Your Jewelry Design Portfolio

What is a Portfolio

A portfolio is a visual and written document of your work. It represents you when you are not there to speak for yourself; accurately presenting what you are capable of doing. This is a valuable promotional tool and is a must for every jewelry designer.

You should start building your portfolio as soon as you start creating. This collection of work is a synopsis of what you have accomplished; what you have done; where you have sold, exhibited, studied; and what others say about your work. It can be used to show potential clients what has been created in the past as well as your current focus, whether it be a technique you're exploring, the development of a series, or an imposing body of work.

Who Would Look at My Portfolio?

Gallery owners who want to find artists doing innovative, exciting pieces or retailers and merchants who are looking for new sources of handcrafted products will want to review new portfolios regularly. Schools and educators always review portfolios when selecting a new instructor, or require talented artisans for workshops, lectures and classroom demonstrations. Companies, governments, or individuals who want to commission major work rely on portfolios when deciding which artisans should be asked to make proposals.

Types of Portfolios

There are different three kinds of portfolios:

  • The Master Copy

    This is your own personal documents of all the work you have designed and produced. It contains all original material with master slides, negatives, videos, discs, etc. The contents are added to it constantly.

    Never send out any of the contents of your original/master copy. Sometimes while it is being circulated around it may never get returned; and other times the person reviewing it may end up holding on to it for many weeks before key decisions are made.

  • The Resource or Reference Copy

    This one is usually placed in a library specific to your media category or a portfolio registry which is held by your provincial or state crafts council , where designers, architects, galleries, curators and retailers can view your work and contact you. It should be updated annually.

  • The Call for Entry Copy

    This copy contains material specific to information requested and is presented in a customized folder or cover. It's usually presented to a jury or committee for a competition, exhibition, grant, retail venue or other public showing.

    This copy can also be presented by you to a jury interviewing for a studio residency, a wholesale buyer, or an admissions department for a program of study. If you are presenting it personally then it is not necessary to weed out irrelevant slides and documentation. Instead, assist the client in focusing on the most pertinent material, showing the rest only as support information and backup.

Contents of A Portfolio

Different types of presentations call for different portfolio formats, but the contents of a portfolio generally include:

  • Cover Letter

    The cover letter introduces you and your craft. It should be addressed to the specific person or committee responsible for reviewing your portfolio. The content of your letter should clearly state the reason for submitting your portfolio (i.e. entry in a competition, consideration for a solo exhibition, etc.) It should also briefly list the rest of the elements in your portfolio (i.e. 20 slides, an artist's statement, resume, etc.)

  • Resume

    A resume should provide a concise history of your education and professional activities in a clear, easy to read format. Your resume should have your name, address and telephone number at the top then the rest broken down into sections, such as: brief description of related education (institution, field of study, year attended, level attained); related work experience; skills and accomplishments; any volunteer activities within the craft community or with any craft organizations; list of awards won or received, including any major awards, purchase awards, exhibition prizes, design awards and competitions won (include the criteria or conditions, if important and dates); list of group and solo exhibitions (gallery and year); major installations; list of private or public collections which include your work; list of published articles, reviews, catalogues, etc., by or about you (date); personal interests. Within each section, details are usually organized chronologically with the most recent at the beginning.

  • Biography

    A biography is a short written story about your life and your work. How you got into a particular medium or craft, what inspired you to go in that direction and the process involved in getting there. Here you can also describe how your work has evolved from past to present and any special techniques or materials used in making your work unique. You may also want to briefly discuss how your work is marketed, for example, distributed through fine gift and craft shops across Canada, sold only through craft shows and holiday boutiques, etc.

  • Slides and/or Photographs

    The most significant element in your portfolio is the visual documentation of your work. Whether they are video, prints, slides, etc., the visual material must be of the highest calibre. Poor photography of excellent work will not get the response the work deserves. Unless you have excellent photographic skills, hire a PROFESSIONAL. This is one area where you cannot afford to skimp. Hiring a professional photographer will be well worth the investment, besides as a legitimate business expense, photography costs are tax deductible.

    The most widely used type of visual documentation is 35mm slides. The slides in your portfolio should be presented in plastic slide sheets that are clear on one side and frosted on the other to diffuse light. These sheets can be purchased at any photo-supply store, and each sheet can accommodate about twenty 35mm slides that can be easily removed for showing in a slide projector.

    When choosing slides, only select the best ones —the ones which are the clearest, sharpest, and truest to color. Choose images which accurately represent the work and are relevant to the needs of the client or jury. If detailed shots are needed to give the viewer further information, such as close-ups of the work to show detailed structures or surface decorations, then be sure to include them in your presentation.

    Each slide should be clearly identified with the artist's name and year, a number which corresponds to an accompanying slide list, and, if necessary, an arrow indicating the top of the slide. Arrange the slides in some logical sequence so that the person who looks at them doesn't have to jump from one idea to another. Remember to never send out your master or original slides as they may become damaged or misplaced. It is fairly inexpensive to have copies made from your originals if needed.

    If you plan to make a number of presentations to store buyers, then have a few of your best slides converted into color prints. There may be times when a slide projector or viewer is not available, and it will be much easier to examine a print then to hold a small slide up to a light. It is also a good idea to have a few 8" x 10" black and white glossy prints of some of your work available for newspapers and magazines. All prints should be mounted under two-sided 8" x 10" acetate sheets, which are available at either photo-supply or office supply stores.

  • Written Description of Visual Documentation (Slide List).

    The written description provides the viewer with all the pertinent, technical information essential to an understanding of each piece being viewed. While specifics will vary from discipline to discipline, the types of information usually included are: title, media, dimensions, technique, and date of completion. Depending on the individual piece of artwork there may be a number of additional distinguishing features which you may want to address in the written description.

  • Artist's Statement

    An artist's statement is your own comment on some aspect of your work or creative process. Describe your work in very simple terms, keep it short and to the point. There is no need to be "profound" or write in unnecessarily complex terms. Do not attempt to write a full blown critical analysis of your life's work, instead only focus on one or two significant technical or conceptual aspects of it, and make sure it is in relationship to the visual material which you are submitting.

  • Proposal

    When applying for a grant or entering a competition, you are likely to be required to submit a formal proposal as part of the application form. This may be in addition to, or in place of an artist's statement. Whereas the artist's statement may deal in abstract concepts, the proposal is intended to describe your intentions in specific terms. The proposal for a grant, for example, would outline how you plan to use the money from the grant. In the case of a commission, your proposal should respond to the specific guidelines (i.e. the competition brief) relating to the site, subject matter, materials, etc.

  • Support Material

    Include any support material you have which will further clarify or enhance what is being presented. Examples of support material include exhibition catalogues and/or invitations, photographs, copies of newspaper and magazine articles in which you have been featured, promotional materials, business cards, etc. These should be presented and mounted flat in two-sided acetate folders, found in most stationery-supply stores. Include a separate pocket or slide sheet for business cards to ensure that they fit securely and are available to anyone viewing your portfolio.

  • Presentation Folder

    The contents of the reference or library copy should be housed in a standard 8½" x 11" three ring binder with your name on the front and spine, for easy storage on a shelf or in filing cabinets. Binders will keep your documents neat and orderly and allow for expansion and updating. Section headings can be easily inserted to help the user quickly locate appropriate sections.

    The presentation folder for your call for entry copy should be customized to the fashion of your work and reflect your craft style—it speaks of you. For example, if you are a weaver, then weave the cover of your presentation folder; or if you work in leather, then make the cover of your presentation folder in leather. Try to be creative and imaginative here. It's the first impression a prospect gets of your work and your attitude towards it.


Most provincial craft councils hold a portfolio registry for their members. Jewelry designers can gain tremendous exposure by having their personal portfolio on file. Portfolios are available for viewing at the craft council's resource centres, where they are consulted by interior designers, art consultants, curators, educators, architects, and the general public. Exposure, sales, commissions, and employment are just some of the tangible results of registering your portfolio with your provincial craft council.

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