Something hides in the closet. Below the button down shirts and dress slacks for work, behind the winter wardrobe of sweaters, vests and jackets, and against the back wall is an old black leather portfolio with handles. Years ago it was a mandatory item for any and every graphic design student or young professional with goals of becoming an art director, illustrator or creative director. I pulled out the old portfolio and the oversized heavyweight document envelopes behind it and entered a gateway to another time and place.
Like time travel, I am back in the 1990s. There were three main portfolios I presented. One presentation was corporate, ad agency design samples. The kind of material that ranged from logo design, brand campaigns and the like. The second presentation was print design. That portfolio exhibited all manners of print designs from brochures, books, direct marketing collateral, magazine spreads, cover designs, etc. For presentations, I would rotate the design samples in the black leather portfolio based on the interview. Sometimes I presented a hybrid of both that included work that featured my copyrighting and marketing pieces. But the third portfolio was my favorite–the illustration portfolio.
Professors, peers and even my first art director advised it was the weakest of the three. The general critique was that technique needed improvement. So I kept working on improving technique and execution. A black cloth case bound sketch book always accompanied me almost everywhere I traveled. I’d sketch landscapes, still lifes, portraits and tried various techniques using pencils, Sharpie markers, charcoal, ink and watercolor. But soon I learned that I could earn more financially and find more consistent work with digital designs.
It is not that I abandoned illustration. A few years ago, a national news magazine featured one of my illustrations on the cover of its annual books issue. Earlier this year, another illustration was featured as a book cover design. Also this year, a few spot illustrations were published in a book.
As I look at these old illustrations and sketches, I see a younger, self-doubting me at a time before home computer, internet, or smartphone entered my life. Back in those days, the only entertainment devices I had was a stereo set with a five-CD player, a stack of maybe 30 audio CDs and a shelf full of books. Through the portal of this time capsule, I see the mistakes and accomplishments with a new perspective. Hidden away in that closet is a portfolio of dreams, aspirations and ideas that was slowly replaced with a portfolio of duty and responsibility. A thought occurs to me as I examine an unfinished sketch of a female portrait, did I focus on pursuing a career path rather than a vocation? Maybe that is a thought I should hide in the closet while I bring some of these illustrations into the daylight.
It’s interesting you mention the personal illustration portfolio. I had an interview last year for a creative writer position in a marketing department, and I took some printouts of pieces I had done. Included in the stack was a photo writing exercise I did during an Emrys workshop. I thought it was a good example of something I could do from an image on the fly.
How was the photo writing exercise piece received?