by Carolyn Edlund
In a recent conversation with my friend Ashwin Muthiah, CEO of Easely, we broached the subject of artists, portfolios and presentation.
Carolyn: I think every artist can name others they know who have elevated their businesses and have gained sales of their work, commissions, or exhibitions. Often, they are artists who are well-known, and who gain a lot of attention because of their body of work.
Ashwin: When I think of some of the artists that I personally admire, I can visualize their artwork. They have a very strong and individual style that identifies them.
Carolyn: Having a distinctive, memorable portfolio is so important. It’s not hard to identify a mature body of work that has been built by an artist who has spent significant time going in a direction that inspired them. What ties your work together? Technique, size, subject matter, or the palette of colors you’ve chosen to use are some of the elements that make a portfolio that presents well.
Ashwin: I love to see something fresh and unique in a portfolio, with a very distinctive look – not work that is derivative, or trendy. Artists who have portfolios that include disparate, varied work in different styles are just confusing. It makes me wonder, “What is it that you really do? Are you still trying to decide?”
Carolyn: It’s certainly not unusual to see artists who work in several mediums. When elements of a signature style transcend mediums, it can all come together nicely. When the artist works in very different styles and mediums, though, it can easily detract from their presentation. That’s a problem.
Ashwin: That’s true, and my suggestion for artists with several very different bodies of work is that they may want to consider having separate websites to display them. There may be very different audiences for their different styles, and the artist will have to present their work appropriately, and share a message that resonates with each audience.
Carolyn: Another dilemma I’ve seen artists deal with is what to include in their portfolio – what should they keep, and what should they remove? One rule of thumb is to only show your best work. Your presentation should be cohesive, and every work of art in the portfolio should belong together. Take a hard look at each piece of art that you now have in your portfolio. Is there anything that isn’t quite as successful as the others? Take it out. Because, ultimately you will be judged on the weakest piece.
Ashwin: Another issue I’ve run across is that sometimes artists will include very old work that isn’t even in their current style. If you are showing old artwork to pad your portfolio, take it out and replace it with newer art. You don’t have to include your college work. You don’t have to include work that you created years ago, especially if it doesn’t do anything to enhance your current body of work. And, most importantly, keep your portfolio current with your latest art. You never know when you might have a great opportunity and need to show your best work at a moment’s notice.
Carolyn: Sometimes I get the question, “How large should my portfolio be?” This type of question often comes from artists who have only a small collection of really good art, especially after they have weeded out the mediocre pieces that didn’t belong. And if they work slowly, this can be a concern.
Ashwin: Here’s a suggestion for artists with small portfolios: even if you have only a few really quality pieces in your portfolio, you can still enter exhibitions, at both brick and mortar galleries and online. Upload images of your best work, and if accepted, you can get some exposure even though you don’t have a really big portfolio yet.
Carolyn: If you want to present your work on your artist website or a third-party site, though, you need to have a critical mass, a robust enough collection to show. Enough work to give a good impression and a sense of your signature style.
Ashwin: Yes, it’s best to be ready with a broad selection of work, and one that is photographed beautifully. Blurry photos, or ones that are over or under-exposed, or have glare can really hurt your presentation.
Carolyn: That’s a great point, Ashwin. Every artist works hard at what they do. Your artwork deserves to be shown to its best advantage. What is the point of all that studio time if you aren’t sharing crisp, clear images of your work that wow your audience?