The Wisdom of Digital Portfolios

Because I'm totally distracted by my Flash class and have been bad to the bone in not writing ANY new blog entries, here is a reprint of an article I wrote. I hope it helps you as much as it's helping me…haha.

For my illustrator compatriots:

We are artists, so a lot of us never thought further than “I hope I sell my work someday”. You know, it’s that whole right brain/left brain thing. I forget which brain does which, but supposedly being artists, we lack the other brain that does the business part. I think that’s a bunch of hooey. Obviously, those of you who have questions about the business side of illustrating are using both your brains.

The first question I’d like to answer is “Are digital portfolios a wise investment?” Generally there are two kinds of digital portfolios, as far as I’m aware.

If you’re simply referring to pictures of your work placed on a web site, go for it! If you’ve got a site and a scanner all you need to decide is what to put up there. Even if you still have yet to set up your site (and WHAT are you waiting for?!) the cost is minimal to do one yourself, and you can pick up a scanner for around $100. You can print postcards with the URL and send them to art directors and editors, you can send ADs you’re working with to a private portfolio page only s/he can see, and while at some fabulous gallery opening, you can casually let it slip that you’re an artist too and just happen to have the URL to pass out when the gallery-goers clamor to see your work.

On the other hand, you might have meant a digital portfolio that’s burned on a CD. I’ve wanted to do something like this for awhile; I love this idea. I could go crazy putting other great things on there too, like my school visit info, activity pages to go with my books, etc. But the problem is control, or rather, the lack of it. Once that CD leaves my hot little hands how do I know the people I sent it to will actually look at it? If you send out a promo piece like a postcard, they have to see your work because it’s right in front of them. But CDs take effort. First you have to open the sucker. Then stick it in your drive. Then open the files. Such hard work! Your CD could get tossed in the little cubby on the side of the desk and stay there until eight tracks come back.

So yes, digital portfolios are definitely worth it if you have it on your web site. I asked illustrator Janie Bynum, author/illustrator of ALTOONA BABOONA and OTIS if she sees an advantage in having it and she told me, “My agent has sent publishers there on many occasions and most times I didn't even have to send hardcopy samples for the manuscript I was offered. Not that I mind sending samples, of course. But the web site is a great stepping-stone, giving the publisher a chance to view your work before asking for samples. This way, they can get a better idea of whether or not you are even CLOSE to “right” for a particular project. As a new illustrator, especially, it can get frustrating getting asked for samples numerous times but not getting the job. I think this closes that gap a little. An online portfolio is advantageous and worth the investment for several reasons:
1] Editors and art directors can view work immediately rather than having to wait for samples.
2] Prospective clients can print off as many samples as they need to show committees.
3] Sites can be updated whenever a new sample is ready to be shown.
4] It's actually less expensive to keep a web site ($5/month + $20/year domain registration) than to print and mail one sample packet per month.
5] Online portfolios can be promoted in print through a small postcard and on every piece of printed matter you hand out.
In today's Internet Age, I just can't see NOT having a digital portfolio.”
So what are you waiting for?!

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