If you’ve ever been turned down by a job or university, it probably came with this advice: Work on building your portfolio and try again.
It can be frustrating, because how else do you build your portfolio than with a job or schooling? You are being blocked from the very thing they’re recommending you pursue. Yes, you can (and should) do self-initiated projects and experiments, but it’s not always easy to follow through on it alone. You're left back where you started, back at the beginning.
But there’s a way to jump a few steps forward, and it doesn't require any qualifications or experience:
Taking an online course.
A guided course can give you the knowledge and experience to improve your skills. But even better, they often include assignments or projects that go straight into your portfolio when you’re finished. In this structured environment, you’re committing to your goal and have a tangible result in sight. It’s a neatly packaged jump up the ladder, usually packed into a few short weeks.
I’m proud to be self-taught, but that doesn’t mean I was learning in a vacuum. I was eating up every bit of information and advice I could get my hands on. And thankfully, those resources have improved immensely since I first started designing years ago.
If you’re curious about taking a single course to build your portfolio (or even just to try something new), you could look into Continuing & Professional Education at The New School. It’s a New York-based school, but it offers online classes to anyone anywhere. These online courses, for example, start this month:
A class about telling visual stories
We talk a lot about storytelling in the creative industry. But telling compelling, memorable stories is a practiced art. This course (titled "Fundamentals of Illustrated Journalism and Memoir") shows you how to tell true stories with words and imagery. You’ll learn how text and images work together for the best impact, feeling, and efficiency, opening up opportunities beyond what writing, illustration or photography offer alone. You will dig into theory, practice, analysis and production of comics journalism and documentary sketching. This course encourages you to use your preferred tools (digital or analog) to tell stories with individual style, expression and voice.
As an architecture critic once put it, “Good architecture poorly lit is poor architecture.” It’s true for almost any type of environment, whether you’re working as an architect, 3D artist or interior designer. This course (called "Lighting Fundamentals and Technologies") is focused on learning elements of successful lighting by helping you understand light and human vision, lighting technologies and performance, lighting design as a discipline, and the impact of light on an environment.
Now more than ever, the fashion industry urgently needs new energy and ideas. It's time for fashion to evolve and become a just, inclusive, equitable and sustainable industry. This course (titled "Putting Sustainability into Practice") is geared toward people who are working in the fashion industry at any level. Within the course you can use your business, project or idea as a case study to help make change within the fashion industry. You will finish with a well-resolved, actionable project that can be a portfolio piece or plan ready to be implemented.
The barriers to the creative industry are lowering, thanks to new technology and online resources. The main requirement today is a strong portfolio. If you’re feeling stuck with yours, an online course could be a nice boost forward. It’s short and concentrated, guided by experts and it has a final result you can either put straight in your site, or apply to future projects.
But most importantly, it means taking a step in the direction you want to go. When you’re at the beginning, the best way is forward.