Using Self-Assigned Projects to Build Your Illustration Portfolio


Are you looking for an inspiring and effective way to build up your Illustration portfolio with the type of work that you’d like to be hired to create?

Illustration Friday founder Penelope Dullaghan often speaks about her success with using what she called Self-Assignments to boost creativity, have fun, and create new work. The basic idea was to commission herself to produce a new Illustration based on a certain topic, working method, or other set of criteria.

In fact, Penelope later used another creative technique that grew into the Illustration Friday you know and love!

I’ve often used a similar approach to build upon the body of work in my own portfolio. In short, I’ve been “hiring” myself for projects as a way of creating new work that both expresses my creative vision and shows potential clients what I might contribute to their next project. As a result, I’ve been producing work at a faster rate and targeting my portfolio to the types of clients I’d like to work for (as seen in the example above).

Focusing Your Efforts

Most artists already create personal work on a regular basis, but it is often done in a much more casual way than is being described here. By “assigning” specific projects to yourself, you can focus your energy on the type of artwork that is much more relevant to real-world applications. This will increase the likelihood that your latest piece will be strong enough to include in your portfolio, and make more of an impression on Art Directors and other potential clients.

Be Your Own Art Director

One of the major things that sets this way of working apart from more casual personal projects is that you are taking on the roles of both Art Director and Illustrator. By assigning projects to yourself with clear directions, limitations, and deadlines you can simulate the type of scenario that you would find yourself in if you were actually commissioned by a client. The benefit of this is that you will often end up with a higher quality of work than if you were simply left to your own devices.

Target Your Market

Another great reason to consider using self-assigned projects to build your portfolio is that it allows you to create the type of work that you would like to be hired for. For example, if your dream project is to work on book covers, assign yourself book covers. If you want to work in the editorial market, assign yourself editorial projects based on the latest news items. This method can be used for whatever your target market might be.

Define Yourself

Basically, anything you can do to make yourself more attractive to your target market, and show your potential clients how you would interpret a certain project, will help to set you apart from the growing crowd of Illustrators out there. Even if an Art Director generally likes your work, you will be even better off if you can help to show them what types of projects you should be commissioned for.

In addition, you’re likely to have much more fun and find endless inspiration by assigning projects to yourself based on the type of work that you’d like to create.

Learn on Skillshare

Thomas James

Thomas James

Thomas James is an Illustrator who has worked with The New York Times, WIRED, Pentagram, Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and many others. You can see his portfolio at
Thomas James

Posted by Thomas James on 09/28/15 under business
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