Projects are the New Portfolios

Just a quick note. This post originally appeared on a collaborative blog some of my TAD buddies and I are trying to get going. Things are still in the early stages but hopefully we'll have a lot of interesting stuff to share. The title of the thing is a little up in the air at the moment, but for now you can read us over at Pixeldiggers.

With a winter break stretching before us and a new year on the horizon I'm sure many of us student artist types are thinking about all of the drawing and painting practice we've got planned. So I thought it would be fitting to start out my first blog post thinking about how best to come out the other side of winter break with that happy feeling of accomplishment.

This was prompted by a podcast I listened to today, Chris Oatley's Art Cast. If you're not familiar with it, I highly recommend it. Chris is a character designer and development artist at Disney, which is pretty fantastic in itself, but he's also an assiduous life-long learner, and his podcast is chiefly concerned with how he (and by virtue of your listening, you) can improve your artistic skills, attain your career goals, hone your craft, and generally be a bigger better more jewel encrusted you.

In his most recent episode (that would be #58) Chris addresses the idea of making New Year's Resolutions about improving your art, and how the sort of well meaning but naive goals like "I'll do a new painting every day" should be avoided, in favor of some more productive alternatives.

I'll hold my tongue least I spoil the episode for you, it's well worth a listen, but I will say that one of his recommendations is to focus on a specific project with a measurable end product. This idea runs along a theme I've heard recently from a number of artists:

"Projects are the New Portfolios"

Don't get me wrong, a traditional portfolio is still important. But I think one thing that separates the work in a student portfolio from that of a professional is that professional work is part of a larger end product, and so it reflects the depth and attention to requirements that a larger project demands. Learning to work creatively within those real world strictures is what makes you a better professional.

Making your own projects is a way to practice at that. A good project can be anything as long as it has a clear, tangible end product. Here are some good examples:

  • Comic (stand alone short, web comic, series of strips, etc)
  • Illustrated Story (book, single page story, etc)
  • Collected Sketchbook
  • Illustration Series (famous jazz musician portraits, 80's pop icon tarot cards)
  • Poster Design
  • Holiday Greeting Card
  • Portfolio Web Site

You get the idea. The point is that you have a specific goal so that you have something to work towards, limitations on the scale, size, cost, time, etc, and some discrete physical (or digital) thing to have when you are done.

Now, the trick is to use the project as an excuse to improve some specific skill you want to master. In my case, I would like to get a better handle on character design and 3D form, and I really want to get some experience using Zbrush. So I've decided my goal for the next few weeks will be to design a character, sculpt it in Zbrush and Maya, and then have it 3D printed as a (by then belated) holiday trinket to give out to some friends and family.

We'll see how it goes ^_^.