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Which of Your Illustrations Should You Remove from Your Portfolio Right Now?

September 21, 2010

(Illustration by Øivind Hovland)

Deciding which Illustrations to include in your portfolio, or more importantly which ones to remove, is probably one of the most difficult, emotionally-charged decisions you’ll need to make on a regular basis as a freelance Illustrator.

I mean, come on, they’re your babies. You worked so hard on them. You cared.

In a softer, gentler world perhaps you might be able to make this decision on purely sentimental grounds. However, the fact is that your portfolio should be a lean, mean, Art Director-inspiring machine. That’s why it’s essential to make the tough choices necessary to show off only your most impressive work, and the work that communicates the things that you do best.

Is there an Illustration that makes you wince?

Is there one that immediately stands out? And not in a good way?

I challenge you to remove it right now and see if that improves the overall quality of your portfolio.

It might be difficult, It might hurt, but you can always put it back later.

Remember that your portfolio is not there to give you comfort, or share all your past experiments. You can use your blog for that. Your portfolio is there to get you work, so make it do the heavy lifting.

Anything that doesn’t belong is only holding you back.

After you’ve read this, I encourage you to go to your website right now and pick one Illustration to remove for one day. Tomorrow, go back to your website and look at your portfolio with fresh eyes, and even imagine that you’re viewing your work for the first time as an Art Director.

Is it an improvement? Then do it again. Once you’ve reached the point where taking things away hurts rather than helps, then you’re one step closer to having a tightly-packaged gallery of the best that you have to offer.

I’ve just done this myself, and it’s something that I practice on a regular basis. In fact, I ended up removing 3 images, rather than just 1, because they all needed to be ejected for the same reasons.

Are you up to the challenge?

What is your experience with this? Please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Special thanks to Øivind Hovland for providing the artwork for this post.

About Øivind Hovland: Øivind Hovland is an experienced freelance illustrator with a long list of international clients, covering a broad range of media.

He is also the author of two illustrated books, published by Tabella, and his work has been short-listed for IMAGES and the Nationwide Mercury Prize Art Exhibition.

Øivind is represented in the UK by NB Illustration.

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15 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 6:43 AM

    Great article. I just erased half of my portfolio redundant images and I’ll probably be back tomorrow for one more “killing spree”.

    • September 21, 2010 10:34 AM

      That’s great, Marcus. It’s hard at first but once you get rolling it can definitely become a “killing spree”. I think once you see the effect that removing one image has, it actually gives you a clearer sense of what else does and doesn’t fit.

  2. Nate Williams permalink
    September 21, 2010 10:08 AM

    I think this is a really great point … I need to do this more often. Great illustration by Øivind Hovland

    • September 21, 2010 10:35 AM

      Thanks Nate. It seems that while this is so important, it’s also something many of us don’t think about doing often enough.

  3. September 21, 2010 11:46 AM

    I actually have the opposite problem – I´m way too critical with my older work. Though I have to add that right now I feel that each new piece I do adds some new quality to my style (hopefully this doesn´t sound too self-satisfied, I mean it in the way of “I learn something new with each piece”), which in turn causes me to see all the flaws of my older work, even if other people still like them. This is what is prohibiting me right now to build a consistent portfolio.

    However, I think this will get better with time as I will hopefully gravitate more towards a more consistent way of doing pieces. When you´re evolving your style its only natural to see the perceived flaws of your older work, and I´d rather be a bit too self-critical, because this is what drives me to keep pushing my work instead of leaning back on what I´ve achieved so far.

    Great post and I love what you´re doing for the community, and the Facebook integration is also great – it reminds me that I want to check the actual blog more often ;)

    Keep up the great work!

  4. cynnarcisi permalink
    September 21, 2010 11:49 AM

    Great advice! There’s always one that causes wincing;) Thanks!

  5. September 21, 2010 12:32 PM

    Fantastic post! I am trying to be much more particular about what I include in my portfolio. There was a tonne of junk in there at one point.

    We sure do get emotionally attached to our work don’t we? Not a bad thing, just not a particularly good strategy sometimes. :) Glad I am starting to learn that.

  6. September 21, 2010 1:53 PM

    Hi everybody, I just revamped my whole art blog, and started from scratch with both new and old pieces, both shown and unshown before. I am gonna upload more content shortly but before I do, I was wondering if anyone could suggest to me if they have the time, what pieces do they think are my strongest, or if there are any that just should be removed? I know the best approach to a portfolio is to research a client before hand and then hand-catering it to suit them best before showing them, but in terms of showing my worldwide broad audience, I am curious as to what are your opinions. :) Thank you!

  7. September 21, 2010 4:23 PM

    Is there a number that you think one should stick with? I know more is not better, but it’s hard not to put up what I feel good about- besides, I also have four rows and five columns- taking just one out throws off the balance- am I being obsessive compulsive?

    • May 27, 2012 9:53 AM

      Really solid work. Got my shirt and also thanks for the pack of prntis and ephemera. Your blog has loads of goodness. Looking forward to future prntis and apparel.

  8. September 22, 2010 9:02 AM

    I have found that some customers ask for old illustrations I’ve removed from my portfolio. Likewise (as you noted) there is an emotional attachment to art that makes it hard to let go of it. To address both problems, I have a “Golden Oldies” section at my online gallery where I can chuck a picture that isn’t up to current standards, but not too great of a dog, either.

    However the real dogs I keep on my hard drive to remind me where I’ve been. Sort of like keeping a senile aunt locked in ones basement.

  9. October 4, 2010 8:35 PM

    I’ve been doing this lately. Not just to my portfolio, either. Also, to a lesser extent, to my entire website. The whole thing was suffering from too much information.

  10. April 23, 2011 2:58 PM

    I feel like I don’t have enough “finished work” in any section of my portfolio. I’m really not 100% happy with my portfolio at all but if I take everything out I wouldn’t have one at all.

  11. May 10, 2011 10:41 AM

    Thanks Thomas. Great article. Being kind of a perfectionist, it seems there is always one or two of my samples that I think “Well, that could’ve been better if…”.
    My challenge is this: since I do work for a wide variety of markets, my samples aren’t very cohesive across the board if I put them all into one group. But I also don’t like sites that have 8 different groups within their portfolio, with many samples in each group. Sometimes can be a lot of images for an AD to slog thru.
    My aim is to keep the site lean, but to also make it not seem not haphazard. Any pointers?


    • May 11, 2011 9:06 PM

      Hi Greg. It sounds like you might benefit from segmenting your portfolio into at least a few different galleries, to help your clients get to what they’re looking for without searching through what they’re not.

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