Portfolio Alternatives: Small Wonders


I often receive phone calls from people interested in my portraits, and I want to respond by sending them something that will introduce my work and provide important information. But I don’t want to burden them with returning the material. Many times, I’ve sent complete portfolios that include a couple hundred dollars’ worth of 8×10 photos. As many artists know, these may be gone for weeks, months, or worse, they may never be seen again.

So recently, I met with an art director friend of mine over lunch to discuss my alternative ideas for a promotional piece. My initial idea was more in the line of a brochure, but my friend pointed out that this type of promotional piece has inherent problems. For example, after going to the effort and expense of producing a good brochure, you may quickly grow tired of the images you chose. Secondly, printed information in a brochure may change and can’t be easily edited. Finally, brochures often contain an overwhelming amount of information. And as my friend pointed out, in today’s world, people often don’t have time to read that much type. Besides, artists are in a visual business.

Striking Gold

As we kicked around several ideas, our discussion turned to an approach that I’d already been using in a limited way: For some time, I’ve had postcards printed of my portraits. These are relatively inexpensive, usually about 500 cards for $100. As we talked about these cards, we realized that I wasn’t using them to their full potential. So we decided to create a mini-portfolio that could hold 10-12 postcards, as well as a biography, a price list, note cards, and other materials. Using a relatively simple design we had several hundred postcards produced along with biography cards and note cards. We chose a handsome, heavyweight textured paper to serve as a jacket for the materials – all of which we designed to coordinate with my previously printed stationery and business cards. The jackets came to me creased, ready for folding and included an embossed area in the shape of a rectangle for dropping in my signature, which then became the logo. To save money, I installed the raised signature in the embossed area myself. I glued the printed signatures to black-core matboard. Then I cut them out individually and glued them onto the embossed area.

The brief biography card includes my address, phone number, photo and signature logo printed on the cream cover stock. Using the same paper, we produced a business card and a folded, blank note card so that I could include a personalized note for each potential client. Finally, I printed price lists with my computer using the same stationery. This minimizes costs and makes changes easy. Though the portfolio was designed to be sent in a matching cream envelope, I typically send it in a padded 5×9 mailer to ensure its safety.


I’ve only been using this mini-portfolio for a short time, but I’ve already realized a number of benefits. First, it’s flexible. It allows me to tailor the portfolio to meet a particular client’s needs. For instance, if I’m sending information to a potential corporate client, I may choose to include mostly business portraits in the package. Likewise, if I’m sending a package to a client interested in a child or family portrait, I can send mostly postcards of private commissions. Another benefit – maybe the most important to me – is that I can constantly update the work I include inside the portfolio. This would be an expensive proposition had I chosen a traditional brochure.

Finally, I think clients enjoy receiving their own personalized portfolio. It’s theirs to keep, they can spread out the images on a table, post them to the refrigerator or bulletin board, or compactly store all of the information away for future reference. All in all, my mini-portfolio is a handsome, simple and friendly first introduction of my work for potential clients – it creates a positive impression that helps set the stage for a follow-up meeting in their home or here in the studio.

Written by: Michael Shane Neal