This post isn’t about the nitty gritty questions of what formats and how many pieces should be in a portfolio, this is about what content you should have in your portfolio. Because your portfolio is your shop window display. If you’re not showing your best work out front, you’re not going to get people deeper into your store. And you don’t put everything in your window display — just the things that are going to attract the kinds of clientele you want.
There is no more dreaded piece of writing a creative has to do than the artist bio or artist statement. We’re fine making the work — but why is it so hard to articulate it? Often we’re much better at talking about our work in a group of creative peers, but we just freeze when we have to write it down. We can’t launch a project into the world without an About page, a Bio, or some kind of Artist Statement, so we’d better face our fear and get comfortable with writing about ourselves.
We struggle for so long in obscurity—constantly falling short of our ideals—that we get used to the feeling that we’ll never be good enough. We’ll never be as good as our idols. We’ll never be good enough to feel satisfied with our work. The development of an artist often takes so long, and can be so discouraging, that when we do finally start to be successful we actually can’t recognize it. This is called imposter syndrome, and it is more common than you think.
Someone has stolen your art. Maybe it was just an Instagram post, maybe it was a blog post, or maybe it was something more serious — your art being used as some business’s logo or your art even appearing in the background of a movie or TV show or to sell prints and merchandise. How dare someone steal your artwork?! What do you do next?
Have you found yourself stuck in infinite revisions? Everything started off so well: you were excited about the client, you agreed on terms and signed a contract, and they loved your thumbnails…but suddenly you’re stuck in the artist version of Groundhog Day. Suddenly every time you send a revision, you get more notes. You keep thinking this will be it, but changes keep appearing out of the woodwork. The job drags on and your fee is looking less and less worthwhile. You are stuck in the hamster wheel of art. How do you get yourself out?
Artists have a funny relationship with their inspiration. It seems like magic, and we treat it as such. We need ideas and usually they are just…poof…there when we need them. But no matter how experienced the artist, no matter how many creative problems they’ve solved before, there’s always a moment of fear before you begin: What if this is the time your creativity fails? What is this is the time everyone finds out you’re a fake, a phony, a shitty artist? We are afraid to look too closely at our muses in fear that they’ll desert us when we need them most.
You’re going about your business on the internet — maybe promoting your new Kickstarter, maybe saying something political, or maybe just posting a picture of a work in progress. Someone comes out of nowhere and starts saying nasty shit to you. Your first response is to jump to your own defense. Maybe you try to explain, maybe you attack right back. Suddenly your heart is racing and your day is ruined and all you can feel is hatred for this person you probably don’t even know. If you’re lucky, it just ends there. In some cases, the hate can spread into the physical world and have real consequences.
Being a professional artist is your dream. But art careers don’t come easy, and the reality of how hard it can be to make a living in a field where you have to design your own path is daunting. As an artist you’re subject to fickle fanbases, unpredictable trends, and budgets very easily affected by shifting economic outlooks. At some point you may have to face that feeling in the pit of your stomach and realize that you’re just not making ends meet on your art alone.
Whether you work in illustration or gallery or concept art, the fact remains that you make a name for yourself by doing something better than anyone else can. Sure, there are artists that exist by being the “second best” at something or “the poor man’s version” of someone else, but it’s infinitely better to have a style all your own. By “style” I mean the combination of medium, technique, and voice that makes your artwork yours.