My First Portfolio: Mirko Ilić

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Print‘s new Portfolio Review is now open and accepting entries. It’s a great opportunity for designers to show off their stuff and personally connect with some of the top design firms in the country. All entrants will have their work featured in an online gallery, and six winners will be flown to San Francisco to attend the 2013 HOW Design Live conference and meet one-on-one with the judges—Mirko Ilić, Natasha Jen, Debbie Millman, Scott Stowell, and Jessica Walsh—for advice on their work.

But before the judges start evaluating the portfolios, we thought it would be fun to ask them about their portfolios—specifically their first portfolios, and how they helped or hindered their early careers. First up is Mirko Ilić, the Yugoslavian-born designer and illustrator and the subject of the new monograph Fist to Face.


When did you create your first portfolio? What did it look like?

I created my first portfolio quite late in my career. It was 1986. I was 30 years old and leaving for the United States, and I needed some work to show. Unfortunately, I didn’t know what a portfolio was supposed to look like, so it was a briefcase of originals and photocopies—a big paper salad.

Did you show it to many people? Did they give you useful feedback?

One of the first people that I showed my portfolio to was Milton Glaser. I poured my briefcase out on his table and he gently went through the pile. A half hour later he gave me a list of a few art directors that he recommended I visit.

Ilic’s first illustration for The New York Times Book Review

Ilic’s first illustration for The New York Times Book Review, which he landed after a meeting with Steven Heller. It was published in April 1986, to accompany an article titled “Burning Houses.”

Did your portfolio help you land a job? If so, can you tell us a little about how that happened?

The second person I saw was Steve Heller at The New York Times. By then I had reduced my portfolio to just photocopies, based on Milton’s suggestion that it was better not to carry around originals. On the basis of my new portfolio and my “charm,” I got to create an illustration for The New York Times Book Review.

The third person I saw was Rudolph Hoglund, the art director at Time Magazine. That same day he gave me an assignment to create sketches for the next week’s edition of the magazine.

Do you still keep a portfolio? How has it changed since your first one?

I still have parts from my first portfolio and also some of the originals. Three or four months after arriving in the U.S., I managed to create a completely new portfolio—a “proper” portfolio.