Professional portraits rarely need to be justified anymore. Most professionals understand their value, and have paid a photographer to do what a photographer does best.
My goal on this page is to show why that same thought and care of presentation should also go into the words that accompany that portrait.
Dancers, musicians, visual artists, inventors and others often need a short biography for marketing or introductory purposes.
For example, to accompany a piece of art, introduce one’s self to a prospective employer or highlight accomplishments in the program for an event or show.
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There are three types of bios that are useful in different contexts.
1. The one-liner
2. The short bio — one paragraph, less than 100 words
3. The longer bio — still concise and focused, but up to one page
Your one-liner is your personal hook, your blog signature, your Twitter profile. It’s designed to give a glimpse of your personality and pique interest:
Betty Awesome is a portrait painter in watercolors who uses her spare time to rehabilitate dogs rescued from abusive situations.
The short bio is the type most often called for, and is tailored to a specific purpose and audience. If you are trying to reach more than one audience, it is best to craft a separate bio for each context. This will be much more effective than a more generic bio that you hope to appeal to everyone.
Bilbo Baggins, introduced in J.R.R. Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, had a wide range of abilities. If you’re familiar with the story (or movies) you remember that Baggins was the garden-club type until he was roped into an adventure with 13 dwarfs and a wizard.
For the role of garden-club president in comfortable, mellow Hobbiton I would write:
Bilbo Baggins has lived in Bag End, Underhill for the last 50 years. He maintains an immaculate yard and garden, like his father before him, and is especially fond of flowers. He has a property (and larder) big enough for large meetings, and is quite respectable in every way. You can know what a Baggins will say on any subject without the bother of asking him, and expect a good joke if you have the patience to hear him anyway.
He had the adventure coming whether he wanted it or not, but I like to consider how his bio would sound with the dwarves as his intended audience. This is an equally accurate description of our intrepid hobbit:
Bilbo Baggins is a hobbit of good family, and unimpeachable reputation. He has a tremendous ability to think on his feet, has more than the usual amount of luck, and the ability to move more stealthily than any dwarf. These qualities, even untrained, uniquely qualify him within your company to act as a scout, guide and, if the occasion arises, burglar (AKA expert treasure hunter). You can count on his generosity, loyalty and integrity to keep him close and to contribute to the success of the group.
Knowing his audience—a rather self-serving race that was both goal-oriented, and fixated on family roots, the hobbit could emphasize both respectability and burglary in a way that would not have worked for any other audience.
This is the advantage of multiple audience-specific bios.
Useful bios to keep in your back pocket include speaker introductions, author blurbs for the back of a book, or a first-person variation for an informal setting or when you introduce yourself.
The Longer Bio is frequently used in a “spotlight” scenario, such as an individual introduction or mini-resume on a organization’s website, or the about page on a personal blog or business site. These may seem to provide limitless space compared to the versions with a lower word-count, so special care must be taken to ensure your focus is clear and none of these extra words become “bloat.”
To schedule help with your bio, or commission a piece of work, please contact me using the form below.