The Story of YOU & Your Work A Narrative approach to portfolio presentation


This Spark Page is dedicated to explaining and guiding educators, learners and job-seekers from all disciplines about the nature and structure of a "Storied Portfolio." While I focus the content of this piece more on an art & design context I should point out that creating a storied portfolio has profound implications for all of us, regardless of what area of work or academic discipline we call home. This resource is also helpful in detailing important elements and structures to consider when using Adobe Spark Page to tell any story. Please feel free to adapt this piece to make it work for your own particular context and let me know how it works out.

I am sure you are wondering "What exactly is a 'Storied Portfolio'?" Let me explain. You could begin by asserting that any conventional web or book portfolio (the sort of thing that artist's and designers typically use to showcase their work) constitutes a form of visual storytelling; however, they typically focus on curated images of the artist's works accompanied by standard pieces of information such as the name of the piece, medium, dimensions, pricing and a line or two of supplementary information. Engaging with these forms is akin to walking through a gallery and leaving with your own impressions. Ordinarily, this—combined with a few introductory didactic paragraphs by the artist—would be enough; however, we live in extraordinary times where simply presenting the end-point artefacts or products of our creativity is not enough.

It is important to provide context for the assertion that the images, in-and-of-themselves, are not enough. According to the Meeker Internet Report created for Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers over 1.8 BILLION images are uploaded to the internet EVERY DAY! Just let that sink in for a moment. The question then becomes "How will I, and my work, gain recognition and relevance against this surge of innumerable artefacts?" THAT is the million dollar question! One could pay money to increase one's search relevance and rankings but this is never a guarantee that you and your work will be consistently found.

With the advent of the mobile social age comes an implicit expectation of both intimacy and engagement—that one is connected to members of one's online communities and that the lingua franca for its members is participation in the life of those communities through sharing. This "sharing" takes many forms like images, videos, tips, How-To's, encouragement, advice, mentoring, etc. Despite what form participation might take, it is expected that everyone from the CEO to the person on the shop floor make themselves available to be part of, if not drive, the conversation online.

This call to participation requires that we be able to share powerful and meaningful stories that will excite, entertain, inform and encourage the members of our various communities. These stories can be told exclusively through image, video, audio, text or a combination of any and all of these media. Being able to bind these various media elements together happens best when they are tied to a central story—it helps us to better understand them and to attribute to them particular meaning and significance. Stories help us to make sense of the complex and chaotic and seeing you and your work tied to an interesting and compelling story helps it to stand out from the infinite and chaotic morass of media artefacts that clog the arteries of the web. Story provides added value. It is in this context that it is incumbent upon us to develop our stories and connect our work to those stories. THIS, in the general sense, is what a storied portfolio is.

The collection of stories, story fragments and artefacts that trail behind us are what constitute our narrative. Narrative is really the sum total of our activities—the overall, general impression or feeling that is induced in an audience that encounters them. The use of art, design, audio, video, image and text for crafting powerful narratives is crucial to professions like Advertising and Marketing where stories are central to the development of Brand Design, Brand Strategy and Brand Management. As you transition to your professional life you and your work will develop as a brand—one that will not only have a "look" but a "feel" that you and what you do relatable to your intended audience. Some of this narrative you will be responsible for authoring whereas other aspects of it will be written by the people and companies who have come into contact with you and your company's products or services. Collectively, these stories will form the basis of your brand narrative.

A storied portfolio, then, is a way of creating and controlling the elements that will represent you and will metaphorically and quite literally write the narrative of your personal, professional brand. These elements will range from tweets and other social media posts on platforms like Facebook or Instagram to sharing creative and production know-how on communities like Behance or in Storied Portfolios on platforms like Spark Page. But first we need to begin with developing your story…


The capacity to create stories likens us to gods. We possess an innate capacity to create worlds of unlimited scope and possibility with our imagination—we have the unprecedented power to inspire the hearts, minds and imaginations of others and have them journey with us. We can shape the intersubjective realities of public discourse in arenas like religion, politics, economics, entertainment, lifestyle, personal image and relationships. Let us make new worlds, with new moons, stars and players!

The first objective is to start thinking about your story. You can be from any walk of life, any profession or area of interest and do this exercise; however, we will focus on the story of an aspiring artist or designer. This is the story of your creative journey.


You need to tell a story that shares unique personal and professional perspectives in a way that rings true to both you, the storyteller, and your audience. While drama and embellishment are the cornerstones of any good story and are to be encouraged, it is important that what you share is anchored in fundamental ideas that you sincerely hold to be true. There is a requirement to "own" your story. It should never feel like an ill-fitting suit. Your story should fit well with how you see and engage with your personal and professional life.

It may be helpful to create a list of things that you value and to make sure that the stories that you share are anchored to those values. It could be as simple as a list of likes and dislikes or as profound as a deep personal—even spiritual philosophy. These value statements should resonate throughout the things that you share and should, naturally, consistently govern your personal and professional decisions and interactions. Consistency creates confidence and confidence engenders trust and trust is the foundation of all solid and lasting relationships!


Character relates to authenticity in an important way. When we present ourselves in an unblemished way a saavy audience understands that your story is too good to be true—that it may be ego-centric bluster, or worse—a lie. True character is often revealed not in our successes but, rather, in how we deal with adversity and failure. Candid reflections on life's challenges helps to reveal one's resilience, determination and honesty. Candour regarding fallibility is what gives our story a human face. It makes us relatable. Avoid seeking to be revered for being perfect. Sharing a good balance of challenges and triumphs in your story will help to win your audience's respect and admiration. We will explore the development of "character" as a key element of storytelling later on.

The Hook

The hook is a non-literal device for grabbing an audience's attention. It is known in web circles as the CLICK BAIT. It is what compels your audience to explore your story in greater depth. Avoid being too obvious, or too literal. A title like "The story of my superhuman talents and my rise to fame and fortune." would induce nausea in an audience for both its obviousness and its egotism. Besides lacking humility it lacks intrigue. There is nothing to be curious about here other than "what might be going on in the mind of this megalomaniac?" The hook is often embedded in the title of your storied portfolio.

Find and set a "hook" or approach for introducing people to you, your work, your process of thinking, creating and making. This hook should titillate the audience. Ideally, it should grab your audience's attention by creating a sense of mystery, mischief, intrigue or excitement in the viewer—a reason to dive deeper —to compel your audience to "turn the page" and explore your story further..
What is a meta for? Metaphor is a powerful way of exploiting unexpected and, seemingly, un-related imagery and ideas that have the capacity to present your subject matter in a different light—using analogy in order to reveal new aspects of your subject.
Education, for instance, could be represented metaphorically as a journey of exploration and adventure to new, uncharted lands full of wonder, possibility, potential riches…and unforeseen risks!
Storms, then, might represent those unexpected antagonistic events or persons in our journey that hamper or thwart our attempts to fulfill the objectives of our adventures. They can also be lucky accidents that set us off in unanticipated and rewarding directions. Who or what would the lifeboat represent in this scenario?
Metaphorically speaking, Who/what would the compass, the lighthouse, the telescope or the treasure represent? Who might the pirates be in this story?

As you can see metaphor can provide rich imagery and ideas with which to understand and represent your own story. What if education was metaphorically framed as a trip to the dentist? What would that metaphor reveal? Who or what would represent cavities, fillings, false teeth, brushing, flossing, drilling, etc.? It seems a far cry from education but if you try this as an exercise you might be surprised about what it reveals!

Below is a video that shows how Pixar strives to develop ideas for characters and storylines that fall outside of, and challenge, our current perceptions and understanding. These are hooks that make the story more interesting to the audience.

Once you have a hook for your story you should take a look at how to begin structuring it in a way that makes sense.

Basic Structure:

Your story can be structured temporally, if you wish—allowing you to explore the evolution of your development across an expanse of time. Alternatively, you may wish to explore that "special thing" that you are most passionate about and for which you harbour ambitions for the future. You may wish to explore an idea and how your creativity connects to that idea. "Transformation", for instance, is a common theme that explores the journey to and the process of becoming something by transitioning from one state (physically, mentally or conceptually) to another. Whatever approach you decide upon, think about what the main theme of your story is. Is it about: Overcoming Struggle? Exploring the Unknown?, Wrestling with Self-doubt? Winning at all costs?, Beating the odds? Lighting the way? Leading by example?,etc.… Only you will know the answer to that question but it is a question that requires your attention and that should be answered. The answer will lead you to an appropriate metaphor which will help to reveal potential hooks and an eventual title for your Storied Portfolio. This may not happen until much later in the process, so be patient and observe!

What will your TITLE and Subtitle be?

As you ponder what your theme or main idea might be, consider what sort of title would best encapsulate the immanent theme, feeling, sentiment, life lesson or moral of your story. If, say, you harbour a dream to become a game designer and your favourite, first game happened to be Dungeons and Dragons—and you were struggling with believing in whether or not you possessed the talent and drive to see your dream to fruition—then a title like Slaying Dragons may be entirely appropriate. Get creative with your titles. Try not to be too obvious and literal ie. "I want to be a game designer but I'm really not sure I can do it" simply lacks creative flare and would fail to pique the interest of your audience.

Saint George and the Dragon by renaissance painter Tintoretto

Consider an appropriate subtitle. This is often explanatory in nature—alluding to the substance or direction of the story. Using our previous example, using the subtitle "Preparing to forge a career in the world of gaming" dramatically alludes to aspects of the dungeons and dragons world: "preparing" alludes to a knight readying for battle, "forge" alludes to a smith hammering out a glowing steel blade and "world" connects with alternate worlds of fantasy. In this way both the title and the subtitle work to excite and inform the viewer—preparing them for the road that they are about to share with you.

Are you a character in your story?

YOU are the central character in your story. You could formally "write" yourself into the story or remain somewhat detached and objective on the sidelines.

Ultimately, YOU are the main character of your story. You can let your work stand as the sole testament to your creative endeavours or you can "literally" be a part of your story. In all likelihood you are the HERO of your story. If you are going to include yourself in your story then consider whether you will speak in the FIRST PERSON—as if your audience was reading the thoughts in your head. This more personal form requires that you refer to yourself as "I". Alternatively, you could present yourself in a more formal manner using the THIRD PERSON—a narrator who speaks ABOUT you using pronouns like "HE", "SHE", "THEY" or proper names like "Jim". If you choose to feature yourself avoid hagiography (don't over-embellish your strengths and accomplishments) and attempt to make yourself relatable to others by using easy and accessible language. We all know that superheroes are fictional and presenting yourself as one will come across as overblown, egotistical and self-aggrandizing. Keep it real and be humble. As was mentioned earlier, finding the right balance between self-promotion and being humble is the task at hand. It requires that you be subtle. If you are saying things like "I am soooo awesome…" you are definitely heading in the wrong direction! You can avoid being perceived as a braggard by candidly sharing the sort of things that make you human (mistakes made, lessons learned the hard way, fears and foibles, etc.). Being human makes you relatable. That said, don't dwell too much on the negative!

Don't forget to ponder how your world or particular situation was before you decided to change things by shifting your intent to taking action. Consider what event or cricumstances caused you to make those changes and embark on your new adventure. Consider what challenges you faced and how you overcame them to make your world or situation different in some positive way.

Your life and your story are a journey.

Obstacles have been traversed.

Stubborn ones avoided or met head on with difficulty and frustration.

Getting from A to B often seems simple in the beginning but the road is fraught with twists, turns and chicanery!

The ends are lofty, magical and awe inspiring.

Good stories thrive on what is referred to as dramatic tension. This means that there are roadblocks—people (antagonists), events or circumstances (plot twists) that get in the way of the main character (YOU, the protagonist) getting to where they want to end up or achieving what they want to achieve—whether that means landing a dream career or that special someone! Unlike most stories, your story does not have an end, per se. It is constantly being written day-to-day. Your life story is episodic. Your story is …to be continued. Leave us wanting to know more—to binge watch every episode and every season of your story! Look to end the current instalment of your story on a blue-sky day—that is, end by speculating in a positive light about what may lie ahead on the horizon line of your future. It is perfectly legitimate to express one's desires or goals for the future and to remain hopeful that these dreams come to fruition. Hope is that thing that enables us to get up every morning to face the challenges of a new day—always trying, ever moving forward towards our destiny. The capacity to hope and dream are desirable, positive traits in a prospective hire.

Story Scaffolding

Follow this roadmap or story scaffolding to ensure that you have, at least, the minimum requirements for structuring the narrative of your creativity:

A) Title and Subtitle. Consider the advice given earlier regarding these elements. Remember: Ideally, your title should summarize the overall sentiments, opinions or ideas expressed in your story, or, they should connect in some meaningful way to your artistic/philosophical statement (dealt with later on in section D). It should intrigue your audience perhaps by using a degree of ambiguity or mystery that makes us want to explore the details of this story further. To help you in this process ask yourself "Is my story (about my creativity) a story about revolution? defiance? exploration? etc.." Consider the artist Banksy. His urban street art is a mixture of guerrilla warfare and public defiance with a smattering of tongue-and-cheek ironic humour. A portfolio title (if he had one) like "Piss, Paint & Politics" might allude to the fact that he is literally pissed off at society and he uses his spray paint—like his infamous Queen's Guard Pissing mural that unapologetically depicts a royal guard urinating on a wall—to express deviant, anti-normative political views in his work. Consider Van Gogh and his personal struggle with mental illness. The beauty of Van Gogh's work contrasted with the tragic circumstances of his life might lead to a name like "The tragic beauty of a star-filled night" or something to that effect. Get creative with your title. It should not literally state what it is but point to your work in a more abstract metaphorical way. The subtitle will literally denote or clarify what the piece is about. You can initially use a simple working title and change it later after exploring other aspects of your narrative such as your artistic/philosophical statement. This will provide you with more ammunition for coming up with an intriguing title.

B) Autobiographical Information. This should provide details on who you are, where you are geographically situated, what your interest(s) or area(s) of focus are and any other oddball tidbits of information that you would like to share with the world.

C) Your professional and/or academic intent. This should clearly state what path you will most likely consider either through an academic institution (you can name the school and program, for instance) and/or which career paths you intend to explore or which profession you hope to gain a foothold in (If you know of a particular company and job function, you can name those too).

D) Artistic or philosophical perspective. This should articulate how you personally relate to art/design/creativity—what it means to you. This should encompass aspects of your personal philosophy or world view—in particular—look for ways in which to connect your creativity to this perspective—how and why you come up with ideas, which ones are important to you and why and what your creative process is like.

E) Documentation of your creative process. This links to the previous section by providing a detailed glimpse of how you create. You can use a project that you worked on or are currently working on that shows how you approach and generate ideas and visual solutions for those ideas. This can include such things as research references, notes, mood-boards/Pinterest boards, mind-maps, word associations, preliminary doodles, sketches and thumbnails, etc.. You may also wish to add a BUTTON at the end of this section that takes your audience to more of your project documentation on platforms like Behance.

F) Inspirational quotations. Pepper your storied portfolio with quotations that resonate with and help to support the intellectual, emotional, psychological and philosophical dimensions of your story. Ensure that they are placed throughout your portfolio in areas appropriate to their sentiments (if you have a quote from Andy Warhol about everyone in the future enjoying their "15 minutes of fame" it would make sense to have it adjacent to a series of 4 colour studies that are arranged like a Warhol silk screen). Don't simply lump all of your quotations together in one area. Include a minimum of THREE inspirational quotations that help to express your views with respect to art/creativity/design (be sure to attribute the source of the quotation).


We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children

—Native American proverb (anonymous).

G) A concluding paragraph. This should sum up or synthesize what you have been trying to say and show in your portfolio. Because a portfolio is always a living work in progress, your paragraph can be a closing sentiment that leaves the door open to what may follow—tantalizing the audience with a sense of curiosity that leaves them wondering and wanting more—feeling positive about the potential outcomes of your activity. If you were a TV or Netflix series the audience should want to binge on you!

H) Contact information. This should include a method of contact This can be an address, phone number, email contact, social media handles, web url, or all of the above (where appropriate). As an option you can simply include a link to your Behance home page or to an Adobe Portfolio site with instructions to contact you there via personal messaging. This keeps your contact information private.

Gather images of your artwork.

CURATING: Select works that help to visually support what you are trying to say in your narrative and embed those images in the appropriate places within the narrative.

PROCESSING: These should be of the highest quality. Ensure that the images are adequately lit, cropped and post-processed in either Adobe Lightroom or Adobe Photoshop. You may consider re-shooting your images if they are of insufficient quality. NOTE: This criteria will be heavily weighted in the assessment.

Refer to Matt Greer's excellent BLOG on photographing artwork by clicking HERE.

Build an Adobe Spark Page.

Go to spark.adobe.com, log in and CLICK on the BLUE BUTTON with the BLUE CIRCLE containing the "+" sign to add content. You will SELECT WEB PAGE as the workflow. Many suggestions for existing templates will be presented to you but give yourself the challenge of building your own from scratch.

Assemble your text and images as outlined below. Experiment with the different forms of layout (especially features such as GlideShow, Grids and Buttons). It is beneficial to show ALL of your featured works using one GRID as a sort of overview image and then resort to using the GlideShow to provide intimate close-ups of the work with scrollable side panels containing Pop-Up text and images to help dive deeper into your subject matter.


The grid can show a bird's eye view of a collection of works that could be used to open up or summarize a section of related works like photography or illustration. These images could be explored with greater intimacy using the GlideShare feature.

Images should almost always have CAPTIONS to assist the viewer with understanding what it is that they are looking at.


GlideShare uses a presentation technique known as "parallax scrolling" that moves foreground objects at a different speed than images in the background. This gives the look and feel of staring out the window of a moving car. GlideShare allows for up-close and intimate engagement with your work. It is a way of showing your work in layers using interesting, scroll-based cross-dissolves with accompanying scrollable text and image inserts that can help to dig deeper into a subject by providing side commentary.

Example of Text & Image Interplay in a GlideShare.

I LIVE and BREATHE typography. I literally have type tatooed on my skin!

The ampersand is a simplified abstraction of the word "and". It is a highly stylized ligature formed by the fusion of the letters "et" meaning "and" in French!

The ampersand is the promise of something more. The conjoining of two parts to create a union with a new singular meaning and identity. To me this is the essence of what good design should seek to do—to bring together and unify parts in a shared message conveyed through symbolic means.


The word Symbol is derived from the Greek "Symbalein" which, literally, means coming together. A symbol, when it works well, brings together two disparate entities and unites them in one binding meaning or common understanding. The symbol is the stock and trade of the designer. It is the lingua franca of the communications business.

The ancient "Tally Stick" was split into two pieces. The stick featured quantifiable notches and key written information that formed the basis of a mutual agreement. The complementary split edges conformed perfectly to one another such that no forgery could be made. Both parties retained identical and complimentary copies of the original agreement that could be brought together in a court of law to ascertain the substance of the agreement.

I collect antique block type which I use for creating custom typographic posters.

This was selected for its relevance to our storytelling course.

Draw us into the world of your work…

by providing up-close, intimate views of your work as well as images of you ideating, and creating.

Intimacy reveals passion.

Intimacy shows pride.

Intimacy reveals important details.

Consider how one image will transition into another. Look to create interesting juxtapositions.

Attempt to sequence images in a manner that tells a story of its own like the evolution of your work from beginning to end or something else entirely.


Use the typographic styles and formatting available to you to help organize your text by crafting visual hierarchies of importance using Headings, Sub-headings, quotations, Bold, Italic, etc.




Body copy featuring Bold, Italic and Bold Italic.

SHARE and submit your work for grading.

CLICK the SHARE icon and SELECT PUBLISH & SHARE LINK then COPY the URL. In the Blackboard LMS you should CLICK on the WRITE SUBMISSION button and PASTE the URL (CTRL + V) into the field then CLICK SUBMIT. NOTE: Every time that you edit your Spark Page you should CLICK the SHARE BUTTON again in order to select the UPDATE LINK and re-publish your work.

CLICK on the Update link text shown above to refresh the URL with any new content that you have added.

NOTE: You can also PRINT your Spark Page provided that you are using the Google Chrome browser.


A note regarding student work: The following examples represent good work. This is not to be taken as "perfect". These are NOT blueprints for getting an A. They are not without their flaws, so, they are merely given to show you what "good" looks like. Of course, this gives you an advantage over those who did not benefit from a peek behind the curtain, so, "good" for you should represent taking what you see here further—besting them in some significant way.


Created with images by MMT - "graffiti wall mural painting arts colorful urban" • Jon Ashcroft - "The Moon" • Patents Wall Art - "Fish Bait Patent from 1914" • dierken - "The Raven and the Pitcher - Richard Heighway" • Unsplash - "books pages story stories notes reminder remember" • Lajoso - "Caravel" • ErgSap - "courbet_stormy_sea_1869" • Barby Dalbosco - "Antique gold compass" • werner22brigitte - "spain lighthouse landmark" • InspiredImages - "pirate sailor captain ship sea hat adventure" • geralt - "treasure treasure chest euro coins money cash" • rick - "marquee" • Cea. - "[ T ] Tintoretto - St. George and the Dragon (1555-58)" • GlitterandFrills - "Whimsy Storybook Fairy" • GlitterandFrills - "Vintage Storybook Dutch Girl - Domino Magnet" • aitoff - "superman lego superhero hero super man clark" • ErikaWittlieb - "wonder woman superhero strong strength costume hero" • USAG-Humphreys - "Storybook Character Parade – U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys – 31 October 2012" • USAG-Humphreys - "Storybook Character Parade at HCES - U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys, South Korea - 31 Oct 20213" • USAG-Humphreys - "Storybook Character Parade – U.S. Army Garrison Humphreys – 31 October 2012" • Cristiano Betta - "Heroes" • Kees Streefkerk - "The corner" • Global Jet - "heatwave sunset; Astoria Park" • andryone - "IMG_1145.JPG" • Tanner Larson - "Cloudy Road" • Alexander Andrews - "untitled image" • 3112014 - "scaffolding workers construction site scaffold structure construction" • Biswajit Das Kunst - "Design-III" • D.C.Atty - "design" • skeeze - "windows building pattern modern architecture design sequence" • olafpictures - "belgium antwerp office building harbor havenhuis architecture" • Hans - "milwaukee art museum museum of fine arts" • GLady - "mosaic tile art ceramic colorful decorative design" • thinkleft - "Ampersand tattoos." • adactio - "Ampersand" • tranmautritam - "book desk typography" • Unsplash - "woodtype wood blocks wood type type vintage" • Brett Jordan - "Dreams" • wilhei - "font lead set book printing gutenberg letters" • wilhei - "font lead set book printing gutenberg letters" • adactio - "Typography" • !!!! scogle - "Think Typography Poster" • terimakasih0 - "letter g g alphabet font letter type" • Free Grunge Textures - www.freestock.ca - "Target Grunge Symbol" • Tyler Neyens - "Do not Fear Scripture"