6 Worst Mistakes When Starting Any Art Portfolio

Here are 6 critical mistakes that are common when starting a portfolio for any professional context: applying for a degree program, a teaching job, freelance illustration, and more.

33 min. video

Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artisst Jordan McCracken-Foster and Mia Rozear.

Video Walkthrough

  • There is a ton of research you’ll need to do before preparing a portfolio.
  • It’s very common that people have misconceptions about how a specific field or industry works, which can then lead them to wasting their time on things that don’t matter.
  • Even in fields that seem very specific can be subdivided many times.
  • In animation, your portfolio will be different depending on whether you want to work in pre production, main production, or post production.
  • Many people don’t have the correct information even in terms of what to apply for, and what degrees or certification are required for a specific job.
  • For example, teaching at a public school K-12 requires certification, whereas teaching at a private school does not.
  • Degrees like art history are extremely academic and completely different than a studio art MFA, which is why you need to get all the right information from a trusted professional.
  • It’s very important to get feedback from a trusted professional, a lot of this information isn’t easy to find online.
  • Prof Lieu asked illustrator Alex Kiesling to review her freelance illustration portfolio.
  • Turns out the format Prof Lieu was using was all wrong!
  • Find out exactly the format for your portfolio when you submit it.
  • Depending on the context, people will accept anything from a Google slideshow, your Instagram, website, PDF, and more.
  • When you get that trusted professional advice don’t push back on it!
  • A lot of the advice can be hard to hear, but arguing about it will only waste your time.
  • A portfolio is never easy and fast, don’t underestimate how much time will be required to create the pieces.
  • A portfolio will have a learning curve, like any big project you do.
  • Be willing for your portfolio to be a learning experience.

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Prof Lieu’s Tips

Clara cartoon

In general, if you are doing something because you think you “should,” that’s usually not a great idea.

Painting banner pearlescent

People can really tell if the place the artwork is coming from isn’t genuine, it can come across as forced for that reason.

Find something that you want to make art about, and pick the media based on what is a good fit for what you want to do. I often change my painting technique depending on what I’m painting