THIS IS AN UPDATED VERSION OF AN EARLIER ARTICLE
There is an amazing selection of articles out there regarding what constitutes an effective portfolio of your work. For the sake of this article I will be referring to an effective "online" portfolio only and what gets the attention of others that may otherwise pass by your work.
It is a simple fact that if you can get a person to look at you once, you can get them to look again. Its that first look that is often the most difficult because if you don't capture their imagination right away, the chances of catching it later are all the more difficult.
People make snap judgments on everything, especially art. We either like or dislike instantly and we rarely give ourselves the opportunity to explore something further if we "think" we don't like it.
The most important thing is to NOT spread yourself too thin. I see a lot of artists that post a piece of work here, a piece there and have thirty profiles on different art portfolio sites. I suffered from this at one time and thought the more I diversify, the more people that will see it. Trust me, it just doesn't work. You end up chasing yourself in circles trying to keep up and all it gets you is a passing impression of a single piece of art. Stay focused and concentrate your efforts on a single mind blowing portfolio that you can work with.
There are tons of portfolio sites to choose from. Some are better, some are just crap. Some will cost you an arm and a leg, others are free. The free ones are not the worst ones. Free sites may have limitations, but once you try them out then you can make a decision on whether to pay for an expanded service.
Every artists needs will be different. If you paint then you may not need something as expansive as say a sculptor might need. If you make custom portraits you may find you need something totally different than an abstract painter. I can't tell you what will work best for your needs. That is something only you can know for sure.
When I first chose my portfolio site I wanted something that allowed me a lot of flexibility. Since most of my work involves multiple images of the same piece of art, I did not want a site that restricted me to one or two photos per each piece of art. I also did not want a site that limited me to 300 characters or less for my descriptions. While your descriptions may not be expansive, there may be a need where you do want the ability to express yourself more fully. Once you commit to a site, you don't want to have to start it all over again somewhere else later because it was too restrictive. Think about the future of your portfolio, not just the present.
One of the most crucial things for a portfolio has absolutely nothing to do with the art. Its approach-ability. If a website is difficult to maneuver, takes 20 mouse clicks to access and is slow to load its an automatic turnoff. Before I ever even see the persons work, if I have to jump through hoops to get to it, it will create a negative image in my eyes. You may be another Picasso, but if I never get to your site, you could be a 6th grade doodler for all I care.
Once I'm there, I want to see your work. I don't want lengthy explanations up front (although they have their place). I want to get right to what you do best. I want crisp clear images. I don't want to see faded or tilted images that look like a mug shot of a petty criminal. This only serves to say to me "this isn't very professional". Remember the goal is to allow buyers and galleries access to what you do best and they want to see a professional looking image that can sell. We the artists may not care a rip about such things, but ultimately its what sells.
Now you want to consider variety. If a portfolio has only two photos on it, my first thought is "not a very productive artist". While you may indeed have a thousand paintings stacked in your flat, if they aren't in your portfolio also, no one will ever know.
Pick your pieces with care. Don't add pieces that are half done (unless your posting work in progress photos). Don't try to post the kitchen sink either. Choose with care what you want to represent you as an artist. "This is a doodle I made in 5th grade home room class and shows I was a good artist then" is not acceptable for your portfolio. You'd think that was common sense, but it happens all the time.
If you don't have much work to post, then its better to post a little rather than a lot of clutter. Variety is important but not at the expense of the overall impression. Work towards adding to your portfolio as soon as your able.
Once you've chosen the work you want represented, then you can focus on descriptions. Keep your descriptions and explanations crisp and clean unless the work is of such complexity that it is necessary to be wordy. Get your key thoughts out first because most likely you will lose the viewer in the first two sentences.
Don't try to over explain. Art is one of those things better left to the interpretation of the viewer. Let them decide what the piece means to them. The exception to this rule is if the piece is political or activist in nature. Since much of my work involves making a statement, sometimes explanation is needed, but always keep it as brief as humanly possible.
And don't forget that any website whether its your portfolio or an art blog only gains viewership if there is a reason to come back and look at it. That means that you shouldn't wait to add new material, but consistently add to your portfolio so that people want to return to it and see whats new. The artist that posts every six months will have a much smaller audience than the one that posts once a week.
Don't forget a few other important elements. A brief but pointed biography of who you are is essential. The biggest mistake artists seem to make in their bios is that they fall back on the same three sentences that every other artist uses. Once you get the basics out of the way, tell the reader what makes you different. Lastly, make sure they know how to find you. List your social networking names, a phone number if you wish, email addresses, websites, etc. Make it easy to locate you and welcome them to ask questions about your work. Don't forget to tell the viewer if a particular piece of art is for sale or already sold and if you take commissions and are willing to create duplicates of previous works.
Steer away from Facebook pages to promote your art. They are frankly one of the worst choices you can make for a portfolio. Facebook pages appeal to friends and family yes, but you want to a portfolio that looks professional and appeals to a wider audience. Sure its not a bad idea to have a Facebook page for friends, but that's where its usefulness ends.
I know some of these tips aren't easy. You want to be in the studio making art. My own evolution went through all these steps. I went from site to site trying to find what suited my needs best. In the end I found that linking my art blog and my portfolio was best for me and got me the widest audience of any choice I'd made. Your needs may be different. Put some thought into it and it will pay off.
Now go out and create a unique portfolio that speaks to others about what kind of artist you are!