If you hope to pursue a career in a creative field—art, illustration, surface pattern design, photography, graphic design, fashion or interior design—you’ll need a professional art portfolio where you can display your work. 

Potential schools, employers and freelance clients will be able to look at your portfolio to get a sense of your skills and style and ultimately decide whether or not to accept or hire you. 

Why Do You Need a Physical Art Portfolio?

Portfolios can be digital or physical. There’s no question that you’ll need a digital art portfolio, since you’ll most likely submit your applications online. And if you’re hoping to attract freelance clients or license your artwork, it’s a good idea to have a digital portfolio readily available on your website. 

Anytime you’ll be meeting with someone in person—a college admissions officer, a potential employer or client—you’ll want to bring a physical version of your art portfolio. Some schools and employers make this a requirement, so be sure to check the application guidelines.

Even if it’s not a requirement, having a physical portfolio with you during the meeting will greatly increase your chances of getting accepted or hired. You will more than likely have an opportunity to discuss past projects, and your interviewer will appreciate having something tangible to refer to. 

Get Your Portfolio Ready to Go

Professional Portfolio Presentation

What Should a Physical Art Portfolio Include?

An art portfolio shouldn’t simply be a collection of everything you’ve ever created. In fact, it’s best to limit your portfolio to 20–25 pages. When putting it together, think about including:

  • Your best pieces and work you’re most proud of
  • Pieces that show your interests, personality and style
  • Pieces that show the breadth of your skills 
  • Collections of pieces that have a unified theme 
  • Spreads that show your creative process, including mind maps, sketches, prototypes and final results 
  • A brief statement about your work or short explanations that accompany individual projects

If you’re applying to a school or a job, they may have specific instructions on how long your portfolio should be and what to include in it, so be sure to follow those. Even if there are no guidelines, it’s still a good idea to design a portfolio that includes projects that are in line with what your potential employer or client might be looking for.

Physical Art Portfolio Examples

When it comes to putting your portfolio together and making sure it looks professional, you have a few different options: 

Portfolio Folder or Binder

A simple way to display your art is in a folder or binder with clear sheet protectors. This is perfect for:

  • Displaying original artwork without damaging it 
  • Displaying mixed media artwork, fabric and other materials 
  • Updating your art portfolio by rearranging the page order or layout

Skillshare teacher Lauren Poole used a photo-album style folder to create a surface design portfolio. Each sheet has an adhesive coating and a clear protective cover, making it possible to display pieces of different sizes and play around with layouts. Making updates to this portfolio is possible but time consuming, so this type of folder works best for portfolios that are more or less set in stone. 

A portfolio folder is open to a spread featuring seven illustrated greeting cards. The cards are stuck onto the portfolio pages with an adhesive and covered with a protective cover sheet.
Still from Skillshare class PATTERN PORTFOLIO: Showcase Your Surface Pattern Design Portfolio or Textile Design Portfolio by Lauren Poole.

Skillshare teacher Sonia Nicolson used a folder with clear sheet protectors, placing printed sheets inside. Switching the order in this portfolio is as easy as sliding the paper out and replacing it with a different one. You can also use the sheet protectors to display artwork of irregular size or other materials. 

A portfolio folder is open to a spread featuring architectural models. The pages are held inside clear sheet protectors.
Still from Skillshare class Art & Design, Portfolio Preparation by Sonia Nicolson.

In another example from Lauren Poole, this 3-ring binder holds hole punched sheet protectors, making it even easier to switch the pages around. Lauren included printed illustrations of her surface patterns, as well as fabric swatches to demonstrate how the patterns look in real life. 

A 3-ring binder is open to a spread featuring 30 surface patterns. The pages are held inside clear sheet protectors.
Still from Skillshare class PATTERN PORTFOLIO: Showcase Your Surface Pattern Design Portfolio or Textile Design Portfolio by Lauren Poole.

Handbound Portfolio Book

Another DIY option is to bind your own portfolio book. You can include original artwork (as long as you don’t mind that it will stay there permanently) or print copies of your art. 

Skillshare teacher Nikki Jouppe shows how to make an art journal by combining her artwork into a spiral notebook using a binding machine. 

Skillshare teacher Nikki Jouppe using a binding machine to secure the coil that will hold together the pages of her art portfolio.
Still from Skillshare class Make Your Own Art Journal 3 Ways with Nikalola by Nikki Jouppe.

Skillshare teacher Bonnie Christine has an entire Skillshare class on how to bind your own creative portfolio

Skillshare teacher Bonnie Christine using a drill to make holes in the pages of her art portfolio so she can bind them together.
Still from Skillshare class Design & Bind Your Own Creative Portfolio by Bonnie Christine.

Professionally Printed Portfolio Book

If your work is done digitally, you’ll need to print it before placing it in a physical art portfolio. Instead of printing it at home, consider designing and ordering a custom portfolio book. A portfolio like this will look and feel very professional and will really make you stand out among other candidates. 

Skillshare teacher Aga Kobylinska used InDesign to create layouts that showcase her surface patterns and got them printed into a hardcover book. 

Skillshare teacher Aga Kobylinska holds up a hardcover portfolio book and flips through its pages to reveal illustrations and surface patterns.
Still from Skillshare class (In) Design Your Portfolio Book by Aga Kobylinska.

Skillshare teacher Tessie Fay Snow put together a hardcover portfolio book, which she brings to meetings with art directors. 

A hardcover portfolio book is open to a spread featuring four paintings and a brief description of the surface pattern collection.
Still from Skillshare class How to Get a Fabric Contract: From Portfolio to Licensing my First Fabric Line by Tessie Fay Snow.

Tessie also created a much shorter booklet version of her portfolio and printed multiple copies. She can leave these booklets with art directors, so they have something to refer to after the meeting is over. 

A portfolio booklet is open to a spread featuring seven surface patterns.
Still from Skillshare class How to Get a Fabric Contract: From Portfolio to Licensing my First Fabric Line by Tessie Fay Snow.

Stacks of Loose Sheets 

In some cases, it might make sense to just bring a stack of loose sheets in place of a portfolio book or folder. For example, if you’re licensing art to a company, the person you’re meeting with may wish to move papers around and try out different combinations of designs. 

Skillshare teacher Sandra Mejia printed her surface patterns on loose sheets of paper, making sure to include her branding and contact information on the bottom of each sheet.

Three sheets of paper are arranged on a table, each featuring a surface pattern.
Still from Skillshare class Spruce up Your Portfolio – Even if you’ve never had clients before by Sandra Mejia

Skillshare teacher Stacie Bloomfield includes color swatches on the bottom of each sheet to help streamline her clients’ decision making process. 

Sheets of paper are spread out on a table, each featuring a collection of surface patterns.
Still from Skillshare class Pitch Perfect Portfolio Art Licensing Challenge by Stacie Bloomfield.

Get Started On Your Own Physical Art Portfolio 

There is no right or wrong way to create a physical art portfolio. As long as it showcases who you are as a creative and what you’re capable of, it will help you shine in every important meeting. 

But don’t wait to have a meeting scheduled to put together your portfolio. Start thinking now about what your favorite projects have been and create a special place for them, both online and in physical format. You never know when someone might be interested in seeing your portfolio and what opportunities it could lead to!

Prep for Success

Art & Design, Portfolio Preparation

Written by:

Sayana Lam