Breathing Fire and Other Skills

Po Bhattacharyya
6 min readJan 7, 2018

The diary of a portfoliomaker

Friday, Aug 25: Here I am, in Pittsburgh, on a muggy blue evening. Carnegie Mellon smells of sweat and wet paint. A salesman in a banana suit waves at me from a street corner. I ignore him. The museum is closed, and the only indie cafe within walking distance does not have wifi.

I guess I’ll start working on my portfolio tomorrow.

Wednesday, Aug 30: Ask me why I’m doing this. Go on. With all the wonders available to a queer brown alien in this great country, why do I choose to spend time making a portfolio? Well, sooner rather than later, I’ll need a job, and designers without portfolios don’t get hired. That’s not all: I want a quaint cabin on a cliff, and I’m in the market for a mate. I wish to nest.

As a side note, I want my mate to be just like my portfolio: not conventionally beautiful, but with exquisite facial bones. In portfolios and in love, I do not seek pretty grapes that wither into raisins. I’m in it for the long haul. Get me a husky coconut I can sail across the choppy seas.

Sunday, Sep 3: After a late lunch, I make myself a cup of Darjeeling. Out on the backyard, in the far flung shade of afternoon, I begin reading Steinbeck’s Cannery Row for the sixth time. I drift off to sleep a few pages in. When I awaken, my procrastination has turned into surrealist prose. There is a sentence at the crown of my consciousness:

A portfolio is a painting, a cocktail, a breaking wave, a wisp of smoke, a lie, an argument, a peacock, a scream.

Wednesday, Sep 13: A new project, a fresh slate. Here we go. I’ll lead with my name. It’s a long one, and I’m trying to own it. Pathikrit or Po? Should I include the pronunciation? Definitely Po. Shall I throw in pop-culture references? Kung Fu Panda, Edgar Allen, the Teletubbies, the river in Italy I crossed last winter. Po, I am told, is the German word for butt. Is it too early to be funny? Okay, I’m getting hung up on details again. Deep breaths, zoom out. I’m hungry. Focus.

Monday, Sep 25: I stagger out of a meeting with the director of my graduate program. My heart is pounding. Bumblebees are thrumming against my skull. I am searching for the root of my distress; I can’t quite put my finger on it. I suspect that a psychologist somewhere has a name for my condition, but I do not need to know this name, not yet, thank you very much.

Saturday, Oct 7: I am five weeks into design school, and my classmates and I are doggy-paddling in an ocean full of ostentatious creatures. These are beings from a fern-covered mountain, the descendants of dragons, who speak of such things as disruption, value propositions, and self-referential heresy. These creatures hurl their thoughts like knives, and the projections of their chiseled egos cast shadows on the exoplanets. I feel intimidated by the might of their prodigious work, by the trail of their meteoric trajectories, terrified even, especially when I encounter the battering rams of their arsenal: their portfolios.

Monday, Oct 16: Happy birthday, little brother! I can’t believe you’re twenty-four already. Tell me about your day so that I may momentarily escape mine. Did you know that CSS is an instrument of oppression created by evil oligarchs to imprison the masses in fishbowls of mediocrity?

Monday, Oct 23: What’s your favorite word? I think mine is colophon. It has a nice subversive ring to it, don’t you think? You’re never quite sure how to pronounce it. The word is interesting enough to sound dirty and complex enough not to appear in a Trump tweet. It’s a gurgling mountain stream that might give you Giardia. Colophon is the albatross of phonetics, the drag queen of the dictionary. I’m sure you’re dying to know what it means.

colophon n. a statement, usually at the end of a document, that provides information about how that document was created.

Perhaps one day, when I’m done making my portfolio, I will write a colophon for it.

Friday, Oct 27: You know what? I’m perfectly okay stealing others’ ideas. Yes, I too shall have animated typography on my landing page. Thank you, Irene Alvarado. I’m not a biologist anymore, goddammit. I’m now part of a profession that swears by the Picasso quote “Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Picasso is a scumbag, but thankfully, despite Hannah Gadsby, it is still socially acceptable to dissociate talented men from their humanity. Plus I have to admit it that I rather like this quote. I only wish it were more effective at keeping our egos in check.

Wednesday, Nov 1: It’s never too early to dole out advice. Who cares if I’m only half-way through building my own portfolio? Today I shared wisdom with a rookie more rookie than I. Hear me neigh:

There are three popular ways to build a design portfolio:

1. Use a service such as Squarespace or Wix: This approach is safe, quick, and requires no coding. However, the flexibility is limited; if the layout pony-train is headed toward brutalism, that’s where you’ll have to go.

2. Modify an existing theme: This approach builds on an existing html/css/js template, which allows you to stand on the shoulders of nerdy web-design giants. But websites are easy to break, so you’ll have to know what you’re doing or have someone around who does. Google is your friend.

3. Build a website from scratch: This approach is complicated, time-intensive, and ultimately both frustrating and rewarding. If you’re a designer, most people who view your portfolio don’t care whether you built it from scratch, but go right ahead I say, especially if you’re an unemployed sorcerer.

Sunday, Nov 12: My roommate, a computer whiz who owns a kangaroo-leather whip, is making pizza for dinner. Afterwards, he has promised to help me fix my website’s most cancerous bugs. He is an angel. What would I do without Gaurav?

Tuesday, Nov 21: Halloween is almost here. I’m not scared at all. Not one bit. My deadlines are my own, and no one else judges me for missing them. I didn’t really sleep last night. I was tinkering with a project page that no one will ever visit. Now it looks perfect. Yay! Except for that one GIF I still need to make. I’ll make it tonight.

Sunday, Dec 3: I just published a draft of my portfolio. Github was being a git for a minute there, but everything seems to be in order now. I think I’m most excited about the About section, which is a string of short paragraphs that walk you through the highlights of my life — the whole gamut from middle-school pimples to the balding present day.

Tuesday, Dec 5: Today, I weaved an API spell to make articles from my blog magically appear on my portfolio. The whole thing took three hours to implement: one hour of doubting myself, one hour of Googling, and thirty minutes each of coding and debugging. Tada! Now I have an echo chamber all to myself. Amazing.

Friday, Dec 8: I think I’m done. What next? Iterate! Iterate! Iterate! Just kidding. I recently purchased a membership to a bikram yoga studio near my house. I also enjoy baking bread and watching movies in bed.

Thursday, Dec 14: I feel an emptiness in my days. Not again! A project that consumed me for months on end is finally over. I’ve been visiting my portfolio a couple times a day. What am I looking for? A typo to fix? An image that isn’t quite right? Sometimes, in this world of bleached reefs and leukemia, when I awaken to the inanity of repeatedly polishing a personal ornament, I am ashamed of myself. At other times, I feel proud of what I have accomplished. The reality, as always, is somewhere in the middle, my precious.