Most artists are defined by their portfolios. You’ll put together a portfolio to get a job, land a gig, or get into your desired art school—and the quality of that portfolio will determine whether you make progress and achieve your goals.
Starting a portfolio from scratch can be intimidating, and improving one that already exists can be stressful. Fortunately, there are several strategies that can help you improve your art portfolio.
Create Both Physical and Digital Versions
First, consider creating both a physical and digital version of your portfolio. Your digital portfolio will be available online at any time and is easy for other people to access; however, an in-person portfolio can make an even better impression, especially at a job interview. Printed photo books are relatively inexpensive, and you can bind together your best work creatively in other ways as well.
Understand the Requirements (When Necessary)
Sometimes, you’ll be submitting a portfolio for a specific purpose, like trying to get into art school or interviewing for a job. If this is the case, make sure you follow the stated portfolio requirements as specifically as possible; in many cases, these requirements are a test of your ability to follow instructions. If there are limits on the number or type of pieces you can include, adhere to them. And make sure you double check the requirements list for anything you missed.
If there’s something you feel you must share outside the requirements, include it as an addendum with a note acknowledging its lack of adherence to the specifications.
Treat Your Portfolio Like a Narrative
People respond well to narratives. Rather than treating your portfolio as a semi-random assortment of individual pieces, try to construct it in a way that makes it seem like a story, with a beginning, middle, and end. The straightforward way for young artists to do this is to showcase how you’ve grown as an artist over the years. More mature artists may want their portfolio to illustrate a changing mode of thinking, or evolving emotions.
Choose Landmark Pieces in Several Mediums
Even if you’re looking to land a specific job in a specific medium, it’s a good idea to choose landmark pieces in several mediums as a display of your versatility. For example, if you’re trying to become a graphic designer, don’t just include examples of logos and advertisements you’ve mocked up; also include photography, paintings, and sculptures if they’re a good demonstration of your skills. Most employers, directors, and other officials are eager to see the full range of your creativity.
Include Something Strange or Norm-Defying
Try to include something that deviates from the norm. This could be art that tackles an unconventional subject, or art that challenges the conventions of a common medium. It may not be your best work, and it may not “fit” with the rest of your pieces, but it will show that you’re willing to experiment, and that you’re not confined to traditional conventions.
Keep It Tight
It’s tempting to try and tell your entire life’s story with your portfolio or include a sample of every work you’ve ever completed, but most portfolios are better when they’re concise. Start by choosing a wide variety of different pieces, but then spend some time trimming your selection down. Ask yourself of each piece: Why is this here? What does this say about me? Is this covered by another piece already? If any of your pieces are redundant, or if they’re not serving an active role in showcasing your strengths as an artist, trim them. Tighter portfolios do better.
Don’t Be Afraid to Include Mistakes
Many artists feel like their portfolios can only include pieces that are perfect or nearly perfect. However, it can be beneficial to include some of your weaker pieces, or even some mistakes you’ve made along the way. For example, you can show an imperfect piece that particularly challenged you, then show a piece where you mastered the technique in question as a sign of growth. Flawed pieces may also be better examples of your personal style.
Talk to Other Artists
When you have a portfolio in place, consider showing it to other artists and talking to them about it—especially people with experience in your desired field. Do they like what you’re showing? Do they feel it’s missing anything? If you aren’t sure how to ask, you’ll first need to expand your professional network and get involved in more artistic circles.
The most important tip for improving your portfolio is to keep learning, growing, and evolving. Your portfolio will improve as you improve as an artist, and your presentation should change based on your current needs and goals. Gather more feedback, keep producing new art, and continue making tweaks to make your work amazing.