I hate your portfolio
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  1. #1
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    I hate your portfolio

    I try not to cross-post too many things from my blog, I really do. But sometimes I think they would be good subjects for discussion here. So here we go again.

    I hate your portfolio. A lot. Your art might be fantastic and make my eyes weep tears of sweet joy, but your online portfolio is making my eyes bleed.

    It's a darn shame just how atrociously bad most artist/illustrator/concept artist portfolios are. Considering we as artists are supposed to have some degree of aesthetic sensibility you might think that our web presences would be at least acceptable. But by and large artists have some of the worst websites I have ever had the misfortune to look at. It's gotten so bad, in fact, that when I want to look at an artist's work I will skip their portfolio site and go straight to their blog. Why? Because most artists don't screw up a blog too badly. They're easy to navigate, they have big images, and there's less in the way between the art and me.

    Now I'm not an art director. And maybe if I was I would be able to look past some of this and try to find the person with the best art, regardless of their website. But every art director I've met says how busy they are and how valuable their time is. By having a bad, clumsy, annoying website you are wasting their time. Do you really want to waste the time of the people hiring you?

    So if you want to learn how to design a great portfolio (or just want to avoid a terrible one), you've come to the right place. I've compiled a few essentials to think about for your online portfolio. Listen to them. Please.

    1. No Flash - I shouldn't even need to say this. Just don't use Flash. I know you think little animations and such are cool, but they're not. Half decent designers are just snickering when they look at your design, and everybody else is spouting off obscenities when your auto-play music starts. This is without a doubt the best way to get me to close your page.
    2. Simple Navigation - I know it's tempting to try something "new" with your design, but that's not the point of your portfolio. The point is to let people see your artwork as well as possible. Anything that gets in the way of this should be avoided. I bounced between a lot of different designs for my portfolio and finally ended up with what I personally consider to be the best way to view art. We all scroll through dozens (if not hundreds) of web pages everyday, so I made a point of designing a site that only required you to scroll to see my content. I think it's pretty darn easy.
    3. Easy domain name - You'll be verbally explaining your domain name to a lot of people. It should be both easy to say and easy to remember. Keep it short as possible and extremely relevant. Ideally, at least in my book, you should try to get yourname.com if it's available. Alternatives are yournameillustration.com or yournameart.com. Just some ideas. Try to keep it simple.
    4. Contact information - So somebody likes your work. How do they get in touch? Well you should make this step downright seamless. Having your email prominently displayed in several places on your page is a must. It shouldn't take more than a couple seconds to find your email. Phone numbers are optional. I've only talked to a couple clients on the phone so I usually don't bother including it.
    5. Easy to update - This is one that nobody but you will probably see. I highly recommend setting up a system, whatever it may be, that lets you quickly and easily update your portfolio. If it's somewhat difficult and/or time consuming to do so, odds are you're going to put it off. And if you put it off then your portfolio will very quickly become stagnant. Do yourself a favor and make it easy for you to update when you've got new work. My portfolio (and, naturally, my blog) are powered by Wordpress. But most blogging systems you can use for a portfolio.
    6. Not too many images - Yes, I'm sure you have 50 amazing pieces that you need to stick in your portfolio. And it's the internet, right? There's plenty of space! So why not? Because it's annoying, that's why. Your portfolio is not the place to stick everything you've ever done. It's the place to stick your best, most relevant work. When you've only got a few pieces to blow away someone who has never heard of you before, what do you show them? Put those on your website.
    7. Linkable images - ADs like to be able to easily share links to your images with editors, authors, other ADs, etc. so be sure that however your website is set up they can share a unique url to each and every image on your site. Unless you're an idiot and don't want them sharing your work with anyone else.
    8. Large images - No, you don't need print-resolution images on your site, but at least give me a reasonable size to look at. If your biggest images look like tiny thumbnails to me... well, frankly I'll probably look to see if you posted larger images anywhere else on the web. Wouldn't you prefer I stay on your portfolio?
    9. Your name on the file - This is one I only started doing this year. I realized that in the past I would save files to my computer and then come back to find I had no clue who the artist was. And when the filename just says "orc.jpg" it's not a whole lot of help. Sure, there's reverse image searches if I really wanted to know, but I prefer to save people that hassle (or help people out that don't know you can search for images that way). So now every file I upload I prefix with my name, aka: "NoahBradley_orc.jpg" It's not hard, but it's a little thing that I think is a smart idea. Naming your images well (including titles is a smart idea) will also help out with image search results.
    10. Avoid annoying watermarks - I'm not saying you shouldn't sign your work. I am saying that the signature/watermark should not distract from the image. It's often said that amateurs care about their work being stolen a lot more than professionals, and there's a fair bit of truth to that. Nobody wants their work stolen, but it's very, very good for you if people are seeing your work (and hopefully ending up on your portfolio). A discrete name and/or url in the bottom corner should suffice (something I really need to start doing). A giant name blazoned across the center of the image? Amateur.


    Follow these simple rules for your portfolio and you're not guaranteed to have the most amazing portfolio on the planet. But at least I won't hate it.

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  3. #2
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    hmmm... you're images are remarkably simple to navigate, now that I think about it.

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    In general I agree with these. Maybe except for:

    "6. Not too many images". If I ever wanted to hire someone to do lots of designs for my game or illustrations for my RPG book I would like to see if he can draw many different things even outside his comfort zone. If he had only eight of his best "barbarian in front of snowy mountain pieces" then there is a chance that he's not used to solving any design problems. Also I'd like to see both quick sketches and refined stuff.

    Also I partially disagree with "1. No Flash". The flash websites by default people complain about are nowdays completely rare. It's hard to find flash portfolio with background music, intro animation and all that stuff. At the same time you got quick working fully customizable flash gallery like Simpleviewer. It's not so hard to update which solves point 5. on your list and you can have link to images when you open them in new window. With flash you can make different types of gallery. It can be either minimalistic, simple and quick working or pain to browse.

    Last edited by Farvus; August 25th, 2011 at 05:57 PM.
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  5. #4
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farvus View Post
    In general I agree with these. Maybe except for:
    "6. Not too many images". If I ever wanted to hire someone to do lots of designs for my game or illustrations for my RPG book I would like to see if he can draw many different things even outside his comfort zone. If he had only eight of his best "barbarian in front of snowy mountain pieces" then there is a chance that he's not used to solving any design problems. Also I'd like to see both quick sketches and refined stuff.
    Well, I think its safer to say that if you have lots of images, collect or organize them well. Because seriously I have seen a portfolio where the artist had put around 10 small face profile icons (as in 10 pretty similar faces from the side) in his site in a row, and you couldn't skip them. And they were all small and similar enough (done for the same project) that he could've just made a single collection image of them, but no, you had to watch through the 10 faces every time while going back and forth. True, it was also problem of bad navigation, but even without that the faces would have cluttered the portfolio.

    Not to mention looking through portfolios that had tens of images (I know it doesn't sound a lot, but 50 non-organized images with tiny thumbnails are a lot to look through) with lots of different styles but they weren't organized in any way (it was more "blog-ish" portfolio) so we had to look all of them through to hunt down a style that would've fit our company (because we're just looking for cartoony stuff, so looking through 20 realistic paintings before getting to the stylized things is pretty irritating, especially when it could have been fixed with simple categories).

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    I agree with you point though perhaps not all with the reason why the portfolios are shit.
    It's a darn shame just how atrociously bad most artist/illustrator/concept artist portfolios are. Considering we as artists are supposed to have some degree of aesthetic sensibility you might think that our web presences would be at least acceptable. But by and large artists have some of the worst websites I have ever had the misfortune to look at.
    I actually have got the impression that artists have some of the best looking sites. But in there lies the very problem. It's like the creator has gone out of their way to make an as pleasing to look at and unique of a site site (because we are artist after all, we should have taste right) that it's got to the point that it's so unique that I don't know how to navigate it. Yes, it looks smooth and stylish but what do I do with it?
    Everything else, yes.

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  7. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by Farvus View Post
    Also I partially disagree with "1. No Flash". The flash websites by default people complain about are nowdays completely rare. It's hard to find flash portfolio with background music, intro animation and all that stuff. At the same time you got quick working fully customizable flash gallery like Simpleviewer. It's not so hard to update which solves point 5. on your list and you can have link to images when you open them in new window. With flash you can make different types of gallery. It can be either minimalistic, simple and quick working or pain to browse.
    I hated flash websites back then, I still hate them now. I know schools that actually make their students design in them. The minute I see "now loading" I tune out to another tab and honestly forget about the site

    You know what I notice. I come back a year later. Watch their blog, then look at their site. If they're posting more recent and BETTER stuff than their own portfolio page - there's a problem.

    As I see it, the blog is the support almost like having your sketchbook with you. If your blog is more "portfolio" than your portfolio page, you need to work out design better.

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    TinyBird - I do not deny. I think there is no one best style of website for everybody to use. It has to be customized to how much and what type of work is shown.

    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    The minute I see "now loading" I tune out to another tab and honestly forget about the site
    That sounds like badly made flash site. It shouldn't be noticable amount of time. Instead of loading gallery with all images at once you can load them progressively. Some non-flash sites are loading slowly too. For example I was browsing some websites with java script like lightbox (used on this forum on the thumbnails above by the way) where I waited a lot to see even just one image.

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    Remember the days when people would compress 1200x1200 images in 30x30 thumbnails?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arshes Nei View Post
    I hated flash websites back then, I still hate them now. I know schools that actually make their students design in them. The minute I see "now loading" I tune out to another tab and honestly forget about the site
    Yup, same thing with me. My connection is often on the slow side and there is a cap on my data: I very seldom see even the first image on a flash site. I get irritated when people don't warn me in advance that it is a flash site too. I'd prefer to be spared the trouble of trying to open the site only to see a "loading..." dialogue. I used to then move on to other things, but I have learned to rather close such a tab, because it's not nice to forget about it and then suddenly have someone's favourite death metal band exploding into my ears (or even worse, Justin Frickin' Bieber).

    Noah is right about obsessively trying to protect your work from thieves as well: I never look twice at images with watermarks over them. And if I see copyright warnings that appear overly aggressive I usually also just close the site for fear of being sued. My suggestion is that artists put some freebies in their portfolios, and state so clearly: "Everything here is free and you can download and use it for any purpose as long as you give credit." Or even "Consider all this stuff to be in the public domain." And then give away some large, even high resolution pictures. It creates a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and it is not like you are actually going to sell any of the work on your portfolio anyway, is it?

    Let some Chinese rip-off artist sell copies of some of your stuff online: if it's just portfolio images I'm not sure that it is really any skin off your back, and you could in fact even use it as advertising: "My work is now so popular it is being printed and distributed internationally!" ;-)

    Incidentally, I often download all manner of art from the web simply to look at and use as wallpaper etc. Seeing as I like to find more work by an artist if I like his work, I always make a point of saving such images with the artist's name included in the file name; my file names often look like this: William Bouguereau (1825-1905) Peasant girl by a stream oil 60inch.jpg

    I would suggest that you make the file names of your own works similar: it makes it easier for people to find you again, and it serves as reminder that it is work done by a real breathing person and not just "something I found on the web." I think many people are art squirrels just like I am, downloading a lot of stuff, and we don't always remember to put such information in file names. I find it rather annoying when I realize I have downloaded some stunner of a piece, accidentally forgot to include its information and now it is titled "ghdgsir.jpg" and I have no idea anymore who did it. The point here is not to make it easy for me to steal your work, but to make it easier for me to promote it!

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    Quote Originally Posted by blogmatix View Post
    It creates a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and it is not like you are actually going to sell any of the work on your portfolio anyway, is it?
    You make some interesting and valid points but this is huh? Yes, you are actually going to sell licenses to some of the work on your site, and some artists sell prints and merchandise. You don't make money by giving your inventory away.

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    Ooo! I have everything except the name in the file name!

    As for flash - consider that ipads and iphones do not support flash! (If I recall correctly) I don't know exactly where the market is going, but they both seem relatively common.

    Edit: Oh! I forgot! A good test of your domain name is the escalator test. If you can shout it to someone going up an escelator when you're going down and they'll get to the right place, then it's probably a good name. You don't want them saying "Is it JulieG.com, Julie-G.com, JulieGee.com, etc.?"

    Last edited by mutestar; August 26th, 2011 at 02:10 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Atreides View Post
    You make some interesting and valid points but this is huh? Yes, you are actually going to sell licenses to some of the work on your site, and some artists sell prints and merchandise. You don't make money by giving your inventory away.
    I was under the impression that a portfolio is just for publicity. Obviously, if you include work that you want to sell, you will not give it away for free, and for the work you want to sell I would suggest that you keep the images smallish too, because otherwise you can be sure they'll be taken.

    So perhaps such a website should have a section clearly marked as free stuff, and another clearly marked as not free, with a few nice, large images for free, so that people can clearly see the quality of your work, and the rest not so large that they end up getting taken.

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    I love how this thread mutated from advice from a (new but rapidly establishing) professional to advice from an amateur/hobbyist who doesn't know what they're talking about. Oh internet!


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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    I love how this thread mutated from advice from a (new but rapidly establishing) professional to advice from an amateur/hobbyist who doesn't know what they're talking about. Oh internet!
    Did you expect anything less?

    Noah: great stuff. :) I'm going to add a caveat to #6. For animation storyboards, the image count (especially if it's one panel per image, which is becoming the norm on a lot of productions) is going to be a little higher. But the idea itself still holds true - to not put everything up.

    Sigh. Now I need to update my website. #5 is SO TRUE. ;)

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    I really need to start doing 9, it's extremely useful, necessary I'd say - I can't believe it never crossed my mind! Cheers, Noah!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    I love how this thread mutated from advice from a (new but rapidly establishing) professional to advice from an amateur/hobbyist who doesn't know what they're talking about. Oh internet!
    Well, I may well be a very amateurish hobby artist, but that does not mean that I don't know anything about anything, and I was after all not commenting on what someone's ART should look like. I was sharing my personal experience and preferences in the hope that it may serve as one data point. Perhaps I came across as making way too sweeping claims - for all I know the potential art buyers out there absolutely adore flash sites and will not look twice at a portfolio that isn't flashy.

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    I get the "No Flash" rule, especially since I hate it with the hate of a thousand searing suns, but I've always wondered how does something like using Lightbox for images goes down? I'm using it right now, but I've wondered if it falls into the "No Flash" category as well due to it having similar aesthetics and possible problems (like possibly taking a few seconds to load an image because of a slow connection.)

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    Quote Originally Posted by blogmatix View Post
    Well, I may well be a very amateurish hobby artist, but that does not mean that I don't know anything about anything, and I was after all not commenting on what someone's ART should look like. I was sharing my personal experience and preferences in the hope that it may serve as one data point. Perhaps I came across as making way too sweeping claims - for all I know the potential art buyers out there absolutely adore flash sites and will not look twice at a portfolio that isn't flashy.
    I wasn't talking about Flash. I wasn't talking about anything in Noah's post, 98% of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I was talking about this:
    My suggestion is that artists put some freebies in their portfolios, and state so clearly: "Everything here is free and you can download and use it for any purpose as long as you give credit." Or even "Consider all this stuff to be in the public domain." And then give away some large, even high resolution pictures. It creates a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and it is not like you are actually going to sell any of the work on your portfolio anyway, is it?
    Your suggestion is that of a non-artist and non-client, who knows nothing about the profession you are commenting on beyond what you've managed to pick up from this forum in the past three months.

    Last edited by Elwell; August 26th, 2011 at 10:39 AM.

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    Here's a question for professionals: do you batch and legally copyright your images before you upload to your website? After all the horror stories I've heard, I'm definitely tempted to over-protect with watermarks (I realize the irony that it's pretty much exclusively us amateurs that do this). All my teachers would say: "just put your work in batches and have them legally copyrighted" - but how long does that take? Do people actually take the time between art completion and image upload to fully protect their work, or do you just hope the Chad Love Liebermans of the world will keep their filthy mitts to themselves?

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    Quote Originally Posted by Saramel View Post
    Here's a question for professionals: do you batch and legally copyright your images before you upload to your website? After all the horror stories I've heard, I'm definitely tempted to over-protect with watermarks (I realize the irony that it's pretty much exclusively us amateurs that do this). All my teachers would say: "just put your work in batches and have them legally copyrighted" - but how long does that take? Do people actually take the time between art completion and image upload to fully protect their work, or do you just hope the Chad Love Liebermans of the world will keep their filthy mitts to themselves?
    It's up to the person and the situation. If you post works under permission for work for hire scenarios, the copyright holder is actually with the company you worked for (which is usually in the contract). Copyright is automatically granted to you upon creation of the work. However, in the US monetary damages you want granted to you - well you have to register beforehand.

    It costs about $45 to file the copyright so if you want to do the works as a batch that is fine. Please remember though the collection itself is copyrighted, so any changes or new works after that will not be granted the registered copyright protection.

    Also keep in mind defending copyright can be a very costly process. You'll usually have to pay up front for the lawyer and it can be time consuming. However, of course if you win...the defendant will have to pay/reimburse you for the cost of having a lawyer along with the damages.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Elwell View Post
    I wasn't talking about Flash. I wasn't talking about anything in Noah's post, 98% of which I agree with wholeheartedly. I was talking about this:Your suggestion is that of a non-artist and non-client, who knows nothing about the profession you are commenting on beyond what you've managed to pick up from this forum in the past three months.
    You may well be right. I have a tendency to ramble. I'll shut up in future.

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    Noah you are right on. As a professional web designer recently turned full time illustrator it bugs me when I have to jump through hoops to see art. Makes me want to create resources for artists to know how to and how not to set up navigation. One of my biggest pet peeves- disabled right click, as if that's going to stop me if I wanted to save your image to my hard drive. No, the only thing that does for me is disable my new tab option which bugs me to no end.

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    Amen!

    I was recently looking through the Portfolio review threads on these forums and found myself surprised about the amount of people who are seemingly unaware of what a portfolio actually is.

    I hope they all see and read your post!

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  29. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Lithriel View Post
    Noah you are right on. As a professional web designer recently turned full time illustrator it bugs me when I have to jump through hoops to see art. Makes me want to create resources for artists to know how to and how not to set up navigation. One of my biggest pet peeves- disabled right click, as if that's going to stop me if I wanted to save your image to my hard drive. No, the only thing that does for me is disable my new tab option which bugs me to no end.
    If you wanted to do so I certainly wouldn't object.

    As for the right click...yeah. Hello view source!

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  30. #25
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    I thought I was the only person who absolutely hated flash websites. Thank god someone with sense agrees.

    I'm shit with web design, so I just use carbonmade. It's not ideal, but what I like about it is that you have all links available to get where you want to get at all times. If you click on a project, you don't loose the link back to the main page or to the about section.

    Sketchbook | Art Blog | Portfolio

    True progress means matching the world to the vision in our heads.
    But we always change the vision instead.
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  31. #26
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    Flash is only good for animators, or if you have a race snail that's afraid of salad in your portfolio

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  32. #27
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gorgonzola View Post
    I've always wondered how does something like using Lightbox for images goes down? I'm using it right now, but I've wondered if it falls into the "No Flash" category as well due to it having similar aesthetics and possible problems (like possibly taking a few seconds to load an image because of a slow connection.)

    Different lightbox plugins have different characteristics. I use a joomla extension on my site which actually allows you to choose between half a dozen different lightbox plugins. I was able to choose a plugin which loads the first image and then preloads subsequent images. With good file size management it is pretty quck and no wait time between images.

    A lot of ligthbox plugins have 'save image as' disabled but I chose one that allows downloads. Some art buyers like to download art they like to a folder on their desktop and browse it later, or they may want to show something at a meeting to pitch your services to their colleagues.

    The plugin is called Phoca gallery, for those of you who do their own sites. Lots of features, free, and the dev is a nice guy and no he didn't pay me.

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  33. #28
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    I just visited the website of an illustrator who seemed to do really well and was also included in the "Illustration Now" annual by Taschen. On her website I was greeted by a flash animation which, though not amateurishly done, also featured SOUND and I couldn't find a control on the website to turn that sound off.

    Seriously, WHY? Why would you make websites with sound that aren't youtube? At best I won't notice because my speakers are off, but what if I'm listening to music? I want to hear MY music, not yours.

    I also visited the website of an ad agency, that showed a lot of nice and fancy flash before getting to the point. The flash was well done and it made me wait for just a few seconds, but it was annoying enough.

    With flash or music, in most cases you're forcing the viewer to listen to something, to wait for something, or you're distracting them with movement when they're looking for the essential info. That's the way to make people want to leave your site as soon as possible. Keep it simple please.


    edit: I think the flash powered portfolios/galleries are perfectly fine, after all they have a purpose and let me see your work, usually really quickly and easily. I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about unnecessary animations that distract from the essential info and message on your website. And music... DO NOT WANT!

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    I'm pretty sure that most illustration and animation and graphics portfolio websites are there to show what kind of professional services an artist can offer to a potential professional client.
    If a client is looking at you and 20 other illustrators to pick who to hire, you want to get them to relevant information quickly. Don't make them wait (now loading), don't annoy them (too much fluff and info).
    It's an interview and your resume, not a life story you're telling to your mom.

    I know I'm not super experienced as an artist, but I do have 20+ years of experience in business and marketing... one always always always trims and tailors their resume, work samples and interview rehearsal to the job (or a group of jobs).

    I'm yet to acquire a bit more refined knowledge of what those 'groups' are in the art world. I know some of the major directions could be illustration, animation, fine art galleries, etc... and I'm sure there are subgroups. If one is offering professional services in more then one group, make sure the potential client can see and access what they need in on or two quick clicks.

    If you want an area where you want to show more in depth creative stuff, leave an area for it.... but don't lead with it in potential client's face.

    Be good, be quick and be on the point! If you master all three of those, you'll *really* stand out in the crowd.

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  36. #30
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    Even though the point is that ADs want to be able to link to your images, which they can't if it's embedded in a flash file, I've seen some decent flash portfolios.

    Autoplay music is the ultimate sin though. Especially when I've just opened up seven new tabs. WHICH ONE IS IT COMING FROM AAARGH

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