Illustration/Quinn Kaneko

Illustration/Quinn Kaneko

Portfolios reflect your professionalism, organization, and, most important, your creative talent.If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a portfolio full of pictures worth? Some nail technicians would say their entire career. A portfolio, properly prepared and carefully selected, can mean the difference between getting your dream job and not moving into the position you desire and deserve.

Too many people think that portfolios are only for artists or photographers, but what better way for a nail technician to show prospective employers, manufacturers, editors, and clients the kind of work that she is capable of?


A portfolio is a compilation of your work---a resume in pictures held in a special album. Portfolios come in many shapes and sizes, and you can buy them at an office or art supply store. Portfolios range from a rather small 8-inch x 10-inch size to a medium 12-inch x14-inch size to a large 20-inch x 24-inch size. Portfolios cost anywhere from $40 to $100, for the larger, fancier ones. Choose one that allows you to add or delete pages and to grow over time.

Besides size options, you also have options in style. Portfolios come in hard or soft leather or vinyl, in neon pink to conservative navy. Some portfolios zipper shut while others have handles. Spend more time in the store carrying one around before you decide what is a comfortable fit for you.

Portfolio pages come in two styles: plastic-covered pages like those in a photo album, and pocket-like pages that are sealed on three sides. With the pocket-type pages, nothing can fall out when you carry the portfolio around.


There are many reasons why you should have a portfolio of your work. The main reason, of course, is to position yourself ahead of your competitors. Having a visible collection of your work can also help your career in other ways. You can use it to get a spot on a nail trend team, to join a national association, or to get into a nail competition; you can use it to show clients your abilities; and you can show it to magazine editors and prospective employers.

If you are going to take the time to put a portfolio together, it has to be kept up to date. You can’t just compile it once because you will be continually refining your craft and improving your skills. You should regularly replace early examples with pages that better exemplify your current skills.

Next, you must commit to using your portfolio. If you put your portfolio together thoughtfully, it will become one of your most useful communicating tools. You can’t afford to miss even one opportunity to use it, so keep it somewhere handy.


Okay, so you’re sold on the fact that you need a portfolio and you’re committed to using one. Now, how do you set one up---what goes into it?

Don’t just put in photos of your work. Anyone can do good nails; you want to show that you’re organized, professional, and a good salesperson. Start by putting your resume on the first page. The next page can include any important information about your business or the salon you work in--- the number of clients you service per week and services you specialize in. Salon owners might use this page to list specifies on their salon’s past, present, and future. Use the following pages to include any client handouts or salon materials that you have. Follow these pages with whatever you feel best depicts your professional career: school diplomas, certificates, before and after shots of clients, press notices, advertisements, photos of particularly good or unusual nail styles you’ve done, magazine articles about nails, or service pamphlets featuring your salon.


Building an attention-grabbing portfolio means networking and being open to new experiences. If you can do those two things, it’s going to be smooth sailing. Here are 10 easy portfolio-builders:

  1. Locate a photographer in your area and let him know that you are building your portfolio and are willing to exchange nail services on his models for glossy, full-color photographs. Tip: A new photographer who is trying to build up his own portfolio may be easier to approach and more receptive to helping you.
  2. Tap into your client base. When a client’s manicure or nail art has turned out fantastic, get out your camera and take a few pictures.
  3. Get in touch with local modeling and talent agencies. Let them know that you are interested in bartering your services---you’ll provide the nail care, they’ll provide the models. If the agency handles hand models, all the better. When these clients make their first salon appointment, take a photo so you have a “before” picture to use after you transform them.
  4. Volunteer to speak at seminars or to do demonstrations for your community’s women’s groups, clubs, health spas, and high schools. Use the press notices from the organization in your portfolio. Be sure to provide any meeting organizer with background information on yourself so that she can be sure to include your name and professional profile in the press release. Keep on hand plenty of resumes and black and white photos of yourself for just this purpose.
  5. Participate in a volunteer or fund-raising event. Here’s a great way to build business locally and to support a cause you believe in ----the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, Nail Techs to Cure AIDS, or Toys for Tots.
  6. Get to know your local newspaper editors. One great icebreaker is to send them a gift certificate for a free service or a discount coupon. Although many large news organizations cannot accept gifts from businesspeople, smaller city papers may not have a policy restricting it.

 Editors are always interested in angles. Offer an interested in angles. Offer an interesting new technique or show them new products---something they don’t see every day.

  1. Become an active member of a national trade organization. Try out for the organization’s guest artists team or become a trendsetter or industry educator. This is a great way to gain experience and get press coverage.
  2. Have you ever had a bride-to-be in your chair? What is possibly the most traditional pose in the wedding album? The bride’s and groom’s hands over the flower bouquet! Ask your client for a copy of the photographer’s proof (and offer to pay for it, of course). Every consumer and trade magazine devotes at least one issue to the bridal market every year. Why not have your nails on the cover of one?

Also, what would an area mall be if it did not offer a bridal fair once a year? Offer to do the nails for credit and pictures. This could very well get you some new business in the process.

  1. Check out the local distributor shows and try to be involved, even if they are primarily hair shows. Those lovely models having their hair done need great-looking nails, too. Take your photographs with you to the distributor, or even to the manufacturer if you have an opportunity to see them directly. They’ll want to see what your work looks like before they try you out. This can lead to a position with one of the manufacturers and to a hefty stock of fabulous photos for your portfolio.
  2. Study the style of photography in your favorite trade magazines and emulate the looks they publish. You shouldn’t simply copy what they are already publishing, but you should know the styles they prefer to improve your chances of getting your designs published. Write to the magazine and ask the editor for photo guidelines. Also ask for an editorial calendar, which is an outline of some of the major editorial themes the magazine will emphasize during the coming year.

The most important thing to remainder when submitting work to a newspaper or magazine is that what you submit must be pertinent. If the publication caters to those interested in salon management, for example, then they probably won’t be interested in a series of how-to photos.

Your portfolio is your chance to show others the range and depth of your work and your versatility. Keep the portfolio looking new and fresh. If the plastic pages inside rip, replace them. If the outside casing gets scuffed, buy a new case. Because this portfolio is a pictorial view of who you are, it is imperative that it be the most carefully put together presentation that you can muster.

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