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Print Promotional Tools: Professional (Marketing) Portfolio

If you are on a tight budget, our series of practical tips will help you use effective low-cost marketing tools to promote your art with class. So far we have covered:
  • Your Promotional Identity
  • Business Cards and Cover Letters to introduce yourself and your art
  • Postcards, Rack Cards, Flyers, Brochures and Catalogues, Portfolios and Packets and Press Kits to broadcast information about yourself and your art

    Today we cover your professional portfolio.

    A good portfolio answers the question "Who Are You and Why Should I do Business With You?"

    A Great Portfolio Gets All the Action.


    "A talented artist submitted his very professional portfolio of silver sculpture to me. The artist had a solid background in the arts, good inventory and serious credentials, and was reaching out to dealers in cities across the country hoping for greater exposure of his work. His promotional materials were nicely presented; the photos of his work were compelling. The artist was both articulate and polite on the phone and his correspondence was direct and to the point. Even though I was impressed with both him and his portfolio, I passed on representing him because his style of art was not suited to the collectors in my community. I recommended that he submit his work to galleries. I even thought of a few places where his work might sell. I gave him the names and numbers of several good galleries to contact. He seemed happy for the feedback, and thanked me for not sending him away empty-handed.


    "I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a great portfolio. As an art representative and alternative gallery owner, venue owners often ask me for the artist's statement, biography, exhibition list and images for each of the artists I represent. When the artist is prepared, it makes my job selling their artwork, that much easier."  A.C.T. Art Marketing Mentor & Artist Representative Margaret Danielak, a graduate of the A.C.T. Art Marketing Workshop and owner of Danielak Art.

    Why You Need a Professional Portfolio

    Your professional portfolio is a visual snap shot of your art and career. A great portfolio builds confidence. It helps viewers decide to buy your work, represent you or talk about you to friends and art professionals. It is a "stand in" for you and acts as a portable studio.

    Isn't My Web Site Enough?

    Artists often tell me that they already have a web site where people can view their work and learn about them. Why do they need a hard copy portfolio? Isn't that "old school?"

    Think about the viewers' experience.

    I look at hundreds of web sites and some get lost in the blur. My first impression often determines how I will look and how long I will stay. I may leave right away, look at each page in order of the menu, or I might bounce around to get a sampling.


    The first time through a portfolio, I can scan the contents from start to finish and then go back for a closer look at certain sections. I tend to go in the order you've presented it. I can linger. And the images are usually better than on a web site.


    The experience of thumbing through a printed portfolio uses three channels of perception: seeing, touching and moving. The more channels, the more memorable the experience. And the point is for the viewer to remember you.

    Your web site is a mirror of your hard copy portfolio. YOU NEED BOTH.

    Once you have a hard copy portfolio, you can easily align your web site or Blog with this material and create a CD version.

    How to Design a Professional Portfolio

    This is not the place to rush or scrimp. A good portfolio should say, "I am a professional artist that YOU want to work with!" 


    • The best portfolio is functional - easy for the recipient to review and easy for you to produce. I've seen all types of presentations of artwork, from old cardboard folders or scrapbooks holding snapshots to big fancy black leather custom-made notebooks with engraved stationery and custom-printed oversize photographs. Many of these portfolios are amateur or uselessly elaborate. The easiest container for both you and your viewers is a "dressed" view binder with your promotional identity in the plastic sleeves and spine.  
    • Each portfolio you create is drawn from your Master File (Electronic, print and CD) of all your updated material. Once you have a Master Portfolio, all you have to do is update it whenever you have an event, award or new body of work. (You do update your material every time you have something new to add, don't you? If not, you might miss an opportunity!) Make sure to keep a backup off-site and natural disaster-proof. 
    • The contents typically include:
      • Cover letter,
      • One- or two-page resume,
      • Artist's statement,
      • Articles and press,
      • Labeled color photocopies of images
      • Inventory list for all images with retail prices
      • Sample rack cards, brochures, postcards, business cards
      • CD of contents
      • Self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) in back pocket

    Make Sure to Follow-up
    Each viewer looks at a portfolio for a different reason. A gallery dealer is interested in the visuals, your prices, and your resume. A museum curator looks at your artist's statement and experience. The arts writer is interested in newsworthy accomplishments. Collectors want to see if there is anything to buy.
    Effective marketing is polite and persistent. Viewers often flip through and assess portfolios quickly before they return or toss them. Don't leave it up to busy people to decide when they will get back to you. Show them that you mean business and take the initiative.


    There's more help on how to create your professional portfolio here: Artists Need a Professional Portfolio.

    Digital Arts Studio


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    Reader Comments (2)

    You know, you have an interesting post here about portfolios and I have been experimenting with this in a few different ways. I am a big fan of keeping my life digital and eliminating paper from it. Therefore, I create a digital resume. When a client or potential employer asks for my resume, I just send them to a URL. I think it works a lot better, and really impresses people.

    Matthew, I am delighted that digital files work for you. If you have already established contact and they are expecting a url, it works better. I still hit delete on most unsolicited links because I have no good reason to spend my time unproductively.

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