Artists on-lineLast week, in our first installment on the importance of portfolios, I wrote about some things to consider when getting ready to go on-line with your portfolio.  This week’s post is on the different kinds of portfolios for you to consider (and there are a few).

The key to deciding on the type of portfolio is, as I mentioned before, knowing who you want to target.  And it may also mean not limiting yourself to one portfolio.  I am only going to be discussing web portfolios, as opposed to a physical portfolio, which is a different animal.

big or small, one page or many?

On-line portfolios come with a lot of options so you really need to think about what you want to accomplish:

  • will you design it or do you need to work with a web designer?
  • will you want to update it yourself?
  • what kind of technology do you want to use?
  • how big will it be? one page? part of a larger site? will you have a blog?
  • how will you promote it?


If you are a web designer, you can and should design and create your own portfolio, probably as part of a larger site promoting your business.  If you are a graphic designer with no web experience, you will likely want to create the look of your portfolio yourself and then work with a web designer/developer who can help you with the coding and perhaps point out a few areas where web and traditional print work differ.

If you’re a creative in any other field then there’s a good chance you’re going to need some external help.  But what kind?

templates or original

There are services that offer instant portfolios where you can select from a variety of templates, click and drag your work into predefined spots, easily swap your old work out for new work and have some editing capabilities over things like colours, logos and fonts.  Some will come with source files allowing you to do more in depth customization if you’re tech minded.  If you’re on a budget, they can be a good and fast solution…. but (and you knew there was a but coming didn’t you?)…

Yes there’s a ‘but’.  A template is just that… a template.  Meaning it’s not an original design.  Other people can purchase the same template you’ve bought.  Some are more customizable than others but, when you get into high degrees of customization, you will probably need to hire a web designer to help you out.

Read the fine print.  Some services have monthly costs and some require that your portfolio sit on their servers, also for a fee.  What might seem inexpensive to start can add up over time.  Be very clear on what you are paying for.

Many portfolio templates are developed in Flash.  Flash can do some very slick things – and in many ways is perfect for portfolio design.  But, beware of slow loading times, and funky navigation.  Choose a template that is fast loading and easy for even the least web savvy person to navigate (could your grandma figure out how to see your work?  You know she’ll want to!).  Flash isn’t perfect though.  Google does not do a good job of finding Flash sites and putting them in search engine results – this can make it hard for people to find you if you have a portfolio completely designed in Flash.

One final word of warning regarding Flash.  Apple and Adobe (the makers of Flash) are not playing nice with each other right now and Flash is not available on the iPhone or the new iPad.

Original design will require you to work with a web designer, which means you will need a bigger budget.  But what you will get is a professional who can create a unique look for you, use appropriate technology, and make sure your site is search engine results friendly.

one page or more?

One page portfolios are becoming increasingly popular.  Instead of a full fledged website,  an artist will use just one page to display their work, contact info and background.  Many of these sites, when well done, make a statement and are very visually appealing.  Do a quick google of examples of one page portfolios and you will find lots of great work to feast your eyes on.

With a one page portfolio, you will have to be succinct, but that can be a good thing.  They are easy and fast to navigate (appreciated by art directors and editors and anyone else who’s job requires them to look through mountains of portfolios).  And they can be easy to update, without the bulk of using a content management system (more to come on those), and relatively inexpensive to design, in comparison to a full blown website.  I find these sites are often well-suited to freelancers with one or two core services.

A fully functioning website is still a great option, especially if you plan to include a blog, or an e-shop, or more information than a one page site will allow.  It still doesn’t need to be bulky and it is a good option if you are running a creative business that offers a wider range of services.

content management systems

What are they?  Content Management Systems (CMS) are a type of software that can be installed on the server where your website is hosted.   They act as a repository for all the content on your website: images, blog entries, videos, even products you might be selling.  If you plan to have a blog, a small e-shop, use a lot of images or update your site yourself, they are a wonderful option.  Most of them have very simple user interfaces, making your life much easier when you want to update things yourself.

A CMS uses a theme to give it a unique look.  Themes are similar to templates and you can often use free themes that have a limited amount of customization or purchase more expensive “premium” themes that will allow you more flexibility.  Or you can work with a designer to create a custom theme for your site.  A CMS does a great job of keeping content (your images, entries etc) separate from the “look” of your website.  You can update your content without hurting the look and layout of your site.

WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal are all well-known CMS options but there are many others.  For most creatives, I recommend WordPress because it is one of the easiest to use and there are a huge number of themes available for it as well as a great range of plug-ins that allow you to create unique photo galleries, calendars, e-shops and much more (in fact, this blog is on the WordPress platform, although the rest of the site is not, and as you can see, the theme has been customized to match the design of the rest of the FLD site).

on-line community portfolios

There is another option that can be handy: the on-line community portfolio.  I don’t recommend these as being your only portfolio but they can be very good for targeting a very specific niche.  There are a several on-line creative communities that you can belong to including deviantArt, Behance and to a degree, Flickr The sites are built around artistic communities and allow you to create your own portfolio as part of the community, giving you the opportunity to share your work with other artists.  They are also often viewed by art directors, editors etc.  I’ve been approached several times by art directors about my work on flickr, although I do not consider flickr to be my portfolio.

These sites are often free, with a small fee required for larger storage limits or extra features.  You will have limited ability to personalize your porfolio, which can be a good thing – your work must stand out  on its own.

I will also mention NAPP and Etsy.  As a member of the National Association of Photoshop Professionals, I have access to portfolio space on their site.  I don’t use it but  if you are somebody who specializes in Photoshop work, this would be a great place to profile your work – the people browsing it will be looking specifically for Photoshop artists.  Etsy is not so much a portfolio site but an e-commerce site that allows you to set up a “shop” to sell your creations.  It is specifically for artisans and crafters and is a great way to sell your products without going through the time and expense of setting up a full e-shop.  However, I would still recommend that you put together an actual on-line portfolio that can link to your Etsy shop.

a few parting thoughts

When you are putting together your portfolio, don’t forget how far providing a little extra can go.  Consider profiling specific projects, giving more information on the tools and process you used.  And even better, if you have client testimonials on your work, put them in.  They can go a long way to promoting your work.

There is so much to consider when it comes to creating a portfolio that it’s almost impossible to get it all into two blog posts.  I know that there is more I could mention.  But if you are looking at putting together an on-line portfolio, I strongly recommend you sit down with a web professional – even if it’s just for a consultation.  They should be able to answer all of your questions and help you put together a strategy, whether you want do do some or all of the work yourself!