I Hate Your Portfolio

I hate your portfolio. A lot. Your art might be fantastic and make my eyes weep tears of sweet joy, but your online portfolio is making my eyes bleed.

It’s a darn shame just how atrociously bad most artist/illustrator/concept artist portfolios are. Considering we as artists are supposed to have some degree of aesthetic sensibility you might think that our web presences would be at least acceptable. But by and large artists have some of the worst websites I have ever had the misfortune to look at. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that when I want to look at an artist’s work I will skip their portfolio site and go straight to their blog. Why? Because most artists don’t screw up a blog too badly. They’re easy to navigate, they have big images, and there’s less in the way between the art and me.

Now I’m not an art director. And maybe if I was I would be able to look past some of this and try to find the person with the best art, regardless of their website. But every art director I’ve met says how busy they are and how valuable their time is. By having a bad, clumsy, annoying website you are wasting their time. Do you really want to waste the time of the people hiring you?

So if you want to learn how to design a great portfolio (or just want to avoid a terrible one), you’ve come to the right place. I’ve compiled a few essentials to think about for your online portfolio. Listen to them. Please.

  1. No Flash

    I shouldn’t even need to say this. Just don’t use Flash. I know you think little animations and such are cool, but they’re not. Half decent designers are just snickering when they look at your design, and everybody else is spouting off obscenities when your auto-play music starts. This is without a doubt the best way to get me to close your page.

  2. Simple Navigation

    I know it’s tempting to try something “new” with your design, but that’s not the point of your portfolio. The point is to let people see your artwork as well as possible. Anything that gets in the way of this should be avoided. I bounced between a lot of different designs for my portfolio and finally ended up with what I personally consider to be the best way to view art. We all scroll through dozens (if not hundreds) of web pages everyday, so I made a point of designing a site that only required you to scroll to see my content. I think it’s pretty darn easy.

  3. Easy domain name

    You’ll be verbally explaining your domain name to a lot of people. It should be both easy to say and easy to remember. Keep it short as possible and extremely relevant. Ideally, at least in my book, you should try to get yourname.com if it’s available. Alternatives are yournameillustration.com or yournameart.com. Just some ideas. Try to keep it simple.

  4. Contact information

    So somebody likes your work. How do they get in touch? Well you should make this step downright seamless. Having your email prominently displayed in several places on your page is a must. It shouldn’t take more than a couple seconds to find your email. Phone numbers are optional. I’ve only talked to a couple clients on the phone so I usually don’t bother including it.

  5. Easy to update

    This is one that nobody but you will probably see. I highly recommend setting up a system, whatever it may be, that lets you quickly and easily update your portfolio. If it’s somewhat difficult and/or time consuming to do so, odds are you’re going to put it off. And if you put it off then your portfolio will very quickly become stagnant. Do yourself a favor and make it easy for you to update when you’ve got new work. My portfolio (and, naturally, my blog) are powered by WordPress. But most blogging systems you can use for a portfolio.

  6. Not too many images

    Yes, I’m sure you have 50 amazing pieces that you need to stick in your portfolio. And it’s the internet, right? There’s plenty of space! So why not? Because it’s annoying, that’s why. Your portfolio is not the place to stick everything you’ve ever done. It’s the place to stick your best, most relevant work. When you’ve only got a few pieces to blow away someone who has never heard of you before, what do you show them? Put those on your website.

  7. Linkable images

    ADs like to be able to easily share links to your images with editors, authors, other ADs, etc. so be sure that however your website is set up they can share a unique url to each and every image on your site. Unless you’re an idiot and don’t want them sharing your work with anyone else.

  8. Large images

    No, you don’t need print-resolution images on your site, but at least give me a reasonable size to look at. If your biggest images look like tiny thumbnails to me… well, frankly I’ll probably look to see if you posted larger images anywhere else on the web. Wouldn’t you prefer I stay on your portfolio?

  9. Your name on the file

    This is one I only started doing this year. I realized that in the past I would save files to my computer and then come back to find I had no clue who the artist was. And when the filename just says “orc.jpg” it’s not a whole lot of help. Sure, there’s reverse image searches if I really wanted to know, but I prefer to save people that hassle (or help people out that don’t know you can search for images that way). So now every file I upload I prefix with my name, aka: “NoahBradley_orc.jpg” It’s not hard, but it’s a little thing that I think is a smart idea. Naming your images well (including titles is a smart idea) will also help out with image search results.

  10. Avoid annoying watermarks

    I’m not saying you shouldn’t sign your work. I am saying that the signature/watermark should not distract from the image. It’s often said that amateurs care about their work being stolen a lot more than professionals, and there’s a fair bit of truth to that. Nobody wants their work stolen, but it’s very, very good for you if people are seeing your work (and hopefully ending up on your portfolio). A discrete name and/or url in the bottom corner should suffice (something I really need to start doing). A giant name blazoned across the center of the image? Amateur.

Follow these simple rules for your portfolio and you’re not guaranteed to have the most amazing portfolio on the planet. But at least I won’t hate it.

I'm Noah Bradley. I'm a concept artist, illustrator, painter, teacher, writer, and speaker. If you'd like to talk, please get in touch.