How to Make an Art Portfolio for the Creative Job Market

Resumes are so old school. If you’re aiming to land a job in a creative field, you’ll need to back up that resume with a professional art portfolio. Today, hiring managers want to see GitHub repositories when they hire technical engineers. They want to see short, engaging animations or video gameplay when they hire artists. They want to see evidence of a candidate’s work because they’ll be comparing students fresh from college with those who are retooling their skill sets after a few years in the workforce. Creating a professional design portfolio makes the difference.

As a college student, you have the upper hand. You can receive guidance from faculty and industry advisors to develop portfolio materials. Throughout college, you should be publishing your best art and design work in whatever form is appropriate. These pieces don’t need to be complete projects. While they can represent a sliver of a project, they must be conducted at a high level of proficiency. One thing is certain — if you don’t have an online footprint by the time you’ve graduated, you’ll be at a disadvantage when looking for a job in the creative industries.

art portfolio in creative industries
Image detail courtesy of Kyle Stobener

Make the Most of Presentation Opportunities

End-of-term presentations that you put together in college should be designed so that they result in quality materials for your art portfolio. Consider polishing some aspect of the art and design work you have completed in the course. Show it to professionals for critique and guidance.

Work on Team Projects

College provides students the best possible platform for creating an art and design portfolio. By working with teams and mixing art, engineering and management talents throughout their college career, students can point to professional-grade work and describe their role within complex production environments during a job interview.

how to create a portfolio
Image courtesy of Mari Smith

Meet Industry Expectations When Making an Art Portfolio

All colleges should actively seek out industry advisors and mentors to weigh in on what kinds of art and design portfolios they’re looking for. For example, Texas A&M University runs a summer visualization program for graduate students in conjunction with DreamWorks Animation. In this 12-year-old program, teams of students are challenged to develop storylines around a simple subject and then produce a short, 30-second animated video. Industry personnel critique the students’ work throughout the production process: pre-visualization, modeling, rigging, animation, surfacing, effects, lighting and rendering. The resulting portfolio pieces receive accolades at industry trade shows, and they support student candidacy within the industry upon graduation.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Portfolio pieces take on a deeper meaning when they are presented. Hiring managers want to learn how you grapple with production issues. They’re interested in seeing how your projects come to life and finding out what inspires you to dive into academic and scientific research in order to create something extraordinary. While you walk through your portfolio, you’ll be able to find your voice as you describe your role on team projects or demonstrate how you manage your time doing something you love.

how to make design portfolio
Image detail courtesy of Robert Sant

Actualize Your Potential and Enrich Your Portfolio

Hiring managers know that in creating your art portfolio, you are challenged to expand the envelope of your own capacity. They want to know how you learned to adapt and whether you’re capable of pushing yourself to do more than you ever imagined was possible. They want to know how you are inspired by your classmates as well as the mentors and experts you have collaborated with for different projects. Throughout your undergraduate years, focus on cultivating the unique values and practices that will actualize your potential as a professional.

Colleges are uniquely qualified to provide the guidance, support, resources and enriched learning environment you need to break out on your own and prepare the perfect art portfolio. Your portfolio enables hiring managers to understand what you bring to their organization. What you have learned along the way is every bit as important as what has been presented to you in the classroom.

The video below provides a glimpse into a project that USV alum Jessica “Psy” Delacy worked on during her undergraduate years. Jessica knew she wanted to produce something that was realistic and focused on the muscular system, which is what prompted her to build a rhinoceros. However, she ran into a problem when she realized there wasn’t much definitive reference material on rhino anatomy available. Instead of giving up, she researched cows and other quadrupeds in order to piece together a muscular system in Maya. That seemed to work, so she added skin and controls to bring the entire model to life. Looking back on the experience brings back fond memories and helped prepare Jessica for her current position at Pixar.

Incorporating these kinds of pieces into your art and design portfolio adds a concrete dimension that sets you apart from other job candidates. They signal to potential employers just what makes you successful. In the end, your success is what shows through.

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