Friday, June 17, 2011

Is Your Online Portfolio Overwhelming?

by Aidana WillowRaven

Back in art school (I won't be going into how long ago THAT was ... lol), it was repeatedly drilled into our impressionable minds to keep our portfolio neat, clean, and ready to show off at a moment's notice. We were taught that too many images, especially if we worked in various genres and mediums, vs. a set 'look' or style, could confuse the viewer. And the last thing you want to do, when showing your work to a prospective employer or client, is to confuse them. You want them to know, without a doubt, that you are the artist that they just have to have doing their project.

The trick is enticing them with enough to convince them without going overboard. So where do you draw the line?

Well, in the olden days ... we used a physical portfolio. The came in various sizes and had the option of holding anywhere from 6 to 100 pages. We were coached to keep portfolios between 12-24 images of any one genre or style, and to also consider having different folios for different styles. That way, if the potential client is a clothing designer, you don't waste her time and yours by flipping through children's book illustrations, but you show her a full portfolio of your best fashion illustrations.

With the accessibility of the internet, the opportunities for artists have skyrocketed. We no longer need to mail in our portfolios, requiring that we have several copies on hand of each. We no longer need to request our work to be hopefully returned after review, and pray they use our prepaid postage and honorably send it back. An artist without an online portfolio these days does not really want to have his/her work seen. Having an online portfolio is essential.

But we run into a new dilemma. It's so easy to upload images when there is no consideration of space or consciousness of physical 'pages,' to over 'fill' a portfolio.

I recently noticed I had fallen into that trap. I had a gallery page on my site that held almost all of my professional work. Almost everything I had in print. 

Problem ... I've got over 100 books, not counting magazines and websites, with my work in them in print.

I am one of those artists who works in several genres, in several styles, and in several mediums. I pride myself in my diversity. But when I started getting comments like 'You're such a prolific artist,' and 'Wow, I don't know where to start,' I knew I had to go old school and tidy up my portfolio ... my online portfolio. I had to look at my work objectively and select only key pieces -- not all of them -- regardless of how much I had a personal attachment to them. Check out how my gallery page used to look:

I only should showcase my best work (we all have those old works where we go, 'Boy, I've improved' ... lol) and the styles I want my potential clients to see, not everything I've done.  If you notice, the left column was kid's books and illos, the second column was originals and promo pieces, the third column was novels, and the right column was logos and banners. All on one page. What you don't see is how long this stretched on ... lol. I just kept adding to the top of the pile. Here's the link so you can get the real idea of just how congested this got (I kept the link active just for ya'll to see):

I also had to evaluate who would be looking at what. Since I work in so many genres, am I wasting someone's time or misleading them into thinking I can't deliver what they want, because they are overwhelmed with children's art when they are seeking high fantasy or graphic art? I had to compartmentalize my portfolio. Effectively create several folios, just like back in the day, but on my website. That way, when clients pop in, they know just where to go for the type of genre they may want to hire me to do. 

Here's a screen shot of my new main page:

 My old main page was full of quotes, links, a video folio, and widgets ( I moved my 'follow me' widgets and other non-art stuff to the bottom and kept the page minimal and neat. It's not what I want people to see first. The art had to come first. You see above that there are five clear categories, or portfolios, to choose from. That's it. I deliberately made myself stick to as few a number as possible. I had to really evaluate 'what I do.'

I made each image that represents a portfolio a link to the pages that hold that genre. I also included the links in the drop down menu for those pages. As one follows to the genre of choice, he will find either small to medium sized examples of the work, with links to full sized examples, or find a subcategory page (let's look at the Children's - YA Illustration page, where you'd find such a page):

As you can see, I sub-divided this category into three parts. That way, if the client or publisher is looking for a picture book artist, they know where to look and are not distracted by my middle grade line art. This also allows me to show 24-24 images of just that type of art, rather than trying to show 12-24 images of all three types together.

Say we choose to go to the Tween - Young Adult page and we see:

Right now, I only have eight images, but they are solid works, and the viewer isn't distracted by everything else I've done. I still end up showing off a lot of my work this way. But now it's much more targeted to the audience.

The sub pages and enlarged example pages are not listed in the navigation bar. Again, I don't want to overwhelm the viewer with choices. I want to herd them, gently, to the areas I want them to travel. As I've often seen editors tell authors, less is more.

Lastly, I wanted to create a sense of my work, as a whole, and wanted something to introduce people to my art, a welcome page of sorts. So, I linked my URL, to a 'portal' page, which I have opening up with my latest piece.

So in conclusion ...

Your online portfolio needs to be treated like your physical portfolio. You don't want too little, too much, or work that just isn't up to your current standard. You don't want to muddy the waters with too many quotes, link, or bells and whistles. Make sure your audience know how and where to reach you, and can be able to communicate their wants by your showing them what you have to offer in the best possible way.

For those that wish to check out the new site in action, follow my link:

Art Director & VP of Operations
4RV Publishing


  1. Good advice, Aidana. Your portfolio is stunning. Because it is diverse I would love to know more about each process you use in creating those different styles.

  2. Excellent article, Aidana. The advice can be used for authors to catalog their writing, too, if they write in different genre.


  3. Really nice, Aidana. Great article and your portfolio looks terrific. (I used to have one of those gigantic portfolio cases, and have several amusing stories about navigating them around Manhattan.) Also, I like Vivian's advice about authors using this method.

  4. Thanks, ladies. What's funny, is I am still fighting the urge to add more pieces, however unnecessarily ... lol.

    My old professor used to call it masterpiece syndrome. We develop emotional attachments to the work, and fail to see that in needs retired from the portfolio ... lol.

    But, I am determined to keep my site clean, this time.

    Maybe an 'older works' page, or something. But I'd have to keep the images small.