Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My two cents on Portfolio Reviews

You know, I see quite a bit of portfolio on a regular basis, and even more so when I go to comic con and CTN.

This time around was the same thing, I saw quite a few portfolios. Some good ones and some that miss the mark.

There were a few in particular that caught my eye.. a few extremely good ones, and a few that just didn’t work, and I wanted to try and share my opinions about portfolios in general.

This is just my point of view, based on MY experience and definitely not a definitely law, rule, or “must do". Just what I noticed in many student’s and young professional’s portfolios.

The first thing that strikes me is how similar portfolios can be from one student to another..I can almost always tell when one student is from Art Center, San Jose State, Otis, Sheridan or any other major school. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. Mainly a bad thing though

Just a few personal thoughts on portfolios since I just came back from comic con and saw a ton over there.

Your portfolio should be a reflection of yourself , not just your skills. When you do a portfolio and go shopping it around, or just ask for some feedback, the person you are showing it to doesn’t know anything about you. Doesn’t know how long you took to draw this piece or this piece, and quite frankly, does not care. Do you know how long it takes to make a commercial? a movie? does it matter when you are in the movie theater and watching it? The same goes for the reviewer. The number one thing that matters( at least to me) is how enjoyable the experience of going through your work is.

It doesn’t have to be funny, or cute creatures.. I very often appreciate portfolios that are fairly gory and bloody, or of other nature, as long as I can relate to it somehow.

The way I relate to a portfolio is through the quality of the images in them..and this is what I consider to be quality work.

1 If you are images tell a story, you are more than halfway there.
2 if your story is crystal clear, you are ninety nine percent of the way there.
3 if your stories are clear and personal, you just broke the house.

You’ll notice that neither in 1 or 2 is there any mention of technique… and, oddly enough, there is still no mention of it in number 3 either.
You know why?

Let me make this clear.
When you are showing your portfolios to people, you are selling ideas and personalities.
Not how you handle Photoshop, or perspective.
Not how you mix your colors, or how many different variations on a tree you can create.
These are exercises you do in school to develop your skills that are used to create stories..which is what I look for.
I am not saying that technique is not important, but I see it as a skill that is very similar to writing.
When you are a kid, you learn how to draw letters, and eventually words and how to write..and you forget about it.
You use that skill to write essays, and novels, and letters to your mom, girlfriend or potential employer.
When you send a letter to a potential employer, you are not showing them how many different ways you can draw the letter A, or B, or Z.
You write ideas.. you try to show this person who you are and what is interesting about yourself.
The better you write, the better you will be able to convey these ideas..but if you have no ideas to convey, all the nice writing in the world won’t amount to much.
In a similar fashion.. if your resume is fifteen pages long, most people won’t want to read it, especially if you are just showing declinations on the letter M and N, and how well T and H can go together.

Back to Portfolios.
Images are beautiful letters, beautiful words and it’s easy to get caught up in the “how it looks" bit..much more than with the alphabet( unless you look at how old Manuscripts were written), but they still function like words and paragraphs.
In some ways, if you use them correctly, they actually function better. If you are careful enough, you might be able to express emotions and feelings that you wouldn’t necessarily be able to do with words. You can suggest images that don’t exist, and you can make someone feel something… very much like a great writer can create worlds that do not exist.
You can , and you should do that as well in your portfolios.

I understand it is easier said then done, and a lot of you think they have nothing to say.
I disagree.
I think every single person has something to say in a unique way.
Maybe you don’t have something DIFFERENT to say, but the way you are going to talk to your best friend ,your mom, a complete stranger about how you feel about ice cream will be different from person to person.
The way you and your neighbor see the sky and the clouds outside your window will be different and unique.

As an artist, you are an author, not just a mechanic.
As an author, you develop your technique to fit your vision.
This is what school and teachers are here for. They are not meant to transform you into an artist… you already are one. They are here to help you develop the tools you need to fully express who you are and what you see.
This is what most people in the industry are looking for.
People who can use the skills they have to share visions.
You need both.
You don’t need to possess ALL the skills in the handbook.. that would be impossible because that handbook is being written as you go along.
There definitely fundamentals that have been around for centuries and that will always be around, but techniques change and evolve with you and with society.
The latest software you are going to be be so good at might not exist in three or four years.. but if you are using this software to express your ideas, chances are you will be able to do it somehow with a different piece of software, or a different type of tool altogether.

Last week, I saw two portfolios of note.
One from this young artist from Mexico who could barely speak English.
He did comic books, and was there with his other friend, who didn’t speak English Either.
He showed me his work, and was very shy about it.
When I looked at it, my first reaction was.. ha.. this is not my style, this not the “look" I like.
When I read through the first story he had, the hair on my arms were raised. I loved the story.
It was simple, clear, and easy to relate to. it was a love story.. love gone wrong if you want.
Technically, there were some issues in the pacing, there were a few frames here and there that were not totally necessary and some that could have have been totally cut out… but the overall point of the story came across loud and clear and it worked.

His second story was a sci fi story…once again..not my cup of tea..it looked like a mix between Anime and something else that I didn’t know and that is not necessarily my favorite type of art.
Here again. the whole story worked, and there were NO WORD BALLOONS. He hadn’t had time to put them in.. but the story still worked.
There were again some things that were not necessarily working with layouts and pacing, and the look of it was something way more bloody than I cared for, but it worked.

My feedback to him was that his work was awesome. I saw some issues here and there, but in spite of these, his stories worked very well.
I didn’t feel like I should tell him what to fix, because although some parts were clumsy, they were not broken. It was imperfect, but it worked.
The point I am trying to get across here is that even if it’s not perfect, your stories, your images can work. And that’s really all you can ask for.
Perfection doesn’t exist.. we strive for it, but we know that no matter how close we get to this ideal we have, it will always move a little further back, always out of reach.

The other portfolio I saw that made an impression was for the wrong reason.
This young girl who had just graduated showed me her work and everything in the book was an exercise she had done in school.
Technically, it was all good. She actually drew and painted better than me( which happens VERY often) BUT… there was very little personality in the book.
When I see something like this, I usually pick apart the technique because that is the only thing that is presented to me. And that is what every recruiter will do..if you just show him how well you draw your O’s and your T’s, they will just look at that, and not at the bigger picture, they won’t read the text and will just get very nit picky on those things.
That’s what I did.
I also encouraged her to put all that aside and to use her own experiences in life to come up with stories that she could put in images…and make them as honest to what she felt as she possibly could.
This girl has so much skill, but it seems that along the way she forgot to use them for what they were meant to be used.

And that is what I see a LOT in portfolios.

This my advice to you guys when you are prepping your portfolios, when you are in school,when you are relying on your teachers.
Remember WHY you want to be artists. Remember that you ( most likely) were draw to this because of the cartoons, comics, films you have seen as a kid that made you laugh, and cry, and wonder.
Remember that your teachers are there to help you but they won’t transform you into artist. They can just help you find your way, and develop the tools you need to get there.
And remember that you are special and unique. That even if everybody else in the class, or around you can draw better, color better , animate better than you, it’s about what YOU are going to do with your skills that matters, not how many skills you have.
And that’s what you should be showing the world.

That’s my two cents.
Once again.. that is just MY point of view.
I am sure many many people will have different opinions, sometimes contrary ones, but this is what I think and this is what works for me.


Kyrstin said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts! It's all very insightful, and definitely something to think about while working on new pieces. I'm looking forward to implementing these ideas ASAP!

Blythe Russo said...

This is wonderful! Thank you so much for taking the time to share! :D

Jeff said...

This has been one of the most encouraging and inspiring outlooks on creating art I've ever read.

You're completely correct. We, artists, wanted to be artists, not to draw the perfect T, but instead we wanted to convey a message. It's so easy to get wrapped up in drawing the perfect T, while loosing sight of why I love to draw.

So thank you for reminding me that it's not the perfect T that I need to draw, but the story I wanted to show by using T.

Janna Bock said...


Pauline Champetier said...

Thank you so much !

Tegan Clancy said...

Wow what a great wrap up! And I know your advice from CTN last year has really changed my frame of mind for my current art projects so thank you!

Sarah Marino said...

Thank you so much for writing this post! Making art and sharing it with others is such a personal experience, and sometimes we forget that along our way to being the best at our technical craft. Storytelling is everything.

Charles Santoso said...

Beautifully put, Pascal :) A great read. Thanks :)

- Charles

Christina Yang said...

Thank you for your advice!! So true~~! > <

eré said...

It's a nice point of view, and a good advice for me. I'll try to put more of me in my next portfolio.

Timbo said...

the hair on my arms were raised while reading this! thanks for posting it! Very inspiring!

Thank You

Daniel said...

Salut Pascal,

Je suis bien d'accord avec toi, et cela on peut l'appliquer à toutes les formes d'expression de l'imaginaire des jeunes étudiants ou futur pro. Que ce soit pour le dessin ou pour le scénario. On retrouve beaucoup de clichés de genre, des références à des artistes ou à des œuvres existantes. C'est bien naturel, quand on est jeune, d'avoir un modèle en ligne de mire. Même pro on est influencé ou admiratif de tel ou tel. Je remarque que dans les école d'art il y a toujours un déséquilibre entre l'apprentissage de la technique et la recherche de l'expression personnelle des élèves. En France, on axe plutôt sur le second aspect tu le sais bien (sauf dans les formations privée). En fait, la présentation des portfolio est un cheminement qui commence parfois à l'enfance. Quand enfant on fait un dessin, nos parent ou nos copains nous encouragent "que c'est beau". Puis lorsque l'on prend du recul, je dirais vers 10 ans environ, on se rend compte que c'est pas si terrible. C'est là que beaucoup arrêtent de dessiner. Ceux qui continuent, souvent, cherchent à progresser en dessin, en technique donc. Apprendre à dessiner une voiture, un dauphin ou un portrait. Plus rare sont les enfants qui sont encouragés, à travers leur dessin, à développer leur imaginaire. À un moment donné de cette longue évolution on en arrive à se dire que l'on a des choses à dire, même simple, et un cap est franchi. Certain artistes très expressifs ont passé ce cap depuis bien longtemps, à l’adolescence ou depuis toujours et sont souvent réfractaires à l'apprentissage de techniques. Au vue de mon expérience, et de celles des artistes que je côtoie, aller vers plus de technique ou plus d'expression personnelle n'est jamais un mal.

M.Collet said...

Wow, wonderfully written and so true. I just wrote the three main points on a note paper, sticking it on the wall next to my desk/computer.

Thank you for your art, stories and the emotions you capture within your work.

intergalactic said...

Very nice post Pascal, I saw you in passing but didn't stop to say hello. I'm curious if your at Bent in Oregon still, I maybe doing some free lance with them while I wait for the next Laika project. Take care and hope to see you around!

bill said...

So very well said Pascal, thanks. I will have my students read this at the start of the next semester.

Jeslyn said...

I have been following your blog for over 2 years now. I truly enjoy the images that you create, but your insight into things like this are very moving to me. Today you just made me remember all over again why I make art in the first place. Thank you.

Jack Yu said...

very well said!!
thanks for the advices :D

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the great advice and taking the time to post this Pascal! As others have said, this is very encouraging!

Bemused said...

The plain fact is that I have had a lot of friends shut out by uptight recruiters for putting sophisticated, well-drawn material in their portfolios because Company A wasn't doing anything "in that style," or Company B was bellyaching about "why are these character designs in your story portfolio? don't you want to do story?"

My friends were extraordinarily talented and displayed a distinct cartoon-gothic aesthetic. They showed proficiency in Photoshop and Flash, which to most studios, is a deal-breaker. Don't think they weren't assertive -- they tried like hell to promote themselves. Of course, the recruiters didn't know what they were looking at unless it was another prissy, watered-down configuration of Minkyu Lee, Mary Blair, or (God help them) Pen Ward. One of them had to settle for working at a small studio, where the work wasn't always available, after two years of the recruiters' nonsense -- because it was the only studio where an artist was doing the portfolio reviews and knew they could draw and paint, do flat and dimensional, and do work other than gothic style if they were given the chance.

When did you get into the industry? '06? '07? I don't think we're talking about the same portfolio reviews.

clicker said...

Salute...very nicely written. Thanks a lot for sharing.