Portfolio Basics

A guide to Portfolio Basics

You’ve probably already started generating artwork, stories, compositions, performances, whatever. Some of your classes actually require a portfolio at the end of the semester. In fact, you may have presented a portfolio to get into college. Portfolios are integral to creative people’s academic and professional lives. To know what’s expected, read on.


A “body of work” is like a “body of water” except instead of water you have all the projects that you make in your classes, especially in your major. We’re talking about the significant projects not so much the exercises or really lame assignments that you hate. Your body of work grows semester to semester and as it grows it becomes a sort of “body of evidence” of what you’ve learned and maybe who you are as an artist.


Right now your body of work may consist of half-filled notebooks, boxes of stuff, and hard-drives scattered around your apartment. This is bad. Organize and properly store your projects. It’s worth the effort and some of it will be very important to you later on. Honest.


A portfolio is a presentation of the best of the work samples in your body of work. That presentation may be a book, a box of prints, a demo tape, or a reel. And pretty much everyone should have a portfolio-based website or a Portfolium Profile where interested people can get immediate access to it.


Your entire body of work is all about you, incredible you. Your portfolio is about you, too, but to be effective it must also address the needs of internship employers, freelance clients, scholarship and award applications, or whoever. Each audience will have specific projects or skills they are interested to see. Be sure to shape your portfolio as close to your intended audience’s expectations as possible.


Find out what’s expected in a portfolio in your field by listening to professionals and by looking online and checking the work of recent graduates. Talk to your teachers and advisors.

Best Work!

Figure that people will give your portfolio 4 or 5 minutes plus any conversation with you. That means 15 or 20 prints, a dozen clips, 3 or 4 campaigns, a 3 or 4 minute reel, whatever. The professionals who look at your portfolio look at similar work all the time. They will very quickly get a line on your skills sets and talents. That also means you should only show your best work. If you don’t think you have enough “best work” get back in the studio/editing suite/coffee shop where ever and make some more.


Your portfolio is a “work-in-progress.” You won’t be expected to really nail your presentation until you enter the professional realm but along the way you will be expected to have good work that’s well-organized and easy to look at, read, enjoy, evaluate. Now get busy.