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How to Graduate :: Portfolio Assembly and Whatnot

November 27, 2013

It was suggested that I share some of my experience with assembling my portfolio, for the students who are just starting out at the Art Institute of Colorado, or those who are getting close to finishing.  My disclaimer is that there are a million and one ways to go about this.  Everyone is in a different place, and wants their work to have a certain aesthetic.  The very best thing to keep in mind when designing your portfolio and marketing materials (business cards, leave behinds, website, etc) is that you are marketing YOU.  Anyone can take a good picture, hello Instagram.  But you will get hired, either freelance or by a studio, because you are YOU.  So, here is what I did, some things I found helpful, and my two cents.  Take it or leave it, but this is me!

Blue Collar History Lessons

 (above image from my “Blue Collar History Lessons” book)

1. Get your work done early.  Like, shoot as much as possible during Survey and Portfolio 1 and 2.  The last thing you want to be doing your last quarter is stressing over not having enough images to fill your books.  Seriously.  Do NOT wait until the last minute, it will show in your work.

2. I ordered 2 vanity books (as in, someone else did the printing and not me).  You can do your own layouts and fuss about that for weeks and weeks.  Even though I did fuss a bit and was slightly indecisive, I found that it helped a lot to just download some album templates.  Design Aglow and The Album Cafe are amazing resources for great layouts, and they have hundreds to choose from.  They give you PSD files that you can just drop your images into and adjust as you please.  Not only that, but you can customize them to your heart’s content, and reuse them.  *Sidenote: I even downloaded a few blog layout templates that were helpful– instead of just having photos in a long list type of format, you can organize them a bit. Look at my post on wedding season for a reference.

3. Do your research when ordering books.  Like I said, I ordered 2 vanity books, both from ProDPI.  I chose them because I had gotten samples from several different printing houses, and liked theirs the best.  Plus, they are local to Denver, and have great customer service.  But I did my research!  I also like the quality of White House Custom Color, you really cannot go wrong with those guys.  One thing to remember is that you have to plan ahead in order to get your account in order– they have you order sample prints first, and then send you a sample pack of all their types of paper.  For my portrait book, I ordered stipple paper, and for my wedding book I used matte.  I think the color came out a bit richer on the stipple paper, but I prefer the texture of the matte. I ordered press-printed albums, which are heavy, thick pages (think wedding albums).  Oh!  And if you order from ProDPI between January and October, they will give you a 30% discount on 1 book to use as a studio sample.

KathrynBronn_001 KathrynBronn_002 KathrynBronn_003 KathrynBronn_004 KathrynBronn_005

I also ordered a custom made book for my print book, since I could not graduate without printing one of my own.  After researching several great companies like Klo and Iris, I decided that  I had a very specific aesthetic in mind that none of these guys could offer.  I found someone on Etsy who made exactly what I was looking for.  His company is called Infused Motif and he was quite amazing to work with from beginning to end.  I also spent quite a bit less on a great product than I would have on the other company’s offerings. The moral of the story is to DO YOUR RESEARCH and really know what you would like and how you would like to represent yourself before dropping hundreds of dollars on your portfolio books.  You get what you pay for, and though you are probably a poor college student (aren’t we all?), just consider it an investment into your art career.


4. As for business cards, postcards, leave behinds, stickers, and other great accessories, I have just one word: Moo. is amazing.  Use them. I’m not even getting paid to say this, but maybe I should.  My business cards are so nice to hold.  I remember specifically in marketing class that we talked about having business cards that were both aesthetically pleasing and nice to hold.  It’s the first impression clients will get from you, and you ought to make it professional and memorable.  Moo.  Look them up.


5. Website design is tough.  In the 3 years I have been in business, I have changed the layout and template of my website about 8 times.  And my blog too…. It’s difficult to decide, yes.  Your website is also the first impression people will have of you, and can make or break your artistic career.  I have found that clean, simple websites look the most professional, but perhaps this is a personal preference.  Just make sure you put your best work up, keep it updated, and be easy to find.  One mistake I made when first starting out in business was to have a web address that was difficult to remember.  People didn’t get the implication of it, and why did it have “KE” at the end, and not “KB” like my initials?  I’ve learned my lesson, and just send everyone to for simplicity sake.

6. Celebrate your accomplishments!  You’ve worked hard to graduate.  Remember all the people we started school with?  How many of them have actually finished?  Not many!  Celebrate the fact that you stuck with it, you pressed through the difficult and frustrating stuff, and you have completed what you set out to do.


I hope this has been helpful, even to just a few people!  Let me know, leave me some love in the comments!


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1 Comment

  • Reply Carrie November 30, 2013 at 9:35 pm

    What great info Kathryn! I think the instructors should send all the students to this blog as a reference when they are in Survey class. I like you photographed all my images for my portfolio during Survey and Portfolio 1. I saw way to many students stressing the last quarter because they didn’t have enough images or didn’t have their books ordered, not to mention all the issues with printing your own and dealing with the printers at school, I DID NOT want to be one of those students. During Portfolio 1 I hired a web designer before hiring her though I did lots of research as to what I wanted for my website and how I wanted it to look and yes even know it is a working progress. It’s a lot of work even if you are not designing it yourself.

    If you are printing your own portfolio books as I did make sure you start early, order extra paper ohh and extra tabs to insert your images into your books, the stores run out of these quickly, Amazon is a good place to order them as well. I witnessed students printing the night before the portfolio books were due with lots of issues like printing images the wrong direction ect. or even the day of portfolio review trying to put their books together do not procrastinate! I suggest getting things done a week before graduation so you can breath 🙂

    And by the way Kathryn I love the book you got off Etsy I can’t wait to look through it!

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