The portfolio is an important part of every digital artist’s career.
From beginners to seasoned professionals, your portfolio is what proves what you are capable of doing - what kind of art you are skilled at making.
If you have any aspirations of selling commissions or freelancing as a digital artist, you need to think of making and improving your portfolio as one of the most important parts of your career.
To make a simple and effective digital art portfolio, I recommend making a free account on Artstation and uploading 5-15 pieces of your best art. Try to only include art that is geared toward your target clients, and prioritise quality over quantity - it's better to have a portfolio of 5 great pieces, than a portfolio of 10 with mixed quality.
This will be enough to serve as a simple portfolio for people to browse your work, get a good impression of what it is you do, and contact you if they want to talk further.
Why digital artists need a portfolio
If you are a digital artist and want to sell commissions or get freelance work, you need to have some sort of portfolio.
When you advertise yourself as available for work, you need a way to show potential clients the kind of art you make - to prove your expertise.
The client needs to see what kind of art you make, how consistent and reliable you are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, etc.
In many ways, your portfolio is your sales pitch to clients - it is how you say "this is the product I make, and it's the product you would be buying from me"
You want your sales pitch to be as refined and as convincing as possible, to help you get more jobs, and better jobs.
Ultimately, a portfolio helps clients decide if you are the right artist for their project.
You could share a selection of work every time you get into a conversation with a potential client, but that's a lot of work.
It's much less work to set up a portfolio on a website, so clients can browse it and get in touch with you on their own time.
It's also common knowledge that nowadays most artists have some sort of portfolio, so at this point clients will expect you to have one - not having a portfolio might put some clients off.
Wherever you are in your journey, and whether or not you feel legitimate enough to have your own portfolio, I'd encourage you to put one together regardless.
The different options for hosting a portfolio
There are a few typical ways that digital artists host their portfolios:
Artstation is an extremely common platform for digital artists to host their portfolio, and has a good reputation too. It's free to set up an account and put your portfolio there.
With a free account you don't have much control over the layout of your portfolio, but most clients will be very used to browsing artstation portfolios - as soon as they see it, they'll know exactly how to look around it.
To get a bit more control over the layout and the visuals of your portfolio you can pay a monthly subscription to Artstation, as well as get access to a few extra features.
Artstation is what I would recommend to every digital artist creating their first portfolio, because it's simple, effective and easy to use.
But if you're willing to pay monthly for your portfolio to look nicer, instead of Artstation I would go with one of the next options.
If you would like to have more control over the layout, visual design and functionality of your portfolio than Artstation offers, Squarespace is a great option.
Squarespace makes it very easy to build a good looking site - even if you have zero experience in web design.
And it all works on a visual drag-and-drop grid system - you just add things where you want them on the grid - so you don't need to have any experience in web design at all, and you can't accidentally break your site or create something unusable.
When I felt like I'd outgrown my free Artstation portfolio and wanted to have more control over how it looked, I built myself a Squarespace site.
If you still want more design and layout control, I would recommend you build your portfolio with Wix.
Wix allows you complete control over your sites layout and design, while still offering the same functionality as Squarespace.
It's drag-and-drop like squarespace, but it doesn't restrict you to a grid - you really can put whatever you want, wherever you want it.
This means that with Wix, you can design your site completely, and make a unique and distinctive portfolio.
But with this much freedom it also means you can accidentally create an ugly and unusable website if you're inexperienced.
I also have web design experience with Wix, and really appreciate the freedom it gives you.
For your very first digital art portfolio, my advice is to make a free account on Artstation. It's simple, you don't need to work on the design, and clients will immediately recognise it and know their way around it.
This way, you can concentrate on making art and advertising it, and worry about making a custom portfolio site later.
What digital artists should put in their portfolio
Your portfolio should contain a selection of your best pieces of art.
Between 5 and 15 pieces is optimal - any less than that and clients may not be convinced you have enough experience to reliably produce art work - any more than 15 and clients may not be able to get a good overview of your whole portfolio.
Once you are a more popular artist, word-of-mouth will take over and you wont need to worry so much about the size of your portfolio, but until then it's best to stick to between 5 and 15 pieces.
Like I said earlier, prioritise quality over quantity when choosing which pieces to put in your portfolio.
A small portfolio of 5 amazing pieces is much better than a portfolio of 10 pieces, of which only 5 are amazing and 5 are ok - this tells clients that you are not experienced enough yet to get consistent results, and that they'd be taking a risk in hiring you.
So if you can only put together a small portfolio of 5 or 6 great pieces, that's alright - the portfolio that got me my first professional work was only 6 paintings.
Your portfolio should be tailored toward your target audience
My personal portfolio primarily consists of strong, male fantasy characters decked out in armour.
Guess what I usually get hired to paint?
I usually get hired to paint fantasy characters, most of them strong and armoured males.
That's not a coincidence -people are looking at multiple artists, and they will go with the one who most proves they can make the art they seek.
Clients will only hire you if your portfolio proves you can make the art they need.
On the other side of things, don't try to cover a load of different subject matters and styles in your portfolio in an effort to prove you can do different kinds of art.
Clients also want to know you are consistent and reliable, which they will only be convinced of if you have multiple examples of something in your portfolio.
When they see my portfolio, they are convinced that I can paint grim male warriors consistently, and if they hire me to make another grim male warrior, they can predict how the final art will look.
Try to keep your portfolio to a consistent subject matter and style, and clients looking for that kind of art will pick you over less-consistent artists.
In order to figure out exactly what art your clients will want to see in your portfolio, you need to try to put yourself in their shoes.
If you are trying to get work making book covers, you want your portfolio to completely convince potential clients that you can make great book covers.
If you want to advertise to Dungeons & Dragons players like I do, then you need your portfolio to convince them that you can make great full-body portraits of high fantasy characters.
If you're making your first portfolio, you probably won't be able to put together 5 to 15 cohesive pieces of art of the same subject matter and style - that's fine, and it's the same for everyone's first portfolio
Just put what you have available in your portfolio at first. You need some sort of portfolio just to get started - then you can work on improving it over time.
Your portfolio should make it easy for interested people to contact you
If your portfolio does its job, some people will want to get in touch with you after looking through it, to talk about how much it would cost to get a commission from you.
Clients need to be able to figure out how to contact you easily - if they can't find an email address in your portfolio or some other way to get in touch with you directly, they will move on to find another artist.
Fill out your profile with contact information, and also consider adding your email address to the description of each of the pieces of art in your portfolio.
How to you use a portfolio to help get commissions
Your portfolio is proof of the kind of art that you make, and how well you make it.
When you advertise that you do commissions, show them similar art to what is on your portfolio - potential clients might be turned off if you advertise using some fantasy character art you've made, but your portfolio is filled with dog portraits!
In your adverts, let people know that they can see more of your work on your portfolio site, and attach a link.
When potential clients arrive at your portfolio, they need to be convinced that you are capable of producing the art they want.
If they are sufficiently convinced by your art, make sure they can get in touch with you somehow - I always put my email address in my adverts, next to the link to my portfolio.
Your portfolio is like a sales pitch, and it needs to turn potential clients into actual clients.
You are actively showing people to your sales pitch, but it's the portfolio itself that has to convince them to get in touch with you.
This sales pitch should be polished and improved over time.
Improve your portfolio over time
Your first portfolio will probably start out a little thrown together - it'll consist of art made for different projects, or perhaps some pieces might be a lot older than others.
This is completely fine - some kind of portfolio is better than no portfolio at all.
Just make the best of what you've got to work with, and when you advertise send potential clients to it anyway.
As you make newer art, add it to your portfolio - keep your best work at the top of your portfolio and most visible, and move lower quality work toward the bottom of the gallery, or even remove it completely.
When potential clients visit your portfolio, you want them to see you at your best.
I would advise that, over the years, you slowly try to curate your portfolio toward a specific speciality
This way you can build word-of-mouth and a reputation for making a specific kind of art.
If I can become known as the ‘grim male warrior’ artist, then I will have built my reputation well! When someone needs a 'grim male warrior' painted, hopefully people will think of me first.
What to do once your portfolio is ready
So, hopefully by this point you're convinced you should head over to Artstation and put together a simple portfolio.
If you have a portfolio sorted out, and you are ready to get art commissions or freelance, read this article I wrote next, on the best places to advertise your art commissions