Interested in making your Fine Arts or Illustration portfolio more dynamic? Wonder why that gallerist or art director won't call you back after seeing your portfolio? Sometimes what you learned in art school does't turn out to be quite enough when it comes to getting your work out there and showing or selling it, or both.
Even if you didn't go to art school or you just want to make art because you love it, this information can help you.
First of all your portfolio is your visual resume, 25 to 35 pieces of your very best work. But not only that, what of your best work should you put in? What should a portfolio book look like? And how should it be structured? All these questions need to be asked before putting one together.
So to start off the size and portfolio book you use to place your prints in should be plain and somewhat cheap. Yes cheap, because every gallery and company can't guarantee it's return. You can buy a nice plastic black one at any arts store for under $10, the best size I found to get these people's attention is 11x17 inches because it's larger than general paperwork and cannot get lost in it. It's also not too big either, and it's a great size to showcase your work. The sleeves are also open so you can reorder your work, add, and subtract later as your projects move on and you gain more experience. And don't ever forget to put your name on the outside binder sleeve provided, phone number helps too.
Whatever you put into your portfolio should be in digital prints, no original work ever. Because not only can they not guarantee the return of your work, it just doesn't look professional. Your original work should be safe and sound at home where it belongs unless in a gallery showing or bought. Then it will all end up the same size too, not floating around in the sleeve if one piece is smaller.
If your work is primarily digital then printing it out should be easy, just make sure you have enough pixels to get across the page size without getting pixelated. Usually 300 ppi works well, that's what the major magazines use, but for detailed work sometimes more than that is needed.
For primarily analogue work you'll want to either scan or photograph your work in so it can be printed out digitally. Use a good camera, very important. One of the easiest ways to get great detail and still not get a fuzzy image is to stabilize your camera on a stand or a pile of books on a chair. Make your zoom go to the closest setting the camera has and move it out far enough to get your entire work in frame. This helps you to minimize the slight curve that happens when the lens is too close to the work it causes distortion to happen. After getting your analogue work into the digital realm you need to make sure the light and cropping is adjusted so that it looks like it does in person.
So now that we know how to put one together physically, what actual content are gallerists and art directors looking for? So if you already know then it's rather simple, if you don't it remains a frustrating mystery.
Portfolios for the professional industry need to be based on projects, this shows them that your not just making random pieces. That you have a plan, purpose, and timeline to your work. These projects may be large or small, but it's best to have 3 to 4 pieces from the same project in the portfolio, this gives a cohesiveness to it without having all the same kind of pieces in it.
I'll talk about what an industry based project looks like in a future post.
In a Fine Arts portfolio for gallerists, there should be 20 to 25 pieces of your best work from your fine arts projects. Gallerists are not looking for "student" looking work. What do I mean by student work? No studies or generic still lifes of random things. It must be from projects which have a purpose and a statement. They want to be able to rely on you for a good show if they decide to feature your work. The way you order the pieces in the portfolio also matters, you want them to see your most impressive pieces in the beginning and the end of the book. And your favorite ones in the middle. You need to be able to capture the gallerist's attention with your first pieces, they flip through portfolios quick because they just don't have the time to spend a whole couple hours on each one. Most art directors and gallerists flip through portfolios from back to front, because its faster. I've never seen one gingerly page through one from front to back. This is why the work must be set out evenly:
- 5 of the best in the beginning
- 5 of the best in the end
- Favorite best in the middle to keep one's interest
- Group projects together to stay cohesive
In a General Illustration portfolio it's a little more complicated. There should be 25 to 35 pieces of your best work from your Illustration and Freelance projects. Again no student looking work, and the rules for portfolio placement and project based work are the same as a Fine Arts portfolio. But there are a few things to add:
1) Character concepts
2) Creature concepts
3) Prop concepts
5) Color compositions
6) Production paintings
Art Directors need to see that you can not only create inspirational work, but make it fast and efficiently as well. And by fast I mean a character, creature, or prop concept within a week. An environment within a full day, and a color comp or production painting within a few hours.
This all sounds like a lot, but the reality of it is that if you want to get your work out there, there's a lot of expectations people have for visual artists. This post is meant to help you get there if that is where you want to go.