Compelling Illustration Portfolios and How to Build Your Own
Having an online illustration portfolio is essential for getting work and building your career.
Whether it's an illustration or a graphic design portfolio, those who choose to make theirs beautiful are more likely to gain clients and full-time positions because their work, skill level, style, and personality is easily visible, and they are easily discoverable.
In this article, we’ll cover some tips on building an online illustration portfolio, with some bonus advice on how to really make it stand out. We’ll look at examples of incredible portfolios to inspire and guide you so that you’ll be fully equipped to create a perfect portfolio that you’re totally proud of and can’t wait to share. Let’s dig in!
Why You Need a Portfolio
As an illustrator, you are an artist who values personal expression. Online portfolios allow you to curate a space dedicated to your art and expression, a space that says something about you, and here you can share your favorite projects.
Professional illustrators keep online portfolios, so they can get work. You need a portfolio because:
- It showcases your previous work
- It proves what you are capable of
- It provides insight into what your style is like
- It helps potential clients, employers and collaborators decide whether you are suitable for a project
- It doubles up as a space to sell your prints and merchandise
- It makes you discoverable
- It makes you part of an online community of illustrators and designers
From freelance to full-time, fashion illustration to children’s book illustration, and everything in between, every kind of illustrator needs an online illustration portfolio.
A physical portfolio is becoming less important than it used to be. However, it’s still a good idea to keep a physical portfolio of any hard-copy projects you have completed as well.
Illustration Portfolio Tips
A beautiful, easy-to-navigate portfolio makes a world of difference.
You need to put time and effort into your portfolio to craft your career into something you love! Check out these tips below that’ll help you start from scratch or freshen things up.
Find the Right Platform
There are plenty of hosting platforms for illustrator portfolios.
You can create a personal website with one of the fantastic CMS platforms out there like Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress. Or you can choose to host your portfolio on one of the popular portfolio sites like:
Most illustrators choose to have their own illustration portfolio websites in combination with a profile on one or a few of the platforms mentioned above, as well as an Instagram account showcasing their work.
There are limitations with some hosting platforms, so having your own website gives you a lot more creative freedom. You can go the extra mile with creative nuances and really make it an engaging experience that looks very professional.
Curate With Care
The work you display in your portfolio should be two things:
- Your best work
- Chosen with the intention of attracting your ideal clients.
Everyone has some work they don't love. The good news is, you don't need to put everything in your portfolio. You get to curate your portfolio, just like you would a personal social media feed. You only need to display a few pieces of work. You can also have the option to provide more on request. Choose the ones you're really proud of and create specifically for the portfolio.
Secondly, you should have an idea of which types of clients you would absolutely love to work for and where your strengths lie in terms of style. If your dream is to be a children's book illustrator and you are the best at creating children's book illustrations, then your portfolio should be geared towards this.
If your dream is to create interesting labels for craft beer cans, then your portfolio should be geared towards this. Having a niche can be extremely advantageous, so take some time to plan if you’d like to establish a niche and the kind of work you’d like to attract so your portfolio can be aligned with this.
Lay It On in Layout
Use the layout of your portfolio website to show off your eye for design and creative flair.
Look, it’s got to be neatly presented and easy to navigate, but there’s always room to push the envelope. You can play it safe with a simple grid layout and plenty of whitespace—but if you look at portfolios like those of Aurelia Durand and Neil Stevens, you’ll see how you can make it striking, vibrant, and creative while still exhibiting the work nicely. A minimalistic portfolio with large amounts of whitespace (like Philece Roberts) can also look super chic!
However you choose to display your gallery, you must also be mindful of how you will showcase each project. You can select a single image to showcase a project, but each individual project is different, so you might want to choose multiple images to show something from various angles.
Show Your Skills and Style
It's a good idea to exhibit a range of projects to prove that you are capable of variety.
Even though you may have already honed an authentic illustration style, you will still need to be flexible and capable of meeting project demands and client needs. Choose a wide range of various projects to aptly exhibit your skills and style.
Take the opportunity to share a bit more about who you are and give it your personal touch.
Choose a color palette for your website design that reflects who you are. Your illustrations might be all about vibrant colors, so you'll want that to highlight that in your portfolio.
Some illustrators include an “About” section with a bio, and some just include a short paragraph on who they are in their contact section. Many illustrators include their client list in this section as well.
Keep it Fresh
Keep your portfolio up-to-date!
An outdated portfolio is one way to lose a potential lead. Remember to mention any awards or competitions you may have won, and ensure that links to your social media are all working.
Instagram is basically a portfolio platform, so use it to share and link your work!
How to Blow Them Away
It's one thing to create a nice portfolio that does the job.
It's another thing to make it really stand out! There are a few things you can keep in mind to make your illustration portfolio stand out. A creative illustration portfolio that's clearly taken a lot of thought and effort is undoubtedly the way to go.
Use your creative flair to make it exciting and engaging.
Incorporate interactive illustrations and animation. The whole thing should be a visually pleasing and creative experience from the get-go.
Use Your Words
Use wording to your advantage to enhance the experience of your portfolio.
You can get help from a copywriter to come up with some catchy phrases to use on your website and help you write an awesome bio.
Preach Your Passion
Go above and beyond—show your passion for your craft by also sharing personal projects.
Provide write-ups on some of your projects and let your passion for the work shine through in how you write about it.
Collaborate with other illustrators to expand your reach and challenge your skills.
Create Extra Content
You can go the extra mile by adding blog content, videos, interviews, and downloadable coloring sheets to your portfolio website.
Consider User Experience
Think about the user experience.
Make it easy and enjoyable. Make it easy for viewers to contact you and to navigate their way around the site.
It's helpful to showcase a few testimonials from previous clients to prove that you are reliable and know what you're doing.
Illustration Portfolio Examples
In case you need some inspiration, we've put together a list of our favorite illustration portfolios.
These illustrators have gone all out and really have some beautiful work to show, so you might get inspired by their illustrations, too! It's good to stay on top of what others in the industry are up to so you can stay motivated and perhaps find some opportunities to collaborate.
Freelance illustrator Jennifer Xiao has a portfolio that truly is an experience.
It’s interactive, alive, and communicates her personality and style very well. She’s crafted a unique landing page for her portfolio website, which might give you some ideas. Notice how the different sections of the site are placed in a circle around her name, with plenty of whitespace on the rest of the page, which allows the colorful design to exist without becoming cluttered. Go have a browse—this is one fun portfolio!
Neil Stevens is an illustrator with an impressive portfolio of work, including clients such as The Guardian, Washington Post, The Daily Telegraph, and more.
His illustrations have a unique vintage-inspired style with carefully chosen color combinations. The layout of his portfolio website is beautiful and engaging. One large image fills the screen as you enter, and when you scroll down, you're confronted with a tightly packed grid of illustrations which makes for some seriously vibrant illustration eye candy and a nice showcase of projects.
This portfolio website has paid a lot of attention to design detail.
Nathalie has made an effort to create a curate a creative experience for the viewers of her website. The background combined with buttons she has illustrated herself immediately draws you in and shows a lot of pride and care in her work.
Teo Skaffa is an illustrator and character designer from Amsterdam.
His illustration style is quite dark, with a twist of magic and fantasy. His online portfolio enhances the style with a black background, which gives a dark atmosphere upon entering the site.
Matt Chinworth is an illustrator with a portfolio of some awesome clients, including Airbnb, the New Yorker, and NASA, to name just a few.
His portfolio website is beautifully laid out and showcases some incredible illustrations. He's created an animated logo out of his name at the top.
Dena Cooper's background in fashion design shines through in her oh-so-chic portfolio.
Dena is a freelance illustrator specializing in the fashion and beauty industry. This is a good example of a portfolio targeted towards a specific niche. While her fashion illustration style is distinct, you'll notice she still shows variety in her ability as an artist. Some illustrations are hyperrealistic, while others are a little more stylized and collage-inspired. She also has a blog on her site and a link to her Behance portfolio.
Zach Meyer is an illustrator based in Long Beach, CA, with a very impressive client list.
His fine arts background is evident in complex, intricate illustrations. This book cover he did for Dana Schwartz is just incredible! His portfolio is worth browsing through to appreciate some great work.
Michael's portfolio is refreshing.
It's rich with information and feels like a little shop of curiosities when you scroll down the landing page. There're downloadable coloring sheets, an artist profile video, and lots of little write-ups on various projects. By browsing his profile and reading his bio, you can tell that he doesn't take himself too seriously. His personality really shines through, especially through his writing on the website.
Vibrant. Like, next level vibrant.
This is one way to describe Aurelia's portfolio site, and it aptly reflects her illustration style. This portfolio is interactive and alive. There are all sorts of visual and design nuances that transport you into the colorful world of this illustrator. She has a positioning statement about who she is as an artist front and center when you enter the site. It's playful and inspiring, and you absolutely MUST go explore it right now!
Are You Inspired?
Hopefully, you’ve got some fresh ideas and learned a thing or two from this article.
One of the most important takeaways you might have gained is that the work itself will speak volumes. If you have fantastic illustrations to exhibit in your portfolio, you’re off to a great start! So get illustrating and create some extra personal projects to make your portfolio stand out.
And there's no better platform for that than Vectornator! If you haven’t tried our advanced, feature-rich illustration tool yet, give it a download! It's free, and you might find that it takes your design game to the next level.
(Cover Image Source: Anna Svets)