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student portfolio tips


Portfolio Review

Yesterday I, along with UM Penny W. Stamps School of A+D alumns Ariel Frizzell and Jessica Krcmarik, had the pleasure of being part of a panel discussion regarding the importance of a good portfolio. Ariel is the Digital Marketing Specialist at Saint Joseph Mercy Health System. In addition, she's a graphic designer and photographer. During school, Ariel held a paid internship with the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, giving her a great advantage in the work field. I cannot stress the importance of taking initiative to gain real life experience as a student. As a result of her networking, Ariel went to work with the Michigan Theater right out of college.

Jessica is a freelance illustrator and very recent grad. During school she worked as an Admissions Buddy, giving advice to incoming students about the curriculum and available resources. Today she's still helping students by sharing her personal experience as a freelance artist. Her amazing works can be seen here.

Both had phenomenal information during the discussion. Although we all offered something different, there were no conflicts. Below is what I had to say:

The goal of a portfolio is to be remembered. When showing a potential client your work you only get ONE shot at proving you’re not only capable of achieving their goals, but better than any other candidate they’re speaking with.

One important thing to consider is that no matter how strong the work is inside, a bad presentation can equal doom. Anybody can go to the store and buy a premade book to hold and display their work. YOU’RE ART STUDENTS, BE CREATIVE. As your work develops it will become more and more apparent how it should be viewed. Maybe in a book or maybe in a hand made box wrapped in cow hide. Either way it’s important to recognize that YOU HAVE COMPETITION. When you feel you‘ve hit a wall you absolutely can’t go wrong by asking the opinion of your professors and peers.

As far as photography goes, KNOW YOUR PROSPECTIVE CLIENT, or know what you’d like to concentrate in. Don’t show a car company a portfolio with your best portraits. It’s more than okay to be versatile and shoot portraits and products and food, BUT KEEP MULTIPLE PORTFOLIOS.

It’s also very important to be able to talk about your work. This may or may not come up in an interview, but it’s better to be prepared. The work in your portfolio should represent you, not what others think. In the creative field, the ability to explain how you reached the final product shows technical understanding, but if you hesitate when asked about a piece the client may interpret that as uncertainty.

Another important LIFE OR DEATH consideration is curating - KNOW HOW TO EDIT YOUR WORK. In terms of photography, my rule is to not show two photographs from one session. I don’t care that you liked the light on the model in shot 5 and the facial expression of shot 11 - neither will the prospective client. PICK ONE and show your range.

When you’re ready to start looking for work after you graduate or while you’re still a student, WHICH I RECOMMEND, make a list of places you’d like to work and order them most desirable to least. Next, get an interview with one or two of those you like the least. This was advice Professor Ed West gave me many years ago. The idea is to get the nerves and mistakes out of the way first with places you don’t care to lose. Once you’re comfortable with the real thing here’s what you’ll need: your portfolio, a resume, business cards and professional or flamboyant (or both) attire. DO NOT CHEW GUM!

Finally, there will be some clients that will want to see work digitally. Whether that’s their preference or they’re half way across the world, LET THEM MAKE THAT DECISION. Otherwise a physical, well-made copy of your work that potential clients can hold and flip through is worth its weight in gold.