Portfolio Presentation

Kevan Atteberry

Kevan completed a cover for a special insert in all the Northwest Parent Publishing magazines. Congratulations Kevan!
Kevan is Co-Editor of the SCBWI Washington Newsletter, Chinook. He spoke with his friend, Ron McCutchan, Art director, Criket Magazine Group, during the Washington SCBWI Conference last April. Some portfolio tips Ron suggested included:

- No more than 10 pieces
- Show your range, but NOT every style you ever worked in.
- Don't include a style that you don't want to work in tomorrow.
- 80% of work will feature a child, so ... include a child in your portfolio.
- Include artwork that is evocative
-Leave questions for the AD to ask. For instance, "What's going on here? What happened?

Some General Illustrator Tips
- Know the industry.
- Know how to read an article and pull out descriptions, etc.
- Know how/where to research.
- Always note deadlines.
- Follow up on delivery of packages you've sent.
- Act in a business-like manner.

The GWB has an amazing writer/illustrator critique group instructed by Lauri Neuding

Illustrator friend, Tom Curry, published world-wide, shoots his own 4"x5" chromes of his work, and that's what art directors get. He doesn't ever send his originals. He then sells them for a fair amount of money.

Alternative would be to have them separated yourself, adding the cost of course, but again NOT sending the original work.


You can get them from Jerry's Artarama--they're called "corruboard portfolios" The prices listed are for 3 (three) boxes.....10x13x1-1/2--$10.99; 20x30x2-1/2--$24.99; and 30x36x2-3/4--$38.99....a size to fill all your needs. The company listed here was Light Impressions (www.lightimpressionsdirect.com). Their prices are rather steep compared to Jerry's, however, you may wish to check it out.


Date: Sun, 31 Jan 1999 10:46:45 -0800
From: Layne Jackson
Subject: re:illustration: Shooting slides of Artwork

Here's the low down on shooting slides.

ALWAYS project the slides before you send them. Have been on both sides of the fence (sending and viewing) and bad slides get you knocked out of the park. Period.

If you spend no other extra money, spend it to have your quantities of slides shot at one time, and only go to dupes IF YOU MUST.

A good photographer will bracket the shots, and shoot off the number you need. ALWAYS keep an original, marked MASTER, and IF YOU MUST make dupes, use this MASTER. Very important. And I repeat, VIEW THE SLIDES before you send them! It's amazing what shows up when you project them, that can't be seen by the naked eye, holding up to a dim bulb.

LABEL them with NAME, TITLE, DATE, MEDIUM and SIZE, width first. And many times, if there's any doubt, they want to know which end is up. There are some movements in the works, G.A.G. is working on this, I believe, to standardize these formats, and it would be nice if that happens. Often, they ask for a red dot, but sometimes it's top right, sometimes bottom!

Layne Jackson

I once met a very successful rep here in Seattle and got a chance to see his artist portfolios. His mailing and leave-behind portfolios were nothing more than slim 3-ring binders that had been rebound in hand made paper with the artist's logo pasted on the front, with the artwork inside nothing but high quality laser copies (which I'm sure your Epson will surpass) in plastic sleeves. The artwork was excellent, and the whole presentation (as casual as it sounds) came across very well.

For a digital portfolio, this is a great way to go. I have a book called "Creating a Digital Portfolio" (which is unfortunately out of print) in which people who provided the examples set up their portfolios as web sites, using JPEGs or GIFs for the art and a browser to access them. Coming off the disk rather than the internet, the portfolio loads quickly and you can use a lot of imagination in making it interactive. If you were looking to archive your art, I wouldn't recommend JPEGs due to the compression factor. If you saved them as the highest quality available you wouldn't lose a lot of information, but there would be some loss. But for a portfolio, it's a great way to go.

Kelly Cheek

© Claudia Karabaic Sargent 1996

What is an artist's portfolio?

An artist's portfolio (also known as a "book") is a selection of the artist's best work, used by the artist to display his/her skills and abilities to a specific audience.

What should be in a portfolio?

It really depends on your objectives. For a student trying out for college or graduate school, the main objective would be to show how your creativity works--so, you'd want to show sketches and plans for larger work, as well as a range of finished works utilizing different materials and techniques. On the other hand, a professional artist who wants to pursue assignments in a specific area would show a portfolio of work geared to that specific market; professional artists who work in different styles or different markets often have several portfolios of their work.

How should an artist approach setting up a portfolio?

The first thing you should do is DEFINE YOUR OBJECTIVE. Decide what this portfolio is for--are you trying to show off a new technique or medium? Are you trying to gain admission to an educational program? Do you want to enter a new market with existing work, or with a new style?

Once you figure out what specifically you want to accomplish, you can start choosing what should go into your portfolio.

How many pieces should be in a portfolio?

The first thing to remember is that quality is ALWAYS more important than quantity. Only the very best examples of your work belong in your book; and, whatever work you show should always advance your objective.

That said, a professional portfolio can contain as few as 10 pieces IF THEY ARE ALL EXCELLENT, or as many as 20. Fewer than 10 looks too sparse; more than 20 makes it hard on the viewer's attention span.

What if an artist has a piece that they REALLY like, but it's the only one s/he ever did in that style or medium?

I wouldn't advise showing only one example of anything in a professional portfolio, (though it might be perfectly acceptable to do so in a student portfolio). The reason is that professional portfolios are usually set up like books -- as spreads, with a left and right page. Both pieces on a spread should relate to each other in some obvious way -- in color, design, technique, medium, or subject.

If you have, say, only one woodcut -- I would advise holding on to the first woodcut until you have another, so you can show some range within the technique. Remember that you are trying to achieve an objective with a portfolio--and basic to that end is showing your competence in a specific area (in this case, woodcuts). That isn't clearly demonstrated to a viewer by displaying only one example of that kind of work.

How should a student portfolio be set up?

There are several objectives in setting up a student portfolio:

(1)The student should show the range of their creativity and imagination, and how this range is manifested in their work. To accomplish this goal, the student could show sketchbooks and rough drawings for future projects as well as finished work.

(2)The student should display his/her ability to use a range of media; so, there should be examples of the different types of work the student is interested in (drawings, paintings, computer art, multimedia, sculpture, needle arts, WHEREVER the imagination takes the student).
My only caveat here is if the student has 3-dimensional or oversized work, GOOD QUALITY photographs, slides or transparencies are more useful than originals, especially where the portfolio needs to be transported or sent to the people who are going to be viewing it.
In the case of work that requires some mechanical or electronic device to view it [i.e., a disk of computer art or multimedia art, or a slide portfolio], the student should check ahead with the people to whom s/he's sending the portfolio, to make sure that the recipients have whatever hardware and software they need to view the work.

(3)A student portfolio need not be as focused or as organized as a professional portfolio; that said, I would remind all students assembling portfolios to be mindful of their audience when putting their books together. Nobody wants to see a 25 lb. portfolio full of different sized loose drawings with no cohesive message. You don't need to show every good thing you have ever done; you don't want to overwhelm your audience with quantity. You also don't need to show more than a couple of examples of any one kind of thing. The Golden Rule here is that QUALITY IS MUCH MORE IMPORTANT THAN QUANTITY. Choose your best work, and display it in an organized and effective presentation. Neatness and cleanliness counts, as does order.

(4)Carefully consider how you are going to display your work to its best advantage. If you're showing paintings and drawings, a portfolio binder is a worthwhile investment. You don't have to spend a lot of money--just be sure to get a book large enough to fit your work (I think that binders are better than cases because you can add, delete or replace the pages). I personally prefer vinyl pages to acetate, because they're sturdier & don't scratch as easily.

(5) When in doubt, ask someone what they think. We artists tend to have "favorite" pieces that we just love, the display of which may NOT advance our best interests. If you have a doubt about whether or not a piece belongs, ask a teacher or a civilian (non-artist) what they think.

In closing, please remember that your portfolio is what represents your artistic talent to the world. It is a living and breathing organism--you must care for it that way. Only feed it good things (only put in good work), prune it occasionally (delete outdated or inferior work), and take good care of its body (only use a clean, orderly, neat display case and packing materials) and you will be rewarded with the fruits of your labors (you will get into the educational program you're trying for, or you will get the grade you deserve). And -- check out the next FAQ, on assembling a professional portfolio.

How should a professional artist's portfolio be set up?

The first order of business is, as always, to define your objective.

Are you a gallery artist, looking to expand your business into the more commercial arenas of publishing and advertising?

Are you just graduating from art school, and assembling your first professional book?

Are you an illustrator working in a new style that you now hope to be able to sell to your current clients?

Are you a seasoned professional in one market [say, advertising or magazine illustration], desirous of expanding your existing work into new marketplaces [like greeting cards or giftware design]?

Whatever the goal you are trying to attain, your approach to assembling a successful portfolio must recognize (a) where your career is RIGHT NOW, and (b) where it is you want your career to go. The first order of business is to take a good long look at your current portfolio. Take everything out and look at each piece individually. Which pieces truly reflect your goals? Take those pieces ONLY (and be absolutely ruthless!) and put them to the side. They will be the backbone of your new portfolio. [If you don't have ANY pieces in the pile--don't feel too badly, it's happened to all of us!]

Now you need to figure out what the gaps are in the pile of existing work; they need to be filled with new work. Remember what the organizing principle of this particular portfolio of yours is -- new market, new medium, new style, new clients in an existing market, expanding your presence in a current market -- and use that ruthless eye of yours again to see what needs to be done. If you have only one sample of a particular medium or style, you very likely will want to create AT LEAST one new piece to go on the same spread [and maybe the next spread] -- remember, having only one example of something doesn't prove professional-level competence [which is one of your underlying goals--you don't want to be trying to sell a style or medium that you can't easily replicate]. You really need to demonstrate your range within a particular area in order to obtain new assignments from clients in that area. Make a list of what you think needs to be done--and then DO IT!

Are there any basic criteria for establishing the order in which work in a portfolio is displayed?

There are a couple of big ones that may seem obvious, but I cannot overstate their importance:

Your name and contact information (address & phone, website info if you have one) should be clearly displayed in the front of your book; it's not a bad idea to put it on the last page as well. You can't get work if people can't find you!

Start with your strongest piece, either on the first page or the first spread. You need to grab the viewers attention and keep it so they look at the rest of the book.

Finish with your second strongest piece--it will send the viewer paging back through your portfolio to make sure that they didn't overlook any of your genius.

Both sides of the spread should relate in some way--medium, subject, color, market.

Stronger pieces go on the right side, auxiliary or supporting pieces on the left. Your eye will tend to go to the right side of the spread first when you open your book--so capitalize on that. (NOTE: This suggestion does not pertain to pages of an illustrated story or article that are best viewed in page order.)

Have some good quality photocopies or printed samples of your work [with your contact info] to leave with the art director for their files. More about this later--

What does a professional artist use his/her portfolio for?

A commercial artist (i.e., an illustrator, designer, computer artist, or photographer) uses the portfolio as the main selling tool for his/her work. The professional portfolio is supplemented with other selling tools and techniques, in order for the artist to obtain new assignments from current and potential clients.

How does the portfolio work as a sales tool?

The artist's portfolio is the distillation of the artists best work; both commercial work (i.e., work produced for clients) and personal work may be included. The purpose of refining and editing your portfolio is to show your best possible professional face to current & potential clients. That's why it's really important to be absolutely ruthless when assembling a new portfolio from existing work--you don't want to show work in a style that you cannot replicate (which may be the case with an old piece that you kept in just because you really, really like it; it may also be the case with a great piece in a brand new style or medium with which you have very little experience).

The bottom line is NEVER, EVER show what you cannot easily produce for a client. The other bottom line is NEVER, EVER show work that you aren't interested in doing. I know that sounds obvious, but you'd be really surprised at what some professionals will do to sell their work--artists will show outdated work or work in a style -- or of a subject-- that they just don't want to do any more, and they do it "because it sells". My response to that is "If you don't like the work [or the style, or the subject, or the medium], why on earth would you be showing that as part of your primary sales pitch to a new [or current] client?"

It all goes back to the first rule of setting up your book--figure out EXACTLY what you are trying to accomplish with this portfolio, and then figure out exactly how to best attain your goal.

Is it okay for an artist to have more than one portfolio?

YES!!! I would highly recommend having several portfolios that are set up for different purposes. For myself, I have a general portfolio, a greeting card/giftwrap/papergoods portfolio, a portfolio for children's educational publishing, and a general purpose portfolio meant for sending to out-of-town clients [this one is tailored for each individual client call, so the pages are easily removable/replaceable]. I supplement these with my published books, where I will bookmark pages that I think the client will find useful for their particular needs.

I'm in the process of assembling a second mail portfolio (so that I don't have to wait for the first to be returned if it's out of town). I hope to create an online portfolio web page as well, sometime later this year, so that clients who have web access won't have to wait until FedEx delivers my book the next day.

What about supplemental sales material?

You should have at least one good-quality photocopied or printed sample of your work to leave with clients as a reminder of your style and your contact info. You can store this in the back pocket of the portfolio, or send it to the client with a "thank you for your time" note after your portfolio call is completed.

It's a good idea to do a couple of these a year, so you have new things to send. In upcoming FAQs, we'll be discussing promotional and sales materials and techniques in greater detail.

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