Style and Content

Choosing the Right Style

Your portfolio is a reflection of who you are as a person, as an artist, and as a professional. Just as you should give careful consideration to the outfit you wear to an important presentation, you should also carefully plan how you want to package your work. A sloppy portfolio will suggest that you can’t be depended on to get the details right. A cheap looking or ugly portfolio will suggest that you don’t have good aesthetic sensibilities. An excessively expensive looking portfolio (think Judith Leiber) will suggest that your priorities might not be in the right place. The style of your portfolio, in other words, is critically important to your career and should be carefully considered.

In addition to giving careful consideration to which of your values you want to communicate with your portfolio, you also need to consider your audience and try to fit your presentation to what you think they want to see. If, for example, you think a portfolio bound in rabbit fur best communicates your style, but your potential client is PETA, you will want to reconsider the fur plan and go with something that will better appeal to the client. When you present a portfolio to a client, you’re essentially asking for a job. Your portfolio needs to simultaneously communicate something positive about you, and appeal to the audience.

Many art directors complain to us about portfolios that are too fussy, complicated, or otherwise overdone. This type of portfolio, they say, tends to end up at the bottom of the pile. They much prefer a clean, simple portfolio with a minimum of decoration or complicated functionality. What they like, in one word, is “simple”. Remember, the important part is the contents, not the packaging. Don’t let the style of your portfolio overwhelm what’s inside.

What should I put in my portfolio?

This, for many, is a really tough one. What should I put in my portfolio? It’s actually pretty simple: include your best, most current work, and/or work that is selected with the specific interests of the audience in mind. Start off with a cover letter or other introductory page. Follow that by your strongest piece. Organize the work in themes if possible so there is continuity. End with a strong piece and any info about you (bio, show history, etc) that could be helpful.

If possible, have your content be all landscape or all portrait so the viewer doesn’t need to move the book around. If that’s not possible, avoid open spreads with both.

Add brochures, CDs and/or business cards, as appropriate.

Print Quality

Depending on your field, print quality may or may not be critical. If you’re a fine art photographer, you’d be crazy to print and show your work on office paper. If, on the other hand, you’re a graphic artist, you don’t need to print on the best Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper. Use common sense here and print on a paper that best communicates your artistic values.

In general, print quality is a reflection of who you are as an artist and as a person. Saving money on print quality is probably not a wise decision in the long run if you want to be taken seriously as an artist. That said, the most important thing is to get your work shown. Better to be showing average print quality than no prints at all.

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