You Are Your Portfolio

by Patrick Branigan


I recently had the pleasure of speaking at a portfolio workshop hosted by AIGA  (Upstate New York chapter). The audience was a crowd of students and professionals alike, all with the intention of learning something new. Even I was quite excited to hear everyone speak their mind on various issues related to the transition from student life to the professional realm as an artist and designer. After all, I was a part of a student body, in a similar situation to many of these folks only three years ago. As I made my own transition from a student in design to a professional in design, I made sure to stay consciously aware of how my mind transformed, as well as remind myself to not take for granted that which I learned as a student from the many mentors I was lucky enough to work with. Since graduating I’ve made it a priority to give back any insight and advice I can to design students whenever I can, however I can. This was a perfect opportunity.

Many wouldn’t guess that I’m a shy individual. I don’t consider myself to be all that shy, but I will admit that I get extremely anxious, even nervous, when it comes to preparing for a presentation that doesn’t have to do specifically with a project. The build up kills me, yet as soon as I take the stand beside my presentation in front of an audience, I feel golden. It’s a weird habit…rather behavior…that has always stuck with me.

I was tasked with choosing a topic to present to students that would help them particularly with building a portfolio that would increase their chances of success. I’ve been to these sort of lectures before. I feel as though I expect to hear about specific issues and technicalities that come along with building a student portfolio. I had to do it myself. So instead of harping on that which I imagined many students were already at least decently aware of, I chose to speak on a topic that perhaps gets overlooked too frequently in my opinion. My topic was “creative confidence.” The title of this presentation would be “You Are Your Portfolio.”

I spent my fifteen minutes or so speaking briefly on a variety of notions that relate to building your confidence as a student and how self-confidence coincides with the work that is showcased in a portfolio.

Learn Yourself

It is important to define yourself not just as an artist, but as an individual. Knowing what you love is an asset. Knowing what you’re good at is an asset. Making it a routine to reflect on your values and finding ways to infuse these values into a creative industry that appeals to you is key. It’s important to be aware of the fact that you as an individual are your own canvas. You are the single canvas that will never be defined by another individual. Take advantage of that fact. Learn yourself and find out what you want to become. You’ll begin to gain a sense of control as you begin to prioritize your values. This will begin to build your creative confidence.

Write It Down

Writing things down sounds simple because it is simple. Writing is an organized method of legitimizing the insanity that is your creative mind. In other words, writing things down helps you make sense of what you’re subconsciously absorbing. It helps with forming predictions, conclusions and connections pertaining to your thoughts. These thoughts are ideas unique to you, so it’s important to expand on them! As you enforce these ideas, and write them down, you begin to see the lifecycle of an idea from concept to fruition. You begin to sense possibility as you log all that is important in relation to your ideas. As you build these logs and reflect on your writing you will begin to realize that your ideas are in fact more flushed out than you could have imagined, that in fact your ideas can be realized. That makes for creative confidence.

Give & Take

It is important to learn how to become vulnerable. Criticism helps you refine your creative process, so make it a point to give it as well as receive it. The more you do this, the more you’ll find yourself seeking criticism. You’ll begin to recognize constructive and destructive criticism. It builds character and intelligence as you begin to think of “thick skin” not so much as a barrier, but rather a membrane which captures and holds criticism for you to assess and contemplate. Don’t harp on changing a project that’s being criticized, rather apply that criticism to the next project or your future ventures when you can freshly incorporate that which you’ve learned into a new idea.


If you don’t already, start making decisions for reasons. Explaining and communicating thought will only help you grow as a creative. This ability will open doors for you, particularly when your portfolio is filled with reasons for creative decisions. Yes, reasoning helps express the fact that you are intelligent and know why you made the creative decisions you did that led to a specific portfolio piece. But more importantly, reasoning shows that you legitimately care about the work that you’re doing. This exudes a sense of trust to a potential employer, buyer or audience. Humans like to work with humans, they like to interact with personalities. So make sure to show some emotion, give some reason for people to care about what you’re doing. This will build a sense of accomplishment, and inevitably build creative confidence.


Take time to sacrifice normality, comfort and routine. Say yes more often. Doing this will allow you to become comfortable in exploration and experimentation. This experimentation will reflect back in your work and make your work more dynamic, more engaging. This not only will build your creative confidence, but it will probably help in building recognition, for better or for worse – after all, we as creatives long for reaction. Experiment. Explore. Apply.


Believe in yourself by proving to yourself. If you don’t have a vision for five years from now, get one. If you want to learn something, learn it. If you you want to accomplish something, do what needs to be done to achieve success. Convincing yourself that you and your work is worth it will help. It sounds weird faking yourself into potentially thinking everything is dandy, that everything will work out. But the advantage to doing this is that you will loosen up mentally. You will banish worry and stress. You’ll build on your self-efficacy. This will lead you to not only have greater creative confidence, but certainly help increase your overall self-confidence.


Remember that you always have two weapons: Your portfolio AND you, the individual.