Visual Art & Design Portfolios from A to Z January 17, 2015

by Bryan Holbrook (Repost 03.10.14)
Impress When You Present & How to Do It on the Cheap. A Guide for Graduates.

At the point you think you’re ready to start looking for work as a visual artist you should know by now that a resume listing your experience isn’t good enough. You’re going to need to show it in a portfolio and how you do that is just as important as the pieces being shown. You need to treat that portfolio as a work of art in itself. The case that holds your work, the paper it’s printed on, the layout or flow of the pieces inside and let’s not forget the portfolio website. You have to impress when you present. Working as a graphic designer I can tell you that your portfolio is the one thing that you will constantly be working on. Trends change including presentation style so you’ll have to update your portfolio as you go. Recently, I have been interviewing and updating my portfolio, if you’re a designer you’ll probably do this every couple years, and with this arduous task still fresh in my mind I thought I would share some tips and shortcuts on how to make a beautiful portfolio, covering everything from printing the physical to creating the digital.

“Make no mistake, no matter how talented you are as an artist it will be difficult to find recognition for your work from an employer or a gallery if you don’t have the portfolio to back up that talent.” (Things to Remember When Creating Your Perfect Art Portfolio, theArtCareerproject.com) This quote sums up every conversation I have ever had with an art director. Even if your work is great, if your portfolio, your fingerprint and identity, doesn’t prove it to that art director right then and there, then in their mind it’s not.

Let’s start by discussing the physical portfolio since it’s probably the easiest to comprehend if you’re not a digital artist, as well as define what a portfolio is and it’s purpose. A portfolio is a way of presenting your best and most relevant work to a potential client or employer in hopes of them hiring you to do similar work for them. Traditionally speaking the portfolio doesn’t actually include your physical pieces it has pictures of your work, presented in a book format. An example of this would be if you are a sculptor, you would take pictures of your sculptures, print those pictures out and then attach them in an 11×14 or 11×17 presentation binder or folder in the most appealing way possible. Meaning, if you’re not a photographer or if you don’t have the right equipment to shoot your work you probably should hire somebody to. You are trying to sell your work and the shots that sell it need to do just that. SELL! “A professional scanner or camera can make all the difference. While your phone or trusty point and shoot camera might look fine for happy hour snapshots they probably can’t capture the detail or high quality look you seek. If you lack photography or lighting and staging skills, consider enlisting the help of a photographer friend.”

(6 Tips for Creating an Online Portfolio, HowDesign.com) The goal here is to attract work so ideally your portfolio should be as attractive as possible which may mean hiring a photographer or a designer to help you build it.Now that you know what a physical portfolio is and its intended use, let’s go ahead and build one. So, where do you start? Probably the most important advice I could ever give is to research, research and research! Research your field and how others present their work so when you build your portfolio it looks relevant. Research the company and the position you’re applying for so you can gear your pieces to it. By researching the company and current trends it’ll answer a lot of questions regarding what work to include and why. Also whether or not it’s a place you want to work and it will give you plenty of things to talk about while interviewing which is equally important.

A portfolio case can be purchased at any art store but if you’re trying to save a buck, go to Amazon.com and peruse their large selection from the comfort of your couch. Cases range from cheap to expensive. Your field and personality will help determine which one suits you. On average a decent portfolio case will cost between 50 and 80 dollars. If you want to save even more money, try building your own portfolio case out of pieces of fabric, wood, masonite, plastic or any other material that you can think of.

Be creative and “Don’t be afraid to show off.” (10 Tips for a First-Class Printed Design Portfolio, CompanyFolders.com)

When printing your pages you can purchase the paper online or from a local paper dealer and then print them at FedEx Kinko’s or do what I did and just use the paper they had. The prints will at least be presentation worthy and you only have to pay for what you keep. Meaning you can make all the mistakes you want on their dime. It’s a pretty neat secret to know especially if you’re a perfectionist or if you’re a student and can’t afford the excess prints or the cost of purchasing a printer. Average cost of 11×17 prints is 0.89 cents. Total cost of physical portfolio ranging anywhere from 10 dollars for prints and a homemade case to an even 100 dollars, pretty cheap considering what you could have paid. I paid around 65 dollars for mine; 50 dollars for the case and 15 dollars for prints.

Now let’s talk about the more elusive Digital Portfolio. In my opinion this is by far the easiest and most convenient way to expose your work to literally millions of people at absolutely no cost to you other than time spent. First of all let’s define what a digital portfolio is. A digital portfolio is a personal website, blog or portfolio site that features your work. It’s the same as a physical portfolio except the images of your work are online instead of in a binder. Right now there are hundreds of FREE portfolio websites available to artists from every field that make it easy to show off your work and help you land your next job or freelance opportunity. Here is a list of the most popular ones; Behance.com, Tumblr.com, WordPress.com, Linkedin.com and Dribble.com just to name a few. These websites are the respected industry standard for presenting your work to the world. So how do you set one up? First, type in the address, set up a free account, upload the images of your work and you’re done. If that seems too difficult ask or pay a designer friend to do it for you. I suggest pay because it’s time consuming and that person is about to change your life. Then you can send that link to employers making it easier for them to see your work. If they’re interested they’ll call you for an interview and if not then they won’t. Cast a wide net and you’re sure to get a job. Again, it’s free and it works.­

If you followed the steps you should now have a physical and a digital portfolio for under 100 dollars. If you’re ambitious you’ve probably already used it and you have freelance work or some interviews lined up. If you don’t you may need to revisit what you’re showing. Remember, you’re always going to update it with new pieces, meaning that it gets better as you get better. Recently, I used all of the information that I just provided. I used my Behance.com portfolio website to apply for a job, I then built my physical portfolio in 4 days for 65 dollars to show in the interview which lead to a new position so as you can see it works. In the meantime do your best to relax and have faith in your abilities, then put in the work and you will get the work that you want.

-BH 2014
Gendelman, Vladimir. “10 Tips for a First-Class Printed Design Portfolio (with Examples).”Company Folders. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014. http://www.companyfolders.com/blog/graphic-design-print-portfolio-examples

Creative Group, The. “6 Tips for Creating a Great Online Portfolio.” HOW Design. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014.


“5 Tips on How to Create the Best Art Portfolio :TheArtCareerProject.com.”TheArtCareerProjectcom RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Apr. 2014. http://www.theartcareerproject.com/starting-your-art-career-things-to-remember-when-creating-your-perfect-art-portfolio/3890



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