Friday Tips: Portfolios and Presentation Folders


Portfolios and Presentation Folders 

If you’re like most artists, you’d rather be creating new work than assembling a portfolio.  Yes they’re a pain to deal with; I’ve never yet met an artist who enjoys assembling them.  I don’t enjoy assembling them.  But they’re essential.  If you look on the portfolio as a work of art itself, utilizing a direct presentation that is visually stunning, it won’t seem such a bore.  Spend the necessary money on it, and on the photography, to make it look good.  The money will be returned by means of sales.

For those of you who have absolutely no interest in selling your work, create the portfolio in whatever way you wish.  Make it sleek, make it jagged, make it out of duct tape if you want, so long as the finished product adequately represents your work, passion and ideas.  If the notion of making money from your art doesn’t jive with the way you create, then let the portfolio suggest, or even shout, this as well.  

Regarding portfolios, I recommend the following: 
1)  Portfolio Size: 17” x 20” 
2)  Size of Photos:  8”  x 10s” or 5” x 7s” (no smaller)
3)  Other elements: Resume or Bio, an Artist’s Statement, and Press Clippings.

Lay out the photos two-to-a-page, or four-to-a-page, depending on the size you choose.  My personal preference is two 8” x 10s” per page, because they give the viewer the best visual impression of your work—and that first impression is the most important one you’ll make.  Repeat: THE FIRST VISUAL IMPRESSION YOU MAKE ON A GALLERY DIRECTOR, OR A COLLECTOR, IS THE MOST IMPORTANT ONE YOU WILL MAKE.  Please never forget this.     

After you’ve laid out the photos, put the resume and artist’s statement at the end.  I never put these items at the beginning of a portfolio, because I want the viewer to be impressed with the work itself first.  Once that impression has been made, they’ll be willing to read about the artist.  Needless to say, when I lay out a portfolio I always place the most stunning images on the first pages, with the weaker ones after.  If it’s all stunning, so much the better.

You’ll also need a photo page that shows the works in the portfolio in the form of large thumbnails.  Along with that sheet you’ll need a CD that also shows each image in the portfolio, and others if you wish.  It would cool if you’d take the time to make a proper label for the CD utilizing one of your images, with your contact information printed somewhere on the label.  These things you leave with any prospect.  

Most dealers prefer CDs at this time, and rarely any longer view slides.  If duplicate slides are all you have, that’s fine, but I fear it will make you look unprepared in a dealer’s eyes, and not up to par with current technology.

Anytime you show your portfolio, try to have an original with you, since the work itself will always read better than a photograph, no matter how well the latter is shot.  If a gallery director or collector is already looking at photographs, and likes what they see, you can reinforce this by casually showing them the original jewel that you happen to have at hand.  Note use of the word “casual.”  Contrary to general misconceptions, the art business does not function at its best in a mode of pretension and pressure; rather it is always at its best when everyone is relaxed: the artist, the dealer, and especially the collector.  Relaxation leads to trust, trust leads to sales.

If you can’t afford a portfolio, or don’t like lugging one around, then just use a presentation folder.  You can find these in any office supply store.  They’re the size of a notebook, and can make an impressive visual statement—although not as impressive as that of a portfolio.  One advantage, however, is that you can make up several presentation folders, which gives you the means to leave one with a good prospect.  They’re cheap to assemble, and quite worthwhile when it comes to promotion.

Along with the photos in your portfolio, and the resume, you’ll also need to include any press clippings you might have garnered over the years, and a select list of clients.  What?  You don’t have those yet?  Don’t worry.  I’ll go over the getting of press, as well as how to acquire that coveted list of clients.  

5 thoughts on “Friday Tips: Portfolios and Presentation Folders

  1. Hi Paul,

    Great information as usual. I notice you stated that this is the “first visual impression you make on a gallery director”. Do you suggest that this is how artists should submit their works to galleries or strictly to be used after securing an appointment with a gallery director?

    I am preparing (after researching the galleries to ensure my work is a good fit) to submit my work to additional galleries. My plan is to send an email inquiry with a link to my website where I have my bio, resume, prices, etc. Is this considered unprofessional? Would I be better off submitting a mailable portfolio?

    Thanks again for all the great information.
    Casey Craig

  2. Casey: Yep, portfolio is normally used after you have an appt. It’s never good to just show up with a portfolio, hoping someone will meet with you. Galleries, like any firm, must stay focused on the work at hand, and hence work best by appts.

    An email submission is fine, but it should be addressed to a member of the gallery staff. Otherwise they’ll assume you haven’t researched them, and may well just delete it.

  3. This is great, Paul – thanks so much for sharing this from the point of view of a gallery owner. I’m saving this for future reference. Mind if I link to it in my blog?

    I couldn’t be happier about the demise of slides!!

    Will tune in for future installments.

  4. Martha: Anytime. Link to whatever you wish. Yeah, I love digital; very glad we don’t have to deal with slides any longer. The viewer was wearing out anyway.

  5. It’s a great website of yours. I surfed by and found it very informative. Bookmarked and check you back in a while

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