How to prepare for your portfolio review

Portfolio reviews are an effective way to get your art in front of industry experts. The feedback gained can be valuable to improving your skills and securing your next job in the industry.

One of the many rewarding things about being a professional artist at Atomhawk is being able to pay our knowledge forward to working artists. We often attend conferences throughout the year, some of which where we can meet artists directly and do portfolio reviews.

Lead Artist, Charlie Bowater, and Marketing Manager, Justine Colla, teamed up to give some transparency about the portfolio review process and help prepare you to get the absolute most out of your review with us, or anyone else!

1. What artwork should I show in my portfolio for the review?

Often you will only have a limited time at a portfolio review (anywhere from 5-15 minutes), so it’s important to only show your best work. Best does not mean ‘most polished’, but work that you’re proud of and stands on its own. It’s better to present fewer high-quality pieces than many lesser ones.

For example, if you’re not specialised in environments, please don’t include environment work. It’s preferable to review an artist who is very skilled in one or two areas rather than trying to be a jack of all trades. If you’re proficient at multiple disciplines, however, then include them all!

For your specialisations, be sure to include as much value in your portfolio as possible. For example, if you can beautifully render a character design, that can be shown in a couple of polished pieces and design processes for the rest. Show your sketches and your iterations. Show how you think, how you got to the end result, and why.

2. Should my portfolio be digital or printed?

It’s not really an issue either way, but if you’re a digital artist, then showing your work on a tablet or laptop is ideal. Vice versa for a traditional artist.

Research all portfolio review information for the event you’re attending in case they have any specific requirements on the day. If you’re submitting the portfolio online, then it’s best to collate your chosen pieces in a google drive or zip folder, so the reviewer can see the work you’ve specifically chosen to review. Sites like ArtStation, Wix, and DeviantArt are also perfectly acceptable.

3. What is a leave-behind and how to I prepare one?

It’s commonplace to have a “leave-behind” for your portfolio review, which can be a small object to physically give your reviewer at the end of the meeting. Simplicity is best here, it could be a postcard or business card; something that shows a memorable piece of artwork, your contact information, and portfolio URL. Make sure you have enough of these for each event!

Never force your leave-behind on the reviewer. There’s a variety of reasons why they may not accept it. Respect their decision with grace and avoid looking too much into it.

4. How can I be sure I’m ready for the meeting?

It’s not recommended to prepare your portfolio and leave-behind the night before your review, as it can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with certain companies. Plan ahead to have your portfolio, a notepad, leave-behinds, any power cords ready to go the night before, and get plenty of sleep and hydration!

To make the most of your experience, it’s helpful to do some research about the person or company who will be reviewing your portfolio. Going into the meeting with that prior knowledge will help you ask more qualitative questions based on the reviewer’s specialisations to make it as valuable an experience as possible.

5. What if my reviewer gives me bad criticism on my portfolio?

On the day, listen to everything that the reviewers have to say about your work, even if it’s not precisely what you wanted to hear. It shows a lot of character to take all feedback with grace and use any critical feedback for the future.

Try to not make excuses or put down your own work to the reviewer. Comments like: “This isn’t my strongest work”, or “I didn’t have enough time to put my portfolio together” will reflect poorly on you as a professional.

We recommend bringing a notepad to your review to jot down some quick notes during the session. Reviewers won’t be offended and it will assist you when you debrief with yourself after the review to sort through feedback received without having to remember the entire meeting perfectly.

6. What do I do at the end of my portfolio review?

Thank your reviewer and ask for details about how to apply for upcoming roles within their company. Offer your leave-behind and be as courteous as possible. Small actions like this are the building blocks of relationships with artists and companies, which may be beneficial for you months and years down the line.