Your Portfolio: The Artist’s Resume

As an artist you’ve been influenced by the likes of Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe and even an abstract expressionist or two. You hold firm to your beliefs that composition, color and subject are what make an extraordinary art work. To physically express feeling, a painter must be able to bring their viewer into the scene. If a painter isn’t able to do this, then they are no painter at all, but merely a hobbyist.

You’ve worked tirelessly to capture the essence of your art heroes, and now it’s time to showcase your own work. You’re not just an undergrad exhibiting your sketches in the student art show anymore, you’ve progressed—you’re an artist. No one is going to know you’re an artist unless you’ve built a strong portfolio.

The Artist’s Portfolio

The artist’s portfolio is the artist’s curriculum vitae. It carries the artist’s seminal work, the work they prize and hold in high esteem. It is the artist’s portfolio that determines whether or not a curator will select the artist’s work for the next exhibition.

We begin here with the first question: we know how to make art, but how do we make an artist’s portfolio?

The Artist’s Portfolio: A Definition

Before we get into the discussion of how to make a portfolio, we should probably make sure we have a general understanding of what an artist’s portfolio is. Like a resume, an artist’s portfolio details the carefully selected work of the artist. The portfolio should illustrate the style, ability, talent and personality of the artist through the artworks the artist has chosen to share with the curator or museum board. What are the signatures that set this artist apart? What is their point of view?

The artist’s portfolio should not include every piece of work the artist has created, but only the work that the artist defines as their personal best. As is customary, an artist will usually take photographs of their work and use these photos as example of their work. If you are submitting sketches or small paintings, these items can usually fit in the portfolio. The curator, board or committee that you are submitting your work to will provide a list of guidelines of what they will be looking for in the portfolio, including the dimensions of the portfolio and the number of art works submitted for review.

The Artist’s Portfolio: In the Making

Some artists choose to go out and buy a pre-made portfolio that usually consists of a tan, durable particle board tied with a black ribbon. If you were presented with a portfolio such as the one described, would you look forward to opening it to reveal its contents? Or, would your eye hover above the bright yellow portfolio tied with an ultramarine sash? Just as you will be evaluated by the contents of your portfolio, so will the look of the portfolio be evaluated. Again, would you rather open up the boring beige folder, or the eccentric yellow folder?

Constructing the portfolio can be just as fun as drawing your morning sketches. Think about the hour it will take to make the portfolio as your arts and crafts hour. It’s an hour of creation, of making something of meaning materialize in your very hands. The portfolio holds the culmination of your artist’s training. Don’t you want it to reflect your style as an artist?

Whether by color or texture, the only way to really make your portfolio stand out from the stack is by building your own. Some basic materials to build the portfolio are:

  • Cardboard
  • Ribbon
  • Hole puncher
  • Scrapbook paper

These materials can be found at arts and craft stores like A.C. Moore, easily and inexpensively. A ready-made portfolio can be pretty pricey. Building your own is more cost-effective and gratifying. Your portfolio should help to get your work noticed. Isn’t that the point?

2020 Kimberly Signature

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  1. This is a really good idea. I have done a lot of artistic pieces as well as marketing pamphlets and general educational handouts. I really should have all in one place and put into a portfolio. Plus it would be fun to go back through the years of papers.

    • I know what you mean, Kelly. I’ve done so many different things over the years – things that I’m really proud of. I need to put a portfolio together as well. It is another one of those “one of these days” projects lol!

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