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This article was inspired by something that happened yesterday, so let me start by sharing that story.

I delivered a storyboard job to an ad agency yesterday, a regular client. As I was waiting around, the art director I work with received a board from another freelancer, and turned green. The board looked like it had been made by someone's little sister. It was badly drawn and incomprehensible as she had tried to cover up for the weakness of the characters by adding tons of irrelevant details. "That's not the kind of work she showed us in her portfolio!" the art director fumed. She showed the damage to a colleague. He said, "Make her redo it." "She'll never have time to redo it for tomorrow, and she won't make it any better anyway! I can't send this to South Africa!"
To make a long story short, they managed to get me to save their skins, which took all day yesterday and half of today. It should have taken much longer but I departed from my usual storyboard style and went for a sketchy approach I had developed for one of my pieces here on dA. It allowed me to work much faster: the sketchiness made the lack of details and rough colouring look good as opposed to looking hasty. All this brought to mind several things worth sharing.

:pointr: Extra-curricular or extra-job experimentation really pays. Don't wait until you have an urgent or unusual job to do, to come up with different ways of getting something done. If I didn't have this readily tried alternative to fall back on, making the deadline would have been much more painful.

:pointr: In any given job, keep your mind on the essentials. When time is short, there is no room for frills. This person obviously wasted hours adding "cute" little details while the main characters were not only horribly drawn, they were so lost in the gimmicks that the whole thing was useless. Far from being impressed by her little touches, the clients were further angered by them.

:pointr: Never do what this girl did, showing a certain quality of work and delivering something unrelated. Your portfolio is a promise – that you can deliver the same quality every time. If you can't keep it, don't make it. A portfolio should only contain work you're confident about, not experiments that may look awesome but you don't know how to achieve again. Nor should you include work you don't want to do as a commission. For instance, if you went to school, you may have had assignments in 3d imaging. You may have done a good job, but really hated having to do it (guilty as charged). Don't put that work in your portfolio. You won't be able to back out if a client spots it and asks you for some more. Focus instead on the fields you want to work in. Even though it may appear safer to show versatility, it's actually much safer to show focus and confidence in a few chosen directions. This is true especially if you're not equally good in all the fields you're trying your hand at. Presenting something okay just to show the viewer you "also do that" only weakens your portfolio. Here's a hint: mention it in your CV, under Personal Interests. That's where a long list of extra skills will look interesting, without commitment!

Which brings us to the subject of professionalism, that I have seen brought up a few times in the forums.

Here I have to draw an important distinction: there is a difference between being a professional (noun) and being professional (adjective). Let me define both and I'll explain why the distinction is necessary.

You are a professional at something when you fulfill three conditions:
1. Expertise in your field and experience of the nitty-gritty aspects of it. How that expertise was acquired (school or self-teaching) doesn't matter as long as the third condition is fulfilled.
2. You make a living of it, or are supposed to. Obviously if a political crisis makes it impossible to make ends meet anymore, it doesn't make you less of a professional, and neither does departing form your original career path (I know an architect who turned baker, for instance). Making a living out of it implies you have the practical knowledge necessary to be functional in (and on!) the field, which in turn attracts a steady client base, etc, so it's not just about rounding off your allowance by making websites. Also, you can know everything there is to know about the stars, but that doesn't make you an astronomer (it makes you an amateur, which I assure you is not an insult, but an objective statement.)
3. Recognition by other members of the profession. This is where natural selection occurs. It's easy for someone who only knows Photoshop to claim they're a graphic designer – but only as long as there are no real graphic designers within earshot. Professions come as bodies. When you are a professional, your expertise enables you to go anywhere in the world and be recognised as a colleague by any member of that same body, because you speak the same language and have the same frame of reference.

Being professional is a behaviour, or rather a work ethic. What it really designates is the model behaviour a professional should have, but unfortunately many pros really fail in that regard (and only stay in the profession because they move on to new clients all the time). At the same time, there are people who apply that standard to hobbies or things they do on the side. So it becomes necessary to distinguish the status (professional or amateur) from the ethic (professional or unprofessional).

What does being professional mean, then? It means to be reliable on every level a client might expect. When we say someone is "very professional" we mean he or she delivers consistent quality, in a timely fashion; puts forward and abides by clear terms of collaboration, foreseeing and covering possible issues; rates honestly and consistently; gives advance warning of anything that may affect the work flow (such as a scheduled trip); never backs out of a project in a way that would leave the client in a lurch; maintains professional integrity (no company wants to find out their designer plagiarised someone else's work, as they will be held accountable); keeps professional secrets; stays abreast of the news and fads in the industry... In short, can fulfill any of the client's needs (or have them fulfilled efficiently) and never bring bad surprises. That includes making sure a Google search for your name won't reveal that your standards drop drastically outside the job. Some won't care, some will very much. It's always best to have no dirt attached to your name. It's just more... professional!

Believe me when I say upholding professional standards is as important as having a brilliant portfolio. Some clients will tolerate the sloppy unreliable artists because they really love their work; others will choose reliability over creativity every time. It depends on what they need the most. Obviously, you will go the furthest if you develop iron-clad ethics along with your skills and creativity. People and companies, equally, remember those whom they can count on.
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:iconiury-max:
Iury-max Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2014  Student Digital Artist
cooool tutorial!!great job guy!!very important for me inspirant for professional XD!!
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:iconmajnouna:
Majnouna Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2014  Professional General Artist
Cool :)
Reply
:iconmemis-nyu:
Memis-Nyu Featured By Owner Jul 25, 2009  Hobbyist Traditional Artist
brilliant article! i'm currently an art student, so reading this is helpful since it gave me a new perspective on the field. :)
Reply
:icondoncreegan26:
Doncreegan26 Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2009  Student Artist
An 'OLDIE' but A 'GOODIE'. It hits right where it needed to land; Programmed deeply into the human subconscious psyche.
Reply
:iconnoctuaecho:
NoctuaEcho Featured By Owner Dec 31, 2008
Excellent article.This really gave insight.
Oh,and just out of curiosity,for which company was this?
Reply
:iconequidnarojo:
EquidnaRojo Featured By Owner Sep 25, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
XDD again, you have contradicted everything I was taught in school! I was told to only put your bes work in your portfolios, and always include as much versatility as you can, no matter if you're good at it or not...

Though I can understand that the theory behind just getting the job, it always made more sense to let them choose your work over what you can do consistently, and what you feel most comfortable doing...

XDD another favorite article ^^;
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:iconcodonnell:
codonnell Featured By Owner Mar 27, 2008   Photographer
I like how you made a point on not having dirt attached to your name. A lot of people think that your personal life should not interfere with your profession (i.e. those on facebook who say the Cancun pictures shouldn't be considered by their prospective employers), but it really does. I know I do it, and it's not worth having a bad rep outside the job, despite if its politically correct or not.
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:iconjhubert:
jhubert Featured By Owner Jan 11, 2008  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Added to the Art Tutorials Wiki.
Reply
:iconzyouki:
Zyouki Featured By Owner Jan 10, 2008
Great article, thanks for sharing!
Reply
:iconmeatsucks:
meatsucks Featured By Owner Dec 2, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
very helpful, thank you.
Reply
:icongenny-raskin:
Genny-Raskin Featured By Owner Nov 22, 2007  Professional General Artist
I had doubts about how making a good portfolio, now I don't.

If I ever go in the path of art.
I don't know how possible it is for me... No money for arts school, no varancy that I'll have work in my country after I graduate, though I would like to go to arts school... I know I need it, if I ever want to become a true artist and not just an amateur I am now.
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:iconemersed:
emersed Featured By Owner Nov 18, 2007  Professional Interface Designer
Brilliant news article.

with some very handy information for all of us who have a portfolio.

i agree out portfolio's should really represent how skills.
Reply
:iconhunter-wolf:
Hunter-Wolf Featured By Owner Nov 15, 2007  Hobbyist Digital Artist
So insightful .. its great to share your experiance in the field with us.

Thanks a lot ^_^
Reply
:iconcmayyin:
cmayyin Featured By Owner Nov 1, 2007
A lovely piece that I'm going to keep in mind. ^^
Reply
:iconcarnivalchild:
CarnivalChild Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2007
another great piece of advice for anyone wanting to make it in the field.
Reply
:iconsiberianclover:
SiberianClover Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2007   Photographer
Thank you so much for the tips and advice. I especially liked "Your portfolio is a promise"

This was a very helpful article, and I hope more people come across it!
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:iconn4bi1:
n4bi1 Featured By Owner Oct 13, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Never try to convey bad work through detailed backgrounds - i have learnd that the hard way too
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:iconoddfeesh:
oddfeesh Featured By Owner Oct 2, 2007
:nod: An interesting article, one which will definitely be relevant as I start work on a grad-school portfolio. The advice on focusing on strong artistic self-interests and an achievable, confident quality of work, rather than wide variety of media experiments, are especially excellent reminders. And your points on professionalism are well said, indeed. :thumbsup:
Reply
:iconsilverlady7:
SilverLady7 Featured By Owner Sep 16, 2007  Professional General Artist
Good points. :thumbnails: I agree with all that.
Reply
:iconla-puce:
La-Puce Featured By Owner Sep 14, 2007
I completely agree, great article even if I'm beginner I can understand
clear and simple. :clap: Thanks
Jack
Reply
:iconnataliekelsey:
NatalieKelsey Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Absolutely outstanding article. It's great to be reminded that professional behavior and standards are the ideal to strive for and make your work more desirable. I won't be becoming a professional artist by the definition you gave, but the portfolio ideas and advice on professionalism will stick with me. Thank you for this article.
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:iconahlen:
ahlen Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007  Professional Interface Designer
100%
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:iconmajnouna:
Majnouna Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007  Professional General Artist
:D
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:iconrafe22:
Rafe22 Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007
Great little report, thankyou for sharing. Got me thinking for the morning.
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:iconlumanens:
lumanens Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007
Thanks! A good read about what I need to work on to become the kind of artist that I want to be!
Reply
:iconreenaa:
ReeNaa Featured By Owner Sep 13, 2007  Hobbyist Photographer
you opened my eyes..seriously.
great article
Reply
:iconsurthur:
surthur Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
wow. Its quite valueable for me, I am trying to advance my professional ethic into being a professional as status, to use your definition.. actually its quite valueable in general I think, its hard for germans without certain education to know about some of the written aspects... especially the portfolio. This is hard, but also ... teaching. thank you !
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:iconpepesk8:
pepesk8 Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007
Amazing :D
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:iconroxeyd:
roxeyd Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007
Its true wi all things in life
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:iconciardubh:
Ciardubh Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Professional General Artist
Amen!
Reply
:iconishytar:
ishytar Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Professional Interface Designer
hemmm...i c i c
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:iconzaichick:
Zaichick Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
very very well said bravo!
Reply
:iconwynnart:
wynnart Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
Great article! I can't believe another professional would turn in something like that...I would literally work myself to death in order to satisfy a client! Finding work isn't easy as an artist; throwing a job away like that and mucking-up your name is unreal.
Reply
:iconw-p:
w-p Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007
interesting article.
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:iconyeknomster:
yeknomster Featured By Owner Sep 12, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Well written. :)
Reply
:iconcoyotlprole:
coyotlprole Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2007  Professional Artist
Very well crafted bit of writing. I found it valuable. I already grasped the concept and some of the nuances, but you articulated it so well. Thanks for sharing.
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:iconluckystar01:
luckystar01 Featured By Owner Sep 10, 2007  Professional Digital Artist
well written :clap: ...looking forward to more of your of your editorials :D
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:iconrobertsloan2:
robertsloan2 Featured By Owner Sep 8, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
Interesting points about being a professional and acting professional.

I acted professional if I ever sold anything and that principle of not waving around things I wasn't willing to sell that style is a good one. It is very good advice.

But thank you very much for making that point about amateurs. Where do you draw the line when amateurs may take a few commissions on the side, but don't plan on building a serious career or soliciting business clients at all? I've decided to sell prints and maybe sell a finished piece now and then, only do one commission at a time and then only if I really like the project with no deadline. My career is as a writer, that's where I would go to the wall to do it on deadline etc. etc., art just does not have that kind of priority in my life -- and I'd stop selling if I stopped enjoying doing it, because that is a sure ticket to destruction. Desperation has led me to find out what happens if I try to do it anyway when burned out -- it comes out dull and derivative of my earlier stuff, lacks feeling or intensity.

But I have faced a lot of pressure at times in my life from people who thought that because I could become a professional artist full time (or they thought so), I should, and in some mysterious way owe this to the clients or the world just because I can do some things I like to do very well. When I know I could not actually come up with some of the things business clients might want, and would hit burnout again hard if I had to force myself to draw something I didn't like the subject. I'd never want a job doing it.

If I do work for other people then it's the same as doing any work for them, if I proofread for them or something it'd be the same thing. I thoroughly agree with you about the misleading portfolio situation because that can be crazymaking for all concerned. The other artist may not even have understood what she did to herself with that, or why what she turned in was bad -- I've seen that more than once. Weird but true.

Thanks for a good cautionary article.
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:iconarhcamt:
arhcamt Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2007
thanks so much for sharing :)
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:iconladyadokenai:
Ladyadokenai Featured By Owner Sep 6, 2007
these editorials are so helpful for someone like me who is just getting into art school. :) thank you.
Reply
:iconamdesigns:
aMdesigns Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007   Photographer
You couldn't have wrote this at a better time. Thank you. Great article. :)
Reply
:iconpopalopa:
popalopa Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007
Awesome article. I don't work as a graphic "professional" but that was really interesting!
Reply
:iconsagakure:
Sagakure Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007
Very interesting article! :D And also great as a reminder for people, as unfortunately way too many forget about being professional, even among the ones that, well, are professional. :D
Reply
:iconmartypunker:
martypunker Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007  Hobbyist Artist
While this may not fully apply to me at the moment, it's a very good read, well written, and I like what you had to say. :)
Reply
:iconfuturowoman:
futurowoman Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007   Photographer
This is perfect, and applicable to everything. It's so true: "you can know everything there is to know about the stars, but that doesn't make you an astronomer (it makes you an amateur..."
This is one of the essential truths of life that has really fallen by the wayside in recent years; self-proclaimations with nothing to support them. I get this all the time, for instance, from people who research their genealogy, then claim to be "historians" just like me. :clap: for your excellent piece!
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:iconuberspect:
uberspect Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007
This is he-elpful. :thumbsup:
Reply
:iconsamishahin-art:
SamiShahin-Art Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007  Hobbyist General Artist
Excellent article Joumana! You know i had a hard time after i dropped out of an expensive course (2D animation) because i had change in path of my career and lotta of personal issues at the same time (but got stuck with a $15,000 loan and no diploma) made the idea of going back to do more school so hard! But honstly when i was just trying to decide if i will or not your last article really helped make the decision to go back easier. And now when im having a hard time putting a prtfolio on my own (especially since i do many different things and use different mediums) you make this article! It will help me better to put a more focused portflio! shu feeni i7ki? You realy amaze me:hug:
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:iconhiddenhallow:
hiddenhallow Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007  Hobbyist Photographer
A great insight
Not something very original, or mind-opening, but still great for reminding all the people here that creating art is just a part of the business.
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:iconjeriweaver:
jeriweaver Featured By Owner Sep 5, 2007  Professional Traditional Artist
Nicely written =D
Reply
:icongreensprite:
GreenSprite Featured By Owner Sep 4, 2007
I love you for writing these articles. Seriously :hug:
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