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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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Why Do Artists Need a Portfolio? Part 1

Time seems to be getting away from me lately; working long hours at my part-time job, keeping my house clean and neat, cooking, running errands, etc. I’ve had precious little time lately to do art, or even to blog, or think much about the when/how/what, I want to blog about. My thoughts have been scattered like so many leaves on the wind, and my content ideas for this week’s blog post have ranged from marketing tips for artists to ideas for making time for art, and finally to the reason why artists need a portfolio. And I have come to the conclusion that I might have put the cart before the art because before artists can market their artwork, they need a substantial body of work to choose from with a concentrated theme and a style. However, before I get into a lot of detail about why artists need a portfolio to help market themselves to galleries, etc., I want to provide a definition of an artist’s portfolio. What is it? An artist’s portfolio is a visual reproduction of an artist’s work, often displayed as photo reproductions in a removable file folder, and other formats may include a printed book of an artist’s artwork, or a CD with jpeg images, or other formats such as online portfolio, “which showcases an artist’s style or method of work.” (Source: Wikipedia, “Artist’s Portfolio,” retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Artist%27s),  a portfolio can be used by artists to show employers and gallery owners the artist’s collection of best works, often limited to a specific medium and theme for clarity and cohesiveness (ibid).

To investigate this idea more fully, I did some research via my favorite source, the World Wide Web. According to an article entitled, “6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art”, by Agora Gallery staff, A compelling  portfolio will help artists to create “branding and packaging.” (www.agora-gallery.com) In addition, a portfolio paves the way for artists to enter art competitions “post on their website,” and create marketing materials (ibid), such as brochures, business cards, fliers, etc. Furthermore, a crucial aspect of an artist’s portfolio is the “visual reproduction,” of an artist’s art, because the quality of your art reproductions, (ibid) whether it is in photographs or prints,  will play a crucial role in capturing your potential fans and customers and turning them into followers. This is especially true of visual heavy sites such as Instagram and Pinterest.

High-quality photography is a must for an artist’s website, social media postings, portfolio, commerce shops or online galleries, etc… To stand out from the competition, Artists need their artwork to shine above all, not for their followers to focus on bad photographs, with fuzzy or blurred images that are dark and badly composed. These flaws will detract from an artist’s work. Although some experts will advise artists to hire professional photographers to exclusively document their work, I have a different take on this issue. I think artists should do whatever works best for them, rather than a hard and fast rule like this one. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to afford the fees from professional photographers as an emerging artist. For example, one of the choices I have made in order to make time for art is to work part-time. There are both pluses and minuses of this life choice, and while it affords me additional time to work on art while I am at my best, (during early afternoon hours) it also limits the amount of money I have to spend on art supplies, marketing, etc.  My solution for photography is to take my own photos and learn how to do this skillfully. If artists want to learn how to take their own photos, they can learn this skill through a variety of avenues, such as reading photography books from their library, taking photography classes at their local community colleges, and experimenting with different cameras, lighting, and tripods, etc. I also recommend an article called,” 4 Steps to Photographing Your Art”, by Art Archive, which can be retrieved at https://www.artworkarchive.com/blog/4-steps-to-photographing-your-art-like-a-professional.

If you can afford a professional photographer, by all means, do some research and seek out professional recommendations from trusted friends and family. But be sure the photographer in question has experience in taking photos of art. Here are some tips from Agora Gallery offers regarding the content of an artist’s portfolio: 1.) Use high-quality photos to document your art, 2.) Include a brief and compelling description of each artwork, include information such as: “size, title, media”. Also be sure to include a succinct description which describes the art. 3.) Tell a story about your art if you can, what inspired you to do the work, etc. 4.) Include a strong biography which describes your backstory as an artist, such as your journey as an artist, etc. (Source: Agora Gallery, “6 Things You Can Do To Promote Your Art”, retrieved from www.agora-gallery.com).   Make sure it isn’t generic, and that it sets you apart from other artists. As you write your biography, think about the first page of your favorite book and why it moves you or grabs your attention and makes you want to turn the page to find out what happens next.

Please note that it is very important to limit the number of images that you include in your art portfolio and be sure that there is a consistency in style and theme, as part of your branding. (Source: “Artists: Are you Consistent? A Gallery Owner’s Perspective,” Jason Horejs, November 3, 2017, retrieved from http://reddotblog.com/artists-are-you-consistent-a-gallery-owners-perspective-3/).  Do not attempt to include every item of artwork you have made in your portfolio. (ibid) Only include your best work. To narrow your focus, it might help you to write an artist’s statement, which describes the themes and context of your work and what makes it unique. To learn more about an artist statement, go to the following link:  http://www.saic.edu/media/saic/pdfs/lifesaic/careerco-opcenter/workingartistsseries/Handout_WorkingArtist_WritingYourArtistStatement.pdf.

In this post, I have included some oil paintings I completed during my senior year at McDaniel College as part of my senior studio final project. These help explain the concept of consistency in style, subject matter, and medium, as they are all self-portraits, executed in oil paints in an impressionistic style. The theme of these works was to illustrate different feelings expressed in the lyrics of songwriter, Sting. Some of the songs that inspired these works are: Lithium Sunset, Secret Journey and Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot. Many of these songs express struggles with failure, depression, making choices,  getting back up again and making sense of the world. Here is a brief lyric from Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot:

When you’re down and they’re counting
When your secrets all found out
When your troubles take to mounting
When the map you have leads you to doubt
When there’s no information
And the compass turns to nowhere that you know well
Let your soul be your pilot (Source: http://www.sting.com/discography/lyrics/lyric/song/176)

It is also important to do research about potential galleries you would like to exhibit your artwork before you send out your portfolio to galleries. For example, you might want to read their website and look at the work of artists that they already represent to get an idea of what style, mediums they gravitate towards, the gallery’s philosophy, etc. You might even want to make a drive to visit the gallery in person and meet the staff

Lithium Sunset, self-portrait
Another self-portrait from my art student years. Lithium Sunset, 2005, Jodie Schmidt, Oil on Canvas.
Self-Portrait in red
Self-Portrait with Red Shirt, 2004, Jodie Schmidt, oil.
Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, Self-portrait
Here is a self-portrait I painted during my years as an art student at McDaniel College. Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, 2005, Jodie Schmidt, Oil.
Self-Portrait with scenery
Self-Portrait with Scenery, Oil on Canvas, 2004.

if that is possible. This will give you an idea of what their customer service is like, and if you might mesh well with the gallery staff or not. Remember to be strategic about your choices for art competitions and gallery submissions, and look for opportunities that will be a good fit for your art.

Thanks for stopping by! I am planning to write about the topic of how artists can market their work as a series, to follow up this week’s post on why artists need a portfolio. Next week’s blog post will describe the concept of artist portfolios in more detail and all the different formats which are available.One final thought before I close, before you can make a portfolio, you must be putting in the hours in your studio and make art as much as possible, nights, weekends, etc. Also, it is important to invest time in learning and developing your specific medium of choice and style. This may not happen overnight and it takes time. After all, if you aren’t making art, you have nothing to promote.