ECPN’s webinar “Showcasing Your Work: Preparing and Maintaining a Conservation Portfolio,” took place on November 14, 2017 and featured presentations by Susan Heald and Gwen Manthey. Please see the previous blog post announcing the webinar for more extensive biographies of our speakers, and visit AIC’s YouTube Channel for the full recording of the webinar.
Several questions from viewers could not be addressed during the webinar due to time constraints; however, the panelists have generously answered them here.
Should you adapt portfolios for your audience—for example, academic institutions, nonprofits, museums, private practice?
Susan Heald: I would keep a full portfolio of your work for yourself in whatever method you chose to save it, but I would adapt the portfolio for a target audience when you’re submitting an application for an internship/fellowship/job.
Gwen Manthey: Absolutely. Doing research about the collections will help you in choosing what projects to share. For museums and academic institutions (interviews or even a lab visit), I tend to review three to five past annual reports to see the size of the conservation department, who is working there, if conservation is promoted in the report, and what is actively being conserved. Annual reports provide information on what they are actively acquiring, and this research helps me develop my portfolio. In addition to related artists, time periods, and materials, I like to make sure my portfolio represents every facet of conservation: research, technical analysis, innovative treatments, and the strengths of my hand skills. If I’m lucky, these facets overlap on selected projects, even if the object itself isn’t a direct reflection of their collection. When it comes to my private work and from my experience working with other private conservators and regional centers, it’s about time-management, problem-solving, flexibility in working on-site, effective communication when working solo or on a team, and efficient report-writing.
Is there an ‘expiration date’ on your previous work? For example, is there a certain point at which you would recommend excluding pre-program or program course work to feature more recent but perhaps less-relevant work?
Susan Heald: That’s a good question. I don’t think there should be an expiration date—sometimes earlier work can still be advantageous to include, especially if it is more relevant to a project than more recent work that’s not relevant.
Gwen Manthey: For things that are several years in the past, I might still include the treatment reports and the critical images, but not focus on them when preparing a presentation or guiding someone through your portfolio. If a past project comes up in the conversation, I find it can be useful to discuss what I might do differently at this stage in my career or inquire how my colleagues and mentors may have approached it. Big projects, even many years past, have developed your knowledge and skills.
If you are seeking to showcase your experiences in a digital format, would you recommend building an online presence through platforms such as LinkedIn or Academia.edu in addition to a digital portfolio, or do you find it’s more worthwhile to focus efforts on one comprehensive website? Gwen, do you have thoughts on the logistics of potentially maintaining and coordinating multiple online profiles? And Susan, what is your perspective on this as a reviewer?
Susan Heald: As a reviewer, I would just want the portfolio to be easily accessible in whichever format was chosen, and a password-protected site would be just fine—as long as the password is provided.
Gwen Manthey: Yes. The benefit of the LinkedIn profile is that the end-user does not necessarily need to have their own account to view your profile, as it is free; if you ever let your paid website expire, the LinkedIn profile can live on. It may be easier for someone early in their conservation career to develop a LinkedIn profile and have a digital portfolio at hand and ready to share in a cloud-based service, rather than creating and maintaining a paid website. My LinkedIn profile serves as a digital master C.V. It is directly accessible from my website; in fact, this question prompted me to make sure it was also accessible from the “Conservator” page, where my background information lives. I feel it is prudent to have at least one profile that is dedicated to my entire conservation career, independent of the website, developed with my private practice in mind. If my website served solely as an e-portfolio, I might have the entire C.V. accessible. I want to make it clear that museums where I have been employed were not “clients,” but naturally, my private work has benefited from the exposure to skilled colleagues at those museums. Conservation is a big part of my life, so it naturally leaks into my other social media presences. Some of my peers have accounts dedicated to their private practices and I salute that initiative; I do not myself, since my professional career is still quite fluid. I do not have an Academia.edu profile.
What makes a bad online portfolio? Are there any specific things to avoid like too much information, too many images, poor organization, difficult navigation, etc.? Do potential supervisors prefer brief summaries or lengthy text entries with detail?
Susan Heald: As a reviewer, I just need to be able to find the information easily—so difficult navigation and poor organization would drive me nuts. I like the idea of having summaries with overall images up front (as Gwen showed in one example during the Webinar), with the longer, complete report format and additional detail images available for review if desired.
Gwen Manthey: I think the biggest concern is poor organization. You can put nearly an unlimited amount of information on your personal website, constrained only by the file size imposed on the specific plan you select from your provider. You should think about your intended audience, who may not have the same technological savvy you do. Clear tabs, a legible font, and smart navigation through text and images are key. I don’t even like scrolling down through long entries myself, so those preferences influenced the design of my website.
On average, how long would a potential supervisor spend looking at an online portfolio before an interview?
Susan Heald: That’s a really hard question to answer because it depends on how many applicants are in the pool, how many interviews are conducted, and how much time the reviewer might have in addition to other work responsibilities. I try to spend a minimum of 30 minutes looking at a portfolio submission containing 3-4 examples of work, and that is after I have reviewed that candidate’s letter of introduction, CV, writing samples, and the 3 letters of recommendation. I always take notes as I do this. Sometimes as a panel of 3-5 reviewers, we might divide the portfolio into sections with each reviewer taking a particular section most relevant to their area of expertise, reading that section thoroughly, and then briefing the other panelists on the review committee. Good organization of the text, images, and supporting materials within the portfolio is crucial—it must be easy to review and consume.
One of my concerns as I start making my own website is having a design that is both easy to use and distinguishable from my peers who may be using similar templates. How customizable is the platform that you’ve used, and how easy did you find it to make those changes?
Gwen Manthey: Squarespace is a very, VERY smart website builder. Even if you select one of their templates, the customization is virtually unlimited. The first website I ever had a hand in building was my own, so it was a trial by fire, since I personally found the breadth of customization and its design tools were not intuitive to me. It was quickly overwhelming until I forced myself to be patient and practice. It might have been more difficult than Wix or Weebly, both of which I had also considered at the time, but a graphic design friend strongly suggested it, as it was more customizable at the time. I like using gray backgrounds, big images, and limited text when developing PowerPoint presentations, so my website is an extension of that design preference. While it may look similar to the websites of my colleagues, my experiences are pretty singular and that is what tends to stick out.
What is the best iPad or MacBook program that can be used to set up a digital portfolio?
Gwen Manthey: As always, “best” is subjective. Best will depend on how you want to prepare and present your digital portfolio, so spend some time thinking that. I believe I left out one key format in presenting a digital portfolio in my presentation: compiling your documents into a single PDF package. Doing that can be accomplished through a variety of software applications. Your digital portfolio does not need to live scattered across multiple apps in a tablet, as mine did (and still does). I use an iPad because I am familiar with it, and that ease works to my benefit during its presentation. I prefer to use some of the heavier-hitting and integrated applications (such as Dropbox, Adobe-based programs, iBooks, and the iPhotos apps) since I trust they will be continually updated as time progresses. As such, I can only confidently speak about Mac-based software and iPads, and lack experiences with other platforms and operating systems.
Thank you to Susan and Gwen! ECPN is grateful to the speakers for their participation in the webinar and for sharing their expertise on this topic. Thank you also to my fellow ECPN officers, and the AIC board and staff who made this program possible. If you have additional comments or questions on this subject, please email ECPN.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here are links to a few key AIC resources that our speakers mentioned during their presentations:
- AIC Guide to Digital Photography and Conservation Documentation
- Specifically, see Chapter 6 on Photographic Techniques for Conservation
- AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice
- Both speakers touched on the application process and importance of gaining peer-review status with AIC
And here are other ECPN resources on the topic of portfolios in the conservation field:
- Portfolio section in Resources for Emerging Conservators on the AIC Wiki
- Including ECPN’s poster “The Digital Portfolio in the Conservation Field,” which includes information on intellectual property and copyright issues
- Tips from Suzanne Davis on the AIC Blog: “Portfolios and Career Transitions: Pre-program, Graduate, and Post-Graduate Portfolio Tips” (March 12, 2013)