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The Big Wow

How to impress your clients (and potential clients) with a killer portfolio

Clients want to know you can deliver on their new tattoo, and you’ve only got one chance to make a great first impression and convince them that you’re the perfect person for the job. You need to wow them, and you can do it with a killer portfolio.

Make the most of your tattoo portfolio by following a few simple guidelines.

Image Quality. A bad photo of a good tattoo, one that is out of focus, underexposed or with a bright flash flare right in the middle of the artwork, will make your work appear unprofessional. If your photography skills are lacking, it is well worth the investment to pay a professional photographer to shoot the images for you.

Edit Your Work. Don’t be afraid to show your portfolio to other artists whose opinion you trust (and who’ll be brutally honest) and even a few random strangers. Because it’s oftentimes difficult to be objective about your own work, having someone else review your portfolio is great help. Being sentimental isn’t going to help you choose the pieces that will make great portfolio, so so be open-minded to suggestions and take them for what they’re worth.

Make It Well-Rounded. Unless you are specializing in one style of tattooing, make sure your portfolio shows a cross section of your abilities, and speaks to a range of audiences. Whatever you choose to include, make sure it’s personal and markets you as an artist and generates interest in your work.
“But won’t multiple styles overwhelm people trying to decide on a tattoo?” If the styles are thrown together without rhyme or reason, maybe. If they’re organized in clearly marked sections in your portfolio, no.
Put your most impressive pieces first to impress them right from the start. Put another premier piece at the end of your portfolio to make a lasting impression and leave them wanting more (hopefully the tattoo you’re going to do on them). The middle of your portfolio should be organized by styles so that it flows nicely. As some people will be new to the art form, it’s a good idea to label the sections with the appropriate style name.

Be Yourself. Your portfolio needs to represent you, but even if you’re the personal style is off the wall crazy, you should balance your creativity with a certain level of professionalism. Keep the focus on the artwork, and don’t use distracting colors or patterns behind the images. Choose clean, simple backgrounds that enhance your work and don’t draw attention away from it.

Keep It Current. Any time you create a new tattoo, draw up some cool new flash, or receive an award, this needs to be added to your portfolio. This will convey to potential clients that you are active in the tattoo world, continually producing new work, and have the trust and admiration of lots of people who have sat in your chair. Don’t put in your first-ever pieces just to show where you started out — people want to see what you can do today.

Book ‘Em. Three-ring binders with plastic sleeves are unquestionably the most convenient way to present your work. Forget about scotch taping multiple photos to a page — not only is it confusing to look at, it gives the impression that you don’t care about your work. Think of a coffee table book with large, bright images. Creating single prints and loading them into sleeves will make a real statement. If you need to have more than one image on a page, such as showing the progression of a coverup, use image editing software to design a neat, clean layout. TIP: spend a few extra dollars for a high-quality binder rather than reusing one leftover from high school. Lost Luggage (lost-luggage.com) offers some of the coolest portfolio books on the market.

Alternative Portfolio Formats

Photo Book: An alternative to compiling a loose-leaf portfolio is to upload and arrange images online and then have the project printed as an actual book. A photo book will represent your work beautifully and is a cut above in the professionalism it conveys. Shutterfly.com, blurb.com and myclearstory.com offer a variety of styles and sizes of portfolio books as well as easy to use templates. The main drawback to this format is that it will need to be reformatted and reprinted in order to be updated.

Image CD. In terms of convenience, a CD portfolio offers several benefits. It is inexpensive to make (you can burn dozens of CDs for only a few dollars) and it is easy to hand out at the shop or shows you might attend.

Digital Portfolio. Chances are you already post your work to Facebook and Instagram. Take your online presence to the next level with a digital portfolio. Websites such as smugmug.com, portfoliobox.net and photoshelter.com let you manage your galleries with a variety of templates. The main advantage of a digital portfolio is obvious — it can be easily and instantly shared and distributed via email, mobile devices, digital download links, etc, and exposes your work to a worldwide audience.

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