissioned work, that’s ok! Show your personal work and the pieces which you are most proud of. Having no commissioned work isn’t the be all and end all, but it definitely helps.
Tip 6 – If you have it, include commissioned work to raise your social proof
Focus On Quality Rather Than Quantity
If you feel a particular project isn’t good enough, remove it!
Sometimes we want to show absolutely everything in our illustrator portfolios, which results in you including too much.
You might think including everything is wise, but it’s actually counter-intuitive, as it devalues the quality of your work.
Focus on the quality of your work, and maximise each project or illustration you have. Especially with your online portfolio, include details like sketchbook development, and make others sit up and take notice.
Tip 7 – Remove pieces of work which aren’t good enough!
Creating Your Own Portfolio Website
Simple illustrator portfolio websites are usually the best, as you want the user to focus on one thing: your work.
To have a successful portfolio website, you can simply have three different pages:
– Work page
– Contact page
– About page
If you want to keep it super simple, you can just focus on a contact and illustration work page, as these two are the most important.
To start, you can create a website with Squarespace or Adobe Portfolio (which is free with CC), or hiring a web designer (like me!), to help you design and create your portfolio for you (which is unique and personal to you).
I recommend that you use your name as your website URL (if you want to be unique you can choose something wacky and different, or if you have a similar name to a famous film star for example).
The whole idea of a portfolio website is drawing people into your work, getting them intrigued and hiring you.
If you become overwhelmed whilst designing your illustrator portfolio website, go back to basics. Keep it super simple and let your work do the talking.
It’s important that your portfolio website is found in search engines, so take the time to make sure your website is SEO-friendly, which the top 3 recommendations can help you with.
If you already have a website and want help with SEO, check out this resource by Neil Patel.
As your website will be image heavy, it’s a good idea to optimise your images for web. This makes sure your images load fast, keeps your website quick and improves your SEO ranking. In Adobe Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, make sure you’re always ‘Saving for Web’. On top of this, further optimise
Whatever size you choose, aim for a maximum of 15 pages. Anything more than this, and your client can become bored (not what you want!).
I recommended PRATT portfolios, which are super high quality, leather and and have become the norm in the industry. Definitely avoid ring-bound portfolios as these look cheap.
Here’s some more things to consider with your physical portfolio;
– Remember to design your portfolio on a white background.
– Consider a splash page at the start of your portfolio (which showcases your contact details, your brand and who you are.
– Place a few business cards or tear-sheets (an A4 sheet of paper which advertises your work, which they can take away with them) at the end of your portfolio.
Tip 9 – Create a illustrator portfolio website with Sqaurespace, Adobe Portfolio, or hire a website designer, and focus on a simple website, which concentrates on your work. For a physical portfolio, choose PRATT leather portfolios.
How Have You Improved Your Illustrator Portfolio?
I hope you have enjoyed this blog post!
If you’re still stuck with creating your illustrator portfolio (especially your online portfolio), I highly recommend you check out this resource by Format, that showcases the best illustrator portfolios out there for you to take inspiration from.
The key with creating an outstanding body of illustration work is by concentrating on quality. Quality always wins, as cream rises to the top as they say!
So what have we covered?
- When arranging your illustration portfolio, make sure you’re putting your best work first and last (to make a good first impression, and to end on a good note). For online portfolios, put your best work at the top of the page.
- Keep your portfolio simple, with the focus on your work. This is what Art Directors will be hiring you for. This goes for your website too – simpler the better!
- Increase your social proof by showcasing your commission work at the start of your portfolio. If you haven’t worked for any clients, this is ok!
- Purchase a high-quality PRATT portfolio, and if you don’t have the funds to hire a web designer to design your website, choose Squarespace or Adobe Portfolio.
- Practice makes perfect, and the more you practice your illustration skill, the better your portfolio will be!
But I would love to know how you have created, designed and arranged your own illustrator portfolio. Comment be below with your thoughts, and do comment if you have any questions for me also!
Keep illustrating, having fun with it, and action these points mentioned above.
If you would like to discover more blog posts like this one, head over to my blog page for more, or have a look through my own illustration portfolio, and see what you think! I’m well versed in editorial and publishing illustration, and have worked for many companies such as The UKScouts, The Clerkenwell Post to National Musuems Liverpool.
Many thanks for listening and visiting my news page today. You can follow what I’m up to on my Twitter, Facebook or Google + pages, I’ll really appreciate it if you do, and don’t be afraid to say hi to me! Many thanks again, and have a great day!