Portfolio Makeover: 5 Step Plan

I graduated from art school back in 2008 and I’m a little embarrassed to admit I’ve been toting the same design portfolio around all these years. It’s in serious need of an over-haul! Every creative person knows it’s important to keep your body of work up-to-date, because your style naturally changes over time. Adding and removing pieces keeps the variety of work fresh and cohesive. When’s the last time you updated your portfolio? Are you in the same boat as me right now? If so, it’s time to abandon ship and get to work!

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

I’ve come to the realization that I’ll need to create brand new work for my portfolio because the current examples are outdated, but thinking about all that work gives me paralyzing anxiety. That’s the reason I haven’t updated in so long. Your portfolio is a very personal body of work. It defines who you are as an artist, and sells you to potential employers and clients. That’s a lot of pressure to put on yourself! Also, making new pieces takes a hefty chunk of time (and stress!). 

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

Step 1: Cull

Look through your portfolio and pull out any outdated pieces, work that no longer speaks to you or represents you as a designer today. You might not need to completely over-haul your body of work. See if there are any old pieces you want to keep or update, and recycle them to save yourself time.

I realized I needed to make several new pieces of work after I took a helpful class on Skillshare. It’s called Expressing Yourself with Personal Passion Projects, and you’re asked a simple question: What are you passionate about and how can you convey that in your work? The goal is to create fulfilling art that is distinctively ‘you’, not only showcasing your skills, but also highlighting who you are. Ask yourself what your dream portfolio would look like.

Step 2: Skills and Strengths 

You’ll know how many new pieces to create after you thoroughly cull your portfolio. I like to make lists to help with my brainstorming process, so I started listing out my relevant skills and strengths. Are you good at photography? Illustration? Typography? Photo manipulation? Website design? UX/UI? Are you strong at web design, print, or both? Let your skills guide you in deciding what types of pieces to create.

For my work, I want to show a good balance of web and print design, with a focus on typographic elements, hand lettering, vector shapes, and a dash of screen-printing.

Step 3: Passions and Interests

This is the part where you sit down and think about what message your body of work will convey. What are your passions? What type of work do you do in your spare time? What do you someday hope to be paid to do for a living? In other words, find what you love and love what you do. List out anything you can think of, even if it seems silly. You can go back later and sort the list.

I’m really passionate about environmental and wildlife conservation, human rights, and travel. I’ll be incorporating these passions, at varying degrees, into my new projects. I’m not passionate about sports (sorry sports fans) or theater, so you won’t see that reflected in my portfolio.

Step 4: Form Projects

Now that you know what skills and passions you want to incorporate, you can start thinking about what type of projects you want to make. Combine steps 2 and 3 to form project ideas. Maybe I’ll make a vector illustration of an endangered species, screen-print a travel poster, or re-design the website of a local nonprofit. While I’m at it, I could even re-design their logo.

This is also the step where I’ll gather inspiration (think pinterest, art museums, or design books) to help get the wheels turning. There are lots of projects out there with unlimited possibilities. Narrow the ideas down to a handful so you can build a strong portfolio.  

Step 5: Goal Setting

We should have a good list of projects at this point, with a vague idea of what our new pieces will look like. Setting goals for completion is something I find very helpful, and it eases the overwhelming feeling you get when you first sit down to work. I like to plan out when I’ll complete each new piece, and list out what resources I might need.

I have a full time job, so I know my personal time is limited. That means it wouldn’t be practical to set goals of more than 1 project every month or two. I just can’t work that fast!  Think about the amount of free time you have and plan accordingly.

How do we undertake the huge process of re-working our portfolio, and how do we fight the anxiety? My weapons of choice this time around are planning, research and inspiration. I’ve created a 5-step list to help navigate the process and make it feel less overwhelming.

So there you have it, not too complicated, right? These are the 5 steps I’ll use to tackle my portfolio’s makeover. I hope they are helpful to you, too! Just remember to focus on planning, research, and finding inspiration. It will take some anxiety away from the process. Is anyone else updating your body of work? I’d love to hear about it.