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If You Make These 5 Mistakes, Your Portfolio Could Be Costing You Jobs

Your friends may be polishing their resumes as they apply for jobs, but if you are an artist, there’s something more important, and that’s your portfolio. A portfolio is not just a showcase of your skills, it’s also a statement of your vision and your personal style. With a portfolio, artists have a chance to show potential clients exactly what they are capable of doing, and a good portfolio can be irresistible. But how do you go about building your portfolio?

The most common advice is “only include your best work,” but that’s not really helpful. After all, you weren’t planning on including your worst work. But a good portfolio is greater than the sum of its parts, and even if you include all your best work, you could still be making mistakes that cost you clients.

1. Don’t Make It Too Big

The most common mistake when artists put together their portfolios is to include everything, even the kitchen sink. Unless you’re a plumber, that sink is unnecessary, and so is most of the rest of the junk cluttering up your portfolio. The longer it takes you to show a potential client what you can do, the less interested they are going to be. A strong portfolio is focused and efficient, with as few as ten to fifteen examples of your work. More than that makes you look like you aren’t sure what you want to do. So don’t just include everything you like: make each piece earn its place.

2. Don’t Make Just One Portfolio

A portfolio isn’t just a collection of your best work, it’s an argument for why you should get the job. So each time you meet a potential client, you should put together a portfolio custom-tailored to show how you would address their needs. The easiest way to do this is to pick out twenty to thirty examples of your work as a pool from which you can choose which ones best speak to the project in question. If your portfolio wasn’t designed with your client in mind, they’ll notice, and they’ll get the feeling you might not be all that interested in working with them.

3. Don’t Compromise Your Clients

Another reason not to simply put in your best work is trust. Suppose you’ve just finished a big job with a famous client. You’re really proud of the work you’ve done, so you put it in your portfolio, just as you are going to pitch yourself to other clients in the same industry. The problem is, you might be leaking secrets to your client’s direct competitors. And when they see that you are careless with the work you do for other people, they’ll presume that you will be just as careless when you work for them. Always get permission from the client to include work in your portfolio, and if your work isn’t already released to the public, be careful who you show it to. Building a trustworthy reputation is more valuable than including one piece in your portfolio, no matter how good it is.

4. Don’t Forget About Presentation

A portfolio is all about making a good first impression, so the way you present it is just as important as what’s in it. If you just slide your work into cheap plastic sleeves, you’re going to make a cheap plastic impression. Printing your work on the best paper possible, and presenting it in a sleek, aesthetic box, will show clients you respect your work, and they should as well. If you’re using a tablet to present an electronic portfolio, make sure to clean the glass. A smudged screen is as bad as smudged art.

5. Don’t Just Trust Your Judgement

Most importantly, don’t just rely on your own judgement when picking out your best work. Get input from friends, colleagues, and artists you respect. Making art is a labor of love, so it’s easy to love everything you create, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into work that everyone else loves as much as you do. Having someone look at your art with fresh eyes will often be more effective in identifying which examples are most appealing to a wider audience.


Building a portfolio is a skill in and of itself. That’s why at BEAU students work with mentors and members of the industry to develop their portfolios and hone their sales pitch. If you are interested in developing a career in the arts, check out the degree options that are available at BEAU, and don’t forget to follow the BEAU blog and check out our YouTube Channel!