Arts4All Blog

How to Build Your Artist Portfolio

Posted May 10th, 2017  |  By A4A.admin

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Summer is almost here, and that means many of you may be applying to summer art programs or colleges.  Here are a few tips from CSMA art faculty Asami Akinaga on how to put together a portfolio for your applications.  Asami teaches drawing and painting to teens and adults and will also teach a Portfolio Prep class this Fall.

Choosing your pieces

  • Show at least ten pieces of finished artwork. Many beginning artists show either too little or too much in their portfolios.
  • Choose pieces that reflect your best work. Your best work should show strong craftsmanship and be in pristine condition with no marks, smudges, or creases.
  • Show a variety of different mediums and skills including 2D work and 3D work.
  • It is also helpful to add preliminary sketches or ideations leading up to your finished piece. For 3D work, multiple views and close ups are important.
  • Consider pieces that are most relevant to the program you are applying to.  For example, it is not necessary to show five different watercolor paintings unless you are specifically applying to a watercolor workshop.  Instead, show that you have strong foundation skills by including pencil and ink sketches, charcoal figure drawings, and still life paintings of different mediums.


Submitting your work

You may need to create more artwork for your portfolio so plan ahead to meet submission deadlines. Submitting your work early is more professional than waiting until the last minute. Make sure to meet the exact requirements for submissions. These guidelines may include image sizes, file sizes, number of pages, and more. Some programs ask for images to be uploaded, others may ask for a pdf or printed portfolio, or even an online portfolio.

Image Uploads

  • Make sure you scan a high quality, high resolution file instead of taking a blurry photograph. If your work is too large or three-dimensional, use a professional camera and tripod to take a high quality photo. More effort and respect for your work shows professionalism and commitment.

    A high quality scan (left) looks more professional than a blurry photograph (right).


  • Remember to resize proportionally to meet the file or image size guidelines.


PDF or Printed Portfolios

  • If a pdf or printed portfolio is requested, you will need to use an application to create a layout. Adobe Photoshop or Adobe InDesign are the most commonly used programs to create a portfolio.

    A portfolio layout created in Adobe InDesign.


  • Typically, printed portfolios are 11x17in but different schools have different requirements so make sure your layout is the correct size.
  • Create a clean, consistent layout that does not have too many images on one page.  Highlight your best or most important work by giving them an entire page by itself (see image above), while multiple sketches and studies can be clustered together (see image below).

    Cluster multiple sketches on one page.


  • The artwork should speak for itself, so don’t provide lengthy descriptions within your portfolio. The title, year created, and medium used are the basic information you should provide next to or under your piece.


Online Portfolios

  • Having your own website with your own domain name is the most professional option, but if you don’t know how to build your own site there are many free portfolio websites available.
  • Choose whether you want individual images displayed or a layout similar to a printed portfolio. This may depend on the layout of your website.
  • Most portfolio websites include space for personal bios and contact information.  If you are under 18, ask your parents how much information is appropriate to post online.  Keep your bio short and professional, include your education and how long you have been practicing art.


Most importantly, stay positive and keep working. A lot of artists do not get accepted into the programs of their choice the first time they apply, so just keep working and adding to your portfolio. If you are looking for one-on-one guidance on building a portfolio, I will cover all of these topics and more in the Fall Portfolio Prep class (registration opens mid-July).

Tags: art-school