Building an Artist Portfolio

One of the most important things an artist can do is build a portfolio. You will need this to promote yourself to galleries, juried art competitions, etc.

I’ve read a few different articles on building a portfolio and I’ve come across two schools of thought. The first one states that your portfolio should include all similar works, or one medium. For example, if you mostly do oil, it should include oils only, and not charcoal or mixed media.

The second school of thought states that you should put all of your best works, no matter what medium. This is the one I agree with. I do mixed media, oil, acrylic, and drawing and I want to show them all off.

Whichever one you chose to go with, here are basic things you’ll need:

1. A professional artist portfolio binder. You can get these from a local art supply store, possibly an office supply store. You can also of course buy one on-line. You can go with something basic like this: Itoya Art Profolio Storage/Display Book 11 in. x 14 in. or something with more functions such as this: Alvin Prestige Studio Series Art Portfolio 17″ x 22″ – 1-1/2″ Gusset. There are many different sizes, so you’ll have to choose one based on your art and what you want to carry around (I went with a 9×12 to start with, but I will probably go with a bigger one next time).

2. You’ll need to write a bio for yourself (or have someone else write it). Since you may need to leave this with someone at a gallery and you’ll want them to be able to contact you, start with your name, website, email and phone number at the top.

Then just type out your story as an artist. You can include where you were born, when you started being an artist, what inspired you, your art education, art shows you’ve done, your favorite mediums, and your goals as an artist. You don’t have to include all of this, but you want to give the reader a clear picture of where you’ve come from and where you’re going as an artist. You do want to keep in brief (maybe a full page or less).

After you’ve written your bio, pass it around to friends and family and have them critique it. You want to make sure it flows nicely and communicates what you’re trying to communicate.

For more info on writing an artist bio check out this page:

3. If you want, you can include an artist statement, which would basically be what inspires you as an artist, an expression of your creativity and purpose as an artist. It is usually written in what I would call “flowery prose”, meaning bigger and more unique words than one would use.

Personally, I chose not to include this in my portfolio yet, because I feel I don’t have a good enough “story.” But if you have some real inspirational story about you as an artist, such as an artist I met the other day whose art was inspired by the 3 years he spent in a Buddhist temple meditating (and he had a LOT to tell about that), then I would include it in yours.

For more info on writing an artist statement check out this page:

4. Decide what works you want to include in your portfolio. Pick at least 10 (I would go with more though – maybe 20) pieces you think are the best reflection of your work. Get professional, high quality prints made of those pieces (for more info on this see: The prints obviously have to fit your portfolio, so for my 9×12 portfolio I got 8×10 and 8.5×8.5 prints made and put them on a black backing.

5. If you have any awards for your art, mentions of your art in a newspaper or magazine, etc., include those as well (I would put them at the back, after your art).

6. You are now ready to go show your portfolio to art galleries. Long story short, you want it to include your contact info, a bio of yourself as an artist and possibly an artist statement, and then prints of your best works of art. You can make it more complicated than that, but it’s really pretty simple.

One more note: Make sure you keep your portfolio up to date. You will probably need to update your portfolio at least twice a year, possibly more often.

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