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Curating a stand-out portfolio in the digital age

30 January 2022

Has anyone else completely lost the capacity to marshal elapsed time? The last 14 months feels like one of those EastEnders specials with just two characters sitting in a room for an entire episode, and as it nears its hopeful conclusion you can’t figure out if you’ve been sat on the sofa for five minutes or five days.

And while we await the fateful drumbeat and rolling credits, we, at CIA, wrestle with whether it feels like a lifetime ago that we were flitting through London armed with folios and cronuts with which to woo a creative floor, or whether it was only yesterday. Jury’s out. One thing’s for sure, if Zooming’s here to stay we collectively need to zhuzh it up a bit cos the initial thrill of seeing what someone’s spare room (and cat’s arse) looks like has officially lost its lustre.

Us lot are hoping that it’s not too long before we’re able to see those producers’ and editors’ cheeky faces again in the flesh (and check the use-by date on those cronuts) but in the meantime, more than ever, we’ve had to take a forensic look at our online presence and check that it packs a punch.

Because cycling back to the opening line, it really has become, overwhelmingly, about time.

Specifically, on an exclusively digital world stage, how little time we have to make a first impression. As Johnny Carson once said, a New York Minute is the interval between a Manhattan traffic light turning green and the driver behind you honking. That’s the time you have — and that driver behind you, by the way, is the next illustrator. In an era flooded with images a book really will be judged by it’s cover so how should you curate a stand-out folio presence in an overcrowded arena?

So who are you? And how are you going to tell someone in a flash?

Being an artist and making beautiful pictures is only 50% of the job. It’s important that you know how to detach yourself from the artist by lacing up your business boots when it comes to negotiating your projects but also when it comes to promoting your work. You have to think strategically, develop a bird’s eye view of the industry and understand what agencies and clients look for.

We all know the basics of a good folio but there’s no harm in quickly remembering that you must have a consistent and unique visual language that is immediately identifiable and speaks for itself. That a variety of subject matter will lead to an equally varied selection of clients and projects. Never forget that most of the clients you encounter are creatives with the capacity to mentally project your work into a different context or form, but it’s their client, the financial firm, the pharmaceutical outfit, the alcohol brand, that you need to convince. And if that client wants a picture of a hat, you better have a picture of a hat in your folio already to get the gig.

And not just a variety of subject matter, demonstrate your ability to work with different market sectors. Many clients will be looking at projects you’ve worked on as reassuring evidence of your familiarity with the commissioning process in their particular industry. So share as many projects in situ a possible — a spread in a magazine, a book cover, a textile design. And if you haven’t had the opportunity to work on a commercial project yet, just fake it with some mock-ups! Showing how your work can translate on packaging for example can really help generate related commissions if those mock-ups are seen by the right client.

There are myriad platforms out there where you can promote your work — each of these social environments has a distinct purpose and audience, so make sure you understand what type of content is appropriate for which platforms. While your own website or LinkedIn may be a great space for a deeper dive into what makes you tick, the obvious platform for immediate impact is Instagram.

It’s almost indispensable for an artist nowadays to share their work on this platform.

Our advice: set aside the race for likes and followers and define a strategic approach to the kind of content you are posting. Think like a marketer, understand your audience, and define goals — Whom are you talking to? What do you want to say? Where do you want your work to be seen?

Your worst enemy is time.

You have probably heard the statistic that people make a first impression within a few seconds. While this is true in person, it is also now equally significant online.

“It is said that it takes only 1/10th of a second for us to form a first impression about a person. Websites and online folios are no different. Online, it takes around 50 milliseconds for visitors to form an opinion about your website that determines whether they’ll stay or leave.”

The Instagram explore page is viewed by 200 millions accounts daily. 8. 95 million photos and videos are shared on Instagram per day. More than 83% of Instagram users have discovered a new product or service on the platform. What’s more, it is said that the world’s internet users will spend a cumulative 1.25 billion years online in 2020, with more than one-third of that time spent using social media.

It’s clear that Instagram is no longer just for personal use. It has become a global platform allowing brands to humanize their content, recruit new talent, showcase products, and inspire their audience. Avoid sharing pictures of yourself on the beach or the beach bar… but dog pictures are always welcome. Remember that Instagram is a window to your work and to yourself as a professional illustrator.

Think of yourself as the curator of your own digital gallery. You are the creative mind after all, with an eye for design and all things beautiful. Show it!

So, if your folio hasn’t adapted to the new normality, it’s about time it did.

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