How to create a killer art portfolio that generates income and allows you to do what you love from anywhere


There’s no question that a portfolio is an absolute necessity if you want to break out as an independent artists, or if you want to break into the industry at all. You have to show people what you can do.

This seems obvious when I write it but I have only recently been confident enough to truly believe in this “portfolio strategy” at-least enough to stand behind it 100% to the point where I can strongly recommend it to you.

The fact is that if you look at what you want to be doing a year from now (working as a matte painter, working as a concept artist, working a s a freelance illustrator for children’s books, working as a game designer, selling your art online while living abroad (this was mine), all you have to do is focus and build a portfolio that proves you can do the work. Do that and all that’s left is getting it in front of the right people. With internet marketing being so easy, the sharing part is breeze and just takes consistency and patience.

If you keep working at anything you will become successful at it. 

Call me a dreamer but I truly believe this philosophy because it has worked and continues to work for me. Imagine for a minute that you could work for any client, sell any product, be featured in magazines, movies, imagine you could produce art work for any one of them.

The bottom line is, you can. It just takes focus and time, the amount of time depends on you. How fast could you put a 20 to 50 piece portfolio together targeting the final result you want?

At the moment I am working on a portfolio that targets the “digital nomad” movement. Specifically the ads that companies like Lonely Planet, National Geographic, co-working spaces and travel companies may be looking for (check out for examples). Ever since I left the office life have been creating one portfolio after another targeting different success dreams each time. 

Heres a couple of examples of how my portfolio has been making my independent career come to life.

Bricks publishing house
Recently I was contacted out of the blue by a publishing studio who found me through Behance. They saw my illustration portfolio for a personal children’s book that I did called “The Birthday Quest”. They wanted a new look for their children book and ended up asking me to work for them on their latest project.

Psyop media studio
After I was laid off I only had a couple of portfolios, one in particular scored me an amazing new client Psyop. They were looking for a concept designer and I sent them my portfolio link of landscape concepts. I didn’t expect to hear back from them as I was still fairly new to the freelance world and this was my first application since leaving the office, several months prior, but it happened. Since then, I’ve been working on gaming ads, matte paintings, tv ads and concepts for them.

These were a couple of my favorites, but the list goes on and on, all because of a few portfolios filled with what I love to do.

OK- At this point you might be saying well that’s all fine and Dandy but how do I build a killer portfolio of my own? Here’s a run down of what I think builds a killer portfolio:

One: The Vision

Don’t just see something you like online and start creating. Take the time to really think about where you want your portfolio to take you. Your going to need to spend a lot of time and focus on it to get the right people’s attention.

I recommend starting by making a dream client, job, or fan list. Try to get down to one choice and that will be your first big push. if you get stuck look at artist you admire and see who they target. Which leads me to the next topic.

Two: Competition Is Good

Once you find where you want to go, its time to find the competition. If your going to be inspired be inspired by the best in the industry. What do they have in their portfolio? Who are their clients? Hopefully these clients are the same from your list above? Read up about these competitors. Make a folder and save images of their best work that has earned them publicity and success. the best way to find this is to google their name and see what art pops up..

tip: if you don’t already have a uniques style of your own your going to need to find one while working on your portfolio. This works best by trying to match a pro’s style and paying attention to all the details of what makes their art pop. Stay loose and try to add your own unique twist when ever possible. In time your style will reveal itself.

Three: Plan It.

Eliminate distractions around you so you can concentrate on crushing it. Use tools like the Facebook Feed Eradicator and Unroll Me to stop the distracting media input and focus on the output for this portfolio push. Make a schedule that you can stick to. When I was at my office job I set aside two hours each morning.

If I missed a morning I would make up for it in the evening or during lunch, weekends my friends and family knew I was busy because I genuinely shared my mission with them and they understood. You must be strict with yourself if you want to reach your goal.

You want to make a finish line for yourself, when things get hard or you get tired, which will happen, seeing the finish line nearby will help you push through. My finish line for my concepts was 3 months. And I had to finish one painting every day. You don’t need to be this hard on yourself to succeed but I encourage you to challenge yourself.

Four: Share IT

Whether you want to build your own portfolio website (I highly recommend this) or just use Instagram it will be in your best interest to post your portfolio progress on a platform regularly and share it with the world. Even if you’re not confident about your work it’s great practice for marketing and remember part of the equation is getting the portfolio in-front of the right people. This is the first wave of self promoting your art.

 Five: Do the work

Ok its time to buckle down and go for it. This is where most people fail. Doing one thing consistently is not in our human nature. We procrastinate, we get bored, we forget. These are the obstacles you must overcome to make your dream a reality. It’s a blessing in disguise because if it were easy everyone would do it and we would have far more competition. So at this point you’ve got a vision, researched the competition, roughed out a plan/schedule, setup your sharing platform and now your ready to crush your portfolio. Contact me with any questions you have along the way.

Final thoughts
At the time I write this I am on a new portfolio push. My goal is to win some clients within the new “digital nomad” movement that i am currently lucky enough to be a part of. At the same time I want to get some free promotion and hopefully make some income in licensing. So while I build a portfolio I will also be dropping my illustrations into stock illustration platforms like I-Stock and Getty Images. If you want to follow along with this portfolio or future portfolios that i tackle, I post my work on Instagram (@brianleearts).

If you liked this post found it valuable, found it lacking, or have any questions let me know with a comment below.
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One Response to “How to create a killer art portfolio that generates income and allows you to do what you love from anywhere

  • dodie lee
    2 years ago

    Very nice, and very inspiring. I will share this with family and friends.