Five Tips for Improving Your Portfolio

Worldbreakers: Advent of the Khanate is going to launch with 116 cards, each with a unique illustration. Worldbreakers is a passion project, and I am wearing the “amateur art director” hat. One of the first steps is navigating through hundreds of portfolios as I am finding the right artists to commission. During this period, I have learned that some portfolios are better than others. Here are five tips to elevate your portfolio and help prospective customers choose you for their project.

The Indigo Grotto
The Indigo Grotto, by Emilio Rodriguez

1. Get the Basics Right

Three bare necessities show your prospective customer that you are a professional. One, have a portfolio website. As of the writing of this post, ArtStation seems to be very popular. I suggest showcasing at least ten pieces. Two, have an “About” page with your email address and a few sentences about yourself. How long have you been freelancing? What interests you about art? Do you have any formal education? Where do you live? Teaching the prospective customer about yourself is an excellent way to connect with them. Three, answer your emails! Personally, I expect a reply within 1-3 business days.

2. Communicate Your Style

Gaming has countless art styles. Make sure that your portfolio communicates your medium (physical/digital, 2D/3D, …), genre (fantasy, science fiction, noir, …), mood (cartoon, epic, horror, …), and any other aspect of your work. For example, there are currently a lot of artists inspired by Hearthstone and Legends of Runeterra: digital, 2D, cartoony, fantastic steampunk. If that is what you do, put that front and center. If you employ different styles, separate them into pages on your portfolio (ArtStation has a handy tabs feature for that).

Gentle Mentor by Bruno Barros
Worldbreakers has a realistic, historical style. Gentle Mentor, by Bruno Barros

Are you curious about the commission process? Do you like cute puppies? Check out my video about the commission and art development for Dogtamer, one of my favorite Worldbreakers illustrations. If you like the video, please subscribe to the YouTube channel!

3. Quality Over Quantity

Prospective customers will skim through your portfolio and might judge you based on your worst piece. Be mindful of that bias when choosing illustrations. Stick to recent work as opposed to art from earlier in your career, when you were less experienced. If possible, showcase commissioned work in which you received positive feedback from the customer. Place the best pieces at the beginning of the page. As you get more clients, review your portfolio and remove pieces which no longer reflect your current ability and interests.

4. Keep the Images Safe-for-Work

NSFW (not-safe-for-work) includes images of sex, nudity, or excessive violence (such as beheading or tearing people in two). Your prospective customer might be browsing from a physical office or they might not want to view such imagery. They might immediately close the tab if they see any NSFW imagery. If you decide to include NSFW images, put them in a separate gallery and label them as such. Finally, based on conversations on reddit and elsewhere, many prospective customers dislike portfolios that overly sexualize women. Keep a dignified representation of women. While you are at it, do the same for any other group of people you draw (such as people of color, LGBTQ+, or people with disabilities).

Chuvadu Guru, by Vadim Shevchenko

5. Showcase Existing and Original Material

Drawing characters from existing, established fiction is an easy way to connect with customers. For example, I see a lot of illustrations of World of Warcraft (orcs, night elves, steampunk goblins) and Game of Thrones (Daenerys Targaryen, Arya Stark, white walkers). Your audience will rely on their familiarity with these worlds to contextualize your work. On top of that, include original material that is based on your imagination and talent. This shows that you can develop your own ideas. Your customers are building their own worlds and you can demonstrate to them how you will contribute to that effort.

The growth in the gaming market shows no signs of slowing down. There are a lot of games under development which means a need for talented illustrators such as yourself. Follow this advice, sell yourself well, and you will have an opportunity to draw the art you are passionate about while contributing to games and making a living.

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