The state of your portfolio can be the make-or-break factor at the beginning of an artist’s career. Even if your work is excellent, a badly constructed portfolio will give the wrong impression of your practice and will actively lose you opportunities.
Gone are the days that you would need to lug around an A1 folder of your work with you when you wanted to network or shoot your shot with a gallery. Now that everything’s online, your digital portfolio has to do the talking for you. When you think about it, digital portfolios are pretty amazing. They’re like a levelled-up business card, showing your practice, giving further information, and winning you connections and opportunities – all at click of a button.
We’re seen our fair share of artist portfolios here at The Art Gorgeous, and it wouldn’t be fair of us to not share our insights with you, now would it? Many opportunities which ask for a portfolio will have clear instructions on what to include – so, obviously, read them – but here is a list of 10 do’s and don’ts which will stand your portfolio in good stead no matter the occasion.
Make sure your name is in the file title: Gallerists and curators may well be viewing dozens, sometimes hundreds, of portfolios in one sitting. Don’t let yours be another “portfolio.pdf” that gets lost in the pile. Also add your name in small font at the top of each page, ensuring that they never need to search for who you are and your name stays in their mind.
Include hyperlinks at the end: It’s a good idea to end your portfolio with a page of 2 or 3 clickable links which someone can go to if they want to see more examples of your work. We’d recommend these links being to your personal site, your email address, and your Instagram.
Include your portfolio on your website and Linktree: Ensure that people who want to find your portfolio can access it easily. Sometimes you might be the perfect fit for a project in a specific moment, but if the person ready to give you that opportunity struggles to find the information they need to find about you, then the moment will pass very quickly.
Put your biggest hitters first: Make sure that your most eye-catching and developed work is taking centre stage and is the first feautured work in your portfolio. There is no need to organise your portfolio chronologically, and there’s no point keeping your best work until the end if the people viewing it have already clicked-off your portfolio when they’ve been unimpressed by your early experimental work.
Keep the layout minimalist: Your portfolio is not the time to get artistic. The people looking at your portfolio want to look at your artworks, and an overstimulating layout with colourful backgrounds and bubble writing is not going to help them do that. In fact, they’ll view it as unprofessional and irritating. Landscape oriented, two artworks per page, small black writing on a white background: perfection.
Send it as a JPEG or Word Document: Submitting your portfolio for an open call and they’re asked it be sent in PDF format? Send it PDF format. Please. We’ve all probably been caught out when sending a beautifully laid-out Word document before, and then when you open it over email the images are all over the place and the margins have melted. PDFs are the way to go.
Send a PDF that just says “click here to visit my website”: This is a dirty trick and one that will only get you eye rolls and your portfolio a swift “move to trash” click. You’ve got to approach your portfolio (and your site, and your emails) as if you are being viewed by the people with the world’s shortest attention spans. Do not give them any reason to search for information, because they won’t bother.
Make your portfolio into a thesis: Don’t fill up your portfolio with pages of writing – chances are that people viewing it are here for your artwork, and if they need more information they’ll proceed to your website or email you. Have a short biography page with a neatly summarised biography and artist statement, then move right onto the artworks. Include the title of each work, its date of creation, materials, (and sometimes price when appropriate) under its image. If your series needs explanation, keep this to gallery-label length.
Make it too long: There’s no need to include all work you’ve ever made in your portfolio – think of your portfolio as your Best Bits. Keep it as brief as you can without losing key information, and remember to grab people’s attention with your first few artworks.
Get too personal: Just like you wouldn’t include a photograph of yourself on your CV, the people reading your portfolio aren’t interested in your hobbies and passions outside of art. Unless your love for horse-riding is a direct influence on your practice, keep it to yourself. Your portfolio is your visual CV, and art – while a creative one – is still a professional pursuit. Treat your practice with the respect it deserves, and present your work as professionally as you want to be perceived.
Author: Verity Babbs