Back in the day, artists used to carry around their top work in a heavy, worn out, thick leather briefcase. When the opportunity manifested, they snapped it open to showcase their pride and joy. The definition of art portfolio was well constrained to a strictly analog medium.
Honestly speaking, I took a good while to set up my own art portfolio. By that, I mean well over two years. I was anxious about where to start, what platform to use, which work to showcase, and what color should the favicon be. That is the little, microscopic, logo that shows up in the browser’s tab. Talk about perfectionistic shenanigans.
The hard truth is you need a portfolio to cut through the noise. You need to make yourself discoverable by creative directors, agencies, or potential clients. You thus need that online presence in 2020 if you ever want to make your work profitable.
Good news is, I'm here to tell you we can do this despacito and we can finish fast. Let's get it!
1. Set up the basics
Here's how to build a stunning art portfolio using Semplice—the easy mode. No coding, no cumbersome web apps, no annoying subscriptions. Only the good stuff, I promise.
You’re going to need two things: a domain name and a hosting service. For which I will recommend GoDaddy and Flywheel. Why those two? Reputation, compatibility, outstanding customer service, friendly interface, and bliss to use altogether. The best of the best.
Once you bought your domain, all that’s left is to point the DNS over to Flywheel’s server. There’s an easy to follow guide that will help you right here.
Your domain name of choice should be easy to pronounce, ideally in several languages. Preferably short, lacking hyphens or periods, and snappy if possible. I would clip onto those avoiding cliches like “www.willsartportfolio.com” or “www.artbywill.com”. No offense intended, Will.
Get creative. Use your full name if it ain’t a tongue twister, and if it is, find a witty zag to it. For instance, “www.willywill.com” sounds funny, memorable, and even looks cool in the browser’s search bar. Squeeze those creative melons of yours and make some melonastic melonade.
Pro tip: You can look into Top Level Domains for an extra dose of Wow.
2. Choose your portfolio builder
If you read the title right, then you know what I’ll promote here: Semplice. My favorite, WordPress-based, website builder. Other great art portfolio alternatives are Behance, Adobe Portfolio, and Squarespace.
Semplice is a bliss to use. It counts with a comprehensive tutorial section you can browse here. It encompasses everything from quick set-up to font installation, module functionalities, and so on. Awesomely enough, you can also dive into their hacks database for some nifty visuals to add an extra pinch of sensual across your site. Fantasticoso.
I would recommend you dedicate some time to read through the reviews first and get a better grip on where I’m coming from. Us artists and designers fall like meteor showers for shiny objects. We are the firsts ones to click “Buy now“ if the product is exquisitely designed. Disregarding its source, backend, or usability. Whether that be a pet rock, or an app subscription to measure our daily curse word count we damn sure don't need.
Disclaimer: This is not a paid promotion, although that would be cool. Nor am I giving you biased information. I'm writing from my very own experience using this tool. Building my site with it, and further recommending it to my creative friends. Trust me, I’m an engineer. Not.
3. Browse for inspiration
Inspiration is everywhere, are words I live by.
It’s in the songs we hear, the places we visit, the people we talk to, and the food we eat. It’s in the old and new architecture, the wild imposing nature, the captivating beauty of women, and the wisdom inked on the books we read.
The Modern Artist observes the details. He or she understands how to transform conceptual information into tangible reality. Use this skill to your advantage.
When browsing inspiration for your new website don’t feel discouraged or overwhelmed. I was there too. You’ll stumble upon the most galactic, interstellar, Elon-Musk-dignified sites out there only to question yourself: “How the hell am I going to measure myself to this? Is it even worth trying?” Well, you don’t have to my friend, and it’s absolutely worth it. One step at a time.
The Semplice team has put together it’s own showcase reel. A beautiful compilation of their top-class portfolios. There’s a little bit of everything. From designers to agencies, to illustrators and even small businesses. It’s a psychedelic party of eye-candy visuals. I must warn you though that once you’re in the Matrix, it will be hard to snap out as there’s plenty to digest.
4. Curate your work and start building
Start from the beginning and keep it simple.
Choose your best work and your best work only. That which makes you the proudest. Avoid falling into the show-it-all trap. Why?
Well, consider how big of a toll technology has taken on our attention span. You only count on a couple of seconds to help the lurker decide whether to stay or bounce. Use your resources sparingly.
Don’t be afraid to do some fashionable name-dropping while you're at it. Got some big clients you worked with? Highlight those bad boys up and front!
Going from zero to launch in a day is absolutely possible following the steps I’ve mentioned before. Diss the start paralysis for good. The faster you act, the quicker you will realize how simple it actually is. The upside is clear, once your site is up and running you can always block some time weekly to further spice it up. Add more work, curate those you have, change up the site aesthetics, you name it, the world is your oyster.
Important: be wary of image size. A heavy site will spook your viewers away like Freddy Krueger at the playground. Do some speed research on exporting images and the best practices. I personally do PNGs at less than 1mb tops. Which to be honest, I’m not even sure if it’s the optimal way to do it but hey, it works for me.
Pro tip: Use video. Video is great to make a strong first impression. We like to see things move, twitch, flutter, and kick. Have you a process clip of your creative method? Drop it in. Does your work move per se? Wonderful, use that. Can you find a way to add a little animation here and there? Crank up that creative genius of yours.
5. Write an About page that rocks
Aha! We've arrived at the dreaded About page. And what a pain this one can be.
There’s no right or wrong formula to nail it down. Some of us approach it eagerly, others prefer to leave it for the very last. Whatever profile you fit best, I can say from my own experience that being 100% content with your About page is a big affirmation. Nonetheless, it’s an absolute—impassable—must on your site.
You can find About pages in all shapes, forms, and colors. First, second, and third-person summaries. Those that tell their whole life’s story in HD 5K format. Those written impersonally by somebody else (why please?). And those that barely giveaway their birth certificates’ legal name. Who are you, Mr. Game and Watch?
The sweet spot here is well-grounded in being yourself. Being genuine in the way you write and express your feelings. Replicating how you would have a conversation with your next-door neighbor or cat down the road. Why? Simple, we all thrive for more human connections, the “I’m speaking to you” kind of exchange.
Tell a story, give away a personal quirk, fun fact, or secret. Bond with your audience by making them feel that you’re one of them. Because you damn right are…or not, E.T.? We’re all imperfect, and that’s beautiful. We’ve all made mistakes, felt ashamed, or got caught showing our moves off to the Dragon Ball Z theme song before the living room’s TV, Dancing with the Stars fashion. That, of course, was uh...a friend of mine.
Pro tip: SHOW YOUR FACE. Yes, you read right. Unless you're Felipe Pantone, put that shining face of yours front and center. And if you're into the incognito trend, great, then put one of your back. Or heel. Or eardrum. Just portray your human condition somehow, that makes people click. You can check mine here.
6. Weniger, aber besser
How my german friends would say: less is more. Coined by the designer Dieter Rams back in the day, these are also a handful of words to live by.
I learned a lot during my two years in Germany. Beautiful people, beautiful country, and oh my lord beautiful beer. Amongst the things I got to take away into my life journeys is their precision mentality. Sayings things straight and keeping stuff down to the fundamental.
Being not only simple but practical helps find better solutions in less time, thus wasting less energy. This applies to design and art alike. So I beg you please, don't overcomplicate things when they don't need to.
Picture your site as a living, breathing, organism destined to grow, evolve, mutate. Version 1 will never be the same as version 2, nor 3. The curve will steepen as you grow as a professional. Better, stronger ideas will come your way, and by no means will you ever be bound to your first swing at-bat.
7. Share it with the world
Congratulations, you finished your portfolio! Now what? Well first, why don't you start by giving yourself a pat on the back?
Us artists tend to under celebrate our victories because our focus is fixed at creation. I remember when I first hit publish on my website. It felt like I lifted the sinking Titanic off my back—violinists playing along and baby sharks [tu-tu ruru tu-ru] swimming around gracefully.
It was the righteous resolve of over two years of procrastination, mind drilling self-doubt, and a life long discourse of “do I have to do this to prove myself to others?” Big nope is the answer.
You do this because you love what you do. Because it is in your godforsaken right to share it with the world. But you know? I'd go one step further and claim it is your duty to share your gifts. Art is freedom, art is imagination, art is the fabric that gives our life's purpose. So why would you contain in your tiny crystal box? Let it be free!
To wrap it up, know that promoting your work is as crucial as producing it. Art and business go along like bread and butter, bolognese and parmesan, cats and yours truly. For now, use Social Media to showcase your new website. Instagram is a great place to get the ball rolling. And in case you haven't already, why don't you start uploading your work regularly on it? Hmmm, I wonder... what could possibly go wrong?