How To Make An Artist Portfolio and Use It

Presentation cases

Creating a portfolio of your work is essential to selling artwork. I have made more sales showing off real work in person than I have selling paintings online. People really want to see actual paintings. Not kidding.

The word Portfolio has several meanings. In this article, it means a portable presentation that represents you and your work.

I know many of you reading this show your work with your phones, and carry a small portfolio of prints, but I sincerely do not recommend those courses of action. One, it is easy for people to dismiss the work because it is a picture of a picture. Two, phones are known to be a cesspool, so people will shy away from them. Three, cameras and scanners cannot see certain colors, such as the subtle violet that comes from Ultramarine blue. Nor can a digital image show the depth of a painting. Do a test, break out your camera phone and snap a picture. Now look at yours real painting and compare. I’ll bet you that they are not even close! And four, prints are generally not good enough to sell.

Giclees might be ok to use in a portfolio, which is an professional print on canvas, but it is rare to come across a person who just wants a print of an artwork. Non-artists think of prints as posters for adults – cheap and disposable. If you are ready, willing and able, you should produce a small body of art in whatever medium you choose and put it into a presentation case. No more than ten pieces, and no fewer than seven. If you are an oil painter, you can purchase canvas pads. And there have been several old world artists who have successfully painted in oil on paper. 

Do your very best to show off what you are capable of. Tell a story with your work.

Since portfolios are generally read like a book, try to paint your portfolio pieces in portrait mode rather than landscape mode. It makes a much better presentation and user experience than having to turn a portfolio side ways frequently.

Have a legible and recognizable signature. 

The paintings should be consistent. For example, if you are into abstract painting, do not randomly put one of your hyper-realism painting or a cartoon drawing into it. The portfolio will become non-sequitur and people will be turned off by it. 

Anawanitia’s portfolio of watercolor, oil and acrylic paintings.

It does not matter what medium you use. Sometimes a painting is just better expressed in watercolors rather than oils. As long as the theme of the presentation is consistent, then you will be fine.

The portfolio itself can be anything that easily shows off your work. As long as the item you purchase for your presentation clearly states it is archival and acid free. It doesn’t have to be expensive, it just has to look nice. A very nice three-ring binder with archival sleeves, a professional artist’s presentation case, or even one of those old fashion photography books will work.

You will need these in your portfolio printed out on resumé paper:

  1. Cover sheet with your logo
  2. Table of Contents
  3. Artist’s statement
  4. Resume
  5. About the artist or biography
  6. A story page about the piece. Have it facing the painting.
  7. Last page consists of thumbnails, with details about size, medium, date created and pricing.  
  8. Published Newspaper clippings are a lovely touch.
  9. Business cards

The logo represents you and your artwork. If you are an artist, you should make your own.

Table of contents just add the page number to the story of each painting, and say your painting starts there. Here is an example:

Table of Contents

Artist’s statement ……….. 1

Resume ……………………. 3

Meanderings of A Ferret ………. 4

Try to get the numbers even with each other by using the tab key.

Artist’s statement is a bit tricker than other things. A statement is not a biography. It must be written in a way that entices people to enjoy your paintings. It should be written without the use of I, me, my, or the like. It is actually one of the hardest things to do! 

The artist’s statement is a brief introduction to the body of work shown in the portfolio. It must be changed when you change your body of work. For example, writing about impressionism is not the same as realism, therefore, you will have to change the story.

Try an answer some the following questions when making an artist’s statement: Why did you do this work? What inspired you to do it? What does it say about the world today? What does it say about the history of art? Where does it fit in to the lives of others? How will it enrich humanity? Why should somebody care about the art? How is it relevant?

Do not make it poetical. You can add a poem to your portfolio, just don’t make it your artist statement.

Art Resume

If you had created a resume for business before, an art resume is about the same. Both Microsoft Word and Apple Pages has nice templates to start from. List your experiences, awards, anything that will impress people. Feel free to draw upon inspiration from my resume, which can be found in the menu at the top of the page.

Biography. When did you become an artist, what inspired you, what hardships did you experience on your way to become an artist? Where did you study? Where did you come from? Write your artist statement and resume first, it will help with creating your biography. 

The paintings in the portfolio must to be for sale, and ready to hand out right then and there. This is called a living portfolio, and the pieces are rotated out regularly. 

Be prepared to answer the most bizarre questions about your paintings. Basically, know your paintings inside out! People want to invest in you and your work. They will not buy if you do not have a the full story of a piece.

You cannot be shy or humble about showing your work either. Do not be apologetic or point out things you think you need to work on!

Confidence instills confident sales. 

Stand up straight, be friendly, fun and personable. Big smiles, but more like the friendly neighborhood hot dog vendor and not like a used car salesman. 

This is much easier for artists to sell when doing a plein air painting (landscape painting on location) or urban sketches. People know what you are up to, they are comfortable when they approach you and are genuinely curious about your work. However, plein air is a difficult feat that requires quick action and extreme concentration.  Urban sketching is not for everyone either. So rather than doing either of those, just take a work in progress to a park, where you can paint and talk to people. The people at a park are already in a relaxed state of mind, and are generally friendly.

You can do this pretty much anywhere. For example, if you see someone looking at an artwork at a store, coffee shop, etc., comment on the art, and strike up an art conversation, particularly if the picture is similar to yours!

It is beneficial to have a Square or something that people can easily make a payment on the spot. Also, keep a few well kept manila envelopes for art sales, as well as business cards. Some people will go as far as already having the painting matted before placing them into a portfolio. Matting however, will considerably add to the weight and girth of a portfolio. 

Until next time, happy painting!