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Art Department Portfolio Advice: How To Prepare Your Portfolio

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what is an art department portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of your work that showcases your skills, your individual personality, and your creative potential. If you are looking for Art Department portfolio advice, then this guide is here to help you. We’ll talk you through the important whats, whys and hows of getting together an impressive portfolio for Art Department roles. This will help you feel equipped with all the knowledge you need to confidently build your own portfolio, or improve the one you already have.

When you are applying for a job in the Art Department, the team hiring you want to see who you are and what you are capable of. A portfolio is your chance to show them. It is your chance to show a production what you’re all about: your skills, your experience, your style. Your portfolio is a chance to toot your own horn to ensure that you stand out from the crowd and ultimately get the job (which will then contribute to the expansion and improvement of your portfolio). Be confident. Be memorable. Show why you are the best person for the role.

So, what does a portfolio actually look like?

Well, you can create it in different forms:

Physical Work

Physical examples of your work, presented neatly in a book or an artist’s case – ideally A2, but no smaller than A3. Include sketches, photographs, canvases, photos of card models that you have made, or anything else you feel demonstrates your abilities.

If you already have some experience, things like survey notes and photos of a location scout that you may have done, with a drawing produced from them could prove both skill and experience.

Digital Portfolio

A design document or website that can be the electronic equivalent of your physical portfolio which can be shown virtually or sent over email.

Create A Website

Your own website. A website is a really impressive and effective way to showcase your work! Show your personality in the design, and divide your different mediums into different sections – ie photography, illustrations, set builds etc.

Make A Showreel Or Trailer

You can make video showreel or trailer made up of clips and/or stills from projects you have worked on. It can be a great, dynamic way to showcase work you have done in a moving format.

Organising Your Portfolio

When applying for Art Department roles in film and television, it is essential that you have a portfolio that showcases your abilities. For a start, this means showing your experience and work in a clear, organised and cogent fashion. Making your portfolio and resume easy to read is particularly important at entry level, where you want to make the most of limited experience. It is also important to have a CV to accompany your portfolio, just like any other job you might apply for. When you go in to be interviewed, make sure to print several copies of your resume to hand out, as you never know how many people may be interviewing you. Most employers only take a couple of seconds looking over CV’s so make sure yours is formatted clearly without large blocks of writing or irrelevant information.

People are however more likely to spend a bit of time looking through your portfolio, which still needs to be clearly laid out and organised. Whether it is a physical or digital Art Department portfolio, make sure whoever is looking at it can find it all in one place: one folder or book, a link to your website or one PDF attachment.

We would recommend a physical portfolio that is not smaller than A2 to allow details to be seen in the drawings. In addition to a portfolio this size, it’s always useful to see 2 or 3 drawings printed full size to appreciate the drafting quality, which is particularly important if you are showcasing pencil drawings. If you have it, an A0 sheet showing an entire set drawing will look impressive and show you have nothing to hide. You can keep these full size drawings in the sleeve at the back of your portfolio, and don’t be shy to pull them out to show.

When it comes to emailing a digital PDF document or link to your portfolio online, it is crucial that your work is presented at a high resolution. Drawings that have been either scanned or are presented at a very low resolution, can be frustrating to look at and make a proper assessment impossible. Nothing is worse than a heavily compressed screen of fuzzy pixels – don’t ruin your chances at a role with a simple error like this. Remember, your employers in the Art Department are all visual people, so how you organise and present your work matters and could make the difference between a good or bad portfolio.

The chronological order in which you choose to organise your work is up to you, with either your latest or earliest work first. More recent work however is much more likely to give an accurate and up to date impression of where your skills currently stand, so may be the preferable choice. Whatever you choose, make sure all examples of your work are selective and relevant to the job you are applying for. On the ordering of your portfolio – don’t number the pages as your body of work will be constantly changing.

Bear in mind that you can have a second portfolio, containing more background work. This secondary portfolio acts as a kind of backup in case the person looking at your main portfolio wants to look at any of the work in more detail. It also helps you prevent your main portfolio from becoming overloaded. If you feel that this is something that you need or would like to do, then the best approach is to have one primary portfolio which neatly summarises all the key elements of your skill sets, with a secondary portfolio which elaborates upon this. The secondary portfolio can then be called upon when necessary.

Standing Out From The Crowd

When it comes to meeting an Art Director or Designer for an interview, don’t forget that they will be seeing others too. Show confidence and enthusiasm in your own portfolio, and listen to the feedback they are giving. The more confidently you can speak about your work, and the more skills you can demonstrate, the better. Stand out from your peers. It is also useful to do some research about the person you are presenting your work to, as well as ensuring that you know as much as possible about the project itself. This may mean editing your portfolio and your accompanying CV so that it is honed directly towards the role you are applying for.

Letting your personality shine through also applies to your portfolio itself. If you’re looking for a role in the Art Department then chances are you are a pretty creative individual, let your work stand out by reflecting your character. It’s hard to define what exactly achieves this sense of personality but if you can convey it in your portfolio, it will be to your advantage. Some people recommend including a photograph on your CV as employers are more likely to remember your face than your name after an interview. However, there are lots of reasons why you may not wish to do this and it is by no means compulsory.

Here are some tips on what to include in your Art Department Portfolio from one of the BFDG’s Production Designers:

“When a Supervising Art Director or an Art Director is looking for new crew at the junior levels of the department, they are primarily going to be looking for examples of work that show the basic skills required at that level, e.g. drawing (pencil or CAD), model making, Photoshop etc. For the examples of drafting it can be important to include detailed drawings of perhaps doors/windows or other architectural elements that you may have done. These samples of work will also show the skill levels you have reached. Being less, or more experienced, won’t necessarily be right for that job, but it’s important that the person you are presenting to understands what that level of experience is. Sometimes you may be overqualified for a certain position, or sometimes underqualified, that can’t be helped.”

“It is also good to show samples of the more creative side of your work, like sketch work and any design work that you may have done previously at college or in other jobs. But at the junior level, the basic skills are probably the key elements to show in the portfolio. So, it is important to get that balance right. If the Supervising Art Director is looking for the slightly more experienced crew members, like Draughtsman and Assistant Art Director then it obviously becomes important to show samples of these more specific skill sets.”

Creating A Physical Art Department Portfolio

  • Display your range. Demonstrate your different skills and show some variety. Include pieces to show your ability to work with different materials and software, as well as being versatile with different themes and techniques.
  • Prioritise demonstrating your process over perfection. A portfolio isn’t like a finished exhibit – you want to show polished pieces alongside the creative process that took you there. Present your sketchbooks showing you working through the design process.
  • Show versatility. Include images from a range of art department activities if you have them, such as storyboards, graphics, set design, prop construction and so on.
  • Create a strong narrative. The Art Department brings a film to life – build a strong narrative with your portfolio and make a lasting impression.
  • Be selective. Be decisive about what you include in your portfolio – if you can’t explain a piece then don’t include it. It won’t do you any favours, especially in an interview. Show your best work (see above as that doesn’t always mean finesse but process too!).
  • Label and annotate your work. What is that drawing or photograph showing, and what role did you play? If you are including a research reference, clearly note it as such. When displaying photographs, be clear about what you were responsible for and make sure that you are not indirectly passing off other people’s work as your own.
  • Think about how to order your work. Put the pieces that are most relevant to the production you are applying for at the start of your portfolio. Focus on showcasing the skills the employer is most likely to want and need.
  • Presentation. Use good quality clean paper and think carefully about how you lay out your work. Don’t clutter or add more than two or three images per page. And make sure it functions well – is everything glued down properly? Do you demonstrate consistency? Is everything readable?

Creating A Digital Art Department Portfolio

When creating a website for your digital Art Department portfolio, a lot of the principles remain the same as for physical work.

In addition, remember to:

  • Keep the navigation clean and simple – make it obvious where and what everything is.
  • Keep the design of the site looking minimalist. You don’t want to distract from your work. Remember you are in a world of visual creators, effective design will always make a good impression.
  • Ensure that your digital portfolio works well on different screen sizes, browsers and devices. What looks great on desktop might be a mess when viewed on mobile. Take the time to make sure that your digital Art Department portfolio looks perfect wherever it is viewed.
  • Be sure to include a bio about you and your experience. Contextualise your work and help attach your face and name to your experience.
  • Include your full contact details with a link to socials for your professional work (if you have them).

Remember that your digital Art Department portfolio could also simply be a digital version of your physical one – as a PDF document or PowerPoint presentation for example.

Creating A ShowReel For Film or Television

If you have always dreamed of working in Film or Television, whether that be in the Art Department or elsewhere, a great place to start is by making your own videos. A showreel is a short video that shows a selection of your best clips and/or stills. This can be a wonderful way to show how your Art Department skills come to life. You can let your showreel stand alone, or use it alongside the rest of your portfolio. A showreel can make a great addition to your Art Department portfolio and good quality videos can easily be filmed on your phone, without the need for expensive filming equipment.

Tips for Making A Showreel

If you’d like to create your own showreel, here are a few tips:
Focus on the beginning. The opening shot needs to be as impressive and memorable as possible. Grab their attention with your best work that is most relevant to that production first.
Edit it down. Keep your showreel short. Potential employers don’t have time to watch long clips from every applicant. Make a good impression with the best of your work, not all of it.
Be selective and use relevant work. As with your physical portfolio, show work that speaks to the production you are applying for. Research who will be watching your showreel, and make it for them.
As with a website, make sure that your showreel is formatted correctly and double check how it will look on your host site when opened as a link.

Digitally Hosting Your Portfolio or Showreel

Finally, where to host your portfolio or showreel? Below is a list of appropriate sites that we recommend.

For showreels, YouTube or Vimeo are both excellent video hosting and sharing platforms that you probably already know. While Youtube is free, Vimeo has some paywalls but does offer a free package called Vimeo Basic.

Adobe Portfolio is a great platform where you can showcase your work in a full portfolio or single page website. There’s also ArtStation and Portfoliobox. Or you can easily create impressive looking websites with WordPress.

Art DEpartment Portfolio advice In Summary

To summarise, there are no precise rules as to how a portfolio should be presented for the Art Department. That will depend on your work, style, and personality. There are however some clear guidelines to follow, which you hopefully have a good idea of by now. Your portfolio needs to express who you are and the level of skill you have achieved. It needs to be presented clearly and coherently in a format that you are comfortable with (this could be more than one), or that is most appropriate for the work you are displaying. Everything must be labelled and correctly attributed. It should not be overloaded with work that is too similar – don’t waste space, and remember to keep it interesting and stay true to yourself.

Built a portfolio you are proud of but struggling to find work in the Art Department? Read our guide on How to Get Into the Art Department. For more advice, support and exclusive opportunities join the Guild below, to become part of a community of industry professionals.

JOIN THE GUILD

Join the Guild and find yourself in direct contact with key players of current UK Film and Television Art Departments. As the next generation of Art Department talent, you can network with a range of talented industry workers who can help you get your career off the ground. Use our directory to find new contacts and join the conversation on the forum to stay in the loop with other industry professionals.

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