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How to Make a Theater Design Portfolio

Design sketches demonstrate your artistic aesthetic.
Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

The portfolio is one of the most important tools that a theater designer has in their quest to secure design jobs. Most companies will ask for portfolios when soliciting designers for a theatrical season or for a particular production, and the strength of the portfolio demonstrates the skill and artistry of a theater technician. For students applying to college as theater design majors, a portfolio of paintings, sketches and practice designs can give them a strong idea of your aesthetic and preliminary skill level.

Things You'll Need:

  • Theatrical Materials (Costume Sketches, Lighting Plans, Props)
  • Digital Camera
  • Art Samples (Sketches, Paintings, Sculptures)
  • Blank White Paper
  • Three-Ring Binder
  • Portfolio Folder
  • Plastic Page Protectors
  • Blank Disc

Choose the works you wish to include in your portfolio with care and discernment. Theater companies will want to see the best of your best work, and each company or university may have specific parameters as to the number and type of works you include. If you do not have any theatrical designs under your belt, decide on a selection of your best drawings, paintings and renderings. You can also select a play and create a potential design plan for that production. When selecting your portfolio inclusions, choose the items that demonstrate your skill, knowledge and range.

Photograph and copy all of your portfolio items before compiling them in a book or on a CD. Few companies return a portfolio once it is submitted, so high-quality copies of your work are essential. Take photographs of props and costumes that you've designed. Visit a printing or photo-copy store to have high-quality scans and prints made of your sketches, set designs and lighting plans, as well as the photographs of your finished projects. Include copies of the paperwork essential to your design job -- costume plots, build plans -- as well to demonstrate that you understand both the design and the production process.

Place one image per page or frame of your portfolio with the information for that production clearly labeled on a small square of paper, inserted at the bottom right corner of the page. You can organize designs by show, or you can organize paintings and art that are not theatrical in chronological order to show the development of your skill. Portfolio books can either be specially designed folders available at many art stores, or they can be three-ring binders with your pages slipped into page protectors.

Create a folder specifically for a digital portfolio, then group images by show in separate sub-folders within the main portfolio folder. Name each image with the title of the sketch, the production, and other necessary information. Do not create a slideshow or movie of these images, as your software may be incompatible with other computers. Save images as JPEGs and text documents as Rich Text files or PDFs; these files are typically compatible with all computers.


Many universities and theater companies are willing to accept digital portfolios that have been burned to a CD, while others prefer a portfolio book that contains photographs of your work. If you are unsure as to which portfolio style is worth making, invest the time and funds to complete both. Having both formats ready will save you time and money down the road, and having both formats readily available gives you flexibility.

If you are pleased with the concept of a particular design but dislike the sketch, re-draw the sketch. Just as you would not give an employer a draft of your resume that is riddled with errors, you should not give a theater company a portfolio of messy sketches.

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