A Personal Website VS a Portfolio

With the impending degradation of Web 2.0 the past few months, I have been accelerating my quest to archive everything I have (almost) ever posted on social media (Twitter, Tumblr, DA… there’s not much on IG or FB) and other places (Flickr, Neopets, Google, and Photobucket). Rants, text, threads, doodles, art – anything from my 16 years of being online is being taken out and given their rightful place on my website.

My whole intent with this is to basically fulfill my lifelong childhood dream of possessing and maintaining a centralised online space that’s about me and for me. In the olde days of the internet, during the peak of MySpace, people used to keep very personalised internet spaces. It can be an artist with years of their doodles, a grandpa with a hyperfixation on garden beds, or a pseudo-rival in my school blogging about her life, but going to someone’s website/blog always meant diving into a treasure trove of “content” – and I mean this in a positive way, the way one might use to describe a score from a secondhand shop. Discovering a trinket from another life and unpacking the objects – why they chose those objects, what those meant to them, especially if they provided notes – that was hours of empathy and connection and joy learning about someone else.

I’ve watched that fade away over the years. Particularly for artists’ personal websites – which has given way to ephemeral posting (or worse, discourse posting) on social media, leaving only the professional white-box husk to serve as a portfolio for art directors. As a fan, reader, peer, I mourn the disappearance of a convenient, singular, concentrated space to explore and take time with my favourite artist’s work.

To be a fan or fellow admirer of someone’s work nowadays seems to mean we have to be split into different places to keep up. And as an artist, we have to be split into multiple places to (apparently) reach those fans and peers. Personally though, I am very tired of having to keep doing this: atomising myself over and over again to re-re-reestablish my following and follower list. Spending years putting all the work, playing the game of algorithm chicken, clouting and hot-taking on a platform only to have the bottom fall out. It is not fair to myself, my peers and my readers. It is especially very unfair when my peers take the nuclear option of deleting their social media archive, with either no attempt to migrate the data elsewhere or no alternative for followers to access the data. Years of work and knowledge, gone. Sketches, tutorials, threads, one-off meme scribbles. All of the things that are not Completed Work, gone.

I miss just seeing everything and anything in an artist website, regardless of how well-curated for Capitalism Freelance Hustling it was. I miss sites in general.

There is this advice from colleagues and directors over the years to always, always, always make your artist website as “fast as possible to assess/consume”. Not in those words, but that is generally the message that comes from advice that is worded like “art directors are busy and have no time so you gotta make your site have less than 15 pieces of art, everything in as few pages as possible, and NOTHING ELSE!!! Otherwise you’re gonna get passed over for a job.”

Your website has to be an assembly line, a sample pack, a quick factory tour. White. Clean. Sanitised.

I can understand the reasoning behind the advice. Even I think, at the very least, an artist website has to be presentable and well-designed for a potential paying client if your base expectation is for the website to pay for itself. Websites cost some labour and money afterall.

However I am pushing against this advice, in the sense that while I agree with it as a base requirement (if you have no other reason to have a website, this should be it), this employer-centric approach shouldn’t be the end-all, be-all of how we artists should think about our websites, even if we’re tackling it from the corporate-pilled angle of branding. I don’t know why we are completely allowing Capitalism and Hustling dictate our expression, our own space. Like, my website is ‘reimenayee.com’, not ‘potential employer’s hire dot com’.

Maybe that’s a privileged take to have, if I am able to consider building a website that exists outside of maximising the possibility of a future business transaction. But we didn’t have this conflict back then. Bloggers and artists and people with websites had been able to secure major book deals or consultancy gigs through the density and personality of their website alone. And I don’t think we even have this as a problem now. Tons of artists succeed without even an online presence, or only social media, or whatever. Employers and commissioners are already discovering and following artists they want to hire on social media – literally the messiest, most erratic and unorganised, unarchivable, unsearchable kind of website for a portfolio. If employers and commissioners really want you, they will slow down and do the work to get you.*

*as long as you’re not deliberately hostile and inaccessible

So chaining an artist website to the one-and-only obligations of ‘Get Me Job or Else’ seems a bit silly to me if social media is already achieving that goal by being messy and worse with the inflexibility, the inability to archive or transfer followings, and the other damages it inflicts.

Plus I think that the bulk of commissioned work – whether a private or corporate client – comes from people who already vibe with and love our work. So why not make a website catered for fans and peers? Why not post on your website the things you’re already posting on social media? Why not approach our websites from the perspective of being supporter-centric and peer-centric? Longetivity, access, connection, solidarity, friendship, inspiration, breaking barriers, creative empowerment: there is no room for these values in a website designed for the employer only. To get to the feast, we have to move beyond the mindset of the sample pack.

If nothing else, everyone including you benefits from having a robust, centralised, personalised archive that isn’t beholden to algorithms or censorship.

So I want my website to be made the audience I already know I have: quiet people who like to read and wander – who consist the majority of my following.

Mainly I want to make the website for myself. As mentioned above, this has always been a lifelong dream. I just never got to it because I kept getting split into different online pieces (also didn’t have the money and the skills) back then. I am puzzling those pieces back together and cleaning house now.

As I watch the archive and the “content” of my site (which includes this blog) get bigger, and add a bunch of pages and hyperlinks that all link back to each other, I wonder how this would all look to a hurried art director. The website doesn’t have a focused so-called identity or even a style: I’m not just an illustrator, not just a designer, not just a sequential arts creator, not just XYZ. I am not properly defined.

But it’s all me. It’s all the stuff that makes my comics and art and characters. My art is still recognisable as belonging to a specific someone. My voice is pervasive across the site. Soon, it will include a massive chunk of my history.

I hope whoever visits will find value and joy in that, in the fact of an Artist being Present. I knew I did and always do, whenever I find an artist website like mine in the wild.

Hello, hello

    • Tanya
    • February 11, 2024

    Hey, I was looking up stuff about portfolios and websites. I was wondering about websites and why art directors only go to certain social media or even like how portfolios have to look an exact way. I actually felt disillusioned about it all but finding this really helped me put it into perspective. Thank you for this. It really helped.

    • Reply

      I am glad it helped!! Yeah, seeing how everything is trending towards centralisation and uniformisation can get annoying, especially since catering to that impulse sometimes brings NO benefits. May as well just do what you want and stand out with your site.

    • Kiri
    • September 27, 2023

    I reflected on a lot of this when I moved 10 years of Tumblr posts home to my website. The need to look and feel “professional” on your website went hand in hand with feeling freer to post sillier things on ephemeral social media, which is very ironic. It ultimately became much easier for employers to find people on social, where they have full view of all the “unprofessional” things that were sequestered away from the websites. We’ve come full circle.

    I have neglected my website for long stretches of time over the last many years, but even so, it was always the best place for some things (mostly the 5k word con reports or pen reviews or essays about whatever). With social media mostly eating itself these days, it’s been nice to retreat back into what has always been entirely mine, and it’s been nice to see that many others have done the same.

    • Reply

      Kiri! I was definitely thinking of your blog posts while writing this. We are aligned in thinking for sure.
      In regards to “unprofessional” social media becoming the go-to for employees, ironically, I feel like the more artists use social media casually (aka the more they spend time on it, talking and adding new art), the more professional it becomes. Then one day, the artist realises that their professional career is entirely hinged on the professional opportunities they get from following and posting. Which is why I am suspecting a lot of people have trouble quitting socmedia. If the socmedia wasn’t actually serious, then there’s really no grief in letting go. But no matter how much they deny this fact within themselves, the socmedia has become their portfolio.

      I am excited for more people return to maintaining sites and blogs. It’s been so refreshing to engage with someone on their own terms, free from the limitations. It feels like a different way of being entirely. Or rather a homecoming to a way of being that had got me online in the first place. Cheers for the independent web!!!

Reimena Yee is a graphic novelist, artist and flamingo enthusiast.

She writes and illustrates quite a few webcomics and graphic novels. When not making books, she lulls away her time with essays on craft, life and experiences in the publishing industry. Some of her thoughts of art and life are rather unstructured and will evolve over time as this blog matures, as they should be.

Currently committed to being Alexander the Great's death doula. Is a nerd for all things spooky and historical.

Melbourne / Kuala Lumpur

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