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, 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 and 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: 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.




The Lost Art of Drawing

About a century ago (well I exaggerate a little); I was a college student studying art at McDaniel College in Westminster, MD. I had a brilliant and successful art teacher who was able to make the practice of art making and the hatching of new ideas come alive like no other teacher I had before.  He taught me many useful things, such as how to keep an art sketchbook pasted with photos of art work by artists I admired, and how to write about my art in a way that expressed the message I wanted to share with it. Above all of the tips and advice, he gave I remember him telling me that I should draw every day. At the time, that task seemed quite difficult. I was always an impatient artist as a student and I often rushed through the drawing stage to hurry up and get to the painting, especially oil painting, because I enjoyed working with the buttery texture of the oil paint and I loved working in color. Now that many years have passed since my graduation from McDaniel and I am a professional artist seeking out new avenues to showcase my art and making custom pet portraits, I can truly see the value in his advice.

With hindsight, I can see that he was so right about drawing every day. I no longer rush art work projects and I have learned to love drawing, whether it becomes a painting or not. A few years ago, I took a drawing class at Frederick Community College, with instructor Cynthia Bausch, who taught me how to use charcoal, pastel, and pencil to create compelling drawings with a high degree of finish. This experience started my love for drawing, even though getting the drawings right was extremely difficult. Frequently, I would do the sketch over and over again until I was pleased with the result. For instance, the self-portrait in charcoal, pictured in this post, was drawn a total of three times before I  handed in the final piece to the art teacher. Since then, I have embraced my former art teacher’s advice, Steve Pearson, from McDaniel College,  to draw every day. at present, I am working on a drawing challenge I like to call 100 faces in 100 days. In this challenge, I draw a pre-selected photo from the Internet or a coffee table book, Icons, of a celebrity using only pencil and paper. I do not add in a lot of detail or shading and I limit myself to 45 minutes a day. This time frame for drawing sessions tends to be more like 5 days a week for me since I often work on weekends and feel pretty fried when I come home. The drawings are strictly for practice and not intended for sale at this time.

To see what others in the art world had to say about the importance of drawing, I did a web search, with the query term, Why Artists Should Draw More.  Artist and blogger, Lori McNee, states that drawing can give the artists a multitude of benefits to help them improve their craft as an artist, not the least of which is learning to observe a subject, which is a skill that is important both to the practices of painting and drawing. Source:  Drawing more can also help you plan out your compositions better and give you a road map to follow for your design before you get to the painting stage when it is more difficult to make changes.

McNee, (2012), also states that many children enjoy coloring with crayons. For example, I have observed this tendency in the day care setting, (McNee, 2012),  when I was working as an Assistant Teacher at La Petite Academy when I was a high school student. However, over time many children stop drawing or making crafts and self-consciousness drifts in, stealing the spontaneous joy of creating something new. I observed this tendency when I volunteered as an assistant in a middle school art class back in the early 200s. A lot of the kids in this art class would say, “I can’t draw this,” or “You do it,” to me when I walked around to work one on one with the students.Picasso-quotes-every-child-is-an-artist  In fact, even artists (such as Mc Nee) who have been trained to draw, often let this essential art practice slide over time, (McNee, 2012) and may come to rely on tracing, especially if they need to get a project done quickly for a client. I admit, I am guilty of this tendency and until a few years ago, I rarely had a daily drawing practice, and I often struggled to get my proportions in portraits correct, often giving up in futility to join all the other drawings on the reject pile.

However this summer, I was inspired to tackle my fears about drawing and making mistakes by the drawing challenge artist and blogger, Julie Fan Fei completed which she called, 100 15 minute Balzer Faces, in which she made a daily drawing practice using a variety of media such as ink, acrylic paint, and jelly plate printing, among others. Source:  This challenge and my art teacher’s wise advice, motivated me to complete my own drawing challenge which I like to call 100 Faces in 100 days.  I post progress photos of my celebrity sketches on my Instagram account almost every day, but it tends to be more like 5 days a week because of my work schedule, in which I often work weekends.   I spend 45 minutes on each sketch, with minimal sketching, and I simplify this process by working only in with paper and pencil.

I also keep a visual photo file of celebrity imagery I would like to draw from. One important note of caution here: If you want to sell a portrait or sketch, it is best to use your own photos if possible to avoid copyright violation, or to visit the Wikipedia web site,, where you can do image searches by the name of the celebrity and find out the photo’s provenance, such as the name of who took the picture and whether it is in the public domain. Here is a link Wikipedia with a public domain photo of Cary Grant:,_Cary_(Suspicion)-01_Crisco_edit.jpg. I have attached my sketch of Cary Grant based on this photo.

 To be on the safe side, you want to choose photos in the public domain if you plan to show your work or sell it or publish it in any way unless you can get written permission from the photographer to reproduce their work.  If you’re drawing is just for practice, no need to worry. But do try to give credit to the photographer if you can find out that information, and include that photographer’s name in your sketch when you sign and date it. Here are two web sites you can refer to learn more about copyright violation and terms:, and

In conclusion, I am still working on my drawing challenge and I am really enjoying the process.  I feel like I am getting more comfortable with drawing and the pressure if off because this work is not for a custom art order, or for an art show entry. I am learning how to slow down and not be in a rush to finish a project. What really matters is that I have passion, determination, and am willing to put in the time to learn to draw, paint, etc.  It takes time to acquire these skills and is similar to learning a sport or an instrument, which requires hours, days, weeks, and years of practice. I’m trying to be patient with the process and remember that most of what I know how to do now with ease, had to be practiced and (and often!), whether it was walking, talking, reading, writing, cooking, etc., etc.  to reach a level of mastery.