If you’re trying to land a position in art school, or if you’ve already graduated and you’re trying to work for a design firm, much of your success will depend on the quality of your portfolio. Your portfolio should showcase your range and your best work, and give your employer (or academic administrator) a good reason to bring you aboard, but putting one together from scratch can be nerve-wracking. If you don’t have much experience, you might not even know where to start.
First, think about what you’re trying to accomplish:
• What is your goal? It may seem obvious but spell it out for yourself. Write down what your goal is, and how you’re going to accomplish it. For example, do you want to find a job, or do you want a specific position at a specific type of firm? Distinguishing these specific considerations may help you choose more appropriate pieces for your final portfolio.
• Who are you? Your portfolio is going to, in part, be an expression of who you are as a person
. So what kind of person are you? You may have several pieces of art that are technically impressive, but do they really capture your personality or your style?
• What makes you different? Whether you’re applying for an academic or professional position, your reviewer is probably going to be seeing hundreds, if not thousands of portfolios. They’ve seen just about every variant you can think of, so what are you going to do to stand out? What makes you unique, even in this crowd of artists? Finding a unique way to present your ideas is vital to your success.
Knowing Your Audience
Spend some time getting to know your audience, so you can customize your portfolio to appeal to them. For example, if you’re applying for a position with a prestigious art school
, visit their campus and get to know what type of students they accept. Look at the most popular pieces they display on campus or on their website. If you can, get a look at portfolios of students who have been accepted in the past. If you’re applying for a position with a design firm, think about their bottom-line considerations, and what type of work is going to best appeal to their customers.
In no way should you simply mimic the type of art you find—you still need to be unique—but you should be influenced by the preferences of this audience.
Binding and Presentation Options
Next, you’ll need to think about the binding and overall presentation options to choose. Your employer or school may have a list of requirements, so make sure to review those carefully; for example, they may require that you submit both a digital and physical copy of each piece.
On the physical side, you’ll want to consider your binding and portfolio options carefully. You could collect your original pieces together in a massive portfolio-style binder, which you can find at a local art supply shop. You could also get your work printed, using perfect binding
or some other method to make your work look even more professional.
If you’re opting for a digital presentation, by requirement or by choice, make sure you’re using high-resolution images, and organize them in an intuitive way. For example, you’ll want to name them appropriately and keep them in a logical presentation order.
Your portfolio should be built around a handful of landmark “core” pieces that represent your absolute best work. These pieces should be not only technically proficient, but reflective of your style and of who you are as a person. Selecting these will be your biggest challenge, but they’re your most important additions. Be sure these pieces are notably presented, standing out from all your other work. For example, you can include them at the beginning and the end of your portfolio, or describe them with additional text.
Depending on the nature of the portfolio, you’ll also likely want to include several pieces that showcase the breadth of your experience
. Include several works of different mediums, and pieces that display you using a different style or approach. Even if they aren’t perfect, they’ll show that you’re capable of working in multiple mediums and experimenting with new ideas and techniques.
Every art portfolio is going to look different. The individual artist, the nature of the portfolio, the intention of the pieces, and even the timing are all variables that should change how the portfolio should look and how it should be put together. Take your time assembling your best work, and be sure to consider these variables carefully; it’s not enough to simply cram some of your art into a folder.