Thursday, April 24, 2014

Portfolio Advice: Unity / Variety

"It's a very ancient saying, but a true and honest thought . . ."

Your portfolio should show
Unity and Variety.

I've had this advice pinned to the wall above my desk, well, forever. I think I read it in an old PW newsletter.

So let's talk about injecting Unity into your portfolio. 
  • Unity of style
  • Unity of purpose
  • Unity in choice of media
  • Unity of  . . . OK, consistent quality.
Why is unity so important? Because, as I was reminded at the recent Write2Ignite Conference, your portfolio has to convince the art director they can trust you with an assignment.

Your portfolio has to scream, 
this is what you'll get when you hire me.

1. Unity of style.
Courtesy Diego Diaz
You don't have to have identical styles in all your pieces, but they should look like they are by the same person. Again, the AD wants to know what the finished artwork is going to look like. They want to know you can duplicate a look for their project.

But remember to add variety by showing a range of moods, age groups, and genres.

I think Diego Diaz does a great job of showing what he is capable of. You know he'll produce slick, high-quality work which leans toward the graphic novel / animation spectrum. He demonstrates he can work for a variety of age ranges, both comical or full of action.

2. Unity of Purpose
Courtesy Randy Wollenmann
Many talented illustrators submit to different markets. They have slightly different styles for each (think editorial vs. children's). Showcase your work in separate sections, making it easy for clients to find what they're looking for.

Within each of the markets, display work that shows your versatility (AKA variety.)
Randy Wollenmann super-organizes his art by genre, medium, and style. This is overkill for most of us, but with Randy's phenominal body of work and uber-talent, it's probably the best way for ADs to find what they're looking for.

3. Unity in Choice of Media
You don't have to use the same medium in each piece, but you have to show the AD what they'll be getting (sounding like a broken record?) If your work in oil is photo-realistic, but your work in watercolor is impressionistic, then make two separate mini-portfolios. But if you handle characters in a similar way with both oil and watercolor, then grouping them together is going to show your versatility.
Courtesy Susan Swan

A variety of media seems to work best for mixed media artists. Some projects are more, some less. Generally, there is no trouble identifying the artist and the end result the client can expect.

It's pretty obvious Susan Swan can deliver stunning illustration on a variety of subjects. Her portfolio is a mix of paint and paper, in ever-changing variety, but that doesn't stop her work from being completely unified. She demonstrates both comic and non-fiction applications of her talent.

4. Quality
Quality should unify your portfolio. Don't put samples in your portfolio which make you want to apologize. Less is more.

Courtesy Chris Oatley
Variety here means pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. For example, you may not do bird's-eye-view as well as you do two-point, but if you can show a variety of  POV, then you've expressed your flexibility.

The amazing Chris Oatley has 5 common pitfalls to avoid when compiling your portfolio. His advice is geared toward concept artists as well as illustrators, but it's full of truth to pin on YOUR wall.

U is for Unity

What do you think of my observations? Was anything helpful? Have you heard all this before? Do you disagree?

Have you been challenged by one or more of the points above? How did you conquer your difficulty? I'd love to hear from you and share a link to your portfolio.

Follow the A to Z Challenge.


  1. Really enjoyed your thoughts on unity. Unified portfolio pieces--that's something I'm working on at the moment.

  2. Aren't we all :) I am particularly focusing on unified quality and consistent characters. Thanks for your comments.


Thank-you for taking time to share your thoughts!