Today we met with former Head of Art Buying at M&C Saatchi, Choi Liu. Not only has Choi held one of the most influential Art Buying roles in the country, she is also regularly called upon to judge high-profile photographic competitions, including D&AD Professional Awards & Student Awards and Creative Review Photographic Annual. Now Choi runs her own successful Creative Consultation business. With only 20 minutes in her hectic schedule, we cut straight to what she does, how she does it, and what we can to do our portfolio photo books to get her attention.
Blurb: How does an Art Buyer spend the working day?
Choi: I am by definition the person in an advertising agency or commercial art studio who buys art (photos, illustrations etc.) for use in print ads etc. The thing I love about Art Buying is that no two days are the same. In between looking at briefs and answering calls and emails from agents and photographers, I’ll be viewing portfolios and keeping up to date on who’s currently working on what.
I expect to see each photographer or agent every six months. Some agents can bring in up to 10 portfolios, which is fine as I have a very good memory for names. The amazingly talented Tiger Savage always used to describe someone’s work in great detail and say “Choi, who’s the photographer you showed me a year ago?” and mostly I would remember – it’s just like being on Mastermind sometimes!
Every day photographers ask me how to get their portfolios to the top of the pile. I have three ideas for this:
- Be concise: Send a few images or a website link by email. Keep the message short and forget the hard sell – the work should speak for itself.
- Get out there: Go and meet with Art Buyers and Directors personally and take your printed portfolio. It is from these relationships that you’re most likely to get the job.
- Get personal: I always prefer viewing personal projects rather than commissioned work, as it tells you more about the person and their passions.
Blurb: Given you receive 10 portfolios per meeting at times; you must see lots of different styles of book. Here are three very different printed Blurb portfolios1 – a photographer, a designer, and an architect. What do you think about the presentation?
Vincenzo Barilari, Photographer
Choi: The cut-out image of car on the front of the portfolio immediately tells me the subject is one of travel, so it’s a really clear message and I like the different categories Vincenzo has used.
Choi: Again, from the front cover I instantly get a sense of what’s to follow. It’s a well thought out and uncluttered book, which gives the viewer a clear message of what this portfolio represents.
What I understood most was how the style of the work would translate very well into a variety of different industries: fashion, graphic design and textiles, etc.
Derek Pirozzi, Architect
Choi: In this portfolio, the mixture of different media – photographs, sketches, writing – adds an interesting texture, as do the changing layouts. I always find myself reminding people that less is often more. The purpose of a portfolio is to give the audience a snapshot of what you’re about and your potential. It’s good to tease them into meeting with you and finding out more.
And finally, the five-minute Q & A:
Blurb: Favourite advert ever?
Choi: I don’t have a favourite ad. One recent ad I love is Old Spice “Your man could smell like me.” It’s brilliant and so funny, it makes me laugh out loud each time I see it.
Blurb: What do you hate?
Choi: Bad manners – “please” and “thank you” are very simple words that mean so much.
Blurb: Career Plan B?
Choi: Running my own gallery showing a mix of photography, illustration, and contemporary craft where you can drink excellent quality teas.
Blurb: Guilty pleasure?
Blurb: Mac or PC?
Choi: Always been a PC girl until two years ago – now I understand why the Mac is so amazing!
Blurb: Print or digital?
Choi: Print, print, print.
Blurb: Favourite city?
Choi: Tokyo is such an exciting city, a 24-hour melting pot of past, present, and future. Amidst all the futuristic advancement and fast pace, Tokyo still maintains a traditional past, rich in history and culture. Plus I can have sushi every day!
Blurb: Where do you call home?
Blurb: Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Choi: There’s a couple: On leaving my junior school, the Headmaster wrote in one of my books, “Whatever you do, do with your might. Things done by half are never done right”. The other is, “Be good to those on your way up, you never know who you will meet on your way down.”
Blurb: Your tip from the top?
Choi: Don’t just sit around thinking, go with your gut feeling and get on with it.
Thanks to Choi Liu for giving us the inside scoop on portfolio prestige. To get in touch with her or see some of the work she has curated, please visit her website.