Portfolio Review: Do You Have These Issues?

by Carolyn Edlund

I recently spoke with three artists who sought feedback on their portfolios. Each one faced different challenges. Do any of these situations feel familiar?


Gallery Show


The Generalist 

The first artist had a rather small body of work, because she hadn’t been painting for very long. Because of this, she showed everything she had ever made in her portfolio to “pad” it, including several pieces that weren’t very successful. That weakened her overall presentation.

But the main problem with her portfolio was the work in her portfolio fell into “general categories” of landscapes, still lifes, and florals. These categories reflected what she had painted in class and the workshops she had taken, but she had not moved beyond them.

She didn’t really have her own style yet, and had a lot of work ahead of her in the studio exploring and experimenting with different techniques and directions to develop her own signature look. Although she might continue to paint landscapes, for example, she needed to transcend the basics she had learned and find her artistic voice. As she continued to mature in her work, she could look forward to creating a body of work that was thoughtful and compelling.

The Eclectic Artist 

The second artist’s portfolio showed work in three very different mediums. But none of the work she did in each medium related to any other. There were no elements that flowed through all of them – each collection of work was distinctly different. The overall effect to the viewer was confusion. What did this artist really want to do? Why was she going in so many directions at once?

The artist indicated that she was a very creative person with different tastes, and loved all the mediums, but she acknowledged that this was a problem for her presentation. My suggestion was that she continue to work in any mediums she wished, but that she didn’t have to include all of this work in her portfolio.

She needed to make a decision about what to present to the world that worked in a cohesive way. She would be able to make greater impact with one tightly related body of work. Then, she could move forward with a message that made sense about her inspiration and technique, and coordinate her marketing in a consistent way.

The Aspiring Artist 

The third artist had a beautifully made body of sculptural work with a clear signature style. He had aspirations of appealing to fine art collectors, and also working with corporate art consultants to place his sculpture in those environments.

The problem? His photos were substandard. He worked in a highly reflective medium that is difficult to photograph. Cutting corners by taking photos himself produced results that were less than impressive. Glare, hot spots, and blurriness were evident on some of his images. Others had backgrounds that were discordant with the artwork.

Clearly he needed a professional to take photographs that emphasized the aesthetic qualities of his artwork, and showed them to best advantage. It was an expensive undertaking, but he realized that the audience he wanted to pursue would expect an outstanding presentation. His next step was to ensure professional presentation to be able to market his work to his target audience.


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  1. The key to having an awesome portfolio is in one simple sentence: ” a body of work MUST BE thoughtful and compelling”. The day I decided to create my work for myself regardless of what others wanted to see or have to say — that is the day the magical things started to happen. If I don’t find my work compelling and love it, chances are nobody else out there would either.

    This blog post has a wealth of information for all artists. I wish I had seen it twenty years ago when all I wanted to do was paint in realistic traditional style. It took me decades to find my artistic voice. It took a leap of faith to create what I imagined and put my soul out there for all to see and it took courage to submit my work for juried shows and art competitions. Being true to myself has worked wonders for me as an artist.

    • Roopa, Clearly your journey into self-exploration and following your interests was the catalyst that developed your own recognizable, personal style. Sometimes art school gives artists the space to create within a safe environment without the pressure of selling, and that is where experimentation begins. You did this yourself, and is the natural path of an artist who develops a body of mature work.

  2. Thanks for posting this because for the last few years I’ve struggled with the decision of having to “choose” one medium. I’m the second category, Eclectic. While all have been successful I know that having one medium will better presentation.
    I’m taking your suggestion and removing one (to another website) – it’s the most different.
    The rest of the work relates enough, I think.
    Nice to see I’m not alone 🙂 being eclectic.

    Thanks again!

    • Indeed you are not alone, Sue! I run across countless creative people who are inspired by work in different mediums. Do what makes you happy ~ but if you want to exhibit, sell or compete you must have something to show the world that makes sense. Splitting your work into two websites may work well for you. If you intend to sell work in both mediums, though, you may have two different audiences. This means twice the work. I would encourage you to start with one medium that you want to promote and sell, and do the promotion there first.

  3. Ruth Apter says

    Having served on juries and working in a gallery I would have to say I agree with this article completely.

  4. Always helpful tips!!! I think I’m an “aspiring eclectic” LOL

  5. Carolyn,
    As always you provided accurate and helpful information for artists. I highly recommend that every emerging artist read this article. It will save them a lot of future angst and frustration. Thank you for your valuable insight!

    • Thank you Renee. I would agree that artists in school or learning independently would benefit from viewing portfolios and coming to understand why some are successful and others are not. Your comments are always welcome!!

  6. My work now is primarily in fiber– wools and silks, with emphasis line-work in non-feltable yarns. I began with re-purposed natural fibers first, making handbags and purses. I then used left-over fibers, as strips of wool or silk fabric, to hook images. Now I’m also using wool yarn, roving and silk to make felted accessories. I am told that my style is recognizable through all three types of product; nevertheless a collection of three or five photos is not enough to show the jury that pervasive style. So I took the advice of the American Craft Council, to submit my hooking and my bags in separate applications to the jury. This worked well, as my hooking was juried into the ACC Shows a few years ago. So being “eclectic” can work, but not in a single jury setting! Having lost our Webmaster, my old website still shows only handbags and hooking. I think the best showplace for “An Eclectic” is a current personal website, with the varied art products in different sections.

    • Valentine, I couldn’t agree more with that strategy for submissions. I know several artists who apply in different categories with different portfolios. And since elements of your style flow through the different types of work you do, it does make sense in a larger presentation. After all, Picasso worked in ceramics, which was a real departure from painting, but his artistic sense shined through!

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