Disclaimer: I'm using "portfolio" as a generic term. I'm not referring only to physical media. Your portfolio is your website, your forum presence or your profile on any number of art sites. Your portfolio is your work, regardless of the manner in which it is presented.
So, why am I writing this?
|Unlike Roulette, there's no guarantee your ball will find a home.|
|Yes, people use to have them, and yes, I used to carry them to interviews.|
The Dog Shit
Let's go ahead and get this out of the way first. Don't put any "dog shit" work in your portfolio. I don't have to explain why. More important, you shouldn't be the one making this evaluation either.
How to Fix:
Find someone you trust who can also be brutally critical of your work. No holds barred criticism. They will call out the dogshit to you and you must excise it with extreme prejudice. No second thinking, because there are no second chances.
The Scatter Shot
|Got any hits in that portfolio?|
How to Fix:
Difficult. Most students are understandably generalists who want or need exposure to a lot of variety before settling on their key focus. In truth, some don't find their focus until after acquiring some professional experience. There is nothing wrong with demonstrating breadth in one's portfolio. But lead with your strength and your passion. Again, if you can't figure it out, then call up that harshest critic mentioned above and ask them. Build several solid pieces around this strength demonstrating variety in artistic style. Assuming they are strong enough, let the "breadth" pieces add flavor to your portfolio but let your strength play center stage.
The History Teacher
|My brother-in-law. Yes, an actual history teacher.|
The history teacher's portfolio is much like the Scatter Shot -- lots of samples and not a lot of key strengths. The History Teacher portfolio is unique in that this candidate wants to show you their ENTIRE BACK CATALOG. I've seen candidates include things they created in high school. Their intent, naturally, is to show you, the art lead or hiring manager, how far they've come. Great. Can I let you in on something? Other than your friends and parents, no one gives a shit. Learning and growing is part of professional development and it is assumed that you are better today than you were yesterday. The person who may hire you wants to know what you can do NOW not what you could do THEN. And if your NOW is no better than your THEN, your portfolio won't get you anywhere
How to Fix:
Remove the back catalog. If there is some reason why you think an older image is worth including, it better be fucking amazing. Keep your portfolio not only to your BEST but also your most recent. I'll discuss this in greater detail below, but recognize that your portfolio has a shelf life.
The Cactus Bikini
|I can't believe I found this image.|
Now, I've met some students who have told me that their professors tell them not to imitate the work of other games or companies. Allow me to clarify. Absolutely do not just clone their work; don't try to just create a copy.
How to Fix:
It is perfectly valid and even recommended that your work appear to be a stylistic match or, even better, build upon the art style that potential employer has already developed. Furthermore, there's one key criteria that will cause most employers to want to set up a phone call after viewing a portfolio.
In my case, I ask myself this question: does this person's work match the work we do. It is even better if there are samples in that portfolio that look like they're ready to be exported into the next game in that franchise. Every recruiter or hiring manager wants to find people they know can perform. It's a simple question of confidence level -- the more aligned the portfolio, the greater the confidence.
Final note on "wrong material" is this. I've seen a handful of portfolios that were just ... strange. The candidate's work clearly indicated some form of personal fetish or attraction to a subculture. In these cases, the portfolio not only leans far too heavily in a single direction but is also just plain ... awkward.
|A mummy's portfolio?|
This is an unfortunate scenario, and one to which both professionals and students alike are subject. This is the condition under which a portfolio has stagnated and fallen behind. Ours is a fast-paced, technical industry with new artistic techniques developed every year. One must keep pace.
Most students' portfolios fail here simply because they come out of school thinking their portfolio is done and then wholly focus on the job hunt. The job hunt sometimes takes a long time. In 1998, my job hunt took almost 6 months, to give you a frame of reference. Aside from the job hunt itself, you have one key goal to complete once you graduate school. Replace every piece in your portfolio.
How to Fix:
It may sound strange, but this is critical. Regardless of the setting, you probably spent 2 years or 4 years building the portfolio. The quality of your skills as well as your artistic eye is likely much stronger upon graduation than it was in any of the preceding years. Not only that, but sometimes student work is hyper-directed by faculty and your work may be too similar to other students'. You should look to replace each piece with a better piece - one that demonstrates greater talent and greater personal passion.
A final note:
Don't disregard presentation quality. It may sound trite, but I've seen lots of promising work that was poorly lit, poorly composed or just organized in such haphazard fashion that the portfolio itself (rather than the images themselves) sunk the candidate. Presentation quality strongly indicates whether or not the applicant can "bring it all together."
When it comes to portfolios: a mess is a mess. If you have one, clean it up. Don't let it become a portFAILio.
|If it were food, make it like this.|