Building a portfolio is tough, but it doesn't have to be. Here's our quick guide to creating a winning game art portfolio.
A good portfolio is essential for anyone who wants to work as a game artist. It’s a very visual sector, so your portfolio is the number one thing a hiring manager will be looking for when you apply to a job in the industry. This means it’s crucial that you lead with your best foot forward.
But, what do you even put in a game art portfolio, and how do you make sure it will impress a hiring manager?
We’re here to answer those very questions. We’ll be telling you what a game artist’s portfolio should include and what recruiters are looking for.
Ready? Let’s do it!
Quest preparation: giving your portfolio a clear focus
One of the most common mistakes junior artists make when it comes to their portfolio is rushing into it. When you’re ready to apply to jobs, it can be tempting to dive into things, put together a body of your best work, and it send it out to every studio that’s hiring.
This is rarely the most productive approach.
Because here’s the thing: as a junior artist, studios are interested to know if you can do the job they’re hiring for. That’s it. If they’re hiring someone to create weapons, then they’ll want to see a portfolio filled with weapons. Likewise, if they’re hiring a character artist but your portfolio only includes one or two characters, then you aren’t filling them with confidence that this is your speciality.
This brings us to our first major piece of advice when it comes to building an effective game art portfolio: give your portfolio a clear focus. At the beginning of your career, it’s a lot easier to hone in on a single area within art as opposed to being a jack of all trades. While it can feel natural to want a display a variety of work, it’s best to start simple: show a company one or two core areas of focus and show them you doing it very well.
As you build more experience and grow as an artist, this will of course change. Most mid-level to senior artists will have a more varied portfolio than juniors. But when you’re just starting out, having a very clear theme is the way to go.
Alex Beddows, Senior Environment Artist at Respawn Entertainment, touched on a similar principal when we spoke to him about what artists can do to improve their portfolios. He’s a big believer in making sure your portfolio answers questions that a recruiter might have, which he explains in the video below (timestamped).
Portfolio tips: matching a studio’s tone
We’ve spoken to a number of hiring managers in the games industry, and when it comes to portfolios they’d all much rather see one that utilizes their studio’s art style than one with no connection at all.
You don’t need to take this advice too literally. Let’s say you’re applying to work as a Weapons Artist on League of Legends: you don’t need a portfolio full of weapons from Runeterra, but there should definitely be some fantasy-themed art in there. Show that you already have some understanding of the world they’re creating. It’s much better than applying with a portfolio full of WW2 weapons, for instance.
Portfolio tips: processes and tools used
When a recruiter visits your portfolio, they don’t just want to see a collection of artwork. This is important, yes, but it’s equally as important for them to understand the processes behind your work and what tools you used.
Portfolio-hosting website ArtStation gives you the option to add descriptions and “Software Used” tags under anything you upload. You absolutely should be making use of these.
Speak about why you created the piece. Tell them if it was a solo or group project, or dive into what inspired you, or the skills you learned from it. Give your work context.
This is a small detail but absolutely something you should include in your portfolio.
Portfolio tips: include work-in-progress shots
A portfolio, at least on the first look, is usually made up of completed art. But work-in-progress images not only have a place in your portfolio, they’re actually a real asset as well.
If you recorded the progress of your project at different stages, you can include these under each portfolio entry to give recruiters insight into how you came to the final piece of art. It also gives you the chance to speak about the steps you took in more depth. What did you learn along the project? Did you have to pivot your work at any point to address an issue you encountered? Anything like this that you can elaborate on when talking about a portfolio piece adds depth to who you are as a professional and gives the hiring manager a better idea of how you came to your completed artwork.
So if you have work-in-progress shots of your work, be sure to include them.
Portfolio tips: ticking off requirements
As a job platform, we regularly give people advice on their resume, and a key goal of the resume is to show the hiring manager why you’re a fit for the role. And, well, your portfolio serves a very similar purpose. Not only is it there to showcase your best work, but you should also use it to highlight your technical skills and which programs you’re familiar with.
Does the studio you’re applying to primarily work in Maya? Having at least one high-quality Maya addition on your portfolio is a good idea then. You can even break down what you did in Maya to show your technical knowledge of the program. Did you create several variants of the same scene to get a feel for how the program worked? This is all valuable information to include in your portfolio so a hiring manager can get a full scope of what you can do.
João, a lighting artist from Portugal, uses this in his portfolio where he has a scene from Unreal Engine 4 broken down into four different versions. Each one conveys a very different feeling and mood, all from his use of light.
Credit: João "Kouto" Couto
Portfolio tips: seek feedback
Once your portfolio is complete and ready to send to employers, it’s still worth getting an opinion on it. Try and connect with artists on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Discord and see if they can give you any pointers on your portfolio. Our own Discord server is worth joining, as we have a looking-for-advice channel that is perfect for this sort of thing.
You should also remember to:
- Make sure your images are high quality and large enough to stand out.
- Focus on including your best work and nothing else.
- Add context to your work, including the software used and any collaborators.
- Make yourself easy to contact.
- Update your portfolio regularly as you develop new skills.
If you follow all of the portfolio advice laid out in this article and keep at it, then we’d say you’re doing everything you can to set yourself up for a career in game art.
We’re wishing you the best of luck from us all at Hitmarker. If you’re ready to begin job searching now, then hit the link below to view our worldwide vacancies in game art.
→ Browse game art jobs
João’s portfolio: https://www.artstation.com/ikouto