Seven Steps to Scale Your Career as an Artist | Step Two: Build Your Portfolio

Thursday Jun 27th, 2019

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Build Your Portfolio of Work

Your portfolio is an important marketing tool that represents both you and your body of work. A thoughtfully curated portfolio can make a huge difference in your success or failure when applying for opportunities. A professional portfolio should be easy to review but also visually captivating enough to generate further interest in your work.

What should you include in your portfolio?

Curriculum Vitae (CV)

Your CV is a summary of your most important experiences and record of accomplishments. It provides an overview of your professional activities, skills, and expertise - specific to your career in the arts. The information included in your CV should be structured in an organized manner. In your CV, you will want to include information related to your formal education, exhibitions or performances where your work has been presented, awards you’ve received, and residencies you’ve completed.

Be certain to include your contact information in the header of your CV. This should include your name, e-mail address, website, phone number, and primary address. It's important that you list multiple options for contact. This information should either be centered or aligned to the left of the page.

This section of your CV relates to post-secondary institutional education. List any formal training you have, such as a BFA or MFA. You should list your degrees in chronological order, with the most recent on top.

Use the following format when listing your education:

Name of the school, Location of the school, Degree obtained, Graduation year

Exhibition (or Performance) History
This section of your CV relates to exhibitions or performances where your work has been presented. If you have participated in fewer than 15 shows, include your entire history. If you have more than 15 shows, include only the top 15 most notable shows. If this is the case, use the header "Selected Exhibition History." If you have more than five solo shows then separate them into their own category titled "Solo Shows." For fewer than five solo shows, include them with the rest of your exhibition history, but make sure to clearly label them as solo shows. You should list your exhibition history in chronological order, with the most recent on top.

Use the following format when listing your exhibitions:

Date, Institution/venue where the exhibition/performance was presented,
Title of the exhibition/performance, City and State where the institution/venue is located

This section of your CV relates to awards you've been honored with for your art or art-related work. You should list your awards in chronological order, with the most recent on top.

Use the following format when listing your awards and grants:

Year, Title of the award, Name of organization or institution issuing the award

This section of your CV relates to the residencies you have completed. Residencies are an important part of an artistic career because they show a dedication to your practice and to your professional development. You should list your residencies in chronological order, with the most recent on top.

Use the following format when listing your residencies:

Year, Type of residency, Name of the institute where the residency was conducted, City where the institute is located

This section of your CV relates to any arts-related organizations of which you are currently a member. This can include national organizations or groups that are local to your community.

Use the following format when listing your affiliations:

Name of organization, title of your position within the organization (if applicable)

You can expand your CV to also include publications that you've been featured in or prestigious collections that your work is a part of.


A biography, or bio for short, serves as a point of reference for those interested in knowing more about you. It should be written in the third person and be no longer than four paragraphs in length. While you may want to customize your bio for special situations, it is a good idea to have one all-purpose bio prepared for general use.

In a succinct way, your bio should address your artistic background, including where you went to school, formal exhibitions, and other pertinent details. Remember the words of John Hodgman when writing your bio, “specificity is the soul of narrative.”

Artist Statement

A well-composed artist statement connects the reader to you and your body of work. Unlike your bio, your artist statement should be written in the first person. When drafting your artist statement, you should write with clarity, brevity, and focus. The narrative of your artist statement should cover three main points:

1) Why you create your art and what it means to you.
2) What your art signifies and what you are trying to express through your work.
3) The process by which you make your art and what materials you use when making it.

Know your audience when writing your artist statement. Having an extensive background or formal education in the arts is not a prerequisite to appreciating or supporting the arts. Because of that, how you describe yourself, your process, and your body of work should be written in accessible language and in terms that are relatable.

Samples of Your Work

A work sample is intended to provide individuals with condensed examples of your best work. It is not intended to function as a comprehensive representation of your work. Instead, it's an abridged introduction to your skill level and provides evidence of what you are capable of accomplishing.

When including photographs or videos of your work, select content that is high-resolution and/or high-definition. With photos and videos, be mindful of your backgrounds. In many circumstances, neutral backgrounds (white, black, and gray) are best. Additionally, pay attention to lighting. Make certain that lighting is even and there are no hot spots, dark corners, or shiny glares present. If you are including audio recordings in your work sample, make certain to select high-fidelity files.

Provide a description for each work sample. Include why the sample was selected and what discipline or medium is being represented. Also, include the date the work was created and if any collaborators were involved. As should be the case with your entire portfolio, proofread for typos and spelling errors.

In the next installment in this series, we will explore how you translate your portfolio into a website. To read the first installment in this series, click HERE.

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