As an artist, your portfolio is the main way that many people will first come into contact with your art. Submitting work to a gallery, such as Agora Gallery? You’ll send them your portfolio. Applying for a commission? They’ll want to see your portfolio. Approaching a designer? You’ll need your portfolio. Entering a competition? You’ll base your entry on your portfolio.
All this means that it’s worth putting time and thought into how you arrange the order and images that make up your portfolio. You want it to be as accessible and clear as possible, and for it to show your work in the best way it can. That, in turn, will make it easier for anyone examining it to appreciate the quality of your work – and more probable that they will be interested in following it up.
Some galleries, including Agora Gallery, make it easy for you by providing artists with a specific submission process with clear instructions – all you need to do is choose your images and fill in the form. Even then, though, there are a number of factors to bear in mind.
There’s no point in filling up space with artwork that you created ten or fifteen years ago. If the person examining your portfolio decides to work with you, they may then be interested in your past work and your artistic development, but they’re going to decide whether or not they’re interested based on what you’re doing now.
On the other hand, you don’t have to include exclusively the most recent work; it may be that you’ve been experimenting a little recently and you don’t feel that all of the most recent pieces really show off your talent. Be sensible, and pick works that are representative of your current work more generally, but are also the best examples of what you can do.
Don’t confine yourself to work that is available for purchase at the time you put the portfolio together. What with the time it takes to get it into the relevant hands, and the time that people take looking through it, there’s a reasonable chance that you’ll have sold some work by the time they get back to you anyway. Feel free to include works that have been sold – you can even include a ‘Sold’ note in the information. It doesn’t do any harm to show that your work sells. Just make sure that they’re in the same sort of style as the work you’re producing at the moment, and that they fit in with the rest of the portfolio.
The information is important too. Dimensions, medium, year of creation and title are all essential; make it easy for the person reading it to understand what they’re seeing. Don’t make them hunt to match up details with works; make sure that each image has its information alongside it.
The images themselves are also vital. However good the work is, the person with the portfolio isn’t seeing it. All they have access to are the images of your work that you included in the portfolio. This means that it is crucial that the images be clear, and of good quality. The lighting is more important than many artists think – it doesn’t matter how large and sharp the photo is if the painting is largely in shadow, for example.
If you’re printing off the images for a physical portfolio, make sure that you use a printer which is itself capable of printing high quality images. A great photo can’t look its best printed on poor quality paper by a printer which isn’t great at getting the colors right. In addition, the pages should be inside plastic see-through envelopes; portfolios get moved around a lot, and you’ll want to protect the images as much as possible.
Artists sometimes show us cds and beautiful printed books of work. These are fine too, but you should tailor your use of them to the circumstances; if you’re trying to show your work to someone busy, who doesn’t have a lot of spare time, then giving them a cd isn’t a great idea – they might not bother to insert and run it on their computer. Similarly, if you print a book of your work, it might not be appropriate for showing to someone who’s interested in your recent work, since your art is being continually updated but the book remains static. Both can be great tools, but make sure to use them in the right time and place.
What are your tips for preparing the perfect portfolio? Share them in the comments!