Create with purpose and collaboration: The Exchange Portfolio

Create with purpose and collaboration: The Exchange Portfolio

As Creative Developer and certified Gallup Clifton Strengths coach  at Block Paper Print, my passion is facilitating colleagues, peers, and families through the art-making process, ensuring that they comfortably express their personal narratives through art. The exchange portfolio, a process unique to printmaking, provides people the opportunity to both create and collect artwork in accordance with ideas of their choosing, and with people they know.

The exchange portfolio: a conversation amongst artists

The exchange portfolio is a collecting and creating method specific to the process of printmaking in which a group of artists create fine-art prints specific to a theme. The number of prints each artist makes varies depending on the portfolio, as each artist receives one of every other artist’s work. Fine-art prints in portfolio exchanges exist only within that specific portfolio, and usually do not enter the commercial art market, as doing so would break up the portfolio. For this reason, participants enter into exchange portfolios to receive exclusive works from those they admire- and to discover new artists in the printmaking arena.

The benefits of collecting through the exchange portfolios

Creating the work you want to create and collect with your peers is a gratifying way to build an art collection. To put it another way: Exchange portfolios provides an approachable way to collect the artwork of those you admire.


Anatomy of the Exchange Portfolio

The Exchange portfolio_ is a set of editions hand pulled prints exploring a common theme. All exchange portfolios begin with an organizer, who invites a select group of people to participate in the portfolio. The organizer also sets the formal criteria for the artwork including paper size, image size, medium, theme, and due date. Each participant in the portfolio creates enough prints to ensure all participants receive one of each print, plus a few more for a museum and university private collections (if the organizer includes such collections). A typical exchange portfolio outline looks like this:

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In this example, the organizer (myself), invites individuals to participate in the exchange. In this particular exchange, each person has 4 hours to create an edition of eight 5” x 7” relief prints portraying their perspective on the theme: Thought to Action. Consequently, each artist receives a portfolio consisting of seven prints (one from each participant).  

Workflow of the exchange portfolio

  1. The organizer decides the rules of the portfolio (theme, image size, participants, etc…)

  2. Participants accept the invite and create their art

  3. Participants edition (sign) their prints (name, _title_, year, and edition number for each print (1/6, 2/6, 3/6 etc.)

  4. Artists send their edition to the organizer, who arranges the prints into portfolio boxes (1 for and by each participant) by edition numbers. For example, one portfolio contains all prints edition 2/6, another contains all the prints edition number 3/6, and so on

  5. Each portfolio includes a statement about the theme and a list of all the participants in the exchange

  6. Participants receive their portfolio box in the mail and open with great anticipation and excitement


Focus on concept and craft

The formal criteria set by the organizer (size, medium, date) serves to highlight two individual aspects each participant has to offer: Concept and craft. An artist’s concept and craft work together to create compelling images, and are of equal importance. Through the limitations set by the organizer, which can be thematic as well as formal, each participant’s individual approach to concept and craft highlight their creative problem solving capabilities.

Theme with Concept

Concept is a participant’s idea to interpret the portfolio’s given theme. Themes in each portfolio can be broad or specific, as can be the conceptual approach by the individual participant. Examples of themes include: Family SecretsSnakes & Ladders, and From All Directions. These themes offer multiple jumping off points a participant may take to communicate their concept. One may choose to take a political, abstract, or narrative approach to the theme. However, no matter what direction a participant chooses to take their concept, each viewer of the finished work must see the theme as the underlying structure of the idea.

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Cat uses inspiration from Clifton Strengths Results to sketch out her image

Theme with Craft

Craft is the formal way participants create their image using the elements of art: form, line, texture, color, shape, and space, to communicate concept of an image. The principles in which each participant implements these components emphasizes their approach to telling a visual narrative. Some works may have movement, others balance.
If concept is the story, craft is how the story is told. 

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Cat draws her image onto a linoleum block and begins the process of carving


A quick note about reservations and artmaking

Craft tends to be the most intimidating factor that keeps people from exploring art-making. Although many participants who create exchange portfolios through my workshops are largely unfamiliar with art-making and may feel intimidation, I see this unfamiliarity as an advantage in a number of ways:

  • Unfamiliarity “levels the playing field”, stripping away competitive aspects often present in the more physically active team bonding workshops, as everyone is investigating new territory

  • Because participants are new to communicating through visual vocabularies, they explore ideas from a multitude of angles, often surprising me with their creative takes on an idea

  • Working through the process of printmaking to create an image infuses the participant with levels of satisfaction they do not anticipate. As they overcome barriers to create an edition of prints, they constantly surprise themselves with their creative capabiities

What I observe through my workshops is that once people begin sketching out their initial images, the process becomes intuitive and reactionary. Ironically, it’s the conceptual aspects - thinking of what you want to say- of image making that most often act as a barrier of entry. 

Portfolio Highlight: Thought to Action

The artwork in Thought to Action is a perfect example of conceptual and technical power working together to communicate theme. In this portfolio, each participant expresses their perspective on that moment when an idea becomes reality. The participants in Thought to Action  are colleagues on a team working for a Fortune 500 company in the Bay Area.



Exchange portfolios provide a trifecta for the participant: They create one piece of art, collect many, and gain experience and a great story behind their art collection. Each work of art has a separate meaning, yet all communicate the same theme.

Ready to participate in a _exchange portfolio_ with colleagues or friends? Book a free consultation, and let’s talk.

Click the linkbelow to check out  exhcange portfolios from various workshops including teen-leadership, corporate, and family. 

Special thanks to Miranda K. Metcalf of Davidson Galleries for editing.