Building your Portfolio for Galleries and School

Building a portfolio is a showcase of your best works as an artist! While it can be tedious to go through everything you've made to pick out the best of the best, we cannot deny the sense of pride and excitement we get when we show off what we're truly proud of!

But what about when you make portfolios for school and galleries, these can feel a bit different. Instead of making your own personal showcase you may now have to cater to another, and in cases like applying to school it can feel like your entire life is on the line. We understand that's a lot of pressure, many of us have been through that same gauntlet. So let's talk about building portfolios, some things to keep in mind and get some insight from others to help keep us down to earth instead of spiraling off into anxiety about what ifs.

Portfolios for Galleries

“For things like juried art shows there will be a lot of specifications about canvas sizes, and how they want things displayed- gallery canvases having the edges painted, regular canvases framed, both need to have the appropriate picture hanging hardware on the back. There can also be size limitations, so if you’re looking to submit things to a show, you need to read the rules carefully.” - Jessica M.


“I figured out pretty quickly that applying to galleries and representation was not a road I’d be on. It’s really a 1 in a million shot in most cases, and my work in particular is just not what is out there in most galleries. This is completely fine! My take away from this when I was coming out of uni was that I needed to find my own path – and there are so many options!

This isn’t gallery related, per say, but I do a lot of markets and group shows. Usually with markets and group art shows, calls will go out throughout the year (many in the early Spring to prep for later in the year). Generally, they ask you to make a little submission package that could include:

fill out some information about yourself. Make sure to complete every field, and even cater your responses to the venue or market you’re applying for. For example, a Holiday market organizer would like to hear that you have a series of smaller works, accessible to a wider audience than a big, more expensive piece.

send along examples of your work. Usually they give a number of images they want to see – use every one! Show cohesion in your work, and make sure the images adhere to the size specifications (if applicable), and are cropped well.

Booth photos – some markets will ask for a booth photo, or example of your display. This is so they can make sure you’re showing your work professionally and cleanly so it fits the show and space. They also use this to visualize sizing of your works. This is often the most important image in the package. If you don’t have one, make a mock set up at home, or photograph some works on a clean wall so they have an idea of scale and finish of the work.

Links – include what you think best represents your work, be it your website, Instagram or other socials.

CV/Bio – a little about you, your past exhibitions/shows, and experience. Make sure that if they give you a word count you do not go over, but are succinct with who you are and what you do. More and more I’m seeing organizers just ask for your website so they can investigate these things themselves, so all the more important to have that up to date.

Lastly, make sure to read all the fine print and rules. Is the show indoor or outdoor and what do you need to make this work (ie: 10x10 tent is the most standard space, or a 6’ table indoors). This’ll vary based on the space, and often how much you pay to reserve the spot. Make sure you know what responsibilities are on you (ie: helping to advertise, donating to raffles, etc). Are you allowed to sell prints or only originals? How are payments taken (usually the exhibitor is responsible for this, so consider a Square, e-transfers or cash). You may also want to look at past exhibitor lists to see if you think it is a good fit.” - Megan H.

By Megan H.


"A few years ago, a group of friends and I curated our own show at a local event space in Hamilton. We all helped each other pick the work that would go in the show. We emailed different event spaces about showcasing a group of student in an "emerging artists" show, we didn't apply for any grants.

We found a place that hosts art shows, weddings, markets, all different kinds of events. We just paid a fee (which was kindly discounted as the owner was interesting in helping a group of student artists show their work). We made posters and put them up around town, went to galleries to see if they would promote the show at all, etc. Pitched for food and drinks. Borrowed tables from family. Printed show cards, a friend was our DJ. It was really fun and relaxed, and was a great option for us at the time.

It was a lot of work but didn't cost us much, and a few sold their work too and was a great experience to dip our toes in and get experience from all angles from curation, jurying, and learning what it's like to put that together. Similar to an artist run gallery, we just did it ourselves!" - Emily G.

By Emily G.


Portfolios for School

“When I applied for Digital Animation they had a clear set of guidelines to follow. From what I saw most programs that require you to submit a portfolio will tell you exactly what you need to provide, as well as some basic rules to keep in mind when choosing your work. 

Make sure the work you submit is current and up to date with your current skills. Do NOT submit a piece that’s several years old. 

DO NOT PLAGIARISE. I cannot stress this enough, nothing destroys a person’s credibility more than stealing someone else’s work. 

Don’t include artwork with copyrighted characters, or fan art. These pieces need to be entirely your own, meaning you need to use your own ORIGINAL characters. 

Don’t include harmful or offensive content. To put it bluntly, the people who review your work have very little time and if you’re putting upsetting or NSFW material into your portfolio they won’t give you a second thought. 

Basically don’t steal, be original, and be mindful of the people looking at your art. In terms of what specifically you’ll want to submit this is laid out clearly as well. 

Life drawings, people either love or hate doing these. I personally love them. You’ll most likely be drawing people and hands, from what I notice they don’t really ask for your pet portraits. But you can always put them in the personal works category. 

My advice for completing this step? Ask a friend or family member to model for you, they can be sitting, standing, or holding something. 

Perspective drawings, again this is a love or hate kind of thing. I hated this step. If you haven’t already, learn about vanishing points because they make a HUGE difference when drawing your settings. Once you get the basics of a vanishing point drawing buildings and backgrounds gets a lot easier. 

Personal works, these can be any of your best works! You can submit paintings, sculptures, drawings, and digital art.

Character rotations (specific for certain animation programs). Character rotations require a certain level of skill and knowledge. You’ll be drawing your own character several times from different perspectives, front view, side view, ¾ view, and back view. Stay on model, do use horizontal lines to mark landmark measurements of the body. Mark where the bottom of the foot touches and where the top of the head ends, those are your first two lines. You’ll want to add lines for where your arms end, the length of the hair, the cut of the sleeves, etc. 

It’s a lot to consider making a portfolio for school, I still remember the stress and anxiety about submitting my own. Try not to over think it too much, and just enjoy what you do. From back when I was in animation there were many people who couldn’t draw at all, but they were amazing at modelling, rigging and the actual animation part of animation. Point is, don’t stress, everyone has their skills, just make sure you follow the rules and guidelines.” Chantal C.

By Chantal C.


Your portfolio is a special thing, whether personal, for a gallery, or school we put our hearts out there for the world to look at. It's a huge milestone putting one together and that alone is worth being proud of! 

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