Building a Digital Portfolio that Lands Jobs for Artists
Compiling a professional digital portfolio of your work is a vital part of marketing yourself as a creative and landing jobs for artists. Whether you’re looking to secure a spot in an art school, land an art-related job, or vying to get a show at a gallery, the quality and effectiveness of your portfolio presentation is essential. The art world is rife with competition; ensuring that your portfolio is as impressive and professional as possible will raise the chances that you get noticed. While having a physical portfolio is still something some artists and creators want and need, here we will focus on your digital presence. However, many of the tips can apply to both types of portfolio presentations.
Your online portfolio is your digital calling card as an artist. If you want to be a creative entrepreneur and run your own art business, promoting your work online (and in person) is a critical part of the journey. It’s essential to take the time and finesse your online portfolio because it’s often the first touchpoint people have with your work. Collectors, gallerists, advertising agencies, companies, and more will look online to learn more about your artistic work and credentials as a creator. So what’s the best way to lay this foundation to ensure that your portfolio works for you?
Here are some of our top tips for crafting a stand-out online portfolio that will get eyes on your work — along with some of our favorite tools to help save you time in the process.
Best practices for digital artist portfolios
Thankfully, building an online creative portfolio has gotten simpler — these are the nine necessary steps to launch your digital portfolio site.
- Buy a domain name (e.g., from GoDaddy.com).
- Open an account with a site builder (see below).
- Check their templates and pick one that works well for your creative work.
- Select and upload your best work – complete with written descriptions.
- Add additional pages and content (e.g., about, blog, contact, etc.)
- Connect your portfolio site with your social media channels.
- Ask for feedback from a trusted friend (preferably with good taste).
- Upgrade to a paid plan and connect your domain name.
Thankfully there’s no need to code your own website anymore (unless that’s your thing). There are many excellent website builder sites that make creating a beautiful online portfolio easy — here are seven of our favorites:
- Artrepreneur: online profile with full resume, artwork inventory, and portfolios
- Wix: for pixel-perfect designs
- Squarespace: elegant and minimalistic designs
- Behance: portfolio site and very active social network
- Pixpa: not only for photographers
- Format: a portfolio expert
- Weebly: the easiest to use
- WordPress: for advanced users and tailored solutions
If you want to learn more about the myriad options for building your site, check out this detailed side-by-side comparison of the top website building platforms.
- Choose your best work to showcase
By best, we mean choosing pieces that speak to the galleries, agencies, commercial clients, or institutions with whom you are hoping to connect and work. You want the work you choose to demonstrate the quality of your creative output, your mastery of technique, your range of abilities, and your vision.
Be picky, don’t put all your work in your portfolio. For maximum impact, place your best work first and last — consider grouping by subject, content, and artistic output type (i.e., photography work with photography, sculpture with sculpture, writing with writing).
Let your personality shine through. Technical ability is important but it’s your fresh voice and perspective that will make your portfolio shine. When choosing pieces to showcase, consider if they highlight your unique view of the world around you.
- Only use high-quality images of your artwork
Creating an incredible digital portfolio can take days (weeks even). If the photos aren’t up to snuff, your work won’t be either.
Here are some things to look out for:
- Fuzzy, out-of-focus photos
- Dimly lit images
- Poorly cropped shots
- Distracting shadows
- Distracting backgrounds
- Poor use of flash
- Not color correcting your images
Honor your creative output by investing in quality photography — either by taking the time to shoot your work well or hiring a professional.
- Prioritize user-friendly look and feel
Clean, simple, and professional should be your guiding design principles for creating your online portfolio. You want everything to be easy — easy to read, easy to navigate, and easy to understand. Remember, this is a platform to promote your art, so center your creative work as the star of the show, make your design choices work in service of your art. You don’t want your font choice to upstage your painting or use icons to distract from your animations.
- Check your links are working
You likely have an online presence that is part of who you are as a creative and can help sell you and your work.
When a buyer or potential client or employer views your portfolio and clicks on a link to see your social media or sign up for your newsletter and the link is kaput, they are instantaneously cut off from engaging any more information about you, and they’re probably a bit annoyed. The lesson here is to take the extra time to do a little quality assurance work on your site. Double and triple-check that all your links work, it can make all the difference.
- Customize your About section
About pages are some of the most frequently visited on a creative’s portfolio site — which means that you want to make sure your About page really speaks to who you are and what your work is about. Many artists, however, struggle with how to write this section on their site. It can be challenging to find the right language to describe what you do that is also succinct and authentic. Confidence is great, but if the copy gets a bit too fluffy, you may end up sounding arrogant, which is not as great.
A few pointers on what to include to get you started. Remember, this is your Artist About page, so make it your own.
- Elevator pitch. Start here. Who are you? What do you do? Whom do you do it for? Let folks into your world and share why your work can be of benefit to them. Consider this the core of your creative portfolio site; you want to succinctly let interested people know who you are and why you may be the right choice for them.
- Value proposition. Paint a picture (pun intended) of why a client or collector should choose you over another creative. Think of whom you want to cater to and speak to that audience. If your work is oriented towards installations and experiential work, discuss the engaging, immersive experiences you’ve created. Share your work’s impact on a particular client if applicable; perhaps you made so much buzz that you surpassed performance expectations. Or maybe your work sold out quickly at a gallery show, demonstrating your viability in the market.
- What does your creative work stand for? If you want to speak to collectors interested in voter rights, demonstrate how your work puts you in the pantheon of the Wide Awakes. Is your work intended to spur “good trouble?” If so, reveal how your art has helped a cause or movement. Did you help a non-profit with your creative work? If so, share. On a more aesthetically oriented side, if you create in a specific style, hearkening to a stylistic school like Bauhaus or Fluxus, explain that detail and why you are influenced by that school of thought.
- And, of course, a short bio. Provide a peek into your personal life in the form of a pithy paragraph that gives some insight into who you are, where you came from, and how you came to do the creative work that you do. You can provide a glimpse into a typical day, sharing, for example, that you have a studio practice (or not), and give some simple insights into what set you on your creative path. Please note that this is not the place to share the full story of your life. If you are inclined to do so, craft a separate page or blog post and put a link to it after this much-condensed version.
- Guide them to what you want folks to do next. You are the tour guide for your portfolio site; remember that. It’s up to you to curate what people do after checking out your About page. Perhaps you want to provide a more in-depth view into your creative process, or maybe you want to showcase your latest piece or entice visitors to sign up for your email newsletter with some sort of incentive. Whatever it is, consider what journey you want collectors and clients to take and imbue it with your personality.
In addition to your About page, you may want to include some content that speaks to your creative process and perhaps highlights some works-in-progress. As well, if you’ve gotten any Press, be sure to have a section of your site that showcases your write-ups and media exposure.
You may also want to include a more formal Artist biography and Artist Statement, along with an Artist Resume/CV. Here are some tips for crafting your best versions.
Artist statement: Often written in the first person, the artist statement is intended to explain the meaning behind your work, your creative process, and why you do what you do. It’s a more comprehensive extension of the Elevator Pitch and Value Proposition. Keep it concise; 500 words is a good bet. Here’s some additional info on how to craft a killer Artist Statement.
Artist biography: Typically written in the third person, your Artist Bio is more formal than your Artist Statement. It should detail your background, including where you went to school, formal exhibitions or commercial clients, awards or grants you’ve won, and other applicable details. Here is more information on how to create a winning artist biography.
Artist Resume/CV: Similar to a traditional resume, but focusing on artistic accomplishments, including major exhibits (both individual and group shows), awards, publications, and past gallery representation.
- Update your portfolio site and profiles. Frequently.
Keeping your portfolio and profiles on platforms stocked with your latest and greatest means that interested parties can see how your creative work evolves and access your most recent output.
Whenever you create a new body of work, have a new show, receive a grant or new award, add it to your portfolio. You broadcast to the gallery and commercial world that your work is timely and that you are actively producing work in the creative world.
Your portfolio is the most direct representation of who you are as a creative. By building your visual voice and communicating with your audience about your work and why you do it, you broadcast your authentic creative voice, and nothing is more resonant than that.
This article was co-created by Creative Circle. Creative Circle is an award-winning recruiting and consulting company representing digital, creative, and marketing professionals. Our job is to make your job easier, whether you’re hiring, building a team, or searching for your next role. Together, we can solve your biggest challenges. Special thanks to Melissa Rogers, Senior Brand Manager of Creative Circle.
What are your favorite tips for creating an online portfolio that sings? What tools did you use to land a job as an artist? Let us know in the comments below.
Karina Margit Erdelyi
An award-winning creator and digital health, wellness, and lifestyle content strategist—Karina writes, produces, and edits compelling content across multiple platforms—including articles, video, interactive tools, and documentary film. Her work has been featured on MSN Lifestyle, Apartment Therapy, Goop, Psycom, Yahoo News, Pregnancy & Newborn, Eat This Not That, thirdAGE, and Remedy Health Media digital properties and has spanned insight pieces on psychedelic toad medicine to forecasting the future of work to why sustainability needs to become more sustainable.