Creating an Artist Portfolio

This is the next installment in a series of posts about my thoughts as I go through the Springboard for the Arts: Work of Art series about business skills for artists.

Creating a portfolio (or a reel for video work) is something that I wish I had gotten more guidance on along the way. At this point, I am out of date with examples and to be honest many of my great examples are simply gone. This became glaringly obvious when I missed out on a career opportunity for something that I know I would have been amazing at yet I couldn’t blame them for in the end needing to go with someone else. I had examples of work, but not really any of the particular thing they needed.

One of the parts of getting back into art, writing, and general creating after focusing so much attention on other things is that there is that aspect of feeling like everything needs to be something portfolio worthy when in fact I just need to be making and the rest will work itself out. I need to allow myself to just try things and have patience with the life I am building. I need to not be afraid to pursue things to make myself happy (not for the purpose of a portfolio). That portfolio bit will sort itself out with proper documentation.

They started the class around having an idea what your artist’s statement(s) might look like for various purposes. Here is an example exercise that they provide.

Exercise 1. Three-Sentence Artist Statement

Who you are:
What you do:
Why you do it:

They mentioned thinking about what you have read in museums and galleries, but truthfully when I wrote facts like that I am an American artist or that I am from Northern Wisconsin I bored myself. Thinking back, it is a bit less pressure to write something great when I think of how many artist’s statements I have read that were awful. That being said, that obviously is not the goal. They mentioned this fantastic article which helped tremendously: In Defense of the Artist Statement. You want it to be written in a way that it could be about no one else.

All I want from an artist statement is a link between the work and the artist. When this is done honestly, the result is original and authentic. It’s simple, but there is so much resistance that the simplicity is overlooked. – Robin Grearson, In Defense of the Artist Statement

I’ve now come up with an artist’s statement in mind that it will change and grow with me if I need it to do so, but I am going to spend more time focusing on why I make art. I make it because life is boring without it. I like to play and explore and learn new things. When I was the best at my artistry I didn’t care so much if other people would like it or what it would say about me so why should I do that now? I created things because I wanted to see if I could. I wanted them to exist in the world. This artist’s statement bit is going to take time to develop, but at this point the one I have is good enough.

I save animals, frolic in nature, dream big, & wear dresses … so I’m pretty much a Disney princess. – Jenny Veile, artist & writer

In terms of the portfolio itself I recently heard in a class the advice for people that try different things to get great at one thing and then move on to the next once you have mastered it. Otherwise you might come off disjointed and never be great at anything. Hogwash! I have been feeling overwhelmed by choices and so this advice hit me and felt wrong, but also stopped me in my tracks. How could I ever chose? Do I really want to focus all of my energy on illustration when I also want to make stuffed animals? How do I even get started again when I have to make a choice? It didn’t feel right.

It was much like the advice that stopped me with my creative writing many years ago when an instructor in college insisted I write what I know (as in about the town that I could not leave fast enough when I got out of high school). It felt wrong to me, but it stopped me in my tracks as I tried hard to write stories for the class that were at least somewhat interesting while I myself was bored writing them. It stopped my momentum. I am picking up writing again and am working on getting my creative writing skills up to speed, but this cut out years of my life of writing because once it was no longer fun it stopped being something I made time to do. I like making things up and I enjoy the sense of discovery. Yet that advice stopped me in my tracks as stupid as I knew it was it still had a hold on me.

I recently have gotten much better advice through the book “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative” by Austin Kleon. I have been holding back on pointing out things I want to recommend because as of yet I am not self-hosting my blog and thus at the point of this writing I won’t get any money if you go buy it. I couldn’t help it though with this book. I got my copy out from the library (free book!). In addition to saying “Write What you Know Like” he also had this important message that was a great reminder to not get derailed:

Don’t worry about unity from piece to piece. What unifies all of your work is the fact that you made it. – Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

This seemingly obvious (yet not said nearly enough) little statement like many others in the book basically to me come off as permission to follow my dreams and to do what I want, but in a way that was easily applicable to my life as a creative. I have other books that I’ve been reading (some better than others), but it was this one that resonated with me the most so far. It is brilliant in its simplicity.

In this one paragraph he states the purpose of this blog for me.

You don’t put yourself online only because you have something to say–you can put yourself online to find something to say. The Internet can be more than just a resting place to publish your finished ideas–it can also be an incubator for ideas that aren’t fully formed, a birthing center for developing work that you haven’t started yet. pg 82

I am looking forward to getting this blog self-hosted and thus more in my control now that I have been blogging here for over a year. It is still a place for me to just share what I feel like sharing. I am letting it become what it will and while I certainly have plans for it I don’t need to force it to be anything in particular.

A lot of what has held me back from writing more comes back to not wanting the ads to be there if they aren’t benefiting me (and to have control of if they are even there in the first place). Fingers crossed it will all work out. I have a lot of plans and they scare me a little (which I think means they are good). will eventually become where I have a nice polished online portfolio of work beyond what it is now, but this is my place to be messy. It is where I can share ideas and be honest about how to have a balanced creative life from someone that is just figuring it out herself.


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