The Chicago Portfolio School


Our school's a little different. But, so are you, otherwise you wouldn't be here. Try on a few eyeballs and check out Chicago Portfolio School.

See it through the eyes of:

What’s in my Office Thursday: Madeline Maser

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet Madeline Maser, Freelance Designer, Illustrator & Photographer at Hausfrau – a comedy/photography magazine in Brooklyn, NY.

Check out her advice below:

“My biggest career goal has always been to be able to combine my passions (art and comedy) and use them in a way that I can make a living. Chicago Portfolio really helped me figure out how that can be done. I learned how to hone my aesthetic so it was more commercially viable, and I learned many tricks of the trade and insights into the fields of design and advertising that I would have never picked up on my own.”

“My classmates and I truly bonded and I made some amazing friends that have and still do lend a hand, both professionally and personally. I landed an internship at Walrus NYC with one of my favorite Copywriters/humans Brett Williams, and then decided to stick around in Brooklyn to pursue my passions. Currently I work (mostly) from home as a Freelance Illustrator, Photographer and Editorial Assistant for Hausfrau Magazine, a start-up venture that celebrates Brooklyn-based comedy, photography and art/media. I’m very thankful to Chicago Portfolio for leading me in that direction!”

“As for advice, I would say to not be afraid to get weird. Some, if not a majority, of the best work is that which challenges the audience and goes beyond the norm. Give your audience the benefit of the doubt.  They do not need to be spoon-fed. A good campaign or design is one that makes you think and sticks with you, or at the very least contains something new and exciting. We are constantly bombarded with mediocrity.  Challenge yourself to make work that will chip away at the current status quo.”

By heather : August 28, 2014

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A Student Feature: Bonnie Culhane

Welcome to week numero tres of our student profile segment!  I recently interviewed 4th quarter copywriter Bonnie Culhane. Bonnie’s a cool gal who’s always down to give advice to 2nd quarter youngins’ like me, so I thought – why not pay it forward by featuring her on the blog?

Bonnie and I talked a lot about the personality traits that make for a good copywriter. “Copywriters need to be inherently curious and always have an opinion on things, and I also think it’s important for them to be empathetic.”

Well said, Bonnie – especially, the inherently curious part. As a copywriter, art director or designer, you’re faced with a wide scope of projects. You could be working on anything from diapers, to light bulbs, to… funeral homes. So being a naturally curious person will go a long way.

Back to Bonnie - she chose to show us an integrated campaign for Fireball Cinnamon Whiskey that she completed with fellow copywriter Melanie Sims and art director Eric Pagsanjan.

Here’s one of their print ads for the campaign:

“It came from the insight that Fireball is something young people drink while partying. It’s not like other whiskies that old people sit down to drink by the fireplace. The tagline at the bottom is Put Some Fire on Your Chest, which obviously plays off of Put Some Hair on Your Chest… making it all about the idea that Fireball gets people at the bar pumped up and ready to make moves.”

And here’s a clever ambient ad idea:

If you would like to peruse Bonnie’s other work, her portfolio is at (which was custom-designed by her friend!)

Thanks for tunin’ in.

Written by: Amanda Burger

By heather : August 25, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Dan Donahue, Colleen Keesey & Sarah Dembkowski

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet a dynamic trio of Creative Interns at DDB Chicago – Dan Donahue, Colleen Keesey and Sarah Dembkowski.  They decided to share some words of wisdom together, along with a group selfie – the more, the merrier!

Check out their advice below:

“If any part of you thinks your idea could be better, make it better. It could be the difference between being killed and being sold.” -  Dan Donahue, Copywriter Intern @ DDB

“Make a habit of getting to school by 1 p.m. if possible everyday, especially when you think you have nothing to do. Boredom and creativity go hand in hand.” - Colleen Keesey, Art Director Intern @ DDB

“Be aggressive with your ideas.  It’s easier to scale them back a few notches than try to make them more interesting. Brainstorming-wise, don’t be that guy/girl that stomps an idea into oblivion. Even if the idea seems totally bizarre, keep the ball rolling and try to find a nugget to work off.  There’s nothing that kills creativity or chemistry within a group quite like someone shooting down everything. Oh, and be nice to your art director.” - Sarah Dembkowski, Copywriter Intern @ DDB

By heather : August 21, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Matt Whiting

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet Matt Whiting, Product Design Consultant at Slalom Consulting and former Designer for yours truly – Chicago Portfolio School, of course.

Check out his advice below:

“My primary advice to outgoing CPS students would be in regard to how I see digital being presented in many of the portfolios I review.”

“When including digital comps in your book don’t think of them as simply an addition to a print campaign but as a primary driver of your narrative or concept. Think of them as sequential art where A leads to B leads to C. Employers want to see that you can think in terms of user stories and user flows and can design interactions that will facilitate these stories. Good luck and if you have a great digital book come and see me!”

By heather : August 13, 2014

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A Feature Friday: 2nd Quarter Copywriter, Kevin Tosi

“Get a side project,” they said.

“It will help you get a job,” they said.

“Don’t forget to wear pants in public,” they said.

Good ol’ CPS, always looking out for us creatives.

We have all heard the importance of having a side project in our book to show a little bit more about who you are as a creative person outside of advertising, as well as proving that you can see a project through to completion. Kevin Tosi (2nd quarter CW) has taken that advice to heart and produced his own animated web-series in which he writes and animates all the material himself.

I recently had the chance to ask Kevin about “Quirks” and the relationship between school work and side projects.

“It’s mostly a great distraction, but the two still coincide. I’ve learned at CPS how important it is to be concise and to the point with an idea. Since starting in April, I’ve found myself cutting more and more nonsense out of my writing. So that’s good. Thanks, school.”

Thanks, school indeed.

It’s not easy to balance the time of school and outside creative endeavors though—

“All in all, it takes about a month and a half to make one. About 10 percent is writing it, the rest is drawing and animating. I don’t consider myself by any means an animator, so that part is extremely time-consuming.”

Check out Quirks at and follow him @UnkleKevy on twitter.

Written by: Jeff Polaschek

By heather : August 08, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Maricarmen Mercado

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum Maricarmen Mercado, Junior Art Director at DDB Mexico.  Maricarmen was one of our international students from Mexico City who recently moved back to her home country – where she now has a rockin’ gig!

Check out her advice below:

“Let go. If for any reason your idea is not working, don’t be afraid to start all over again. A new and probably better idea will arise. Most of the time, the ideas you love will find enemies out there, so don’t waste your time and energy on them.  Eventually they will find their place.”

By heather : August 07, 2014

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A Feature Friday: 2nd Quarter Design Student, Alina Greab

IF YOU READ THIS BLOG AT ALL, you know that Chicago Portfolio School often interviews alumni for the “What’s in my office Thursday” segment. Which is wonderful! But, wouldn’t it also be wonderful to hear from CPS students while they’re still in school?

I present to you (drumroll please)… the first ever CPS student profile.

Today’s “interview” features Alina Greab, a 2nd Quarter Designer:

Me: Tell me a bit about yourself.

Alina: I was born in Romania and moved here with my family when I was 5 because we won the lottery.

Me: The money lottery?

Alina: No, no, no – Literally, we won the chance to come to America. We all got green cards.

Me: OoOoOh. I gotcha.

Alina: So we came here and I’ve been awesome ever since.

Me: TRUE DAT, yo. Where did you go to college?

Alina: I went to University of Illinois in Chicago and majored in marketing and spanish.

Me: So what brought you to CPS after graduating?

Alina: The bars. HA, just kidding. I was in yearbook club in high school, so I’ve always had graphic design in the back of my mind. But I’m an idiot and didn’t major in it, so CPS seemed like the best thing to do next.

Me: Right. Do you have a favorite project you’ve worked on in school so far?

Alina: Yeah! Last quarter I was in a “Basic Logo” class and we had to redesign the logo for Sultan’s market, a fast food Mediterranean place in Chicago. We worked on our logos the whole quarter and it was exciting to see them grow.


Me: So what would you say the logo is supposed to be of?

Alina: It’s supposed to be some sort of onion… but it also alludes to Muslim architecture because it’s dome – shaped, like the Taj Mahal. It also is reminiscent of flames… cooking uses flames, ya dig?

Me: I dig! Thanks. Before you leave for class, do you have any tips you want to leave for new/future students?

Alina: Yeah. I think what’s so great about portfolio school is the constant feedback you get from amazing people in the industry. So just really listen to them and take it all into consideration. It only helps your work get better.

Interview by: Amanda Burger

By heather : August 01, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Lisa Chau

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum Lisa Chau, Strategy Intern at Ogilvy & Mather, where she has a “kick-ass office with a BEAUTIFUL view of the river”!  Chau exemplifies a different end of the spectrum post CPS life – focusing on strategy rather than creativity.

Check out her advice below:

“I originally studied Copywriting at CPS, so it’s safe to say that an education from CPS will get you places, even if you decide being a creative isn’t for you.”

“I was pretty persistent in asking my former CPS teachers to get me in touch with planners and strategists once I realized planning was the best fit for me. I met with about 10-15 strategists for informational meetings, and I was able to score an internship without any real planning experience at one of the best agencies in the world. It’s really about reaching out to people, keeping in touch with them, and knowing how to sell yourself and your experiences.”

“My advice is to always ask questions if you don’t understand what’s going on. Half the time, it’s figuring out all the industry jargon and acronyms. Secondly, always offer to help your managers. People in advertising are ALWAYS busy, and they’ll definitely appreciate the offer. It takes time getting the hang of everything, but this is what internships are for - to learn and improve. Also, take advantage of the free stuff (especially if it’s ice cream).”

*Attached is a picture of me eating free ice cream in our amazing intern planning nook/office.

By heather : July 31, 2014

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What’s in my Office Thursday: Ana Karina Da Silva

What’s in my Office Thursday: Meet CPS Alum Ana Karina Da Silva, Copywriter Intern at Lapiz Leo Burnett - Chicago.  Ana was one of our international students all the way from Venezuela!

Check out her advice below:

For all of those souls working on their portfolio right now, I would say take advantage of having the time to come up with the best ideas you can. There’s no budget limits, no media buying limits and no clients saying what you should do. So basically, there aren’t many rules at school – the teachers will guide you with the brand’s mandatories.

Producing your own book is amazing because you can show who you really are through your ideas. I think that’s the most important part – crafting your criteria, your sense of humor and bringing part of your personality to the table. Because at the end of the day, people will remember how you made them feel with your idea rather than the idea itself.

A lot of this process has to do with yourself and your spirit. If you aren’t happy with something, ditch it and work on what you feel is the strongest area. But don’t forget to listen to the mother of all ideas: research and feedback. Pay attention to what the teachers you admire say and keep thinking on how to take your idea further. This will give you the confidence to truly know what’s a good idea and what’s not.

I think this business is a matter of intuition and confidence, so listen to your gut and try to stick with it. If it doesn’t work – just keep going. It will come out eventually.

By heather : July 24, 2014

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Congrats Best of Quarter Spring 2014 Winners!

Despite what your mom told you, everyone is not always a winner. This isn’t T-ball.

The time has come and the Best of Quarter winners have been announced. Congratulations to the victors:

Best Art Direction - Colleen Keesey
Best Design - Becca Ray
Best Headline - Eric Russell
Best Concept Team - Colleen Keesey and Rose Schuchat

Great ads, by great people. The work is smart, funny, and had some attitude, which we like.  In a school where concept is king, design took a backseat to no one as clever ideas were held up by crafty design.

Be sure and stop by the 4th floor and check out the winners. This is work that we all are striving for, and not just to match it, but to beat it. The goal of all of this is to keep getting better and to keep pushing. If you see any of the winners around this week, give them a smile and high five. Tell them they did a great job, but know deep down in your heart… you are coming for them.

You can view the rest of the winners’ work at:

Written by: Jeff Polaschek

By heather : July 22, 2014

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