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Portfolio Formats: Which is Right for You?

 

 

Being an Artist: An Unconventional Career Path

 

As promised, I am elaborating about marketing techniques as part of a series which will feature artist portfolios. Part 1 of this series will be about artist portfolios, and subsequent parts will follow as I research and discover content that I deem to be helpful to other artists as they travel this unconventional career path. For example, in my limited experience of this being a professional artist is a path like no other career, in that it is often difficult to navigate and make decisions about how to advance you. There are countless books, articles, and blogs that promise instant success or even urge you to quit your day job and do art full-time, or seem to imply that notion with titles like, Starving to Successful. Disclaimer: I haven’t read the book yet, so I can’t really make about its value to judgment artists. 

It’s hard to sort the wheat from the chaff, and know what to believe or apply to your career. In addition, other career paths such as Nursing, Social Work, Teaching, etc., seem to have a more definite path, which includes: obtaining the degree, often a masters degree, procuring experience in internships, volunteer opportunities, etc., learning to network, writing a killer resume, learning to sell yourself, etc. It is my hope that these articles will bring clarity and direction to your journey as an artist, in whatever form that may take, whether you are a hobby artist, an amateur artist, or a professional artist. But I digress. Ok, so to the topic of the week “What portfolio format options are available to artists?” More importantly, what are the pros and cons of each format?

Artist Portfolios: Why are they Important?

To investigate this topic in greater depth, I read an article entitled, “How to Create a Powerful Art Portfolio,” from Lori McNee’s website, Art and Fine Art Tips. This article was written by guest blogger, Jason Horejs, who is the owner of Xanadu Art Gallery in Scottsdale, Arizona, and an astute art business consultant.  Horejs states that, for artists, their portfolio is their resume and that it helps them to gain the attention of gallery owners, potential collectors, etc. (Horejs, 2009).

What Types of Artist Portfolios Exist? An Overview

According to Jason Horejs, there are three main formats for portfolios. They include, but may not be limited to 1.) The CD; which is inundated with “digital images,” of your art, and an affordable option, 2.) the printed book, published by an online provider such as Blurb.com, and 3.) The Presentation Folder, which is a binder that you fill up with clear plastic folders to house prints of your current artwork.  All have both pluses and minuses, although Horejs’ favorite format is the presentation folder. (ibid) In his view, this option makes it easy and inexpensive to update, plus gallery owners don’t have to even open up a computer program to view your artwork, and perhaps, find out to their dismay that your images on CD are not compatible with their PC or Mac computer. (ibid) In the interests of length, I will just discuss two options for portfolios and they are the published book and the presentation folder.

Art Portfolio Option 1: Published Book

Another option for art portfolio formats is to create a published book of your best works through online printing. (ibid)  Web sites such as Blurb.com and mypublisher.com can reproduce your artwork in a book format. (ibid) On the other hand, this format can quickly become obsolete as you develop your body of work over time, and if you want to use it, you will have to keep updating and re-printing it to stay current. (ibid)  This option can be a nice addition if you have a booth of your work at an art festival. (ibid)  For example, having a book about your artwork on hand can serve a talking point for potential customers who may ask the question that I dread most, “What is your art about?” (ibid)

Art Portfolio Option2: Presentation Folder

A final option and Horej’s favorite is the “Presentation Folder”. (ibid) This type of portfolio can be purchased at stores such as Staples, Office Depot and others. (ibid) These can be duplicated as many times as you need for the distribution of your portfolio to art galleries or other decision makers. (ibid) To illustrate your portfolio, print your digital images from a “high-quality inkjet printer,” and put the printed pages into your folder. Be sure to include details about the work in your portfolio such as title, medium, etc. (ibid). Remember, not to include every piece of artwork you’ve made since your first art class! Horejs recommends 20-35 images maximum to be included in your portfolio. (ibid) If you are in doubt about what pieces to include, consult a trusted friend, teacher, mentor, etc., to give you an objective opinion.

Dad and I
Dad and I, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
A Life Remembered 034
Dad and Phyllis, oil on canvas, 11 x 14 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
Dad and I (Birthday)
The Gift, oil on canvas, 9 x 12 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.
Dad and 1929 Ford
Dad and his 1929 Ford, oil on canvas, 16 x 20 inches, 2012, Jodie Schmidt.

Also, it might help to spread out various works of your artwork and look for patterns that define your style and subject matter of choice as an artist. Is it color, Texture, Line, Repetition, or a specific subject or topic that lights you up? What things do you like to draw paint or sculpt the most? Is it animals, architecture, landscapes, still life or portrait? Defining these attributes about your artwork will ensure that it has a consistent look to the portfolio, and it will help you know how to share your artwork when people ask you about it.

What has been my experience with Artist Portfolios?

As for me, it’s been many years since I have assembled and distributed a portfolio for an art show or for anything else. The first example that comes to mind is, my senior year at McDaniel College, in which I created a senior art project based on self-portraits painted in oil. The format I chose to organize my art was a PowerPoint presentation on CD. My second experience with building an art portfolio was when I applied to graduate school for a masters degree in Studio Art. This time, I used 35 milimiterFuji color slide film to record my artwork because that was the method that the schools had required in the application process. Both examples were from many years ago, in 2005 and in 2006 respectively, and obviously, the options have changed. I confess I haven’t kept current with all the new options for displaying portfolio work, for a variety of reasons. For one thing,  I’ve had an ambivalent relationship with art for a long time, going from being fully engaged and filled with dreams and ambitions, to self-doubt, and even extended breaks from making art, and exploring other career paths through college classes, volunteering, etc. Somehow though, I always end up returning to making art.

I am still figuring out what level of involvement I want to have with art. I think my current level of involvement is now an amateur artist, as I have been trying to move in a more professional direction, by requiring that clients sign contracts for my custom art pieces to secure my services, as well as asking them for a non-refundable deposit of 50% of the custom art price.  However, I have not yet been able to make a living from it yet. The earnings are always inconsistent from month to month, even when I really hustle and do lots of art shows, and events to advertise my art. I’m keeping my day job so I can focus on making art and not be worrying about paying the bills.

So what’s my next step? At the moment, I am working on reassembling a new and improved portfolio that reflects my current style, medium and subject matter of choice. A big part of meeting that goal is working in my sketchbook, Draw Every day, Draw Every Way: Sketch, Paint, and Doodle through One Creative Year, by Julia Orkin-Lewis. Here’s a link that describes the book in more detail, in case you are interested: http://augustwren.com/draw-every-day-book/. I’m including some of my sketches from this book that I made with pencil and colored pencil to give you an idea of how the book is structured.

 

 

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Inspiration: The Creative Process

For me, finding inspiration for my art work can be like chasing after the wind sometimes, or perhaps like banging my head against a brick wall, ad infinitum. While some people would describe inspiration as an aha moment, that seemingly comes out of nowhere, I believe it is more likely to be the result of a lengthy process of actively seeking new ideas, art techniques, or studying the art work of others, or simply a reaction or interpretation of our everyday surroundings or even our pasts that can ignite the spark of inspiration. Once brought to mind, it may seem sudden, but it really isn’t.

To try and stem the tide of artist’s block and the inertia that inevitably follows; I need to take the time to fill my creative tank by purposefully seeking inspiration in whatever form it may take. According to the Brittish periodical, The Guardian, one artist, Isaac Julien, described his “magpie approach” to seeking out new ideas. For example, he states that he is always actively seeking new fodder, from his immediate surroundings, such as people watching, viewing

Childhood memories revised
After reading the article about inspiration by William R. Beebe, I was reminded of a photo collage I created in Adobe Photoshop last summer, in which I illustrated the feeling of nostalgia. Pictured is my older self, looking back at the child version of me, with my loyal St. Bernard dog, Barney. Maybe this digital photo collage might become a more finished work sometime in the near future!

films, reading books, and even culling subject matter from conversations he is having with others. Source: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2012/jan/02/top-artists-creative-inspiration.  Another artist, William R. Beebe, suggests that artists should visit art galleries to ignite their imaginations. In fact, in the article he wrote, Finding Inspiration in Art, he shares how a visit to the Muscarelle Museum at the College of William and Mary,  led him to create a series of impressionistic landscapes of the Virginia Area. Source: http://emptyeasel.com/2012/02/16/finding-inspiration-in-art/.

 

Meanwhile, I am going to try taking Mr. Bebe’s advice and either make a trip to an art gallery or to visit a gallery “virtually” online, to see if I can regain new energy and creativity for a painting or drawing.

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Part Two: How do Artists Make Money?

Hello, Friends, last week I posed the question, “Can artists make money from their artwork”? It’s a question I’m sure other artists have asked themselves in the past and certainly one that I have been asking myself lately, and more specifically, “What can I do to make that money”? In last week’s post, I discussed two specific traditional methods, listed on the Art Bistro.com article, How do Artists Make Money? by Valerie Atkisson. Some of the methods listed in this article are: 1.) exhibiting artwork at art galleries and museums, and 2.) Exhibiting artwork at not for profit art galleries. Both methods have pluses and minuses. With the former, the artist may have to submit their work to juried shows, where the competition can be tough, and the entry fees can add up, the more shows that artists apply to. Also, many for-profit galleries take a commission for artworks that are sold, which can be up to 60%, so artists need to price their work accordingly so that they can be sure to make a profit. Source: How do Artists Make Money? by Valerie Akisson, http://artbistro.monster.com/careers/articles/5848-how-do-artists-make-money?page=2.

In a Business of Art Class, I took this January with teacher and Photographer, Rebecca La Chance, at The Artist Angle Gallery, in Frederick, MD; I learned that there are some ways of coping with the competition for art show entries. For example, a guest artist, Bill Watson, taught a class on Artist Branding. One of his points was that before you choose an art gallery to submit artwork too, be sure that your artwork is a good fit for the style of artwork that is exhibited there. For instance, you can visit the art gallery website to review the types of artists and artwork that has already been exhibited, and you can take the time to visit the gallery and get to know the staff there before you decide if you would like to work with them. I think this strategy can help artists to find their target audience of people who are likely to like their artwork and sell it, rather than simply submitting art portfolios to every art gallery in the area without a specific goal. That would be kind of like throwing darts at a dartboard with your eyes closed, not a very effective strategy. It’s kind of like when you are job hunting and you tailor your resume to fit the job description advertisement of jobs you wish to apply for. This can save you a lot of time and headaches to have a targeted plan, and hopefully this method gives you time to create a fantastic portfolio, which I am learning is the foundation I need to build onto first, before getting caught up in the newest craze of how I should be marketing my artwork, etc.  Moreover, your chances of success in this venture should surely increase if you are giving galleries the type of work they already love.

But to return to the topic of,” How do Artists Make Money?” I will reference a few more methods that the Art Bistro.com article mentioned. Another method that artists can utilize to sell their work is to host an open studio event where they can sell their artwork from their studio and invite friends, family, collectors, etc.  (Akisson).Using these method artists can retain 100% of the sales, provided they don’t have a contract with an art gallery limiting how they sell their artwork. (Akisson).  However,  artists  also need to be 100% responsible for marketing their open studio and collecting RSVP, getting refreshments, as well as setting up the show, collecting cash, updating their inventory, deciding on what  payment methods to use, such as cash, check, or credit card payments using Square or a commerce site, such as Etsy or Shopify,  and posting online marketing to advertise their show using Mail Chimp, Facebook, Instagram, or other social media channels to let people, specifically collectors know about an artist’s art show.

I have tried this method of hosting an Open Studio with mixed results. The first show I hosted, I had a great turn out and a lot of art sales from friends and family who attended. I used Facebook’s event page tool and I printed fliers I had made in Photoshop to advertise the art sale which was last July. However, the second Open Studio sale I hosted this past February was very disappointing. Many people did not respond to my invitations even though I made a Facebook page and texted their cell phones, or people said they were coming and didn’t, etc. Only a few people came to the art show and I felt like it was a wasted day with very few sales for so much effort, setting up the art show, making labels for art, marketing the artwork for sale, creating an inventory list, etc. It was a frustrating experience and I don’t think I will be trying this method again, but maybe I will try some other new things instead.

And finally, here is the last method I will discuss today from the Art Bistro article, and that is, selling artwork online. Source: (Akisson, 2014). This particular method seems to get a lot of positive press, especially on websites that talk about how great it is to sell your artwork online, how easy, etc.  To use this method, artists can create online commerce sites with their artwork on websites such as Etsy.com, Art Fire.com, Fine Art America.com, Red Bubble.com, Shopify.com, etc. I am sure there are many more sites, but these are the first examples that come to mind. One thing I learned a few years into setting up my own Etsy site is that I need to take into account the commission taken by Etsy and price my artwork accordingly, so I make a profit from it. However, an advantage of building my own commerce site and selling my artwork directly to others is that there are no gatekeepers who can reject my artwork, although there is usually a subscription fee or other fees associated with membership on the website.  Another thing is that it is not enough for artists to build the Etsy shop and just wait for customers to buy their artwork. In fact, many of the people who buy my artwork are friends and family who have seen my artwork on Facebook or have commissioned artwork from me, not strangers who have visited my website or Etsy store.

Because there are many, many artist commerce shops out there, artists need to advertise their artwork on Facebook, Instagram etc. and make sure that collectors and friends know about their shop so there will be a greater share of online sales. Furthermore, artist commerce sites need to be updated frequently with a variety of artwork, but not so much that buyers don’t recognize your personal art style.

One more thing, I highly recommend is that artists host art shows in person as much as they can, and not just relying on their art website or commerce store to sell their work. It seems to me, base don my own experiences that people want to meet the artist in person and sell the physical artwork before they will buy it. It is also a chance for the artist to build a personal connection with collectors and to find out why they like the artist’s artwork. Sometimes even the best photography will not show details such as texture, etc. of specific mediums like an oil painting or acrylic. However,  it is important to take the best possible photos of your artwork that you can before posting these on your commerce site or artist website. If you aren’t good with photography, take a photography class, or hire a professional photographer so you can present your artwork

photo collage, pregnancy, desert, eye, dress forms, seeds, woman, process, artist's block.
Here is a photo collage I made in Adobe Photoshop which I made by combining various photographs in the Photoshop program. I wanted to illustrate the feeling of artists’ block, which can feel like a time of dormancy. I plan to translate this collage into a watercolor painting soon.

in the best possible light. It is your visual resume and your most effective selling tool to show the world who you are as an artist. Best of luck!