Could I get a portfolio critique?

I’m actively (read: frantically) looking for a job after a long-time freelance client pulled the rug out from under me, and am struggling to know how to best market myself.

Quality of my work notwithstanding, I’m torn between displaying

  • work I’d love to do but don’t have a great deal of experience to show
  • work that many organizations typically need and I have experience in, but don’t want to make my entire career
  • creative skills I possess that could make me more valuable to an organization that doesn’t typically peddle in those realms
  • other creative pursuits that i’m proud of

I’m hoping for some guidance there, as well as welcoming any specific critiques of specific pieces. Part of me wants to tear my whole folio down and just display like 3 or 4 projects in greater detail, but that feels risky.

Long time listener, first time caller. Any feedback is deeply appreciated

Your website mentions that you started on a Commodore 64. I hate to say it, but this means you’re at that point in life when our field’s nasty age-discrimination practices begin to kick in.

If I were “frantically” looking for a job, I’d search for something with longer-term security. This probably means going the corporate route, which I also assume is not what you’re especially excited about doing. Luckily (or not), your corporate work is pretty good.

I also noticed your corporate work is on a separate website, so I assume you already know the nitwits in the corporate world who do the hiring are only impressed by what they think they need at the moment. Any related side skills that interest you and that might demonstrate your versatility could be seen as a lack of focus on what they think they need instead of a bonus they’d get when they hired you.

Then again, that’s what I’d probably be inclined to do. Of course, you need to make decisions that are right for you.

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I agree with Just-B.

I started with Spectrum 48k, I was only 5 and learned computer code at that age. By 9 I wrote my first program using the phone book to look up flags, and a tape my Mam had of countries’ national anthems. And I successfully created flags for countries that played the national anthem using a series of beeps.

But it doesn’t belong in my portfolio.

I was about 6 points in when I realised - you’re not Katelyn Richards - but that’s the first thing I see - it says Katelyn Richards Music - this was work for a client.

I thought this was you at first, only dawned on me much later it’s not you.

Yes this is good - because you can send the corporate side for coprorate jobs - and keep the fun stuff for funner clients.

I don’t see why you can’t freelance further - or work for yourself.

Your work is strong and you have a lot of talent.

There’s something not quite right - clicking on Logos on the side - then clicking furhter to the items in the black square - doesn’t bring me to the logos.

I think you can layout better than this - each logo should be a showpiece on it’s own, not clumped together.

Political Crossroads is not clickable

I don’t know what or who Eddie Vader is. The illustrations are nice - but mean nothing to me - other than nice illustrations - but I don’t get it - what problem did it solve for the client?

In the graphic design part - all the headings are red - except the last one - in black
Guess because it’s not linked?

I guess you get the point - no need to keep going on.

There are inconsistencies in the display of the material.

Not all material has a description - I’d like to see at least a small story about what was solved for the client.

Separate the logos and have them stand alone - even scrollable or hover to enlarge them etc.

Not really sure why you have a ‘resources’ page - do you want your clients to know your resources?

And I think you have too many trades listed on the website.
Ever hear the saying ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.

It’s admirable you’re so talented. But it sends shivers up my spine to know what you are actually the best at in your fields.

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I would just add to check out local prinitng companies and also Print Procurement places for example.

There’s plenty of things you can do - cover for holidays, freelance for them on overflow projects etc, maternity leave cover.

And other places like Design companies, or design agencies often outsource overflow work to freelancers.

Start by sending your CV each morning - and in the CV PDF link to your portfolio website (don’t include the hyperlink in the email itself).

How it works is - if you send an email at 7am or 8am or 8.30 am it won’t be read - as they will discard unwanted emails received overnight. Same goes for 4pm or 5pm or 8pm - it won’t be read and it will be deleted the following morning in a mass deletion of emails that were received overnight.

Send your morning email with your CV and cover letter - don’t send a hyperlink as it might be blocked. Most companies won’t block PDFs. But you can split your email, send a hello email and explain you are sending your CV in a separate email with an attachment.

Send at 9:15 am or 9:27am or 10am for example. That way - people are in the office, they’ve read their emails, discarded all the information they don’t want. They’ve had their morning catchup - they’ve had their coffee and on top of their work and probably starting to idle again.

Now they see your email, read it and perhaps even store it for safe keeping.

After this - if they don’t contact you - you need to contact them.
Follow up same day with a phonecall (if not contacted already by afternoon)

Keep contacting them, give them 2 days then call again.
If no work - then wait to start of next week. Call again.
If no work - then wait a week and call again.
After 1 month - call - if no work - send final email with your details.

Just keep a note of who hasn’t got back to you and keep at them.

It’s likely they’ll contact someone who is interested in working with them.
Rather than contacting a person who sent one email and didn’t follow up - to me this person would be fishing for work.
And I’d easily contact the person who is eager to do work with us.


I think we can give you guidance on this but not directly answer the question. Do an honest assessment of your skills (design, illustration, animation, photography) and try to figure out where are you going to stand out among other applicants. Are you looking for a senior or junior level position? Are there more opportunities to get hired as a designer as compared to an animator? What are your salary needs and would you be willing to work for less to do the type of work that you love?

If I were to take a guess, I’d say your bread and butter is graphic design and that you have side interests (illustration and animation) that, perhaps, you find more interesting than graphic design. What kind of opportunities are there in animation as compared to graphic design? Would you be content to pursue the most lucrative career path or pursue your passion projects as a side gig?

As for the portfolio critique, I think you’re showing too much and there is a lack of focus. This is probably a result of your self-identified struggle with not knowing how to best market yourself.

Aside from showing too many categories, you need to cut down what you’re showing to the best of the best. Here’s an example of what I mean. On phoenix bakehouse, I like the logo, business card, and website. The picture of the lady handing the loaf to a customer with the sign in the background … well, it’s not that great of a picture and it takes away from the strength of the work. I get it, the logo is in the background, and there is a display of some nice looking breads. But it just looks like a cell phone snap shot. If it was a nicely staged and lit shot taken in a stylish retail storefront, I might feel different about the image.

As someone who regularly hires freelancers for overflow work, I’d rather see a portfolio consisting of 10-15 rock-solid pieces than a portfolio of some strong, some so-so, and some irrelevant pieces. You’re only as strong as the weakest piece in your portfolio.

Kind of a rambling response, so I hope there is something there that will help.

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Same here.

That jumped out at me too. Delete anything that will date you as 50+. I say that as a 59 year old who, at this point, is always the oldest person on the team.

My thoughts as well. It looks like you don’t know your brand, or how you fit into the marketplace, so you are throwing it all against the wall to see if anything sticks. The problem with that is it creates noise that distracts from the message you want the client/employer to receive… that you’re an expert in the work they need done.

I wouldn’t put everything into one portfolio. Do multiple portfolios if you have to. But ideally, get rid of the disciplines with a meager presentation. If you really loved doing that work, you’d have a lot more to show.

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‘If you haven’t got anything nice to say, son, then don’t say anything.’ I never listened to my parents …

I’m afraid, there are only about four or five pieces of work I’d put into a portfolio with a view to getting paid work. As others have said, only show the best of the best.

The rest – and this is only my opinion – feel a bit like personal art projects. Nothing wrong with that if it amuses you. However, a lot of it feels competent, if a bit derivative; particularly the illustration and characters. There’s nothing wrong with it, but equally, nothing stands out as particularly unique, either in style or content. It feel like you’ve seen something you like and emulated it. I’d suggest trying to find your own voice, when it comes to illustration.

The work is definitely reflecting your personal dilemma and is unfocused. You need t curate – heavily. As with every part of the design process, if there isn’t a good reason for something, lose it.

For me, a couple of the corporate pieces are potentials, but if I were looking to employ someone and your portfolio was in front of me, there would be alarm bells ringing, as a good few of the pieces use dummy text, which would make me question whether they were actually live projects, or dummy portfolio pieces. Are they?

A few of your photos in the galleries are good (I’m assuming they are your work). Others, are not. Again; curate. Be ruthless. You know what your best work is. Stocking-fillers don’t do you any favours.

Also, you have a menu category for photography, yet it’s empty. I’d say, ditch it until you have the work to go in it.

The design of the portfolio, itself, also feels a little uninspired and nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s certainly not the clean, well-designed, typographically strong, site I would expect from a designer. It is more like a template someone not in the design field might use to show their work. Either go for a sleek backdrop that shows your work at its best, or something really creative that will make a potential employer sit up and take notice. Usually the former is the safest bet, unless you have a particularly great idea.

I think you need to focus your mind on what you want to be doing with your time and give much more attention to detail to your offering. Why should someone choose you over someone else? What do you bring to the party?

By presenting all your different types of [personal] work up-front in a portfolio, with the corporate work as an after-thought, two thirds of the way down the menu, it feels like the focus is inverted.

What is your portfolio for? A personal showcase, or to get paid work from people? If the latter, you need to completely flip the focus on its head. The personal projects should be the side-shizzle to show what a wonderfully creative individual you are (again, curated), with the main focus on what you can bring to the table, that will be useful to someone else’s business. That way, it’s a win-win. Otherwise, you are expecting people to pay you their hard-earned pennies to indulge your own creative whims. Apart from The Arts Council (here in the UK), no one is going to do that.

Sorry, I haven’t been able to offer gushing praise; but then again, how would that help you improve anyway?

…and remember, all this is just the opinion of someone who probably should have listened to their parents’ advice a bit more!

Notwithstanding, I hope this helps in some small way.

Now; go, dig out the big scissors.

Happy snipping.


Thank you all so much for your thorough, thoughtful and harsh critiques. It’s exactly why I posted here, and honestly wasn’t as hard to take as I’d feared. I think because most of it… I already knew. I just needed someone to look me in my big, dumb eyes and say it. I actually posted the day before my birthday as a gift to my future-self. (41! Does the Commodore mention really age me to 50+?? Great insight, btw. That part has been edited already.)

I’m going to marinate on the feedback and implement a lot more changes. Primarily, make the “corporate” site my primary focus with fewer projects and a better layout, then keep Pixeltender as the “personal art shit” site it always should’ve been. That will reflect my smarter goal of finding a reliable corporate job while being able to point potential fun freelance clients to a separate location.

I also just got into a conversation with a designer friend about porftolios and the debate of posting a photo of yourself or not. What are your thoughts on the matter?

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I spent this last week talking with other designer friends, watching videos, scouring the web for examples, and reflecting — and have entirely torn down and rebuilt my portfolio. I’m officially positioning myself as a brand specialist and will be using that site I originally shared as a separate art site to be cleaned up later.

This crew has already done a lot for me, and I feel so much better about my initial struggle of identity. So I am very grateful. I took way less Xanax this week than the week before :upside_down_face:

But if you have any more time to spare me, I’d love any reactions to my new portfolio:

(I know there are a couple projects missing descriptions — those are still being hammered out, and I have a couple more projects to add. I just wanted to push the site live to get feedback so I can have it fully ready by Monday.)

On my way out the door, but, at first glance, it appears to be a good improvement.

Giving this a little bump to see if anyone has thoughts on the new design? Even just a thumbs up or thumbs down to know if I’ve headed in the right direction would be super.

Sorry I won’t have time to look through and write up a reaction today, but the strapline there in your link tweaked a sensitive grammar nerve of mine. Please consider rightly announcing yourself as a graphic designer based in New York City.

Done and done!