What to include in your artist portfolio | 5 areas to include with real examples

June 26, 2021

When a potential or future customer is looking to commission an artist for an original painting or drawing, our data shows that 50% of the decision-making process comes from looking at the artist's portfolio images. The remaining 50% comes from the actual artist. Do not rely on your artwork alone - no matter how talented you are - to seal the deal. Many times, an art buyer wants to know about the master behind the masterpiece. Therefore, it is important to showcase an effective artist portfolio that helps convert eyeballs into real paying clients.

Additionally, it is critical to include product information (the soon-to-be artwork) on what a potential client can expect from commissioning you.

Putting together an artist portfolio may be challenging; for instance, you might be asking yourself what you should and shouldn't include in your portfolio. Below are the 5 areas every artist must include in their portfolio if they want to make an impact and "seal the deal".

As a quick note - if you are looking to boost your online presence as an artist and receive commissions online, be sure to register on MadeMay. You get a free portfolio with 0% fees on direct commissions (or 5% on standard commissions).

#1 - Portfolio Images

Naturally, every artists' portfolio should contain images from previous commissions & art they have created. The question becomes: what type of images should you include? For instance, should you include every artwork you have ever created and slap that into your portfolio? No - this is one of the biggest errors we see.

To help understand the problem, put yourself in the customer's shoes - you are browsing an artist's profile and you're evaluating their previous artwork. Imagine if that artist's portfolio includes a black & white pen drawing of a pet, a colorful oil abstract, and a pastel portrait painting of a girl. It is clear the artist is talented and has varying skills, but the customer is left there to wonder - "Well, what am I going to get?" As a customer, if you're about to commission an artist, you want to feel a sense of comfort by having at least a good enough idea of what the end product will look like. A portfolio that contains images from A to Z will leave the customer confused and they likely will not proceed.

The word we want to emphasis is "consistency".

When you upload your portfolio images, you want to convey a sense of consistency. What the portfolio really says is, "Here is what I have done in the past, which means this is what you can expect in the future."

As a result, you want to position yourself in a way that gives the potential customer a good idea of what your artwork style will be like if they commission you.

Example of Images in Artist Portfolio (View Profile)

#2 - Artist Statement/Bio

The second thing to include is your artist statement, often times considered the artist bio. Some artists separate & differentiate the artist bio and the artist statement; where the bio contains information about the artist, and the artist statement contains information about each individual art piece. If your storefront contains artwork available for sale, then it is wise to include both; that is, a potential customer will want to know about the artist and the specific artwork.

For our purposes at MadeMay, we treat the artist statement as an all-encompassing biography about the artist since our platform is a place to commission artists for custom-made, handmade, and made-to-order artwork. A unique way to put it - since the artwork has not been yet commissioned, the only thing "for sale" is more-so the artist than any product. As a result, it's critical to have a powerful artist statement or bio that persuades the client to commission you.

In your artist statement, there are we recommend writing about 5 components:

2.1 - Personal Artist Background

Where did you grow up and where are you now? How long have you been creating art? What is interesting about your artwork style? Have you received any special awards or recognition for your artwork?

2.2 -Why Do You Make This Type of Art?

Why are you drawn to this type of art (such as portrait paintings)? How do you choose a theme? Giving a behind-the-scenes look into what drives your art is an excellent way to begin building an emotional connection with your audience.

2.3 - What Does Your Artwork Represent?

Does your art represent something about you? Does it represent a message about the world? Does it focus on a piece of history or look to the future? Our tip: give just enough detail to keep readers interested and grasp your artwork better. Artist statements are intended to be an introduction. Like the old saying goes - always leave them wanting more.

2.4 - What Inspires You?

What connection do you have to your art? What motivates you? People are drawn to passionate people. Enthusiastically express why you create what you do and your audience will feel more enthusiastic about it too.

2.5 - How Do You Make the Art?

What techniques do you use to create your artwork and what materials do you use? What is the process like? Potential buyers love to get a glimpse into how their soon-to-be masterpiece will be created. Explaining what goes into a piece can help buyers grasp the significance and scope of your work.

Example of Artist Statement (View Profile)

#3 - Timeline Delivery Expectations

With commissioned art, customers naturally have a lot of questions. One of them is, "How long will it take you to create this?" Of course, you can't given an exact answer without knowing what the commission request is. Even if you know all the details, giving an exact answer is difficult.

However, you should use your portfolio to give the potential client a frame of reference or an estimate of what they can expect. For instance, "Typically delivers in 15 days". On MadeMay, we have a dedicated section to provide future customers a sense of when they can expect a completed artwork.

Some commissions will differ than other commissions, so we recommend using an average on the most popular type of commission you anticipate to receive. For instance, if 90% of your commissions are portrait paintings and they take, on average, 10 days, you should have "10 days" as your reference.

Example of Delivery Expectations (View Profile)

#4 - Pricing Expectations

Pricing expectations and delivery expectations are similar in nature, but emphasizing the need to provide a client an estimate of pricing is critical. Does your artwork fall in the $100 - $300 range? Does it fall in the $2,000 - $5,000 range? Like a delivery time expectation, you want to use your portfolio as a way to also include a price reference for future clients.

Like the delivery expectation, we have a dedicated section to set a price range to provide customers a reference point as it pertains to pricing.

For more information at pricing your commissions, you can check out How much does it cost to commission art and our Artist Guidelines.

Example of Pricing Expectations (View Profile)

#5 - Reviews

Any conscious consumer will take a peek at testimonials or product reviews, especially when shopping online. When it comes to custom artwork, there is usually a sentimental reason behind the commission, so the future client understandably wants to make a great decision in the person they select to create their painting, drawing, sculpture, etc.

As the saying goes, "It is not what I say about myself, it is what others say about me."

Including a review section will boost your credentials, alleviating the sense of uncertainty that most of us face when purchasing something online.

A few tips on reviews:

  • If you are just starting out as an artist, do 2-3 commissions for free on the condition those customers write you a meaningful review - this will help you build momentum and gain traction & credibility.
  • It is helpful if the reviews are recent, with at least 1 review within the past 45 days.
  • After each commission, ask the client to provide you a review. It is critical to accumulate positive reviews.
  • Pro tip: ask the customer to provide a photograph of the painting, ideally next to its subject, once the package arrives. (Coming Soon to MadeMay: the ability to upload photos with reviews)

Example of reviews in artist portfolio (View Profile)

Getting a review on your portfolio

If you're looking for a review & audit on your profile, we provide complimentary audits on all MadeMay profiles. Just contact us!

Got feedback? Share your experience & insights by writing us an email!