I began attending Ink & Pixels in my junior year at Towson University. At the time, I was preparing to screen into the design program in order to complete my BFA in Graphic Design. The screening requires a phenomenal portfolio from all candidates to secure a spot, and as I walked into Ink & Pixels I thought I had one. I remember thinking how blown away the reviewers were going to be with my awesome portfolio and design skills. So I sat down across from my first reviewer and introduced myself.
Shockingly, the reviewer was appalled by my lack of professionalism. Despite my best efforts to enhance my appearance that day—I wore a shirt tucked in with a tie to match my personal brand colors—my work and portfolio presentation just didn’t stand up to the test. Looking back, it wasn’t much better put together than a wet rat. But I was stupidly cocky.
After a few questions in, I warmed up to the reviewer and we found our level ground. She complimented my work where it was deserved while detailing every nook and cranny that I needed to change in order to create a quality portfolio. My reviewer took the time to ask me about where I wanted to be professionally after graduating. She asked what designers influenced me and gave me tips to make my goals easier to obtain.
In the weeks to follow, when I was accepted into TU’s BFA program, I decided that my reviewer’s tough love was the best advice I could have gotten. I appreciated the feedback so much that I decided to return to Ink & Pixels the following year, too.
The review sessions from both Ink and Pixels ‘13 and ‘14 allowed me the opportunity to talk with professional designers, some of whom were hiring managers and many of whom I am still in touch with. They told me exactly what I needed to hear and didn’t sugarcoat it. No one held my hand nor did I receive a lollipop at the end. These professionals were there to make a real difference in the way I think and create as a designer, and the advice they gave me extended beyond just presenting my work.
In December 2014, I graduated with my BFA in Graphic Design from Towson University. Before graduation, I put together a fantastic portfolio using everything I had gained from Ink & Pixels. I also used the connections I made with my reviewers to get invited to 10 different interviews. Yes, 10! Those connections got me a full-time job.
So, now it’s my turn to dish out advice: if you’re a student thinking about attending an Ink & Pixels conference in the future, don’t think; DO. It will change your future.
For Ink & Pixels 2015, I knew it was time for me to give back as a portfolio reviewer. I helped several students take a look at their portfolios from a new perspective, guided them on their work and their portfolio presentation, and dished out all the advice and lessons I had learned over the past couple of years.
I reached out to each student I was fortunate to meet, and have even been able to pass on a resumé here and there to hiring managers who may have a fit for the graduating student. It feels fantastic knowing that I am now able to help make a difference in their careers.
A few more words of advice: if you’re a student who has passed through Ink & Pixels and working as a professional, please give back. We can continue to make sure great design is being ushered out on to the world, especially in Baltimore.
Liam Clisham, an AIGA member since 2012, owns and operates Five31, completing motion and graphic design for a variety of large and small business, including Exelon/BGE, Keller Williams, and recently Discovery Communications.