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Portfolio Must-haves

At some point in your art career, you’ll have to put together a portfolio. It may be to get into art school, enter a juried show or art contest, or get a gig.

Your portfolio, application, artist’s statement, and even labeling is a reflection of you. It’s all the judges have to go on. You’ll be competing against many other talented and committed artists.

A portfolio should be:
- Organized
- Presentable
- Professional
- Relevant
- Your best work

Unfortunately, it’s not always about how creative you are.

First Things First

No jury will be impressed if your application isn’t filled out correctly. In fact, your art may never even get to the judges. Art shows and art contests are flooded with entries. The first cut is to weed out entries that don’t meet the requirements.

Typically you’ll need an application, transcripts or letters of recommendation, an artist’s statement, and your works of art. Leave yourself plenty of time to finish. Don’t let all your hard work go down the drain because of paperwork or a missed deadline.

Presentation and Professionalism

Judges look for professionalism, maturity as an artist, creativity, and technical execution.

  • Choose high-quality materials for your works and presentation materials.
  • Try to integrate the design of the portfolio with the art. If you have to submit digital copies on CD, design and label the CD with the eye of a graphic artist.
  • Double-check the files on the CD or flash drive. Ensure there aren’t any surprise files included.
  • Neatly print or type your application and artist’s statement. Don’t use white-out or cross things out.
  • Scan or photograph images at high resolution, or consider enlisting the help of a professional photographer.
  • Your portfolio should be neatly organized and clean. Drawings, paintings, prints and photographs should be labeled.

If you’re trying to get into a gallery or juried art show, you may be submitting actual works or slides.

  • Matting and backing should be archival quality and acid-free.
  • The frame should complement the art, not conflict nor distract from it.
  • In presenting to a gallery or juried art show, group related works together. Works should be visually similar and related by medium, color, or style.
  • If you’re presenting slides or digital images as a slide show, viewing order and placement on the screen is important. Deliberately move the judges’ eyes along the works and then keep them focused on your presentation with the order and rhythm of your pieces.

Choose Your Best Work

Study the guidelines, look at the art that has won in the past, and examine the website.

  • How others have presented materials sets the tone for your choices.
  • If you know who the judges are, study their art and expression.
  • Don’t waste time on shows that don’t fit you.

Include only finished pieces.

  • It’s better to have a few high-quality works, than many mediocre ones.
  • Pieces should show your creativity, mastery, talent, and be relevant. Avoid works that are derivative or are obvious classroom studies. You may like them and they may be good, but they don’t necessarily exemplify artistic maturity.

Artist’s Statement

Include in your artist’s statement information about motivation, inspiration, process, subject matter or goals.

  • Don’t include details that are too personal or are not that relevant.
  • Do include details or description about the art works themselves.

Your portfolio is a reflection of your image, and of your maturity, professionalism, and commitment to your calling. Treat it as such.