In my previous post, I discussed what to include in your props portfolio. In this part, I will discuss how to layout, organize, and present your portfolio. I’m going to use my own portfolio as a guide; there are certainly many other ways you can make your portfolio.
There are a number of ways to layout your pages. You can of course do it by hand, where you make copies of all your photographs and drawings and glue them to paper or a heavier board. Or, if you want a less time-consuming and cheaper method, you can do it on your computer. For simple layouts, you can use any number of software programs, depending on what you are already comfortable using or what you have access to. I use Scribus, an open-source desktop publishing program. I know people who use Powerpoint. You can even use a word processor if that’s what you like working with. You basically need to fit images and text on a page, so your options are limitless.
Above is a sample page showing a single prop. It’s always great when you can have a designer’s drafting side-by-side with the final prop to show that you can interpret drawings. It’s really cool if you can show a prop next to a photograph of a real object to show how closely you can replicate something. For this prop, I’ve also included a process shot to show a structural element which ends up hidden in the final piece. I also have a bit of text to explain why that photograph is there; the other pictures do not need text because an explanation would be redundant. The rest of the text gives the show name, the name of the prop, the designer on the show, the theatre and year it was produced.
It may happen that the photographs and ancillary material for a prop is too much to fit on a single page. As my portfolio is in book form, I can have a prop spread over two pages. Above is an example of one of the two-page spreads in my portfolio. The performance shots are not only visually interesting, but each one shows the prop from a different angle. The process shots give a clear example of the materials and methods used to construct it. There may be some redundancies in the presentation, but it is such an interesting prop, and it featured prominently in the show, so until I add a more interesting prop to my portfolio, I will probably keep it spread out over two pages.
Some props you build may be well-done but not interesting enough to devote an entire page on. I like to group these together, and have two or three similar props, like the tables in the picture above, combined on a single page.
Now you get to the fun part of putting your pages in order. You should start off with the most eye-catching prop. Maybe it’s the most interesting-looking, or maybe it’s the one that you have the most dramatic photograph of. In any case, you’re trying to capture the viewer’s attention, and the best way to do that is with a strong first impression.
Your second page should have the best example of your work. It should be interesting like your first page, but instead of showing the most eye-catching prop you’ve made, this one should be the most skillfully made. You want to create a trend in your viewer’s mind, that every page will be better than the last. You also want to show off the best of your skills as soon as possible.
After that, how you organize your pages is up to you. Think about the fact that your viewer may stop looking through your portfolio at any time. With that in mind, you should keep the order varied, and have your best examples toward the front. When you have your pages in order, pick a random point in the middle and pretend any pages after that point don’t exist. Do the remaining pages still give a good impression of what you can do as an artisan?
Finally, you want to leave a strong impression at the end. Pick a solid prop as your last page. It should be almost as exciting as your first and second page. I’ve been on interviews where we look at my portfolio, and after getting to the last page, my interviewer leaves my book open as we go through the rest of the interviewer. Think about the fact that the final page of your portfolio may sit there for half an hour or even an hour, staring up at both you and your interviewer. You don’t want a mediocre or embarrassing prop glaring at you while you try to describe how great of an artisan you are. Your final page can also serve as a conversation starter. If it’s a particularly unique or quirky prop, either in appearance or method of construction, it can give the interviewer something to ask you about when you are done going through the portfolio.
I print my portfolio onto standard letter-sized pages and keep them in sheet protectors in a three-ring binder. When I add new props to my portfolio, I only have to print out the new pages, rather than a whole new portfolio. It is simple to change the order or take some pages out for a specific interview if I want. I keep the size small because I can carry it with me everywhere. I’ve shown my portfolio in offices, hotel rooms, and even standing up in shops. A larger or bulkier portfolio would keep me from doing that.
If you are participating in a portfolio fair or setting up a display of some kind, such as at U/RTAs, you’ll probably want to mount some photographs and pictures to larger boards. For your main portfolio though, think more in terms of usability and ease of transport.
I’m a firm believer that content will outshine display. You may think there are more elegant methods of presenting your portfolio than a three-ring binder and sheet protectors. There are a whole host of products available for storing and presenting your work. Feel free to use whatever you want, just keep in mind that your portfolio should not put you into debt, and you should not avoid updating it because it is overly complicated. Remember too that there is no binder so fancy that it will overshadow mediocre work.
These days, having a digital version of your portfolio is just as important, if not more so, than a physical one. Whether you have it on a website, on a disk you can hand to people, or in a file you can email, you can reach more people over greater distances. You can have a phone interview with a props shop in another state while both of you go through your portfolio on the computer. More people can have a copy of your portfolio without you having to take the time and expense of printing multiple copies on paper.
When I’m finished working on my portfolio on my computer, I turn it into a PDF to print from. At the same time, I make a PDF at a lower resolution. This file is small enough to put on my website for people to view. I can also email it to those who ask. If I’m sending an unsolicited email, or my recepient cannot accept attachments, I can just send a link to the file on my website. With this workflow, I can keep my printed and digital portfolio in sync with each other.