The Dos and Don'ts of Building a Successful Visual Art Portfolio

Alessandro Levato | July 24, 2023

Lesley Bodzy shown manipulating a new piece out of acrylic and black velvet entitled, Gratitude.

What should you consider when building your art portfolio?

Your portfolio serves as the first look into who you are as an artist and where you are heading. It is an assemblage of carefully curated artworks that speaks to your unique vision, artistic ability, and voice.

Regardless of where you are at in your art career or journey, your portfolio is a critical component when seeking art opportunities calls, or communicating with potential clients. 

While there are many aspects to applications, you're going to want to know what pieces you will be applying with. At the end of the day, your writing is there to support your artistic vision. 

But there is more to crafting an effective portfolio than just picking out which works to include.

To help you get a better idea of how to put your best artworks forward, we have brought together some great dos and don’ts for you to consider that may be helpful along the way. 


What does an artist’s portfolio entail for art applications?

An artist’s art portfolio is a curated collection of artwork for applications submitted by an individual artist or collective that describes a larger body of artwork with a cohesive intention. A portfolio is made up of a selection of artwork so that viewers can get an idea of the larger scope of your artistic practice. 

Artwork Archive provides tools for artists to stay organized and manage specified portfolios using our Collections Feature, where users can group strong artworks together to view their cohesion. Collections are in addition to your larger portfolio of artwork organized on Artwork Archive, and can be listed within your Public Profile

Artists are able to arrange and sort artworks in each collection to easily arrange a linear viewer experience. You can use portfolios of artwork to apply to residencies, grants, open calls, and other opportunities. We recommend that artists applying to exhibitions or competitions use our Exhibitions feature.

Some general guidelines to get started building out your portfolio are to take clean, clear photographs of your artwork. If your artwork is three-dimensional be sure to include detailed images from different viewpoints. You can read more about photographing your artwork like a professional for some helpful tips. 

Be sure to keep your portfolio up to date with new work when you create it. Curate your art portfolios based on the different opportunities you are applying for. You can have multiple portfolios saved at once, just be sure to keep it organized. 

While preparing to build an artwork portfolio for an application, think about these factors while making your selections, edits, and statement of intent. You can check out some common artwork portfolio blunders here, and remember to have fun!


Do: Think about how your work can relate to the specific opportunity

Consider the opportunity you are applying for and how you can best select your pieces that will speak to both you as an artist, and the opportunity description. 

While selecting artworks to include in a cohesive portfolio, remember the organization’s requirements—and stick to them.

Is it figuratively directed? Does the opportunity state if all mediums are accepted? What are the image size requirements?

Need a specifically sized image to submit? Artwork Archive has you covered! With Artwork Archive you can easily download and resize the image and keep it stored as an additional image for the application. 

We have gathered together our resources to provide a list of artist opportunities on our Calls for Entry page. You are also welcome to visit our 2023 Opportunity Guide for additional artist opportunities. 


Artist, Leslie Parke, Reviewing Photos on Computer, Photo taken by Nina Duncan.

Do: Consider what your works say as a grouping & in relation to each other 

Portfolios should be anywhere from three to ten images of individual pieces. Each opportunity will have its own requirements, and you should check their submission page first. You want to put your best foot forward, so only include high-quality images.

Detail shots, and images of multiple viewpoints, usually don’t count toward your piece count on most applications. Be sure to check the requirements for images, as this may vary. 

Make a folder or collection of your images on Artwork Archive to take a look at the whole grouping of artwork. Is there a clear line of communication between the images? How will the viewer or juror experience you as an artist from the order of each proposed artwork?


Do: Think about if your choice of materials contributes to the story of your work as a whole. 

Consider the medium you use throughout the artwork. Are you showing a range of mediums, or are you using the same medium throughout this portfolio?

Always think about how the art mediums in your portfolio showcase your artistic practice. You may be able to include this in your artist statement. 

How does the medium propose a dialogue throughout the pieces?

Don't: Discount how scale impacts your body of work.

Do the dimensions, duration, or weight play a part in your art portfolio? Be sure to include the correct form of measurements when applying so that viewers can get a solid sense of your work's scale. 

Artwork Archive has a variety of measurement specifications available for artists to use, including time duration for video artworks, frame size, weight, and paper size options, among others. This way you always have access to the critical information about each piece even years after you have made it. You might think it will be easy to remember all those details now while it is top of mind, but as you make more work, it's easy to forget the exact mediums used or the exact size if it has been sold. 

Don't: Forget to make connections based on subject matter.

Now, take a look at your portfolio images grouped together. Are you able to draw any connections throughout the artwork based on the subject matter? 

Is there a piece standing out to you—or not quite working? How does subject matter play a role in this application? Ask yourself questions like these, to figure out the best avenue for our next recommended step: editing. 


Don't: Consider your portfolio to be done on the first edit.

The next, and most important factor of creating an artwork portfolio for applications is to edit out artworks that don’t align with your intention. 

If you are unsure about including an artwork, take that as your sign to edit it out or swap it for something else. Trust yourself to make your gut decisions and remember, you don't need to include the maximum amount of images if it makes the application weaker. 


Do: Provide room for artistic growth. 

After selecting artwork for an application, questioning, and editing the portfolio, don’t worry if you end up with fewer pieces than you thought you were going to include. As long as you submit the minimum required amount of pieces within an application, not only do you show your curatorial capabilities, but you also show jurors that you are leaving room for growth. 

Art opportunities, residencies, and open calls are looking toward the future. They want to provide you with the resources to grow and build your artistic practice. Nobody is looking for a perfect artist. Give yourself time to build relations while simultaneously growing your larger body of artwork.  


Don't: Leave out a statement of intent.

After you have made those hard decisions, it's time to summarize in words, your art portfolio. 

Most of the time, you will have to submit both a statement of intent and an artist statement

Having a clear statement of intent or artist statement can be helpful to understand and back up your artistic decisions. Because of the time you took setting up a clearly curated portfolio of artwork, you will be able to clearly state your decisions. 

You can download our free guide to read further about the best practices for applying to artist grants here. You can also add your artist statement on your Public Profile on Artwork Archive's Discovery platform to let viewers know more about your artwork. 


Some final takeaways:

Always, always, always, remember that the order of artwork plays a huge role in the review of your application. Start viewers off with an eye-catching first impression and keep them engaged throughout your portfolio of art.

Don’t worry if your portfolio is cohesive! It doesn’t have to be as long as it follows your artistic intention. 

On Artwork Archive, your Public Profile is the place to show off that larger body of artwork. While filling out applications, be sure to provide your Public Profile URL on your application. 

You can check out some curated Public Profiles here from our Artwork Archive community. 


Learn more about how to organize your artwork by registering for our live getting started demo here.   


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