What Should Your Portfolio Look Like?

I teach Professional Practice to students on the BA Hons Fine Art course at Staffordshire University.  I recently gave a lecture about my practice, with the following tips on preparing a portfolio and artist statement.


What Should Your Portfolio Look Like (Check List)


The quality of this document needs to be the best you can afford. If you have a very limited budget, try to at least use good quality paper for printing. If it is too thin, the images and text will come through the paper.

Some do go for commercial printing and this always has a look of professionalism but if all other elements are not equally professional and impressive then the cost of commercial printing will be wasted.

Good time organization needed to get work off for printing

Make sure it will not fall apart, and don’t use paperclips, or plastic sleeves.

Choose your font carefully, nothing too flowery, making it difficult to read.

Font size is also important, too small is again hard to read and too large looks childish.

Don’t use over the top graphics, which will distract from the images.

The cover image is really important, choose one that stands out in it’s own right and will want the reader to open the document.


The most obvious rule in any writing about your work is correct grammar and clear use of language. It can be hard to find grammatical errors when you are very absorbed in what you are writing. Where ever possible ask someone else to proofread your proposal and what ever you do, don’t rely on a spell check!

Your opening statement needs to be easily read by both an art and non-art audience. So if using technical words, also explain what you mean.

Remember your portfolio is your publicity, and therefore very different to the artist’s statement you write for studio. It should NOT discuss, your mistakes or regrets. Without coming across as arrogant your writing needs to show that you are a confident and professional practicing artist.

Put yourself in the position of a professional artist, not a student. Don’t talk about Semesters or Modules; when you did things is not really relevant, as we can see the date on the label of the image.

Whilst elements of texts you have written before may well be relevant, make sure what you write makes sense as a whole and don’t just copy and paste.

We all write in very different ways. For this document you need to use formal language (formal though does not mean you can’t be creative or refer to personal experiences).

Don’t be afraid to use similes in your writing, they can really add depth to your use of language and can be very helpful when describing the images. For example

 Over my head the clouds thicken, then crack and split like a roar of cannonballs tumbling down a marble staircase; their bellies open–too late to run now!–and suddenly the rain comes down.

(Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire)


As you walk round the boating lake the reflections shimmer and shift, making the texts look like they are speaking to you in different tones.

If you are confident try and be creative in your choice of words, use a thesaurus to help.

o not make unjustified claims for your work. For example “This painting is about happiness” you need to back this up as to why? I.e. “The bright and saturated use of colour aims to create a feeling of happiness” On the same note, do not make sweeping statements about how the viewer or general public are meant to feel when looking at your work.

Make sure you are not coming across as either arrogant or uncertain.

Make sure that everything you write is RELEVANT to your work, do not waffle!

Some more really useful tips – http://www.artbusiness.com/artstate.html


Make sure all images are in focus and any light is not obscuring the image.

Check the resolution is high enough; images should be 300 dpi for printing. You can check this on Photoshop using the view print size on the top menu.

Look at how the image is framed – what might be in the background or on the wall surrounding an image.

Check the colour accuracy. If a wall is white, make sure it is white and not blue in the photo. Again use Photoshop menu – Image to adjust the colour.

The layout for the images needs to be pleasing to the eye and images all level with each other.

Diagrams and drawings need to be clear and professional. Also check all images are labeled correctly.




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