How to Prepare an Art Portfolio: A Guide for Freelance and Self-employed Artists

Published Oct. 11th 2007

As an artist, a good portfolio will always set you apart from the rest of the crowd—and it’s a must-have if you’re a self-employed (or even part-time) visual artist.

When it comes to artist portfolios, pictures of your artwork and publications about your art are usually what make the biggest first impression if the actual "work" is not available, so today I’ll focus on those.

Taking photographs of your art

The first thing you’ll need are good quality images of your art. These days, even basic cameras offer great picture quality and features at a low price, and are pretty easy to understand and use whether you’re a novice digital photographer or you were born with a camera in your hands.

You want your photographs to be as good as possible, however, so to avoid distortions in your final images check out these tips on taking photos of your artwork.

Once you have your images, you’ll need some good photo-editing software to edit, crop and enhance your images. Most cameras come bundles with software to use, but other programs include Adobe Photoshop (which is expensive), Adobe Elements (which is cheaper), and GIMP (which is free.)

Storing your digital photographs

In the event of computer failure, it is extremely important to have backed up all the images of your work (and anything else important too).

I would recommend that once you have your photos loaded on your computer and organized in albums, save those albums on a CD and order them by date before storing them in a safe place. This will prevent any accidental loss of images.

You can also create portfolio CDs (with anywhere from 12 to 20 works) to hand out to gallery owners, potential buyers, or even non-traditional "galleries" like coffee shops, book stores, and restaurants.

Filling your artist portfolio or scrapbook

For artists who are more established, it’s a good idea to have an actual hard-cover artist’s portfolio to display images of your work in. These are often very expensive, but they do make a great first impression.

For "emerging" artists, a simple scrapbook will do the trick—make sure to include copies of your artist statement and resume, a short biography, any press releases or postcards from your shows, and any articles that mention you in newspapers or other publications. If you’ve already received awards or special recognition for your art, include those too.

Having all of this in one place will show potential buyers that even though you might not be a well-known artist, you’re well on your way.

Final advice

With any portfolio, it’s important to keep everything current and up to date. Immediately after participating in a show, add it to your resume and create a new album with photographs from that event or gallery opening.

It may seem like a lot of work, but it’s worth it—a well-organized, up-to-date portfolio proves you’re serious about your art, and serious about making art your profession.

To read more, visit Kimberley’s blog at

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