An important part of marketing yourself as an artist is going to involve compiling a professional portfolio of your work. Whether you are trying to secure a spot in art school, seeking an art related job, or trying to get a show at a gallery, the quality and effectiveness of your portfolio can make the difference in your success or failure. Considering the current competition in all areas of the art world, it will be difficult to get noticed without a compelling portfolio.
Setting the Standard
Your portfolio represents not only your work, but also what kind of artist you are. You want to convey to the gallery or organization that as an artist you are professional, thorough, and easy to work with. The best portfolios are easy for the recipient to review while also being visually captivating enough to generate further interest in your work.
Some art galleries and organizations prefer to receive portfolios online while others insist on a physical portfolio. We have created this guide on how to create a successful portfolio that will be sure to get your artwork noticed.
The Insider’s Guide to Creating a Professional Portfolio
Your portfolio represents your best opportunity and often your only chance to make a lasting impression on gallery owners and potential investors in your art. Thus, it needs to portray the utmost professionalism while being accessible and presenting all relevant information in a convenient way for the reader/viewer. The three primary focuses of a professional portfolio need to be: format, content, and convenience.
Here are the main components your professional portfolio should include:
- A professional-looking binder: Choose a binder that keeps all of your portfolio’s contents tidy and makes it easy for a gallery representative to peruse the contents. By keeping everything well organized, you will also ensure that none of the materials get lost.
- A strong cover letter: Your cover letter will introduce both you and your artwork to the gallery representative, so it needs to be written in such a way as to catch the reader’s attention and help your portfolio to stand out. While the letter doesn’t need to be unduly long, it should serve as a strong introduction of who you are, what you do, and why you are contacting the gallery. (Remember to personalize the letter to address each individual gallery you reach out to.)
- A compelling artist’s statement: The trend is to write this statement in the first person and to keep it more personal. In the artist statement, you should explain the meaning behind your work, your artistic process, and why it is that you create what you do. Be sure to keep your statement concise (the general guideline is 500 words or less).
- Your biography: In contrast, the biography should be more formal than the artist statement and written in the third person. It should address your artist background in a succinct way, including where you went to school, formal exhibitions, and other pertinent details.
- A list of works and current pricing: In your portfolio, there should be a page listing the titles, mediums, and dimensions of any work being represented in the portfolio. The price for each work included in the portfolio should also be listed.
- Quality photos of recent work: Obviously the most important part, this could either be a physical portfolio of work, a disc of images, or a link to a website or online portfolio. This is their main visual introduction to your work, so make sure that the photos are of the highest possible quality.
- A professional resume: While this document should be similar in style to a traditional resume, it needs to focus primarily on artistic accomplishments. This includes awards, publications, major exhibits (both individual and group shows), and past gallery representation.
- A self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) and matching stationery: This is a nice touch to include in the back of the portfolio, as it makes it easy and convenient for the gallery representative to get in touch with you and return your portfolio if that is something they offer to do.
Alternative Portfolio Formats
While the above hard copy portfolio is still the preferred format for artist portfolios, there are other options to consider if the galleries you are interested in are open to them. Here are some popular options.
The Image CD: In terms of convenience, a CD portfolio offers several benefits, in that it is cheap to make (you can burn dozens of CDs for only a few dollars) and it is easy and inexpensive to mail. The drawback of this format is that CDs are easy for gallery representatives to overlook, as they will need to stop what they are doing to load the CD onto the computer (unlike with a hard copy portfolio, which only needs to be opened and perused).
The Digital Photo Book: An alternative to compiling a bound portfolio is to have the document arranged online and then printed as a book. A photo book will represent your work beautifully and is exceptional in the professionalism it conveys. The drawbacks to this format include that it will need to be reformatted and reprinted in order to be updated, and it is not inexpensive to reproduce.
Once your portfolio is in the hands of a gallery, employer, or art school recruiter, you want it to be compelling enough to immediately catch their attention. Chances are that your portfolio will be one among many, so you want the overall effect to be as impressive and professional as possible.
- Choose Your Best Work to Showcase: Choose pieces targeted specifically to the gallery or institution you are sending your work to, and make sure they demonstrate the quality of your work, your mastery of technical elements, your creative vision, and the range of your abilities. For maximum impact, use only as many pages as necessary to show the quality and range of your talent. Place your best work first and last to maximize visibility, and group the work according to subject and content.
- Pay attention to the images. If the quality of your image photos is fuzzy or out of focus, or the lighting is poor, this will make your art look bad and will also make you appear unprofessional. If your photography skills are lacking, it is well worth the investment to pay a professional photographer to shoot the images for you.
- Include a Brief Letter of Introduction: To really demonstrate your degree of professionalism, start off your portfolio with a brief note introducing yourself and your work, and thanking the reviewer for taking the time to look at your images and documents.
- Determine the Presentation Format That Will Best Serve Your Work: This will vary depending on the particular medium or media you work with. For instance, if your work is two dimensional and not too large, you can include original samples or color prints, or you may choose to go with slides or display transparencies of large or three-dimensional work.
- Organize Your Portfolio for Success: All of your work should be presented cleanly and simply, so that it’s easy to follow for the reviewer. Every piece should be labeled, with title, media, any notes (such as timed drawing or plein air), and your name and contact information. In additionally, place your written documents strategically so that the portfolio recipient will be able to find them quickly and easily.
- Make sure your portfolio speaks to a range of audiences. Remember that different viewers are going to be looking at your portfolio for different reasons, so you need to make sure that all the different portfolio components are in place. For instance, a gallery dealer will be interested in the visual images, your pricing list, and your resume, while an art writer will want to see newsworthy accomplishments and a collector will primarily want to know if there’s anything to buy. Whatever you choose to include, make sure it’s personal and that it markets you as an artist and generates interest in your work.
- Pay Attention to Specific Requirements: You won’t have a chance to wow anyone with your talent if your portfolio does not conform to the instruction of the institution you are submitting to. Different galleries, schools, and art organizations have different expectations of portfolio content, so make sure you submit within their specified parameters.
- Make Your Portfolio Unique but Accessible: Above all, your portfolio needs to represent you, but it’s important to balance this with a certain level of professionalism. For instance, don’t use distracting colors or patterns behind your portfolio pieces. Backgrounds should be chosen that enhance your work and don’t draw attention away from it. Similarly, stick to resume/CV formats that are easily digestible. Too much creativity in this area will only distract the reader from your experience and accomplishments.
- Prepare a dual portfolio. Your job as an artist (beyond creating your work) is to make your art easily accessible to anyone interested. While having a hard copy portfolio is critical, it’s a good idea to additionally create a portfolio online, preferably on an easy-to-find and use website. Things to keep in mind for a digital portfolio include: the images should be in JPEG format; the images should be Mac and PC compatible; the images should be sized around 600 pixels to ensure that the entire work will be view able on almost any sized monitor; and the image files should be named in a logical and consistent manner.
- Keep your portfolio updated. Any time you create a new body of work, have another show, or receive an award, this needs to be added to your professional portfolio. This will convey to the gallery representative that your work is timely and that you are active in the art world and continually producing.
A professional artist portfolio can really open doors for you and enable you to share your work effectively and attract the attention of galleries and collectors alike. Having a powerful portfolio can help you to ensure that your work gets noticed and gets the exposure you need to move your art career forward.
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