When it comes to creating a strong portfolio, confidence is key. The more you can stand behind your work, the better received the work will be. This is true of anything we do in life. Our own confidence inspires confidence in others.
How do we gain that confidence, and how do we project it? That’s what this outline is for. These are my methods for creating a strong portfolio that I can feel good about.
I’ve been an artist for 11 years with a successful business for 10 of them. Five years ago I began attending portfolio reviews, and my work has only improved since then. In fact, it was a review that got me to create my first award-winning series. After that, it was a review that got me a book deal. I’ve had harsh criticism and soft, been praised and hugged and ignored. The gamut has been run!
I want you to go into crafting a portfolio with a good sense of what images to choose, how to print them, how to present them, and how to stand behind your decisions. Portfolios are useful for so many things. It’s your business card as an artist and the way you introduce the world to your work. You can create a portfolio in print, on social media, on your website, or any other way you choose!
Here is an outline I made to help with the portfolio process. I hope this helps, and if it does, let me know! In fact, leave a link to your portfolio in the comments!
Choosing images for your portfolio
- Think like a gallery owner (or whomever
you’re going to show your portfolio to!)
- Galleries, magazines, clients, etc., mostly want cohesion. They want someone who is known for something, who will deliver that thing excellently, and who will give them direction. All of this comes from understanding your niche.
- Multiple styles
- If you have multiple styles, keep them well separated or only show the style that most pertains to the person you’re showing your portfolio to. Don’t mix them.
- Choose your strongest images
- Don’t know which are strongest? Ask a diverse group of people, and then ask them why. Ask people who do what you do, who have no idea what you do, and in between. The people who know how to create can look technically. The people who have no idea how you do what you do can look conceptually and emotionally. And anyone else is a bonus.
of having an awesome portfolio is understanding intuitively and intellectually
which images are strong. You should not rely on others to choose for you, and
if you do, you have a lot of work to do in understanding your craft.
- Start by looking at which images speak to you the most and that you were most excited to create.
- Narrow that down by then asking which are technically strongest – that matters A LOT.
- Finally, choose 2-3 images that are both emotionally strong and technically strong. Use those as your flagship images.
- If you feel overwhelmed in choosing your strongest images, try studying your medium. Look into classic examples of well-received and critically acclaimed art. Dissect that like you’re in a classroom and ask yourself why they were applauded for their work. Chances are there are books about these people or at the least, blogs, that go into detail about their merit.
- How many images should you choose?
- In my experience, choosing anywhere from 10-30 images for a printed portfolio is great. Any less, and you won’t seem experienced enough. Any more, and you won’t feel curated. I go for the higher number because my portfolio is massive.
Printing your portfolio – sizes, paper, order
- When you print a portfolio, you must consider
how you’re printing it. Or, if you’re printing it at all! Are you presenting
digitally or physically?
- When presenting a digital portfolio, make sure you arrange them in an order that makes sense and keeps the viewer’s attention all the way through. I have reviewed a LOT of digital portfolios, and the biggest issue is that the sender puts too many images in. I lose interest and can clearly tell that as I keep moving through the portfolio, the work is getting older and older. There are glaring technical errors and the concepts aren’t as thought through. Limit yourself.
- If you’re printing a physical portfolio, choose the paper that you would present your work on professionally. For example, I print my images on Elegance Velvet Fine Art Paper from Breathing Color. Therefore, when I show my portfolio, I make sure the images are printed on that paper. That way, if a gallery sees it and likes it, they know exactly the standard, quality, paper, ink, etc., that they would receive to hang in their gallery. There are no questions because it’s right there in front of them.
- I recommend printing two different sizes to show people. I print at 10×10 inches and 20×20 inches. The 20 inch size is rather large for a portfolio review, but it always wows them.
- What order should you put them in?
matters a lot when creating a portfolio. Here are some ways you might choose to
order your prints:
- Color – by creating a through-line of color, you create natural visual cohesion and flow. You may go from cool tones to warm, desaturated to colorful, or you may even alternate color palettes.
- Theme – Sometimes it’s great to combine like themes together. This is especially great if you are presenting a series (which would naturally go together) or if you are a concept based artist. This method has another bonus: it gives you more to discuss as you flip through.
- Date – you may choose to order your portfolio chronologically, but I warn against this if your work continues to get less polished as you go.
- Order matters because it shows you understand the work you are presenting. A sloppily laid portfolio will reflect that you aren’t sure how to curate your prints.
- Order matters a lot when creating a portfolio. Here are some ways you might choose to order your prints:
How to present your portfolio – questions to ask, type of case
- What case should you use?
- The case is the least important part of a review. You’ll likely immediately take the prints out and then not bring the case back until the last minute. That said, cases are hard to come by. There are very limited options, and the awesome ones are so expensive it is often prohibitive. I got mine at a local craft store. It’s just a big zippered case where the prints sit lose inside. For this reason, I keep the different sizes sandwiched between cardboard. Don’t overthink it! The prints are the star.
- Questions to ask. This is vital to a
successful portfolio review. If you have nothing to ask, your reviewer might be
annoyed and it will reflect that you didn’t put enough time into preparing.
would come up with a list of 10 questions to ask the reviewer. They can be
generic, but slip in some specific questions as well. This lets them know you
have done your research and you are looking for their specific expertise. Here
are some sample questions:
- Do you think I am technically ready to submit to X (galleries, magazines, clients, etc.)?
- Do you think I am conceptually ready to submit to X (galleries, magazines, clients, etc.)?
- What do you feel is the best niche for my work?
- What stands out as most unique in my portfolio?
- What stands out as most generic in my portfolio?
- Do you feel my work is sellable?
- How do my images make you feel?
- Can you recommend any resources for me to look at after our review?
- Does my work fit in to the industry on a professional level?
- What do you feel would be a good next step for me?
- When asking questions, remember to ask for detail. Don’t be afraid to ask: Why? How? Can you help me further? Ask them to be specific. You paid for a good 20 minutes and some reviewers will fall short – very short – of giving a proper review. Pull it from them.
- I would come up with a list of 10 questions to ask the reviewer. They can be generic, but slip in some specific questions as well. This lets them know you have done your research and you are looking for their specific expertise. Here are some sample questions:
- Finally, leave a leave-behind.
leave behind is a piece of paper that they can keep with them. It could be as
simple as a business card, or you could go my route:
- My leave behind is on the paper that I print on for exhibitions, at the size of 8×8 inches. It has multiple images represented on it, plus my name, phone number, and website. This allows the reviewer to remember me, remember my paper and printing quality, and to follow up if they want to work with me.
reviewers are looking for artists to work with, so this is not far fetched!
Like I mentioned, I’ve gotten shows and other good opportunities from reviews,
so always be prepared.
- There are reviews that have gone terribly for me, so I use my best judgment in giving someone a leave-behind. When in doubt, do it! They’ll politely take it whether they want to work with you or not.
- A leave behind is a piece of paper that they can keep with them. It could be as simple as a business card, or you could go my route:
I hope this outline has been helpful for you in growing your craft, business, and confidence! Take all these steps and you’ll be sure to present a more polished portfolio that you can feel good about.
Share a link to your portfolio here if you’d like!