Building a Graphic Design Portfolio with No Client Work

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I am an artist who would like to get into graphic design, however I’m unsure where to begin. I’ve gone through online courses to learn more and hone my skills, but have not had an actual client so my portfolio for real world work (say that 3x fast) is bare.

For a beginner in the industry, how do you begin a portfolio? Do you use student examples or some work for friends/family/associates or make up your own designs or some other methods or a little of everything?

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A lot of people who bring their portfolios by my office have just student work, a few have intern work. An embarrassingly large percentage of them have anime pictures.

In my early days I did a few free projects for some non-profits in the area- post-cards and brochures. I didn’t want any school projects in my portfolio. I found lists of non-profits online and told them I was a new designer looking to build my portfolio.

I’m not sure how the people on this forum would feel about that, but a few of them have turned into long-term clients and word of mouth referrals.

Absolutely. I do some pro bono work, in fact I’m redoing a local food pantry’s website.

I have a couple of school projects in my portfolio because they turned out well and illustrate specific skills.

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I would say student work is okay, as long as you aren’t showing work that was done as part of a step by step tutorial. Only show your own creative work.

Non-profits in my area have an endless need for free design work and some aren’t fussy about a persons experience and the quality of the work. YMCA, YWCA, friends of the library, municipal community foundations. If you are still in school there are club fundraisers, dances, parties, student govt events, parent booster clubs, car washes, theatrical productions, yearbook, newspaper…

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Student work, free work for friends and family. Do not be afraid of re-working any piece you have done to get it looking more professional. For example if you design a logo as a student or practice piece, add to it by creating matching stationery, signage etc.

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