How To Make An Art Portfolio For The Real World

Why Build An Art Portfolio?

Knowing how to build an art portfolio is critical for any artist. The reasons why they are needed range from art school applications, to art gallery representation, and beyond.

I wish to give you an inside look on how to actually build and use an art portfolio for the real world. In other words, it should be working for you to benefit your life.

First lets cover the basics. Anyone who has ever applied to an art school should know the first simple steps.

What Art Schools Often Require Within An Art Portfolio

Each school or organization one applies for will vary in some criteria. Yet the key “basic rules”are almost always there.

I merely wish to review these fundamentals for not everyone would have encountered the requirements. It is these basics of a portfolio that will carry over into almost every use that you will need.

1. Meet the criteria for the art portfolio submission. Be timely and to the point. Meet the required number of pieces and formats which they are looking for. Pay attention to details.

2. Organize the presentation well. How well this organization is completed will impact how you are seen. This holds two key elements.

First it will allow the institution or school to better help you as they see your skill sets. Secondly it will show them that you can organize your work and present yourself clearly. In turn it will show you have objective goals.

3. Be clear in descriptions but also be short. The art within the portfolio should do most of the talking for you. A description or label is nice, but the people are not there for reading.

4. Sometimes less is more. In other words at least meet the minimum requirements of the number of art pieces they wish to see in the portfolio. Any piece thereafter should relate in some way.

This relation should impact areas of displaying your skill set, progression, flexibility, and artistic expression. Do not add more art to the portfolio just because or if you feel it is not enough. Each piece needs a purpose.

5. Art portfolios which only show technical ability impresses no one. Still life art for example rarely makes anyone go “wow”. It may show technical skill, yet expresses little in story or narrative.

You do not need to show them something which they have never seen. Across thousands of years of art that is not likely to be achieved. Rather, you must tell your story in how you present and express your work.

How The Basic Rules For An Art Portfolio Matters In The Real World

My goal here is not to help a student impress a professor. Rather you need to be able to impress the public or a real audience. This creates revenue.

My overly simple five point outline on what most organizations or art schools require is what is most essential for the real world. It is those elements which impress.

From here we begin to build a real art portfolio. First let’s define what a portfolio can be.

What Is An Art Portfolio?

An art portfolio is an arrangement of art which was created by an artist. This arrangement can be in many forms, and you will use more than one form in the real world.

The portfolio can be a physical presentation with the art such as for an art exhibition, a series of images with descriptions in a binder, a website or online gallery, or a Powerpoint presentation.

The format in which the art portfolio is presented only matters by those who either require the portfolio, or in the audience you wish to target for a presentation.

This takes us to our next important step.

You Need More Than One Art Portfolio

Allow me to explain what I have done with my portfolio in order to keep this part concise and to the point. It will also allow you to understand the why behind the need for multiple art portfolios within multiple formats.

I am a wood artist and my wood art can be either small and light, or big and heavy. My online gallery serves as a portfolio to the online world.

What I present there must be shipped when a collector purchases. Thus it needs to meet standards of ease and efficiency for that purpose.

If I create a large piece, this object I would never show online. Why? Personally I do not want anyone to even ask if I can create something like that for them.

Shipping would be a nightmare.

On the other hand, my local portfolio which I can distribute by pamphlet or binders to local businesses can have other items. These other items that may be larger or heavier can be traded locally with far greater ease.

The key to deciding what goes into your portfolio can often be determined by streamlining a business model. What is it that you wish to give a target audience based upon that model?

There are many other reasons for having multiple portfolios. In the real world of art, for many artists, my reasons become solutions they also use to streamline efficiency.

Not every portfolio needs to be, nor should they always be the same. One audience may see more of your work than others for good reasons. This method also aids in how you relate to your allies within public relations for art.

I wish to add one little note about an online gallery. A benefit to this model is that it does allow for more description to be added to the art with less negative impact. That is if it is done well.

What Are The Top Three Most Important Art Portfolio Formats?

In the real world there really are three art portfolio formats that I would consider to be the most important. At the top of the list is an online gallery.

The reasons to have an online gallery far outweigh any reasoning to not have one. In our present day it is difficult to take any artist seriously if they do not have this.

It does not need to set up for sales. Yet your work must be present and clearly presented. It is the best business card you could ever ask for.

The second most important art portfolio is a combination of pamphlets and binders. Have them looking professional.

These will be used in local businesses and shops within your area that you can negotiate with. In other words it is the gateway to getting involved within the local community.

Each physical portfolio you give can also be tailored in or around that local business. In my case, for a local kitchen ware shop I show cutting boards I have carved with sports team logos.

That item you will NOT find in my online gallery.

The third most important art portfolio is your physical art studio. Eventually you will have people come to see you. It needs to impress them.

For most artists these three should all be present. There are situations where the third being the art studio is a problem. Unfortunately for me this one does present challenges.

The reason why behind my art studio not being a good place for presentation goes back to the medium I use. Wood generates dust when cut, shaved, or milled.

It can become impossible to stage art within that kind of environment.

There are ways around this problem. In my case the individual can meet me and I simply set aside time to display a few pieces in line with what they are looking for.

For the time the prospective buyer is there my work ceases until they leave. In this way it requires some foreknowledge of what it is they are seeking.

Never Cut Corners Creating Your Art Portfolio

Don’t be cheap. Never cut corners. Your art portfolio represents you not just your work. Printed materials should be clean, sharp, and professional.

It may require that you outsource some of the creation process of your portfolio. If this is needed then consider it an investment.

Ultimately it is best if you can handle the creation process in house. The reason for this is due to how quickly a portfolio can change. Keeping it up to date is also critical.

What Is NOT An Art Portfolio!

Where I must go next is extremely critical for you to understand. I cannot count how many artists do this wrong. Some will become quite offended by points I make here… oh well.

The proof is in numbers. Further proof of what an art portfolio is not, can be found in watching what professional artists do, and what is required of them.

Your social media account is NOT an art portfolio. I do not care how many followers you have. Too many of those numbers are baked thus they are not even real.

A social media timeline in no way can serve as your presentation model. It is not a format that can be followed or filtered in any way to generate reliable and consistent outcomes.

Etsy is also NOT an art portfolio. Personally I would never show someone that I had an Etsy shop if I did have one.

That location is not the height of professionalism and too many cheap nothings are associated with it. Get out of Etsy if you can.

A blog is NOT an art portfolio. If you notice, my blog here and my website displaying my art gallery are two completely different sites. There is a reason behind this.

Information and writing about art is kept in the hemisphere of where it needs to be. The presentation of my work within its contained portfolio is also within its own hemisphere.

Remember it is about being concise, to the point, and letting the art tell its story. Adding a blog into the presentation model mixes in way too much noise.

Success And Failure Hinge On Your Art Portfolio

Creating an art portfolio is a small yet very important point in professionalism. It will be what helps someone to the next step in doing business, or prevents them from taking that step.

While it is a small technical point in your presentation, it is important enough to create failures. Ultimately due to this artists can too often not understand the real reason why artists fail.

Success on the other hand is found within a place that artists often miss. Each is expecting to get noticed as an artist. It just does not work that way.

In truth you need to get noticed thousands upon thousands of times. It is not a single event. Rather it is a business model. Thus the need for a clean and professional art portfolio.

An artists development is never easy. Many make simple mistakes that cost them a lot down the road.

For example a common issue is selling art on the cheap out the back door while presenting it at other places with higher prices. That gimmick will cut you harshly.

Ultimately an art portfolio is knowing how to stand out with creative ideas. Nevertheless to succeed in this you must know how to present your art portfolio. The two concepts go hand in hand.

The broader art community may be harsh, yet most of them get it wrong. The truth is doing the right thing enough times, with the right model, will ultimately yield you measurable results.

If you follow the patterns you see so many others do it is inevitable that you too will yield the average mean of those results. Unfortunately for too many that is either starvation, or living with art as a hobby and not as a profession.

Define Your Art Portfolio To Represent You, Not A Product

A lot of artists get caught up chasing trends in art. This in turn begins a cycle of creating for the sake of the creation for gain in order to survive.

In other words you are creating products.

At some point each artist that finds some measure of success will cross this bridge. A choice will have to be made as to what it is you really wish to be or do.

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