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How to Create and Structure a Freelance Graphic Design Portfolio

Graphic design is one of the tougher freelance career options, however, it can also be one of the best, most rewarding of careers. Graphic design is also the original portfolio career. That’s the problem. Artist portfolios can be a mix of the brilliant and the banal, the dazzling and the dire.

Many graphic artists don’t get the work or the recognition they deserve, simply because they don’t know how to present their work or themselves. Inexperienced artists often have a single portfolio, a real patchwork of different types of work, creating what can only be described as a mess.

A mix of commercial art, fine art, advertising banners, online graphics, animation, and a miscellany of other types of work is the most likely scenario. You simply can’t do yourself justice with an unstructured, “bit of everything” portfolio.

Nor can you be sure that this ad hoc portfolio will present well to any particular market. Some of the materials in this type of guesswork-based portfolio will be totally irrelevant to your prospective client. Other materials may simply give the impression that your skills are related to other types of work.

The bottom line- Graphic art portfolios must be targeted to their audience and customised for different jobs.

Basic graphic art portfolio structuring

You need to create customised portfolios for each job.

For example:

A portfolio of online graphics can be easily structured to show a vast range of skills. Pictures, game sprites, online environments, animation, you name it, can all be fitted into a very straightforward portfolio. For online publishers, this is a complete, self-explanatory, selection of skill sets.

Better still – You can also include original unpublished pieces in the same categories of media, further highlighting your areas of expertise and creative talents. This is what publishers want to see, a full range of skills with added values. This approach also makes your portfolio far more competitive.

Specialist skills portfolio

If you specialise in a particular type of graphic art, you can use the same basic principle of structuring to create very flexible, very useful custom portfolios.

For example:

Online gaming graphics require a true encyclopedia of possible skills. Quality and expertise rule unchallenged in this field. High-quality gaming graphic artists are much in demand. Game developers don’t necessarily want the Louvre, but they do want good lines, good ideas, good colour management, and above all clarity of image.

In terms of technical skills, they must be able to see that you can manage their content needs at production level. Your portfolio needs to show very good production skills, a strong range of relevant image experience, expertise in vector drawing, etc., all the bread-and-butter/get it right stuff the designers need for their own work.

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This means that your portfolio will basically be a storyboard, ticking all the boxes, both creative and technical. You show basic setup image sets, animations, related frames, and so on, showing that you have all the skills required. This “Show and Tell” portfolio also means game developers will be able to trust you with their brand-new, usually expensive, baby.

General portfolios

Depending on your area(s) of work, you should be able to create a good, meaningful, and targeted portfolio for any job.

You need:

  • Clearly laid out examples of relevant commercial and creative work.
  • Specific works showing your required technical skills.
  • Pieces which demonstrate above-average skills in composition and design or other practical values.
  • Colour management pieces, related to appropriate subjects.
  • Targeted pieces, directly related to the employer’s business or industry.
  • Standout pieces, showing exceptional artistic quality and creativity. (These pieces get interest, show depth of skills, and are great attention getters. They can also be tiebreakers.)

Good custom portfolios are virtual road maps of your skills. Be patient, be thoughtful, tailor your presentation to your market(s) and you’ll get far more work when you show employers and publishers your extra, value-adding, skills.

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