The foul weather reminds me. But then again, the scorching hot weather brings up the same memories. Both make me think of our first two portfolios.

Matte acrylic and metal

It was 25 years ago, one Fall evening in downtown Toronto. I can still feel that freezing rain and the icy wind. And even now, I could recreate the path I followed that day, when I went shopping for a special binder – one that would finally secure my first job on my third continent.

The year was 1996. I had just finished a two-month career development course, after a long and futile attempt at job searching. Handing me the certificate, my career developer had told me to urgently put together a professional portfolioPortfolio A presentable selection of a creative person's best works, prepared with care and updated often. It's the most important promotional material a creative individual can show to prospects. Long ago, creatives would carry large, heavy albums with work samples to job interviews or other meetings with gatekeepers. They'd invest time and money in them - the scanning, the printing, the sturdy binders - none of that was cheap. A digital portfolio can now be made easily, in any presentation app. There are templates to start from, in Google Docs, MS PowerPoint or its alternatives, or on Canva and similar platforms. There are also affordable ways to make a simple portfolio website - on one's own, or by hiring a professional Web designer., because he had a potential opening for me.

I desperately wanted to stay in my line of work. At that point, I had more than ten years of advertising experience and some notable successes, in Europe and in Asia. But nobody in Canada knew anything about it. Without proof of previous work, my experience was useless.

But, as a former refugee from former Yugoslavia, living on government assistance, I could barely afford to buy a presentable binder. Standard office binders would likely fit my measly budget, but certainly not my standards.

My portfolio had to reflect my creative side, my affinity for tech and my innovation streak. So my husband suggested that I check out the downtown art supplies stores, where aesthetics and cool are a given.

That evening, I must have visited them all. At the very last one, at a bottom shelf, very close to closing time, I spotted a black four-ring acrylic binder with a quirky red clip, unlike any I had ever seen. And I knew that it would be my portfolio for life.

As luck would have it, its price matched my meager budget. There was even some change, so I was able to purchase sheets of smooth black cardboard to insert into clear pockets, to protect my precious work samples and make them stand out.

The samples were another challenge, though I no longer remember much about that step. I have been an early adopter of computers, so I had several floppy disks with all my files (the soft, big ones you could bend).

I must have printed the select samples in a local print shop (I acquired my first printer the following year – before anyone else I knew had one at home. It’s in my cellar now; it still works, if needed).

Within a week, I got the job. I became a writer for a small printing & advertising agency downtown.

Cardboard, bamboo and silk

My husband’s portfolio, with his original large works of art on paper, was wedged between us on our 24-hour relocation flight between Colombo and Toronto, two years earlier. Our toddler had to tolerate it the whole time and not spill anything on that priceless paper stash.

We couldn’t risk losing or damaging those works, so we did not check them in with our luggage. It was a struggle, but we convinced the airline personnel to let us bring in that bulky album into the aircraft’s cabin.

We could not afford to buy a proper document case, one with handles, a zipper and a tiny lock. We had simply used two pieces of flat cardboard and taped them with clear tape all around.

Still, we needed to carry that makeshift portfolio easily, as heavy as it had been. The wrapped cardboard was slippery and hard to hold; it had no handle or anything else we could grab firmly. So we inserted a thick bamboo stick lengthwise and used its ends as handles.

Now we needed a shoulder strap, because walking through airports with a three-year-old requires agility and nimbleness at all times. We braided some rope we had on hand and thought we’d solved the problem.

It turned out that local rope, made of short coconut fibers, could not sustain the weight of those large, thick papers. Our strap snapped even before the check-in in Colombo.

It was very early Sunday morning. No airport store was open. We were breaking sweat, either because the weather was humid and oven-hot, or because we were now running late. We had to think quickly.

From one of our suitcases, I pulled out the thin black belt made of silk, which belonged to my one-of-a-kind, hand-sown kimono that my father had commissioned for my last peace-time birthday. The war in the Balkans broke out shortly thereafter and we soon left in a hurry.

There was nothing else on hand. My black belt had to do the trick. It did.

That delicate silk strap sustained the weight of my husband’s unique, heavy-duty cardboard slab for long enough, across two oceans. It eventually did tear, irreparably, but luckily we had reached our destination.

About a year later, we applied for subsidized housing at an artists’ co-op. My husband showed his artwork and we were approved. We moved in, freshly a four-member family by then.

We ended up living there for years. That opportunity greatly enhanced my husband’s later work and made a lasting impact on our two kids.


Nowadays, I spend maybe a couple of hours, now and then, updating my digital portfolio. My late husband’s portfolio lies on top of a wardrobe, waiting for me to scan all the artwork it holds.

There are two more collections of his later works on paper – in proper faux-leather cases, with separators, handles and zippers – all three portfolios slowly collecting dust.

My husband has died almost 10 years ago. From time to time, I look through his papers and then briefly it feels as if he is still alive.

It’s funny how each of us may have a favorite pen, a pair of glasses we like, or a wallet we cherish. And, in contrast, our old portfolios are parked somewhere in a box, a drawer, or on top shelves, neglected and ignored. And yet they hold the best versions of us, and hold them duly, long after we’re gone.

How’s your portfolio doing these days? Do you know how easy it is to create it, or update it, nowadays? How lightly it travels anywhere? Go show it that you care.

Somebody recently asked me to forward my son’s portfolio for their consideration. I promised I would. He promised he would put one together, soon.

Maybe he feels he doesn’t really need one. His CV and a couple of links from the first SERPs seem to do the trick.

But digital obsolescence destroys traces of our work a lot faster that even the hardships of our real life tend to do. We can only control our possessions and our physical portfolios.

We cannot control our digital footprint fully. The frequent upgrading of technology is like a permanent icy blizzard. Nothing can outlast it.

There are also the thorny issues of copyright ownership. You’d better uphold contractual small print and standard best practices around collaborations, contract work, employment and gigs.

Then there’s the fine art of crafting your micro case studies. Those are the brief stories about each sample you selected. What your challenge was and how you have solved it – those words add layers to what you present.

Could you maybe use help with your portfolio? A quick online training might be all that you need. Just let us know if you are interested. No strings attached.

Drop us a quick note with key details and we will get in touch.