Ask the Pros: How Can I Build My Portfolio?

Ask the Pros: How Can I Build My Portfolio? To help prepare you for the real world, our Ask the Pros series is here to help answer some of your most common questions about interviewing, job-hunting and working in the world of publication and media art and photo departments.

Got a question you want answered? Send it to us at spdstudentoutreach@gmail.com and we'll put it to our experts! A varying panel of professionals will give you their take, and then it's up to you to put their advice to work.

And if you're a working professional yourself, we'd love to hear your opinion too ... don't hesitate to add it in our comments or email us to be on one of our panels.

Today's topic takes us back to portfolios...

QUESTION: I want to pursue a career in publication design, but I don't have any real experience. How can I build up my portfolio?

PRO: John Walker - Art Director for Mobile, Popular Mechanics
I tell people all the time, give yourself assignments! Scan photos and do your own versions of magazines you love. When I went for the number 2 position at Travel & Leisure, I made a mini-mag with departments and features....didn't get the job, not even an interview, but years later I met the DD who said he still had it! Try to have a variety of topics covered, and there's nothing wrong with solid FOB/BOB work since that's what you'll be doing. Also, intern somehwere, even more than once!

PRO: Ann Davidson - Photo Director, HGTV Magazine
For someone on a photo editing path, consider interning not just at publications, but perhaps for a set designer or a photographer. You could offer to assist with production or propping for no pay in exchange for the valuable on-set experience and to get a tearsheet for your portfolio. You can also produce and style test-shots with photography students.

PRO: Matthew Bates - Creative Director, Active Interest Media Outdoor Group
Student publications are great. They can give you a great experience in which you are dealing with real publication situations. Design and editorial choices have to be made under real deadlines. Internships are also important. You might not have the chance to work on high profile design projects, but you will see how an art department functions and trust me, you are being watched in regards to how you handle the responsibilities you are given. Art Directors remember great interns. Even if they don't have the ability to hire you right then, they can help guide you toward other opportunities. 

PRO: Ryan Haigh - Designer, Complex
It's definitely beneficial to show a portfolio that's publication-focused. I used to work in advertising, so I love to see strong conceptual pieces as well, editorial or otherwise. Keep your portfolio simple, succinct, and don't include pieces of work you're unsure of. You're better off showing 10 really strong pieces, than 10 strong pieces and 5 somewhat mediocre pages interspersed. 

PRO: Julia Knetzer - freelance designer and art director
It's all about building a body of work while gaining experience -- work on your school newspaper, your school magazines, take every design class available to you, and intern. 

PRO: Cass Spencer - Design Director, Prevention
On top of your college work, you should be creating personal projects; they always look good in a portfolio. Also, try to figure out how your favorite publications are put together by recreating them yourself, it's the best way to learn.


Thanks to our terrific panel of pros for their great advice! 
Check out our previous Ask the Pros questions below. And email us if you've got a question.
- What if I didn't go to a design/art school for college?- Is it okay to email my thank you note after an interview?
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