“That’s it, I can’t design anymore. I’m going to start a lawn mowing business.”

As soon as I read this message, I knew my friend was having a rough day. I’ve had those kind of days, where everything is turning out the color “meh” and deadlines are staring me down. All those practices like going for a walk, sketching, changing up the playlist, and looking through the inspiration folder just aren’t working. I could relate to what she was feeling.

I replied to my friend with a link to her own portfolio.

You see, she’s a brilliant designer and artist, she just needed a reminder that she’s done this before and will do it again. There were days in between the portfolio pieces where she thought she would be better off mowing lawns. But she couldn’t forget the fact that she’d done some great work – at least at one time.

Some see keeping an updated portfolio as a means of finding new work. While valid, it’s less about finding work for me and more about keeping a captain’s log of the journey.

Every six months I like to evaluate my portfolio. This process helps me ask questions I wouldn’t normally ask myself:

  • What projects have I been really excited about?
  • Is there a style I tend to lean toward or am I getting into a rut?
  • What pieces should I take off?
  • Were there any “I can’t design” moments along the way?

It’s vital to ask yourself these types of questions to help guide you in forward momentum as a designer.

Looking at Your Passions

I’m grateful to be at a place in my career where the projects that I’m excited and proud of are plenty. That hasn’t always been the case, though. There was a time where my passions weren’t aligning with my work. These seasons served as indicators for me. They told me I needed to start self-initiated passion projects.

Leaning on One Style

When it comes to style, I’ve always needed to explore often and refine longer. I’m not sure I’ll ever find the mystical creature of “my style”, but when those stylings become more of a bag of tricks or a rut, then that serves as reminder to refine more or move on.

Taking Pieces Off

Deciding which pieces to take off my portfolio is usually the hardest for me. There are many pieces that may not be the strongest – they have sentimental value that makes them difficult to let go. But I need to let them go and add new pieces. This is a healthy indication that my skill set is growing. The other side to this is that a portfolio speaks to the kind of projects I want to work on in the future. While some artwork might look great, my passions might have changed between the time it was created and the present.

Finding Your Milestones

The biggest take away from curating a personal portfolio is that they serve as milestones. For every piece of artwork I showcase, there were several “I can’t design” moments. I can look back at projects and see those things that – at the time – seemed too big for me to handle. These are visual testimonies that remind us that we did it once and we’ll do it again.

We did it once and we’ll do it again.

My two year-old little girl is in a great stage of life right now. Lately we’ve been having several “remember when…” chats.

“Remember when, we went to the pool?”
“Remember when I went on the big slide?”

Or my favorite, “Remember when we went to the mouse and played games?” (I’m not even sure what that means.)

But she’s subtlety trying to get me to take her back to these places. Fred Rogers said, “Play is really the work of childhood.” For Abby, these moments are her portfolio. These are the milestones of happiness she can look back on and know where she wants to get back to.

For you and me, we’ll have moments of work we’re not passionate or excited about. That will probably always be the case. Just don’t forget to look back and recognize the wins.

As artist and designers, our portfolio pieces not only become a log of where we’ve been, but more importantly they become a glimpse of where we’re going.

Wherever you’re going…godspeed.