How to create your first portfolio

published  5th March 2024   I STARTING OUT, 


If you are applying for jobs in the art department, it’s only a question of time until you get asked for your portfolio.


This myth-enshrouded collection of creative work samples is used throughout the industry to assess your skillset and evaluate how well you fit the requirements of a job.


But what needs be in a portfolio? And how can you build and improve your portfolio – especially when you are just starting out?


This blogpost covers some key questions, requirements and tips.

You will learn:

  1. What a portfolio is and what it is used for
  2. How to create a portfolio from scratch
  3. What needs to be included
  4. How to customise your portfolio for different roles and projects
  5. How to give it form and consistency
  6. Tips and tricks for the physical copy
  7. How to present your portfolio during an interview
  8. How to get feedback on your portfolio

1. What is a portfolio and what is it used for?

A portfolio is a selection of your previous work.


It will be used by a potential employer to get an understanding of your skill level, experience and talent.


It should therefore include work samples that are relevant to the job or position you are applying for. And relevance is key here.


You might, for example, have created many paintings in the past because you come from a fine arts background.


Because this is the work you feel most proud of and gained the highest level of proficiency in, you might be tempted to build your portfolio solely on your paintings.


But if you are applying for a position in the art department that requires you to use design and drawing software and do location surveys, the paintings are of only limited relevance.


That’s not to say you shouldn’t include them at all.


A good painting can show that a candidate understands colour, light and proportion and that is certainly useful for any role in the art department.


So please feel free to include some of your paintings, but make sure to include other work as well.


That could be a simple detail drawing or a logo you designed. Even if these work samples are of lesser quality than your paintings, they might be of higher relevance for the job and will show a wider skill set.  


The example above is supposed to demonstrate that the first step in creating your portfolio is to understand what it is used for and what your potential employer might want to see.


The portfolio is for them, not for you.


What your future employer might want to see in your portfolio will vary from position to position and from employer to employer.


When you’re  just starting out, try to include work samples that show general artistic ability as well as hands-on skills. Try to think about your skill set and the work you’ve done so far in a broader sense.


Once you get your first placement in the art department pay attention to what skills are required and useful.


It might also be helpful to look at other peoples’ portfolios and websites in the roles you aspire to. This will give you a better idea of the work and skills you’ll need to build and present in your future portfolio.  

2. How to create a portfolio from scratch


If – after reading the previous paragraph – you still don’t know what to put in your portfolio, if you have no clue what your potential employer might be looking for or if you simply don’t have the desired work samples, do not despair.


The most important thing is to start! Work with what you have and improve gradually.


Create the first version of your portfolio. Gather all the work samples you have, select what you believe to be the most relevant and put them in an order. There you go. You have just created version 1.0 of your portfolio.


It will get easier and better from here on onwards.

3. What should be included in an (ideal) entry level portfolio

As mentioned earlier, what people want to see in portfolios might differ from person to person and from production to production, but there are a couple of things that are portfolio gold for the art department and they are:

  • Technical drawings
  • Location surveys
  • Sketches
  • 3D models & renders
  • White card models
  • How to present your portfolio during an interview
  • How to get feedback on your portfolio

Technical drawings

Technical drawings, whether hand drawn or digital, are the  mean of communication in the art department.


There is almost no way past them. They are used to discuss, refine and present designs within the team. They are also used by the construction team to actually built the sets.


If you have technical drawings, no matter how simple or bad, include them in your portfolio.


If you have both hand and digital drawings, make sure to include at least one of each. 


Technical drawings will show your potential employer that you can help the team by drawing things up. Even if you are not the most experienced and your drawings are simple, it means they won’t need to start from scratch when teaching you how to draw. 

Location surveys

Being able to perform and draw up an accurate location survey is a key skill for the art department, especially if it is a production that involves a lot of location work.


Chances are that you have never heard of a location survey, let alone know how to do it. 


Creating a location survey just for your portfolio is a very good opportunity to practice the process – even if you just survey your own bedroom. It will add one more relevant page to your portfolio.


A note for further down the line:

Once you started building your portfolio and adding more and more drawings you might find yourself tempted to remove the location surveys.


Location surveys usually don’t look as nice and impressive as the extremely detailed elevations of the Corinthian column you consider your current master piece.


One thing to consider is that while the location survey itself might not be very beautiful or impressive, it shows a relevant and valued skill. Skip another detail drawing and leave the location survey where it is. 

Sketches of architecture and architectural details

When people in the art department discuss complex ideas, solutions or details, you will usually find that they almost instinctively start drawing and sketching things.


They do so to sort their own thoughts, but also to communicate their ideas to one another.


A quick sketch can sometimes replace thousands of words and avoid misunderstandings that naturally result from using words to describe visual things.


Being able to sketch, to quickly put your thoughts into a drawn format, is invaluable.


A couple of pages from your sketchbook can show that skill in you portfolio.


Including sketches in your portfolio will not only show that you can sketch, but also that you will be able to read the sketches of others, which is equally important.

3D models & renders

Next to draughting, 3D modelling is a key skill in the art department.


If you have no experience in 3D modelling you should start learning it as soon and as fast as you can.


If you have worked in 3D before, include model views or renders of the models in your portfolio.


Make sure to state what software you used to create the model. Using a certain software can be a prerequisite for some jobs as it makes workflows and file sharing a lot easier. 

White card models

No matter how advanced digital 3D modelling gets, there will always be physical (white card) models.


Being able to make one from a P&E drawing a valuable skill, especially in the entry level positions.


Work samples that show model making skills of any kind should be included in your portfolio.

4. How to customise your portfolio for different roles and projects

There are numerous formats and layouts that can be used to present your work and it will come down to individual taste which one you choose, but there are a couple universal things that apply no matter the chosen format:

  • Be consistent
  • Use little or no text
  • Use negative space
  • Pay attention to what is shown first

Be consistent

Consistency in how you present your work is key to a good portfolio.


That means that if you decided to have a cover page stating the project and position during which the following work has been created, then it’s good to use that as a structuring principle for your entire portfolio.


These cover pages should have the same layout, use the same font and colour scheme to help guide the person who is looking at your portfolio. 

Use little or no text

Keep the text portion in your portfolio to a minimum.


You might be tempted to include the entire thought process and research it took to get to the final result, but that rarely interests your future employer and if it does, they most likely won’t have the time to read it.


If you really want to show the process, do it visually by including images of the different stages of development for a 3d model or drawing. 


Use captions to state what is shown in your portfolio, what materials or what software was used to create it, and what it was used for.


If you want to you can state the year as well.


If there is anything included on the image or drawing that wasn’t your own original work (e.g. concept art you used as a reference, parts of the models that were created by a colleague) please indicate that as well. 

Use negative space

Sometimes people decide – and rightfully so – to limit the number of pages they include in their portfolio, but instead overload the single pages with a multitude of images and drawings.


This usually just overwhelms the person looking at your portfolio.


Keep it simple, allow for negative space and let your work breathe. 

Pay attention to what is shown first

Your potential future employer will have very limited time to look at your portfolio and might stop halfway through when they think they got a good impression of your skill level and experience.


Therefore, order matters.


Your strongest and most relevant work for the position you are applying to should be on the first few pages of your portfolio.


If the job description asked for experience in a certain period and you have drawings that show that, they should be at very top of your portfolio.


If one of the core requirements is 3D modelling in Rhino, your first page should show a Rhino model and ideally state that it was created using Rhino in the caption. 


If the requirements for the position you are applying to are more vague or it’s a speculative application from your side, start with your strongest work.


You might only get 3 pages to make an impression.

Tips and tricks for the physical copy

You will usually only need a digital copy of your portfolio for the application.


But once you’re invited to an interview, it’s advisible to bring a physical copy of your portfolio.


Some people chose to rely on the digital copy and bring their tablet or laptop to the interview, but they are missing out on an opportunity to present their work.


A physical copy that you can place on a desk and use as the centre point of your interview will help you with presenting and discussing your work.


It’s much easier for you interviewer and you to interact with the drawings and images if they are placed in an adequate format in front of them, instead of hovering over an iPad while zooming in and out to see details.


If it comes to style, form and size there is a multitude of choices to consider and most of them come down to personal preference and practicality.

7. How to present your portfolio during an interview

At some point during your interview your interviewer will ask the question: “Shall we look at your portfolio?”


This is your cue to get it out (as quickly as possible, prepare for that), place it in front of them, and open it up to the first page.


At this point your interviewer will usually take over and start flipping through it and ask questions about the drawings, the projects and your experience based on what they see.


If there is a slightly awkward pause after you flipped open you portfolio, it’s best to ask: “Would you like to flip through it or shall I?”


In my experience it’s always better to let the interviewer do it.


They will automatically stop where they see the most relevant or interesting work and go over stuff that is not relevant to them.


That’s their filtering mechanism working in your favour.


Find more information on what to expect and how to prepare for your interview here. (LINK EINFUEGEN)


8. How to get feedback on your portfolio

The best feedback you can get on your portfolio are the non- verbal clues you can pick up while a potential employer is looking through it.


Pay attention to where they stop, what they spend more time on and what triggers question or even a smile.


Try to view every interview as an opportunity for insight on how your portfolio is perceived. Seek out opportunities like that. (I know, the instinct is to avoid them at all cost.)


Show your portfolio to as many people as possible and seek feedback.


The British Film Designers Guild regularly hosts portfolio surgeries where you can show your portfolio to art directors, supervising art directors and set decorators.


And whereas these surgeries rarely lead to a job offers they are a perfect opportunity to get feed back on your portfolio in a very time-condensed manner.


They are also an excellent chance for you to practice presenting and talking about your work. 



A couple of thoughts on feedback:


It can be tough to receive feedback, no matter how politely it is presented. Always remember that honest (even if negative) feedback is a sign of respect. It would be much easier for the other person to tell you some pleasant half-truth.


The other aspect to remember in this specific case is that they are criticising your work, drawings, images and not you as a person.


You can create better work and with time and effort you will.


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I hope this post gave you a couple of ideas on how to start and improve your portfolio for the Art Department.

Always remember that your portfolio is just a snapshot of your current abilities and skills. With time it will change and improve. So just get started.

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