Artist Portfolios


Here is a question I received from reader Kyle:

What does a professional portfolio for possible employers look like? How many pieces of work should I use? How large is the physical portfolio? Do I take the physical portfolio into interviews or do I take in a resume and a disc with all of my work? Also, how did you go about shopping this portfolio around?

Truthfully, I don’t use a physical portfolio very often. My website does most of the grunt work, which is true for many freelance artists nowadays. The most an art director will usually see from me in terms of printed pieces are postcards and tearsheets. So if you haven’t already, BUILD A WEBSITE. They are extremely useful.

However… there are many occasions where you would need a physical portfolio, such as job interviews and reviews. Here is my take:

Art directors want to see ART. So do NOT make this more difficult for them than it needs to be! Keep the images neat, organized, and easy to see, and the presentation simple to browse through.

There is a tendency to over-think the physical presentation of a portfolio, as if the right amount of trickery or decoration will magically transform the the artwork. Just make it look nice and let the work speak for itself.

General Portfolio Tips

  • Follow any guidelines set by the employer to which you are applying.
  • Never use original art. Use good color copies/scans. Original art might get lost or damaged. Plus with the copies, you can make all the images a uniform size.
  • Include samples such as postcards, business cards, or tearsheets that you can leave behind for the employer to keep in their files.

What does a professional portfolio for possible employers look like?

As long as the presentation is clean, professional, and not too cheap or cheesy looking, this is up to you. I use a simple leather binder, and from what I know this is what a lot of other artists use too. However, I have also seen zipper cases, hand-bound books, and nice boxes put to good use. But again, don’t over-think it. Anything too fancy would probably come off as contrived, and anything too difficult to use is annoying for the art director.

How many pieces of work should I use?

A good number is probably between 12-15 pieces. Show enough work for the employer to be confident in your abilities, but don’t overwhelm them.

However, remember to only include your best work. Do not add images to your portfolio just for the sake of filling it up. It is better to have a small portfolio of stellar work than a large portfolio filled out with mediocre work.

How large is the physical portfolio?

You know those fancy, ginormous zipper portfolio cases you see in art stores? Those are for personal storage and transportation purposes only! In portfolio reviews, you want something that is easy to carry and easy for the art director to set on a desk and flip through. Something that can house standard letter or A4 size color copies is just fine. Some artists use will use a bigger size, like 11″x14″. Anything bigger than that is unnecessary and inconvenient.

Do I take the physical portfolio into interviews or do I take in a resume and a disc with all my work?

Physical portfolio. If you have been asked in for an interview, then chances are the employer is going to want to see your artwork. Don’t make this difficult! If all you bring is a disc, then you are relying on the chance that the employer will have a computer nearby, that the computer will be able to read your disc’s format, and that the interviewer will want to make the extra effort to pop in the disc in the first place. Unless a disc is part of the employer’s submissions policy, don’t take your chances and bring the physical portfolio.

How do you go about shopping the portfolio around?

Depending on what you want to do, you are going to have to do a lot of research to find specific companies and venues. You can often find art submission or job application guidelines on company websites or job listings. Sometimes, it is just a matter of calling someone and setting up an appointment. Some conferences will have portfolio review sessions. Read a lot of books and browse a lot of websites to find the standard practices for your industry.

Artists – what does your physical portfolio look like? Have any tips or favorite supplies that you use? Let me know in the comments!