How to Build Your Best Portfolio

Want to make impact with a dynamic portfolio? Here’s what to leave in and what to take out.


ABI artist collage


Your art portfolio is made up of images that show your art to its best advantage. You may use images from your portfolio for different reasons:

  • To jury into a competition or show
  • To display your artwork on your website or other site
  • Marketing your work with a lookbook, brochure or line sheet
  • Advertising

Whatever the purpose, excellent photography is a must. Using images that are blurry, have poor lighting, or inappropriate backgrounds is a good way to be rejected by jurors and customers. Your competition has professionally taken photos. Make sure yours are outstanding too.

What types of photos might you include in your portfolio?

  • Jury images should be cohesive and work well as a grouping. A great set of photos will tell a story, and grab the attention of the jury even when they have been viewing hundreds of photos.
  • “In situ” shots share your work in an environment where they should be seen. Is your work great for a corporate setting? Or in a kitchen, a baby’s room or other particular place? These images help your customer imagine owning your work, and where they would display it.
  • Detail shots are important to show the texture and intricacy of your artwork. They enhance your portfolio by adding another layer for the viewer to understand what you make without seeing it in person.
  • Marketing shots are perfect for your brochure, website, signage or for a magazine article. These may be in situ, or in a grouping that shows the impact of your work well.
  • Money shots provide the “Wow” factor that can draw visitors into your website or shoppers into your booth.

Does your art portfolio show you current work that is a cohesive style that makes sense?  Does it share your signature style and is it recognizable as yours?

There are a few things you will want to remove from your portfolio:

  • Older work that no longer reflects your direction. Perhaps you have padded your portfolio with art that you no longer make, or may have been from student days. If it doesn’t add a dynamic element to your current work, it will look discordant and dated. Update your portfolio by taking these out.
  • Artwork in other mediums that you might have tried at one point become “orphans” that just don’t make a lot of sense in your portfolio. If your portfolio is filled with oil paintings and you have one or two charcoal sketches shown, they will cause imbalance and detract from the impact of your work. Remove them and let them become history.
  • Art that doesn’t reflect your best efforts. Lay your portfolio out in front of you. Which pieces are the least successful? Did you include them in your portfolio to make it look larger? Let these go, because a smaller collection of great artwork is better than a larger one that includes mediocre work.
  • Work that doesn’t make sense. Experimental work or artwork that doesn’t fit with the theme of your portfolio will stick out like a sore thumb. These are easy to spot.

Sometimes, artists pull a selection from their portfolio in order to show the breadth of their work, but end up with a jumbled collection that really doesn’t pull together. Don’t make that mistake.

And worse yet is putting together a portfolio that includes vastly different mediums – say pottery, watercolor and photography. This tends to give the impression that the artist is an amateur, or cannot make up their mind about their materials or direction. If you enjoy working in different mediums, put together separate portfolios of each for a more cohesive and pleasing presentation.

Does your portfolio show the best of your work? Or do you need to make some adjustments?


 Art credit (clockwise from top): Breezy Mountain Leather, Andrew Madvin, Amy Meya, Stacey Krantz, Paula Best, Kirsten Denbow

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