Graduate advice: AOI's Fig Taylor on great portfolios

What things do you need to consider when putting together a portfolio?
Accept from the outset that you can never be all things to all commissioners

A good portfolio – by which I mean an effective, professional portfolio – should do two things: it should say, "this is the way I work and here's how you, the client, can use me". In other words, don't go and see a gardening magazine if you don't have at least a couple of gardening-related pieces in your folder. You'll be dismissed as a time-waster.

Given that the UK has a highly competitive industry where the number of commissions is greatly outweighed by the number of illustrators available to do them, clients are often spoiled for choice. Most have pressurised jobs and prefer not to take risks if they can avoid it, so they've developed a preference for one strong, recognisable style that can be applied to a variety of subject matter, rather than a multitude of different styles.

With this in mind, concentrate on what you know you do best and don't try to spread yourself too thinly. Don't include pieces you believe to be weak or unrepresentative of the kind of work you enjoy doing. This goes for published work as well as speculative samples.

Don't show work that's irrelevant - i.e. straight photography or typography with no illustrative content, or something you can't deliver, such as work that's overly time consuming or that you need access to special equipment to do. Your old college may swear you can have access to the print room whenever you want it but that can prove impracticable in the long run.

If you do have several different styles and they have vastly different audiences, such as political satire and children's books, try splitting the work into different portfolios to avoid confusion.

If you favour a print presentation mount your work on thin paper or card in a shade that shows your work to the best advantage and protect it in plastic leaves, or by laminating it if you prefer a loose-leaf approach. Clients have been known to slop coffee over unprotected artwork.

A sketchbook or two is permissible as an optional extra but including academic life drawings will make you look like a student not a professional. Likewise, don't take up valuable portfolio space by mounting up random, self-indulgent work with no obviously commercial content just because you like the quality of the drawing or have a sentimental attachment to the subject matter.

Clients want to see finished samples of work they can actually relate to, not studies of your manky old trainers or your gran watching Emmerdale. Meanwhile, any published work you have should be put as near to the front of your portfolio as possible, providing, as previously stated, it is representative of where you want to go as an illustrator.

A similar approach to editing should be employed when making a digital presentation. Whether you are talking a client through your website or a series of images on digital files, there should be a logical running order to the selection of work you show.

Lastly, do your homework and make sure the contents of the folder reflect that you understand your chosen client's needs. Make sure that client is likely to use illustration, and, more specifically, your kind of illustration. With editorial and publishing clients the source material will easily be available to you via libraries, bookshops and newsstands.

For design and advertising clients, keep your eye on the magazines that service those industries and Google individual Web sites. There are also numerous directories, databases and mailing lists available on and offline.

The Association of Illustrators also offers a Portfolio section for AOI members and non-AOI members.

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