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by Teresa Carr
The most important tool for a graphic artist, to find a career in the arts field, is a knock out portfolio with at least 15 of the best work he or she can churn out. As a rule no more than 20 designs in a portfolio. Usually the director or employer does have the extra time to view a lot of unnecessary design. You want to hold their interest and not draw them away. Remember, less is more. Starting with your best piece first you’re your less towards the end and your next best piece to end with a bang. Even if it’s your first job interview, it always the first impression that gets one’s foot in the door. It’s good to be a well-rounded person and knowledgeable in quite a few subjects. Computer literacy is a plus. Graphic software the graphic artist equipped with are Photoshop, Illustrator, CorelDraw, QuarkXpress or Pagemaker, Publisher are the basics. A graphic artist that has a good working knowledge of other graphic software, such as 3-D, is a big plus in finding more work. If you’re one of those well-rounded artist who has a talent for illustration and traditional artwork you got it made. Most of all you need some good ideas and great taste. This is the making of one good portfolio. Back in the days of design school, creating a stellar portfolio was more of a chore about getting it just right and selection of the best of the best. The portfolio class was the highlight of the final year. This was broken up into 4 main groups; resource researching, resume writing and design, job hunting, and the main element -portfolio development and selection.
Here I will explain the 4 main groups and how they are used in getting gigs and bids for graphic jobs:
1. Resource Researching – this deals with finding the right place for you to start looking for the kind of work you like to do or niche you like to be. For example, if you focus is in the greeting card industry then pull from directories, agencies, bulletins, or even the phone book. Word of mouth is also an excellent resource for companies looking for freelance or employees. Another excellent source is a book called Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market. There are tons of unlimited resources on the Web. Some of the largest freelancers websites are Guru (www.guru.com), Gig (www.gig.com), Sologig (www.sologig.com), Hot Gigs (www.hotgigs.com), Creative Pro (www.creativepro.com), Elance (www.elance.com), and Get a Freelancer (www.getafreelancer.com). Another good resource is to network with some local groups and organizations that promote the creative community. The local one in my area is Create West Virginia an organization who is in development of bringing artists together and to help them build a creative community.
2. Resume Writing and Design – There are dozens of books on how to write a good resume. Check at the local library for a listing. To write a creative type of resume is not much different than on for an editor or administrative assistant, but adding flare to it to get the employer’s attention to get that design job. I will use my resume on the next page as an example. The vital information you’ll need is your contact information. First typeset your name in a larger point size and your business name, address, city, state, zip code, and country. It’s important to give phone numbers and other communications so that the employer can find you. If you have an e-mail address add that, too. If you have an online portfolio and/or gallery of your works, private or group, make note of the web addresses. The next step is to include your technical proficiency. This means what software and computer hardware you use and types of work you do. This is followed by professional experience. Here you add your creative work experience whether they are freelance, volunteer and other employment beginning with the most recent and working backward. Give the business name and contact address. List you key achievements with your job description. List dates of employment giving the month and year. After you have listed your entire employment information list your education and training, workshops and seminars giving the name of the schools you attended with contact information and the dates of attendance in months and years. You may want to include any awards or memberships that are applicable. Lastly for the reference section you can type, references and portfolio are available upon request. Usually the employer will sometimes ask for these if they want to see them. Styles of typesetting are to be as professional as possible. Don’t get overzealous with the type. Two different types of fonts are the limit. Keep it clean and concise. Work with type sizes, bold, and italics lettering for more eye appealing charm. Use active verbs, correct grammar and spelling. When using color do it sparingly with just one or goes good with black type. If you like to add a small logo place it around the top near your name or business contact information. I’m always changing or adding to my resume. It another endless quest for the perfect resume has become an art form as well. Choose your paper carefully. There are affordable, high quality papers available, or high quality laser print outputs.
3. Job hunting – This is a wide topic where one can take a big leap into the deep, vast ocean of opportunities. As the saying goes, “Cast your bread upon the water and it will come back to you tenfold.” I offered some places to start above in number one of the Resource Researching section. Let’s not forget other job hunting websites; Monster.com (www.monster.com), Career Builder (www.careerbuilder.com), and Flip Dog (www.flipdog.com). Some companies don’t advertise. So if you show an interest in a company check with their human resource department to see if they may have any openings; try your local employment agency for postings and let’s not forget creative temp agencies that hire out screened applicants. In the art and design profession can be tough and discouraging. It’s tough out there. Take to heart some simple advice. The secret to successful job hunting is never quit. Be resourceful. Be more than just competent in your profession, and be persistent and tenacious. A positive and enthusiastic attitude will help in your pursuit of a job. You will never stop learning in the “real world.” It wouldn’t hurt to be in the right place at the right time either. Always network with others, communicate and refine your skills. In the long run, hard work pays off.
4. Portfolio Development and Selection – We’ve come to the most important and crucial part of this editorial, the portfolio, which is the artist’s lifeblood. Without it is like an automobile without wheels. Lily Silipow, a graphic design headhunter said, “Your portfolio is often judged not by your best pieces but by your worst.” The thing an artist needs to know what makes a good, successful portfolio work is a great looking design or artwork with good design, layout, detail, development, use of color, drawing skill, concepts, and technique. An ideal number of pieces in you portfolio are between ten and twenty. Try for fifteen pieces. Arrange your pieces in a specific order. Start out with black and white, two colors, full color and end with a strong piece. Start out with a strong piece and end with a strong piece. Put in order according to categories: logotypes, brochures, editorial designs, book design, packaging, architectural renderings, and illustrations. Before going to an interview have your portfolio evaluated. Show it to other designers, instructors, or attend organized portfolio reviews. If you get different opinions the feedback may be conflicting. You make the final decisions. Do not take criticisms personally. Creative criticism makes you stronger and makes you a better artist in the process. Always keep your portfolio updated. If you’re still a student or taking a portfolio building class, always update with your best work. You can always rework previous projects. Updating helps you evaluate your progress and it’s best to “clean house” once in a while. There are different types of portfolio cases; zippered portfolio case with or without multi-ring binder, attaché-style portfolio, presentation folders, and book format. If you have slides and transparencies bring along a small portable light box and a loupe. Use slide and transparency protectors and put them in a binder. All works should conform to an 8 ½ x 11 format.
I’ve made a list of some of the artwork and design I include in my portfolio:
- Black and white logotype design (typography), including calligraphy, letter art, corporate identity systems (letterhead stationery, card, direct mail) – best, strongest design
- Two color menu design
- Illustration #1 – full color (animal)
- Illustration #2 – full color (still life)
- Illustration #3 – full color (figure)
- Architectural rendering drawing
- Landscape rendering
- Publication design (book design and jacket)
- Packaging design
- Animation and storyboard
- Fine art (painting)
- Poster Advertisement (Concert Promotion)
- Magazine design (Christian theme)
- Cartoon or Caricature – last, end with a bang.
Also include in side pockets of portfolio sketchbook of thumbnails, tear sheets, roughs, layout and marker comprehensives, transparencies and slides in binder, photographs of large artwork or three-dimensional pieces, videotapes of animations.
When the time comes to get that job, your portfolio is important because it shows your talent and abilities. The resume serves as your introduction to a prospective employer and tells him or her who you are. The interview gives you the opportunity to make a favorable impression while presenting your skills. These three will determine your success in a career in the graphic communications profession.
Berryman, Gregg. Designing Creative Resumes. California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1985.
Craig, James. Graphic Design Career Guide (first edition), New York: Watson-Gutpill Publications, 1983.
Graphic Artists Guild. Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines (8th edition). New York: Graphic Artists Guild.
Marquand, Ed. How to Prepare Your Portfolio (first edition), New York: Art Direction Book Company, 1981.
Marquand, Ed. How to Prepare Your Portfolio (third edition), New York: Art Direction Book Company, 1994.
The Workbook (published every year): national directory of advertising firms, design firms, illustrators, letterers, production artists, photographers, copywriters, printers, service bureaus, photo labs, etc. Architects and interior designers should have an industry directory or organizations that have a listing of firms’ addresses and phone numbers.
©2006. Teresa Carr. Mega Grafx Studio.