25 June 2016

Submit Saturdays: Should you create a portfolio website when you’re a student?


25 June 2016


Welcome to Submit Saturdays, a year long series of articles in partnership with Squarespace. Squarespace. These days if you’re a student, your online presence is just as important as your physical portfolio of work. A website is a great place to start and there’s no need to become a coding whizz in order to create a good one. Whatever discipline you work in, a website can be a place for you to document your process, showcase final projects and even display personal projects you’re working on.

To get some advice and insight into the process of creating a website we spoke to current student Cherie Chan from Boston University, recently graduated illustrator Axel Kinnear based in Canada and London-based Oliver O’Keefe who’s currently a lecturer in illustration at Central St Martins. They speak about their own experiences of building a portfolio website as students, why it was a key step in their development as a creative and some top tips they’ve discovered along the way.

Cherie Chan: advertising, visual arts and film student at Boston University

I major in advertising with a visual arts and film minor at Boston University and when I started looking for internships last year I felt the need to build a portfolio for myself. To help with creating my own website I looked at professional portfolios in the industry. Even now it helps me think about what and how to organise my own work. This curation process helps me filter out the works that aren’t worth presenting on my website. For example, since I started building my portfolio, I’ve become my own critic often asking myself if this particular work will make it into my portfolio – if the answer is no, I try and work out how I can make it worth presenting.

Everyone can have a website but I think the website should reflect the individual’s personality. The functionality should prioritise the strongest works and should be easy to navigate. My website reflects my creative process – the way it’s laid out highlights what I want the audience to see straight away. From building a website I’ve learned it’s an ongoing process rather than a single, one-time project. It’s not always easy but it gets better every time I update and re-edit it and when I spy something I don’t like I can change it.

It’s been easier for me to showcase my creativity to my employers since I’ve had a website. Creativity is such a vague concept to grasp until you can show it was something more tangible to you audience. My top tip for building a student website is to look at the how the professionals are doing and not just your peers.

Axel Kinnear: illustrator, graduated 2016 from Sheridan College, Toronto

I created a website to have one centralised location to post and share all my work, whether it’s with peers, friends, art directors or employers. It’s been more than helpful to be able to conveniently share one link to all of my work, contact info, and social media accounts. Any sort of editing process such as curating what work to post on my site challenges the objectives of the work. Throughout the process I had to consider what I am aiming to achieve with both the content of my work and the visual style, and whether or not those goals are visible and consistent throughout the body of work on the site.

My design goal for the site was to be fairly minimal and straightforward, making sure it was easy to navigate while also allowing the work be the focus of the site. I really only upload the work I am the most excited about, while also occasionally removing older work that I feel doesn’t accurately represent me or my work anymore. I went through a few different versions of my site before I settled on the current layout. I learnt a lot about how to generate intrigue for my work through design motifs as well as figuring out what overall aesthetic supports my work without being too intrusive or distracting. The trickiest part is putting myself in the shoes of a user who has never seen my work and is visiting the site for the first time, and trying to make that experience as enjoyable as possible for them.

The site has definitely helped with getting opportunities I wouldn’t have gotten without it. Having one place to find all my contact info and portfolio of work has been invaluable in the post-grad process of looking for work, whether pulling up my site at an interview, or meeting someone at a show or party, and being able to instantly share all of my work has most certainly cemented some opportunities that would’ve been very difficult if not impossible to do without a site. 

My advice for anyone building a portfolio site would definitely be to let your work speak for itself. Design your site to support your work, don’t let the design of your site suffocate or distract from your work. And use properly sized images, of course.

Oliver O’Keeffe: lecturer at Central St Martins, graduated 2007 from Central Saint Martins

Having a website as a creative is essential. When I was a student your website was pretty much the only online access point for clients to see your work. With the arrival of social media, artists have access to a whole plethora of digital platforms where they can upload work and communicate that work to a huge ever-growing audience instantly. With this in mind I believe a portfolio site is a tailored space that reflects who you are. Think of it as a visual CV, it should communicate what you have done, what you can do and where you want to go in the future. 

Constantly maintaining your website is really important. First of all because it gets you used to being critical about your own work. It is an essential skill for artists to edit work. As your career grows, some work will have to make way for newer projects. Secondly, if you don’t update your website, people notice. I am guilty of this and it’s not a good feeling. If you plan to progress as an artist, your website should reflect this. Lastly, updating and maintaining your website feels great. It gives you a sense of purpose and direction.

A portfolio website is all about balance. You need to have completed work on your website, though clients are always looking for something different, something unique. For example on my own site I have included some of my handmade sketchbooks. This gives clients the opportunity to see where it all comes from and opens up the conversation of what you can do by showing the client you are innovative and adaptable. Also, if the client has the inclination to look around your website then why not entice them to say a little while longer?  

The most important thing is to actually make a website rather than make it the most mind bending interactive website in the world. Making my first website (which I made on Dreamweaver) showed me how important it is to order your work in a way that it is legible to clients. If you are not a designer at heart then keep it simple!

It sounds like a cliché but let your work speak for itself. Give the user the essentials: who are you, what are you about, who have you worked for (if you have anyone at that point) and how they can contact you. Do not try to tell the world how you where born to be an artist or that you see beauty in everything and most importantly never be negative about your work or who you are! People have come onto your site to see work, let them form their own opinions. 

If you host your work on a Squarespace website and would like to be featured as part of this series of articles, please head here to learn more and get in touch.

In partnership with Squarespace

Squarespace is a creation tool enabling individuals to create a great website by giving them the tools to create an elegant solution and get their voice heard in the world of online publishing. Whether for experienced designers or for someone putting together their first website, it makes forming a beautiful platform simple.

If you’re not currently using Squarespace to host your site, the kind folks over there are offering It’s Nice That readers 10% off their services. Sign up here or upgrade your account using the discount code SUBMIT to get 10% off.

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About the Author

Rebecca Fulleylove

Rebecca Fulleylove is a freelance writer and editor specialising in art, design and culture. She is also senior writer at Creative Review, having previously worked at Elephant, Google Arts & Culture, and It’s Nice That.

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