How to Make an Art Portfolio That Stands Out In 5 Easy Steps

how to make a portfolio for art

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Are you an artist struggling to present your work in a way that truly captures your unique vision and style?

It can be tough to know where to start, how to organize your work, and which type of art portfolio to choose.

But don’t worry, this guide is here to help!

Today, we’ll explore the three main types of artist portfolios- physical, online, and client portfolios – and provide clear and concise guidance to help you showcase your art in the best way possible.

By the end of this guide, you’ll have all the knowledge and tools you need to create a polished and professional art portfolio that showcases your passion and expression in all its glory.

Why You Should Create an Art Portfolio

why you should create an art portfolio

Creating an art portfolio can be intimidating, but it’s also one of the single most beneficial investments you can make in yourself as an artist.

An art portfolio can help further your business, increase trust in your customer base, and showcase your talent to the world (including your dream school).

Whether you’re aiming to pursue a career as a Graphic Designer, Illustrator, Animator, Art Director, or other art-focused career…

…or if you’re seeking to gain admission into a prestigious art school, or even hoping to attract high-paying clients or collectors, one thing is for certain…

Building an art portfolio is key to achieving success in the art world.

Tips on How to Organize and Present Your Artist Portfolio

Creating a well-organized and visually appealing artist portfolio is essential for catching the attention of potential clients or art schools.

But here are some tips to help you get started:

Use Your Best Pieces to Grab Attention

use your best pieces to grab attention
Figure work by Jordan McKracken-Foster

In the art world, first impressions count for a lot.

When it comes to presenting your portfolio, you only have a few seconds to capture the attention of your audience, so it’s essential to carefully select your strongest pieces to feature at the beginning of your portfolio.

These initial works will set the tone for the rest of your portfolio and should represent the best of your unique style and vision.

Pro Tip: It’s better to have a smaller collection of high-quality accomplished drawings than a larger collection of mediocre pieces.

To create a truly effective portfolio, it’s also crucial that you consider your target audience and select pieces that will resonate with them most.

By taking the time to carefully curate your portfolio, you’ll create a lasting impression that truly represents your passion and artistic skill and expression.

Stick to One Art Category

While it can be tempting to showcase a diverse range of your skills and styles, it’s generally best to stick to one main category, such as concept art, illustration, or manga.

Consider your fine art specialities; are you best with painting, sculpture, drawing, digital art, photography, or other art forms? What specifically are you good at; realism, pointillism, surrealism?

stick to one art category

Once you figure that out, your portfolio pieces should reflect that specific skill. This will help you create a more focused and cohesive portfolio that highlights your strengths as an artist.

NO Fan Art

While it can be fun to create fan art based on your favorite movies, TV shows, or video games, it’s generally not a good idea to include it in your professional artist portfolio.

This is because fan art is often seen as unoriginal and may not demonstrate your unique skills and vision as an artist.

Stick to original pieces that showcase your creativity and style. 

A Clear and Concise Artist Statement or Bio

An artist statement or bio is a brief summary of who you are as an artist and what inspires your work.

It should be clear, concise, and give your audience a sense of your unique perspective and vision. 

Including an artist statement or bio in your portfolio can help potential clients or art schools get to know you and your work better.

Artwork Descriptions

In addition to your artist statement or bio, it’s important to provide descriptions of your artwork in your portfolio.

These descriptions should provide context and insight into your creative process, and help viewers understand the inspiration and meaning behind each piece. 

A Few Tips for Developing Artwork Descriptions:

  • Be clear and concise in your descriptions, avoiding overly technical or academic language.
  • Use descriptive language to help viewers visualize the artwork and understand it’s emotional impact.
  • Avoid using derogatory or negative language in your descriptions, as this makes you seem less confident, which can be off-putting to potential clients and art schools.
  • Provide any relevant details about the medium, size, or technique used in creating the artwork.

A Well-Planned Layout and Presentation

a well-planned layout and presentation

The way you present your portfolio is just as important as the artwork itself.

If your portfolio is messy or disorganized, it can give the wrong impression and make it hard for people to really appreciate your art. But if you put in a little extra effort and make it look nice, not only will your work be more respected, but it can be enjoyed to its fullest.

Important! Make sure your portfolio includes your contact information, so the school or company can easily reach out to you with any questions or potential opportunities.

If you want more great tips, Digital Painting Studio provides some awesome ideas around this in their free portfolio creation course for digital artists.

The Crucial Steps to Building the Ultimate Artist Portfolio

Now that we’ve covered the general tips for creating an art portfolio, it’s important to note that when applying to an art or design School, physical portfolios may not always be required.

Some schools prefer digital portfolios, which can be submitted online and viewed remotely. Digital portfolios can also be updated and shared with multiple colleges.

It’s important to check the school’s specific admission requirements as some may still need a physical portfolio or a mix of physical and digital submissions. The standard for art school portfolio admissions may vary depending on the program’s preferences.

the crucial steps to building the ultimate artist portfolio

You’ll find out the necessary steps for submitting a physical portfolio and later on discuss how an online art portfolio differs.

Steps To Submitting your Artworks to a Art Schools or Potential Employer

With that noted, let’s dive into the necessary steps for physical portfolio submissions:

Step 1: Take Note of Your Dream School (or Job) Art Portfolio Requirements

If you’re thinking about applying to an art school, it’s important to pay attention to your target school’s portfolio requirements, as they can differ depending on where you’re applying.

For example, a niche school with one art focus (such as an animation school), might ask for a certain number of pieces in specific mediums like digital art or video shorts, while another school might be more flexible and ask for a range of work.

take note of your dream school or job art portfolio requirements

Either way, start by doing some research. Look up the school’s website or contact the admissions office to find out what they’re looking for. Make a list of specific requirements and take note of any deadlines or other important information.

Once you have a clear idea of what your school is looking for, you can start putting a portfolio together. By following the school’s requirements, you can show them that you’re a talented and dedicated artist who is ready to take the next step in your education.

Step 2: Gather Your Best Pieces and Organize Them

Once you’ve researched the portfolio requirements of your dream school, it’s time to start gathering your best pieces and organizing them into a digital or physical portfolio.

Your best artwork can include pieces that you’ve created in school, as well as any personal work that you’re particularly proud of. Ask trusted resources, like friends, family, or an art teacher, as to which of your pieces best showcase your style and skill level.

gather your best pieces and organise them
Artwork by Victoria Lin

Try to select a range of pieces that demonstrate those skills in different mediums, styles and subjects. You want to show the admissions committee that you have a well-rounded set of skills and a unique artistic vision.

Once you’ve gathered your pieces, you want to organize them in a way that flows and tells a story about you as an artist. You can do this by organizing your pieces by medium or by a particular subject matter, or you can even organize them from least to most recent.

Pay attention to the details. If submitting a physical portfolio, make sure your pieces are clean and in good condition. Consider framing the pieces with matte board to give them a more professional look. Include title cards with each piece that provide more information about the artwork, such as medium, size, inspiration, and date of creation.

Step 3: Write Your Artwork Descriptions

When writing your artwork descriptions, it’s important to keep a few things in mind.

  • First, be concise and clear. Give the viewer a sense of your creative process by including details about the techniques used and inspiration behind each piece.
  • Second, use descriptive language to help the viewer imagine the artwork in their mind. Use words that capture the mood, style and subject matter of the piece.
  • Finally, make sure that your descriptions are free from spelling errors and grammar.

write your art descriptions

By taking the time to write thoughtful descriptions of your artwork, you can give your portfolio an extra layer of depth and meaning.

By providing contexts through description, you can create a professional portfolio that leaves a lasting impression.

Step 4: Write Your Artist Bio

So your artwork descriptions are complete, what’s next?

It’s time to write your artist bio.

Your artist bio is a short description of yourself which gives the admissions committee an idea about you as an artist and what motivates you to create.

write your artist bio
(Image Source)

With that in mind, here are a few tips to follow:

  • Write a concise and clear artist bio that gives an overview of your background, artistic influences, and achievements.
  • Highlight what makes you unique and sets you apart as an artist.
  • Be authentic and genuine, reflecting your personality and voice.
  • Check for spelling and grammatical errors.

By being concise, authentic, and unique, you can make a strong impression and increase your chances of getting accepted into your dream school.

Step 5: Send Out Your Portfolio

Physical Portfolios

Before sending out a physical portfolio, it’s important to take necessary precautions and protect your work. 

Since you will be mailing your physical portfolio, consider covering your pieces with some transfer paper and secure it in place with masking tape. Make sure the tape is attached to the back of the piece to avoid any damage to the artwork.

This will help prevent any smudging or rubbing of the artwork during transit.

physical portfolios

It’s also important that you choose the right type of packaging for your portfolio, Make sure the box you send it in is stiff, and provides ample protection for your portfolio.

Alternatively, you can send out your portfolio in a portfolio case or a binder (for prints).

Discuss options with a trusted resource, like a teacher or mentor, who can offer valuable advice on the best way to package and send out your portfolio and help you consider your best options.

By taking these steps to protect your work, you can ensure that your portfolio arrives at its destination in the best possible condition, making a positive impression on the viewer.

Digital Portfolios

When sending out a digital portfolio of your art, it is important to choose high-quality images that accurately represent the details and colors of your artwork. Be sure to select images with good lighting and angles that capture the artwork in the best possible way. (More on that below)

digital portfolios

Once you have selected your images, you need to decide on the format of your portfolio. Consider whether a PDF file, an online gallery, or a website would be the best format to showcase your artwork and meet the recipient’s requirements.

It’s also important to pay attention to the file size of your portfolio, as large files may take too long to load or may be too large to send as an email attachment. Keep your file size manageable (less that 2 MB) to ensure that it can be easily sent and downloaded.

Preparing Traditional Art For Online Art Portfolio Submissions

Unlike physical portfolios, online art portfolios can be accessed from anywhere in the world, at any time, and are not limited by physical size or location.

Online art portfolios can be designed to be interactive, with features such as zooming, scrolling, or even video playback, allowing viewers to see the work in greater detail and get a better sense of the artist’s style and capabilities.

preparing traditional art for online art portfolio submissions

Some schools, including the nation’s top art schools, like the College of Art and Design, have made the switch from physical to online art portfolios submissions.

Photographing Traditional Artworks For An Online Portfolio

When preparing your traditional artworks for an online portfolio, high-quality photography is essential for accurately representing your art.

Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Use good lighting to capture your artwork
  • Avoid any glare or shadows when photographing
  • Consider using a tripod or stabilizer to keep the camera steady
  • Use a high-resolution camera to capture details and colors accurately

Your next step is as follows:

Using Photoshop to Touch Up Your Original Artworks

using photoshop to touch up your original artworks

If you have a ton of paintings on canvas that you want to turn into an online art portfolio, Photoshop is a powerful tool that can be used for a wide range of tasks, including touch-ups and enhancements of digital art. Here are some tips for using Photoshop for touch-ups:

  1. Use the Clone Stamp Tool: The Clone Stamp Tool is a great way to remove unwanted elements from your artwork.
    Simply select the tool and then click on the area you want to clone from, and then click on the area you want to replace. This tool can be used to remove blemishes, smudges, or any other unwanted elements in your artwork.
  2. Adjust color and contrast: Use the Hue/Saturation and Brightness/Contrast tools to make adjustments to the overall color and contrast of your artwork. This can help to enhance the vibrancy and clarity of your artwork.
  3. Use the Healing Brush Tool: The Healing Brush Tool is a great tool for removing small imperfections in your artwork.
    Simply select the tool and then paint over the area you want to fix. This tool will automatically sample the surrounding pixels and blend them seamlessly with the rest of your artwork.
  4. Use the Liquify Tool: The Liquify Tool is a powerful tool that can be used to make subtle or drastic changes to the shape of your artwork. Use this tool to reshape elements such as hair, clothing, or body proportions.
  5. Apply filters: Photoshop has a wide range of filters that can be applied to your artwork to give it a unique look or feel. Experiment with different filters to find the one that best enhances your artwork.

Remember, when using Photoshop for touch-ups, it is important to strike a balance between enhancing your artwork and preserving its original integrity.

Make sure to save a copy of the original photograph before making any significant changes, and always use the tools and filters in moderation.

3-D objects

3-d objects

Photographing 3-D work for your art portfolio can be a challenge. In addition to the steps mentioned above, there are some tips and tricks you can use to ensure that your pieces are represented accurately and show off your artistic skills.

It’s important to use a neutral background, adequate lighting, and a tripod to avoid blurriness from the natural shaking of your hands.

Consider taking multiple shots from different angles to give a complete view of your piece and showcase your technical skill.

Printing Your Digital Artwork as a Graphic Designer or Digital Painter

If you’re a digital artist, creating a physical portfolio takes a few extra steps than if you create traditional artworks.

Here are some guidelines to create a physical portfolio as a digital artist:

Printing Your Digital Artwork as a Graphic Designer or Digital Painter

  1. Prepare your artwork: Before printing, make sure that your artwork is saved in the correct file format and resolution for printing (300 psi). Check that the colors are accurate and that the image is not pixelated or blurry.
  2. Choose your printer: Select a printer that is capable of producing high-quality prints. You may choose to print your artwork at home or use a professional printing service.
  3. Select your paper: Choose a high-quality paper that is suitable for your artwork. There are many different types of paper available, from glossy to matte finished. Consider the texture and weight of the paper, as well as how it will affect the overall appearance of your artwork.
  4. Adjust print settings: Adjust the print settings on your printer to ensure that the colors and contrast of your artwork are accurately represented. Make sure that the print size and orientation are correct.
  5. Print a test page: Before printing your final artwork, print a test page to check for issues or errors. This can help you to make adjustments before printing your final piece.
  6. Print your artwork: Once you are satisfied with the test print, print your final artwork. Make sure to handle the printed piece with care to avoid smudging or damaging it.

Printing your digital artwork requires attention to detail and a commitment to producing high-quality prints.

printing your digital artwork as a graphic designer
Digital Artwork by Victoria Lin

Take the time to prepare your artwork properly, choose the right printer and paper, and make adjustments as necessary to ensure that your final print is a true representation of your digital artwork.

Good Art Portfolio Piece Examples for Inspiration

What makes a successful portfolio? Let’s take a look at some art portfolio pieces and why they did so well. The following artworks are from artist Cecilia Cao.

good art portfolio inspiration

A moody artwork dabbling in mixed media. It’s impactful, surreal, and emotional.

portfolio drawings

This piece gives an impact as well. The skin stands out in particular with this piece, and the figure has a solemn expression.

portfolio art

Another figure drawing, this time on a tepia background. The figure is detailed yet unfinished. It shows that Celia is a technically capable artist.

portfolio for art

Detailed, plays with perspective a bit. Leans more towards comic-like, but it still showcases the skill level of the artist’s work in visual arts.

art design for portfolio

Also comic-like in nature, this drawing has a bit of graphic design elements in the background, and a sharpness to the detailed clothes and overall figure. The curved circles and ribbons provide contrast against the stark figure.


If you want more inspiration, check out these art portfolio examples.

Creating an Online Art Portfolio for Potential Clients

A virtual portfolio can be a great way to showcase your portfolio to a wider audience (or if you want, a targeted audience of potential clients).

However, it’s important to approach online presentation with care and consideration to ensure that your artwork is displayed in the best possible way.

creating an online art portfolio for potetial clients

Here are some tips for presenting your artwork on an online art portfolio:

  1. Choose a clean and simple layout: when it comes to designing your online or digital portfolio, it’s best to keep the layout clean and simple. A simple web design will allow your artwork to take center stage without distractions. Use a neutral color palette and avoid busy backgrounds or graphics that may detract from your work.
  2. Optimize your images: to ensure that your artwork is displayed at its best, make sure to optimize your images for web use. This means compressing the file size to ensure fast loading times, while still maintaining the quality of the image.Avoid using low-quality images or heavily compressed files, as this can impact the overall impression of your work.
  3. Provide context: when presenting your artwork online, it’s important to provide context for your pieces. Doing so reveals your artistic process. The context can include a brief artist statement or description of each piece, as well as any relevant background information or inspiration for the work.This will help to engage your audience and give them a better understanding of your artistic vision.
  4. Consider using a slideshow or gallery format: to showcase multiple pieces of your own artwork in an online art portfolio, consider using a slideshow or gallery format. This allows your audience to easily browse through your work, while still maintaining a cohesive and professional presentation.
  5. Make it easy to navigate: include clear navigation links and ensure that your artwork is organized in a logical and intuitive way. This will make it easier for your audience to explore your portfolio and engage with your work.

how to make an online portfolio

Targeted Email Outreach: A Client Portfolio Alternative

Crafting a well-written email that showcases your artwork and skills can be an excellent way to get noticed and increase your chances of landing a job or exhibition opportunity.

When creating an email outreach campaign, it’s essential to do your research and personalize each email to the recipient. Start by researching the client or gallery you’re targeting and try to understand their style and preferences.

Then, tailor your email to their specific needs and include samples of your work that you feel would be a good fit for their aesthetic.

Be sure to include a brief introduction that highlights your experience and unique perspective as an artist, as well as any relevant links or attachments that showcase your artwork (consider even placing a single character sheet in the email- if you’re aiming for a digital art client or career).

What To Do If You’re Art Portfolio is Rejected

Rejection is an inevitable part of any artist’s journey, and it’s essential to know how to handle it.

If your art portfolio is rejected by an art school or doesn’t fit the needs of a potential client, don’t give up. Instead, use it as an opportunity to improve and refine your skills.

What To Do If Youre Art Portfolio is Rejected

Take a step back and evaluate your portfolio objectively. Look at areas where you can improve your technical ability, creativity, or presentation.

Consider seeking constructive criticism from trusted sources, such as your high school art teacher, fellow artists, or even the clients or schools that rejected you. Perhaps even consider taking another art program.

Remember that rejection is not a reflection of your worth as an artist. It’s merely a stepping stone on the path to success.

Keep trying, keep improving, and keep putting yourself out there. Good things are bound to come your way.


Can I Include Pencil Drawings in My College Art Portfolio?

This really depends on the quality of the drawings. Whether it’s still life or figure drawings, you want to make sure they showcase your observational drawing skill and have a polished, clean look to them. Poor drawings will only make it seem like you don’t care about your work.

Can I Make a Free Online Art Portfolio?

There are a number of website building sites that give you free access to their software, but the options are limited when it comes to the design on your own website unless you purchase a monthly subscription.

The alternative is to create a free portfolio on one of these websites:

can i make a free online art portfolio?

Some of these options allow you to input your own CSS codes and customize your design and theme.

Will I Need to Complete an Art School Interview After I Submit My Portfolio?

Not all art schools require an interview after submission. Check your specific school’s website to find out for sure.

How Do I Present a Fashion Design Portfolio?

The main difference between a fashion design portfolio and a fine arts portfolio is that the focus of fashion is on the clothes and process, not so much the figures or background. You can learn more here.

how do i present a fashion design portfolio?

For What It’s Worth

Your portfolio is a direct reflection of you as an artist.

It serves as a powerful tool to showcase your skills, gain exposure, and land new opportunities.

Whether you’re submitting a physical art portfolio or an online version, make sure to showcase your best work and highlight what sets you apart as an artist.

A final tip: building a portfolio is a continuous process, and it’s essential to regularly update it as you create new work and improve your skills.

By investing in a strong portfolio and continually refining your craft, you can increase your chances of success as an artist and achieve your goals in the competitive world of art.

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