Portfolios are an essential tool in your life as a working artist, giving anyone who’s interested in your work a clear representation of what you’re doing. An effective portfolio will show a cohesive body of work, especially when used in graduate school applications.     

While you’re still in school, a good habit to develop is to periodically document your strongest work. Developing your own system of storing and archiving images of your work will be an asset later on when you need to assemble a portfolio.  


Your visual documentation needs to be high quality and look professional above all. You may want to invest in hiring a professional photographer to document your work. If you do it yourself, invest some time in reading about and practicing photographing artwork.  The Career Resources Center can offer you additional tips in documenting your work.   

Your work should be photographed at 300 dpi and your artwork should be the only thing in your image, against a neutral (generally a black) background. It needs to be in focus, properly exposed, and evenly lit, with no glare or shadows. While you’re in school, take advantage of the facilities available for photographing work. Always check the quality of your images before sending them out.

Rarely, but on occasion, an organization will request slides. Always keep a set of master slides, and send out duplicates or multiples. Label your slides with printed labels (your name, title, medium, dimensions, and year are standard) and send them in a plastic slide sleeve unless instructed differently.

Your documentation will vary according to the type of artwork. For two-dimensional work, use a single image, and possibly a detail image. Three-dimensional pieces and installations will require multiple views.  Documentation for video and film or performance pieces might include both still images and excerpts on DVD, cued to sections that best represent your work.

Physical Portfolios

Photographers and printmakers, especially in portfolios used in graduate school admissions, will often be asked to submit original work.  Depending on what kind of work you do, it may be a good idea to consider how the work will be presented and how it will stand up to repeated handling.