Preventing Portfolio Pitfalls

PortfolioSelectionAhh, who doesn’t love a little alliteration? But this is not a blog about my favorite writing devices, but about you—and how you present yourself.

Your portfolio (whether on your website, a printed book at a show or even a pdf emailed to clients) is a working document that ebbs and flows as you develop new concepts, topics and points of view moving you closer and closer to your dream clients and new markets for your work. A concise and compelling portfolio is the juice that can propel your art biz from “yeah, maybe” to “yes, please”! But portfolio pitfalls happen and I’ve tripped  over pretty much every one of these in the course of my career—but no worries, there’s always a way out. So here goes!

  1. Artwork that is not authentically “you”. Trust me, every artist I know has that collection or orphan piece of art that you did at some point in your life (possibly under the influence of red wine) or because you followed the newest trend too closely. But it’s not really your thing and it has no relation to anything else in your portfolio. But you worked on it for so long and it deserves to be seen, right? Um, no, not really. If it’s that good you probably would have developed it further. Better to not show it until it has stronger legs to stand on. And get rid of anything that your potential client could say, “that looks a lot like (Kelly Rae Roberts, Mary Englebreit, Kathy Davis etc…).” You may love their work and would like to replicate their success, but they got there by developing a unique look and authentic message. Trust your gut on this one and stay your perfect little self.
  2. It is a proven fact (by me) that your portfolio is only as good as your weakest piece of art. A clunker in the mix can pull down the whole she-bang. Potential clients will wonder if you are able to effectively evaluate your work—or worse, begin to think that the better stuff is a fluke. Get another set of professional eyeballs to help you tweak your offering—and send the offending pieces to the far back corner of your files. Visit them occasionally to see if they can be salvaged into something brilliant or just leave ’em there until they learn their lesson.
  3. Too many mockups that all do the same job. Particularly if you are a pattern designer, nothing will put your potential client to sleep faster than page after page of your designs slapped on the same room setting or paper tableware sets. Make sure your mockups make sense to the artwork and use your imagination to design products that look, well, designed, instead of stamped out with a sofa- shaped cookie cutter.
  4. Buy a ticket to Go Away Island for the trend bandwagon you jumped on a few years ago–(like the Live Laugh Love chalkboard design with the hedgehogs). No matter how much you love it or believe it’s a perennial design, it’s probably not. Update it or file it away until that trend rears its head again.
  5. Treasure Hunts are fun—when you’re nine. Sending your potential clients on a wild goose chase when they land on your website will only irritate them. Sometimes it’s hard to showcase who you are because you actually DO do a lot of things well and you think they are all marketable (and maybe they are). In this case, organization is your friend, Grasshopper. Clearly identified labels, folders, menu tabs—do whatever it takes to direct your client to the spot that resonates most with them. Don’t make them work too hard; remember they spend their days in endless meetings, keeping up with email and trolling the break room for cake. Don’t tick them off by sending them searching for the stuff they want.

So kids–keep your portfolio fresh, keep it organized and keep the “meh” work to a minimum—scratch that—it’s better to have a concise and harmonious presentation than one with lots of iffy collections that could potentially drag you down a notch. So—off with their heads!

For more in depth info on portfolio development and presentation, make sure you check out License to Draw—How to Monetize Your Art through Licensing—and more! Or book a coaching session with me so we can really dig in and make your portfolio sing!

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5 thoughts on “Preventing Portfolio Pitfalls

  1. Thanks Ronnie! I printed out your article and will read it tonight. Even us old folks in the business need a new perspective now and then! And your advice is always spot on!

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