Is Collaborating On A Portfolio A Good Idea?

Question: How effective are collaborative portfolios?

Two things come to mind with collaborative portfolios – the art exercise “exquisite corpse” and illustration studios that are made up of two or more artists.

Before we discuss how collaborative portfolios can be both fun and rewarding, here’s a quick rundown of what can make a collaborative portfolio work:

  • Discuss the goals of the collaborative work before starting, to make sure everyone’s on the same page.
  • Be sure to highlight your strengths in the collaboration.
  • Consider collaborating with an artists whose strengths are your weaknesses.

Collaboration for Fun

It’s been a long time since I did an “exquisite corpse” exercise. I remember doing them during college drawing classes. Someone would start a drawing and leave it for the next guy. I’d continue it and someone else would finish. This is usually done blindly, where no artist can see the complete drawing.

The results can be quite interesting. It can definitely make you look at your work differently!

A more sophisticated “exquisite corpse” example is a website called ILLABORATE. This is a site where illustrators are matched together to create a collaborative piece. The site is the brainchild of Bri Hermanson, who told me, “Collaboration is a way to share and explore while also strengthening the personal relationship between illustrators.”

The Business Lab Illaborate collaborate portfolio illustrator kyle t webster illustrator kim rosen

© Kyle T. Webster and Kim Rosen – Kyle and Kim’s illustration collaboration as seen on ILLABORATE

“Each illustrator has a unique challenge in starting or finishing the piece,” Bri said. “It’s completely different than working around type or layout elements. What illustrator doesn’t love a creative challenge like that?

Collaboration for Work

While sites like ILLABORATE are a good illustration exercise, a lot of illustrators take collaboration more seriously. Many work together on projects for clients.

There are a number of successful studios combining the talents of two or more illustrators in projects and marketing portfolios, such as Heads of State, Gina and Matt, Post Typography and the Balbusso Sisters. All of these illustration studios produce marketable styles and are working with some of the top clients around.

There are definite opportunities to promote collaborative work and be successful. I think it’s about finding the correct balance. The Balbusso Sisters equate the process to “making a film,” according to their interview with The Folio Society.

Gina and Matt describe their process as a democracy. “In the collaborative work, it’s pretty much equal say,” they told the illustration site The Little Chimp Society in an interview. “We talk over the general feeling and imagery of the painting before we begin.”

Whether it’s an exercise for your own artistic growth or a strategy for potential business, collaboration is something that can be valuable to your craft.

About Brian

Brian is an editorial and portrait illustrator. His clients include: The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Billboard, Wired UK, The Washington Post, Fast Company, Games for Windows and The Boston Globe. He lives in the Washington DC area with his wife, two daughters and a dog named Bill.

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