A portfolio is a representation of one's identity as a conservator and scholar. It is meant to showcase your work and display your research, documentation, photographic and artistic skills. Portfolios may include conservation treatment reports (including written and photographic documentation) and other materials, such as technical or art historic reports, studio art images and other avenues of research. Much like a resume and C.V. change during the course of a conservation career, so does the portfolio to reflect experiences and future goals.
ECPN hosted a helpful webinar to address how to put together a portfolio for ECPs of all levels. It includes information on digital and hard copy portfolios, as well as general recommendations for organization and content.
Also, check out the ECPN blog, Portfolios and career transitions: pre-program, graduate and post-graduate portfolio tips, by Carrie Roberts.
Portfolios should be clearly structured so that reviewers can absorb the information quickly, or find a section of particular interest. In the above webinar conservator Susan Heald explains that portfolio structure should include multiple, delineated sections, such as:
- Table of Contents
- C.V. or Resume
- Condition and Treatment Reports, including written reports, images, and analytical testing. It is imperative you select treatments that represent your best work. Be as broad as possible with your selection of materials and treatment skills.
- Research Papers, Writing Samples, or Related Information (these sections can include things like condition surveys, archaeological digs, guidelines for enclosures, environment, or exhibition, curated exhibitions, publications, class papers, posters, and conference presentations).
- Examples of artwork or reconstructions to display studio and hand skills.
It is perfectly acceptable to include collaborative projects, but always credit the portions of the project to those who worked on them (photography, certain aspects of treatment, analysis, visualization of analytical results, etc.). This shows honesty and the ability to work as part of a cohesive team.
When selecting treatments and other projects for your portfolio, choose things that are relevant to the position for which you are applying. Think in terms of what expertise you can offer them.
Tips on Hard-Copy Portfolios
- Organize and present your work in a three-ring binder (some opt to keep their portfolios in an acid-free, archival binder and slip case set, although a regular three ring binder will do).
- Placing each page and photo sheet in a clear, plastic sleeve protector allows for protection of your work and makes it easier for reviewers to flip through your portfolio.
- Printed photo documentation and studio art images should be clear, and color corrected. You may want to consider printing images on archival photo paper.
- Make sure all photos are clearly labeled.
- Be consistent with the organization of material. Some section their portfolios by institution/internship experience. Others choose to group things by material (i.e., archaeological, photographs, paintings, textile, wood, etc.). Either way, designate each section with dividers with labels. This makes it easier for your reviewers to access content they are most interested in.
Advice for Different Career Stages
Below is more specific advice for different levels of ECPs:
At this stage in a career, the portfolio should clearly reflect academic identity, interests, and potential to succeed as a student and conservation professional. When applying to a graduate program, the admissions committee will be concerned with academic ability in addition to pre-program conservation experience. The committee will also be looking to see if an applicant's research and career interests are a good fit for their specific program; a portfolio should demonstrate this.
Tips on starting and maintaining a pre-program portfolio:
- Begin compiling a portfolio early on during pre-program experiences and continuously update it as new treatments and opportunities proceed. Starting early and keeping up on maintenance will make it easier to assemble a portfolio for an internship or graduate school interviews.
- Be constructive and discriminating when assembling your portfolio. While temping to include all experiences, it is often more effective to be selective in presentation. You want your best work to shine!
- Consider including other experiences such as research projects in conservation or in a related field like art history or archaeology. This demonstrates a well-rounded approach to preparing as a student for a graduate program in conservation.
- There are basic things that each portfolio should include, but do not be afraid to find a way to personalize it. As a portfolio is a representation of one's identity as a conservator and scholar, the work presented is as personal as a personal statement, so they can vary widely.
When applying to a graduate program, the admissions committee will be concerned with academic ability in addition to pre-program conservation experience. Therefore consider including other experiences such as research projects in conservation or in a related field like art history or archaeology. The committee will also be looking to see if an applicant's research and career interests are a good fit for their specific program; a portfolio should demonstrate this.
In graduate school, a portfolio begins to reflect one’s vision for a future career. Once a student chooses a specialty, the graduate experience may be designed with future goals in mind. For example, choosing classes and internships that relate to the desired career path, and adapting a portfolio that reflects those experiences. Established conservators can offer advice on what experiences and skills they value and what they would want a prospective employee to feature in a portfolio.
The post-graduate portfolio used during fellowship and job applications should reflect the full range of experience and not focus on treatment or technical studies alone. Treatment, while a focus as a conservator, is only one piece of what most professional conservators do on a daily basis. Preventive conservation knowledge is very important, as is the ability to assess condition, prioritize work, and manage projects. The same is true for communication skills and working with students and volunteers. Experience with outreach and education activities is also good. Post graduate fellowships and job descriptions will indicate how to best construct a portfolio to highlight the skills and experience the employer seeks.
During the Interview
When presenting a portfolio in an interview, pre-select the projects to discuss and practice discussing the work. Know your work inside and out! If it will be reviewed in advance of the interview, indicate which projects the reviewers should examine first. The portfolio should be well-organized, with a table of contents and tabs that will make different sections easy to find. Consider including short project summaries to give readers a quick overview of each experience. Too much information can be overwhelming, so consider removing projects that are not relevant and do not contribute to the overall message (such as how experiences fit the particular job). Many prospective employers will expect a presentation in addition to or in place of the portfolio, so spend some time thinking about how to translate the experience captured in a portfolio into an engaging talk. You will be asked questions about your work.
Although portfolios can be effective illustrations of ability, focus on portfolio should not lead to the neglect of other application components. An interview and portfolio review is usually the very last step in a selection process. Without a well-crafted curriculum vitae and cover letter or personal statement, no one is ever likely to see the portfolio (see ECPN’s Resume and Curriculum Vitae (C.V.) wiki page.
More schools and institutions are allowing or requiring digital portfolios, but some do not. When the time comes to prepare for your interview, check which version the school or employer prefers to review. There are many platforms to choose from when building an online portfolio or website. Consult with other conservators who have an online presence for tips and advice. ECPN is currently working on providing more resources for online portfolios, in addition to the following poster:
ECPN Poster: The Digital Portfolio in the Conservation Field
Presenters for the ECPN Webinar on portfolios answered viewers' questions in this follow-up blogpost, which also contains links to resources referenced during the webinar program.