Whether you’re applying to study a creative field at college or are looking for jobs in the art, design, or photography field, you’ll need a top-notch portfolio to showcase your work. An art portfolio isn’t a collection of everything you’ve ever made; rather, it’s a carefully curated sample of your best work and that which best reflects your style. 

Ideally, your portfolio should be individually tailored to a particular application, following any particular instructions they may have regarding length or what to include. It’s always a good idea to have a “default” or “master” portfolio to refer to, when pulling together applications.

Here are some examples of great art portfolios for inspiration, and some tips for what yours should include.

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What Should an Art Portfolio Include?

Art portfolios may be required for fine arts, graphic design, fashion design, architecture, photography, web design, or conceptual art-related courses or jobs. So, what you include in it will depend on your medium.

When deciding what to include in your portfolio, be sure to follow any specific instructions for the college or job you’re applying for. But generally speaking, you should include:

  • Finished artwork
  • Examples of sketches or working documents that show your creative process
  • Examples that show a range of different skills within your area of specialization
  • Examples of strong observational drawing skills (whatever your medium)
  • A range of subject matter
  • Well-balanced compositions
  • Original art that demonstrates creativity and originality
  • Logically ordered examples that show progression or some sort of “journey”
portfolio books
Source: Instagram
Examples of student art portfolios.

How to Make an Art Portfolio

Art portfolios may be digital or in physical form. While you may be more likely to need an online portfolio when applying for or bidding on jobs, if you’re applying to an art program in college, a physical portfolio is often preferred. Check your institution’s requirements. 

You may be wondering how many examples of art in portfolios is ideal. This depends on whether you have any space limitations. Don’t assume that more is always better, although it’s necessary to include enough examples to show the depth and range of your artistic practice.

In general, you should choose examples of your best work for your portfolio. Sometimes you will be asked to include sketches or workbook pages to show your working process. These may originally be rough, but it’s OK to touch up and enhance these pieces before adding them to your portfolio. The same applies to your finished pieces: don’t be afraid to touch them up before including them.

Discover why a thoughtful portfolio is so important from experts Justin Gignac and Claire Wasserman.

Portfolios should tell some type of story, or show progression. This could be the “story” of how you used different types of media to depict a single subject, or your progression from a rough outline or concept to a finished piece. However you interpret this story or journey, the pieces in your portfolio should be carefully ordered in a way that shows this progression. Colleges are usually as interested in seeing potential and growth in a student as they are spotting raw talent.

17 Art Portfolio Examples

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Painted portrait portfolio by Eric Theodore.

These painted portraits made up part of Eric Theodore’s MFA application.

A multimedia page from a physical art portfolio.
Source: Instagram

Designer Helen Stout submitted this as part of her art school portfolio. It’s an example of taking one motif for inspiration and showing how it can be reproduced in different media for varying effects.

morrocan influence
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This portfolio page shows the influences upon the artist’s work.

A second page from Helen Stout’s art school portfolio, this one shows some of the influences upon her work. You may be explicitly asked to include such examples in your portfolio. Even if you’re not, and there’s space, it’s a good idea to show examples of your sources of inspiration.

wood working
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Woodwork portfolio showing the finished product and the process of making it.

A page from a woodworking course portfolio of a student at the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design.

rie nakayama portfolio
Source :Instagram
Digital portfolio that includes important information about the artist. Art portfolio website examples are easy to find online.

For a professional portfolio, it’s a good idea to include a written statement that sums up the type of work you do, as Rie Nakayama has done here.

Source: Instagram
These portraits are AP art portfolio examples.

AP art portfolio examples have particular requirements, so make sure that you follow all instructions carefully if you’re applying for these courses.

Zuzana Bartova portfolio
Student work by Zuzana Bartova for Professional Portfolio Presentation.

This is an example from a professional-looking surface design illustration portfolio. Art portfolio website examples can be designed to look very sleek and professional.

Marina O portfolio
Student work by Marina O. for Design and Bind Your Own Creative Portfolio.

Some artists like to turn their portfolios into books, which they either bind and make themselves or have printed professionally.

fashion portfolio
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Examples from a fashion design portfolio.

A fashion design portfolio should include sketches as well as photographs of the finished designs.

fashion sketches
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Fashion sketches from an art school portfolio.

Strong drawing skills are favored by many artistic specializations (including fashion design), so it’s a good idea to include drawing examples in your portfolio.

Source: Instagram
A multimedia art portfolio.

Finished artworks can be shown alongside smaller sketches or working pieces to show how you arrived at your final piece.

figure sketches
Source: Instagram
Figure drawings from a portfolio.

Pages from illustrator Rigoberto Pinto Jr.’s ArtCenter College of Design application portfolio. 

High school art portfolio examples.
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High school art portfolio examples.

High school art portfolio examples should show a wide variety of subject matter and media, reflecting the student’s versatility and diverse skills.

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How many examples of art in portfolios is best? This student included a lot.

This portfolio was created by a student at the Savannah College of Art and Design who completed a minor in drawing.

architecture portfolio
Source: Instagram
An architecture design portfolio.

This architecture design portfolio was created by a student at the Frederick University Department of Architecture, Cyprus.

3D drawing.
Source: Instagram
3D drawing.

This detailed example of a student’s portfolio page is a pencil drawing 3D artwork.

Source: Instagram
Pages from an art school portfolio book.

Portfolio books are a professional-looking way of presenting your work.

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Art & Design, Portfolio Preparation