Building a Portfolio
TIPS FOR SAVING, DOCUMENTING AND SHARING YOUR WORK
A strong portfolio is indispensable in pursuing a career in Media Arts. You should save, document, and share your work throughout your time at BMCC (and beyond of course!) A portfolio will grow with you, and it is never too early to start gathering your work. Not all the projects you create in your MEA courses will end up in your formal portfolio, but they are all worth saving for future reference and usage. While grades are important when it comes to earning your degree, you will need a portfolio when applying for internships, jobs, and Bachelors’ programs in any field related to design, web development, gaming, video, film, and animation. A weak portfolio will really be detrimental to achieving your career goals. So start putting the tips below into practice right away – it’ll become second nature in no time.
You can see examples from BMCC students here:
Saving your work
Where to save your work?
Ideally, you should have copies of your work in two types of storage:
- Cloud-based storage
- platforms such as Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox allow you to upload a copy of your files to their server which you can access remotely anywhere with a web connection. Any of the three services listed above are commonly used in the media industry. The free versions do have very limited storage space so it is likely you will have to purchase more as you upload more work (see Google Drive’s Plans & Pricing page as an example). *You can get a fair amount of free storage space on Dropbox and OneDrive with your CUNY id. However, you will lose access to it after graduating, so I do not recommend connecting your account this way.
- The BMCC Open Lab is also a good option for long term cloud-based storage (you will not lose access to your OpenLab account after graduating).
- External hard drives are screen-less, small pieces of hardware that connect to your computer via Thunderbolt or USB. There are a lot of different brands, storage capacity, speeds, reliability levels, and prices on the market. You will need more storage capacity if you do a lot of work in 3D modeling, video, and animation. If you work mainly with static images, design, web development and programming, you will need less. In general, a 1TB drive by a reliable brand is a good starting point. Do a web-search for “Best 1TB hard drives” for current deals and recommendations. *A USB-key, while a good solution for temporary transfer and storage of files (i.e: to transfer files you are working on in a lab at school to your home computer), is NOT a safe long-term storage solutions as they are flimsy and easily lost.
Whether you are creating an animation, a magazine spread, a logo, or a website, you will be creating, editing, and saving files. The first thing you should do upon creating your project/file is save it (see above for where to do so) and name it. There are a few useful “best practices” to follow when naming your files:
- Use a name that refers to the content of the file (never leave your file “untitled” and try to use words that will recall the project’s subject easily when you encounter the file at a later date)
- Abbreviate words whenever possible (nyc.jpg instead of newYorkCity.jpg)
- Never use spaces. Instead use these two methods:
- Use capitalization to separate two words within an element (selfPortrait.jpg)
- Use an underscore to separate two elements (selfPortrait_raster.jpg)
- Avoid calling any file “final” (you never know if/when you will revisit it). Use V+2 digits for version control instead (selfPortrait_raster_V02.jpg)
In many cases you will end up creating several files for your project. This could be because you are creating several pages (i.e.: for a website), or because you are exporting it to different formats for different purposes. You should create a folder to store all the files related to a project (use the file naming “best practices” listed above to name your folder). It is also important to understand the importance of keeping your master file – even when you think you are done with the project.
What is a master file? In digital media, a “master” is the “original” file for the purpose of storage, reuse and editing. It is usually saved in the native format of the software used to create and edit it (i.e.: PSD for Adobe Photoshop, AI for Adobe Illustrator, INDD for Adobe InDesign, AEP for Adobe After Effects, FIG for Figma etc.). These files contain all the information needed (i.e.: layers, adjustments, filters, frames etc.) to continue working on them later. You may think you are done with a project, but may decide to change it after learning a new skill that would improve it. Without the master file, you would need to start from scratch.
Creating a portfolio
Choosing the right file format for displaying your work
Exporting files and knowing what format and size to export them to is very important, Most native formats (see above) cannot be displayed on the web. There is no standard rule for the format and size you should export your files to – it all depends on the intended format/platform (digital portfolio vs. printed magazine, Instagram profile image vs. post etc.). Consider the viewer, the device/medium they will be using to look at your work, and follow any directions provided by the platform – if any. The tips below are not steadfast rules, but you might find them useful as a starting point:
- Video and animation
- Static Images
- Most web-platforms accept JPG, PNG and GIF (although the latter is usually reserved for animated GIFs)
- In the case of images intended for your formal portfolio, avoid anything smaller than 1000px wide or larger than 3840px wide (as for any of these rules, there exceptions of course, i.e.: a logo at the top of your page)
- For screens, use 72dpi. For print, 300dpi
- Multi-page projects (i.e: magazine spreads, presentations etc.)
- Some platforms (i.e: Adobe Portfolio) cannot embed PDFs. In this case, consider featuring one or two example pages/spreads in JPG or PNG format and linking to a full PDF file
- For screens, use 72dpi. For print, 300dpi
- Most web-platforms accept MP3 and MP4
- Interactive media (web, games etc.)
- Include a static screenshot of the project AND make sure you provide a link to the full/interactive version (in the case of small programs, such as a P5 sketch, you could embed it directly on the page)
Not all the work you create will end up in your formal portfolio. If you’ve successfully archived your work, you should have enough project to be selective when choosing which pieces to feature. How many pieces should you include? Quality should trump quantity. Four to eight really strong pieces that showcase a variety of skills is a good starting point. It’s likely that the person looking at your portfolio (whether it be for an internship, job or college application) has limited time and is looking at many other candidates’ work. Make sure you put your best foot forward! Your documentation (images, videos, audio etc. ) should be visually engaging and clear. Do not include anything that’s pixelated/poorly photographed or exported (see export tips above).
Describing your work
Each piece in your portfolio should have a title, year of production, and medium/software used. You should also include a 1-2 paragraphs description explaining the project’s subject matter, goals, and visual approach. Including sketches, talking about challenges you encountered, how you solved them, things you learned in the process, and mentioning artistic influences can also be insightful.
Don’t forget to credit any work you’ve used that is under Creative Commons (i.e.: audio, photo, video etc.).
Be mindful of spelling and grammar! Careless writing will set back even the most visually sophisticated portfolio.
You should also include a short bio on your portfolio (this could be on the home page or on a dedicated page): Who are you? What are your career goals? What inspires you? What are you passionate about? Any special skills or fun facts?
Setting up your portfolio
Once you have selected and described your work, you should create a website to present it.
Using a website builder to create and host your portfolio
There are several web-based portfolio templates available online that will require very little coding on your part. A lot of these are free (or have free versions that can be upgraded later). You can find them on the popular website builders: WordPress.com, Wix and Squarespace.com, or on platforms built specifically to host creative portfolios, such as Carbonmade.com and Adobe Portfolio (free with any CC subscription).
Building and hosting your portfolio in BMCC Open Lab
Every BMCC students can create a portfolio website on Open Lab. This website will be public (unless you set it up otherwise) and yours to keep even after you leave BMCC. The Open Lab is powered by WordPress so you will use the WordPress site building tools to create your portfolio. You can use any one of the many provided templates (called themes in WordPress) or use this modified template (link to be updated soon) where categories for your work are already set.
Coding your portfolio website and hosting it on GitHub
If you are interested in a career in web development, creating your own website with custom HTML/CSS/JS is a nice way of showing-off your front-end development skills. You can start coding from scratch or use a library such as Bootstrap. You can also use Github to host it for free (here’s a useful tutorial for this option).
Showcasing your work on Figma
If you like using Figma, the platform also has some portfolio templates and building options (here’s a short tutorial on getting started from scratch). *Figma links can add some unappealing friction to viewers who don’t know the platform – this article makes the case against using it… but this one points out many benefits… consider both arguments before deciding if Figma is the right choice for you.
In addition to a portfolio, building a strong, professional social media presence is very valuable for any media creator. Consider creating a separate account for your professional and personal use (or be very mindful of your professional audience whenever you post).
Social media should NOT be used in lieu of a formal portfolio as it cannot easily accommodate high resolution images and thorough descriptions. However, it’s a great way to share your work regularly and to build an audience. It’s also a good place to post experiments, sketches, works in progress, moodboards etc. (vs. the polished/completed work in your portfolio).
Which social media platform should you be active on? Consider the layout, media type, and community. Instagram is probably the most versatile and popular, TikTok is great for video work and younger audiences, Deviant Art leans towards a gaming/anime aesthetic, Dribble is popular with front-end developers, and Behance with graphic designers. Of course, all of these have crossovers, and usage changes as new platforms and features are introduced. So explore each platform thoroughly before deciding which one(s) to invest time into.