How to put together a portfolio

A basic guide to presenting your artwork in a portfolio.

Written by Louise Ross

There will be many times in your career as an artist that you will need to present your artwork either to a gallery or a curator.  Many artists are intimidated by this task.  This article will give you a basic “how to” guide to putting together a presentable portfolio of your work.  If you present your artwork professionally, galleries and curators will be much more likely and willing to work with you.

There are a number of ways that you could put together a presentable document that will act as a showcase for your work.  There is no right or wrong way, rather you should strive to present yourself and your work as professionally as possible.  Be organised, be neat, think carefully about your layout, edit any document you put together properly and you are bound to be almost there.

The easiest way to put together portfolio is digitally, but a printed booklet could also work.  A digital portfolio is very easy to send via email to prospective galleries or people interested in your work.  You could also put a digital portfolio onto a CD/DVD which is also very easy to distribute.

Before starting read this article. The author  highlights very clearly the situation of a gallerist.  Gallerists and curators are busy people, you are not the only person emailing them.  You need to  set yourself apart from the rest of the crowd.  You need to do your research and present yourself professionally and in the best way possible.   You need to write a decent covering letter or introduction email, tips on how to do this are provided in the above-mentioned article - follow them!

Read this article on presentation and documentation, you will need to document your work well before you can put together a portfolio.

Some important things that you should never do:

  1. Do not send an email with lots of images and documents attached.  Rather consolidate everything into one document.
  2. Do not send anything that is over 4MB in size, many email boxes will bounce emails smaller than this.
  3. Do not send a portfolio containing only images, whoever is viewing it will not be able to guess your name, or why you made the work.
  4. Do not forgot basic editing skills.  If you are not sure how to edit find someone to help you.  Both your images and text should be edited properly, spelling and grammar errors corrected.
  5. Do not be lazy.  People who view your portfolio will be able to see if you have not spent time on doing it properly.

Below is a basic guide to putting together a digital portfolio of your artwork:

  1. Consider how you are going to present your work. What layout works best with your images – horizontal or vertical? What colour font should you use? What background colour works best? What spacing should you use around your images? How big should your images be? You need to answer all these questions for yourself depending on your work and what will be the best way to present it.
  2. Decide what programme you are going to use to create your portfolio. There are a number of easy-to-use design and layout programmes out there.  Find one that makes sense to you. If you are not sure how to use it read the tutorials. Find a friend who can help. I would suggest any of the following: Adobe Indesign, MS Publisher, even MS Word and Powerpoint. There are also Opensource alternatives available. Preferably use something that will help you produce a document that can be saved in PDF format.
  3. Start with a title page.This should contain information about what your document is, eg. Artwork Portfolio. You should also include your name, your website (if you have) and your contact details (email, phone number).
  4. Next you may want to include a Contents page.
  5. Then you should include the following information in whatever order you think works best:
    • A brief biography - this should be a biography relevant to your art career.  What primary school you went to and your matric results are not relevant!
    • Your CV - this is a CV of all art exhibitions, competitions, events, residencies and projects or art related work you have been included or involved in, you should also include your art education and any awards received.  Do not include places you have worked, hobbies or interests!
    • Artist Statement - this should give the reader some idea about your work, why you make it, how you make it or whatever is relevant.  You could possibly also include a vision for yourself as an artist.
    • Images of your work – these should be well photographed and captioned (include title, year, medium, size, and edition information -  if relevant).  Ensure the file size of the images is as small as possible, you do not want your document to be huge.  Read this article on resizing images.
    • Any press reviews of your work or exhibitions that your work has been included on.  You could also include what others have written about your work.
  6. Once you have done the above find someone to edit all your information and text. Check for spelling and grammatical errors. Find someone to give you some feedback on what you have put together.
  7. Once you are satisfied with your document save it as a PDF. The benefits of saving in PDF are numerous, they include the following: a large document can be easily compressed as a PDF, others won’t be able to edit your information, PDFs are easy to attach to emails and you can easily write a PDF document to a CD/DVD.
  8. You should now be ready to send your portfolio.

Have a look at examples of what other artists have done, many more examples can be found on gallery and artist websites as downloadable PDF’s: