Time to Spruce Up Your Portfolio? Play Hooky and Do This!

Have a hole in your portfolio? A skill you need to polish? As a freelancer or solopreneur, you must commit to refining your craft. Here's how one creative did it.

When a fellow creative professional recently shared on Facebook that she was taking a day off to kick her own butt and work on her creative skills, I was intrigued. Gina Weathersby is an artist and professional photographer. While we don't share a discipline, we do share an interest in boosting our respective skills. I was curious about her idea of making time to perfect her creative abilities, and it seemed a worthwhile endeavor for any industry pro. So I invited Weathersby out for coffee to pick her brain.

Weathersby explained that as she reviewed her portfolio recently, preparing to update it for a prospective client, she realized it needed work. Which meant: Her creative skills needed work.

Gina Weathersby

"I had a folder open in front of me with a bunch of images, what I had deemed my best," she said. "It was the first time in a long time that the work all looked similar to me. I realized there were aspects that could have added to the diversity of my portfolio. I knew what the holes were and decided I couldn't ignore them."

So Weathersby acted. She set aside a full day to work on her creative skills, to experiment with lighting and composition. No clients. No client work. No interruptions. And while she didn't earn any income that day, she came out ahead with several realizations that will benefit her business for a long time to come.

Recognize your weaknesses. "The only way any of us get better is through constant practice," Weathersby observes. "If you don't label what it is you have to practice, then you're floundering."

This isn't just creative play. Identifying a flaw in your craft and overcoming it is hard work. "I regularly set aside time to do my own projects, but I'd never before set aside time to push through areas I knew needed work," she says. "You have to be very specific about what you need to work on. Without that plan, you're not helping the situation, and you'll be more frustrated because you won't know what you're there to do."

Go beyond your comfort zone. "You can't be afraid of failure," Weathersby says. "When you're good at something, you can spit out the work just because you have so much experience. I knew that this day of practice was going to be hard, that I would create crap in the process."

Improvement takes commitment. Weathersby, who often works from home, booked a full day in her Cincinnati studio, away from client distractions and family. She gathered her materials, and set to work.

Practice makes imperfect. At first, Weathersby was frustrated, self-critical, dejected. "After a couple of hours, my brain hurt. Nothing was coming together. I thought, 'I'm just going to get out of here,'" she says. "But I was there. I'd committed the time. So I took a break, got back up and made it work. By the end of the day, I'd created some of my favorite images."

You can't ignore the critical voice in your head. But you can tell it to back off. "How do you shut off the voice? You don't," Weathersby says. "I told myself, 'You suck. You're a fraud. It's just a matter of time until someone finds out.' Every artist I know has that kind of self-defeating talk. When you have those thoughts, acknowledge them, understand you're not alone, recognize that something is making you feel that way, break it down and do something about it."

Working on your craft pays off. Not only did Weathersby recapture the joy and creativity in her work, she filled her portfolio with a new batch of diverse images from her practice session. She's added them to her stock image collection and even sold a couple. Self-directed projects are a great way to add new work or show off different creative skills in your portfolio. "Your personal projects are all about what you want and who you are, and that draws people," she says. "More work and exposure comes from that."

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