10 Tips For Your Best Art School Portfolio

Prepare and enhance your visual arts portfolio for college admission.

What are college admissions representatives and officers looking for in an art portfolio? A portfolio is a collection of your best artwork that highlights your experience, showcases your ideas and skills, and demonstrates your ability and potential as an artist. Your portfolio should include a representative series of images that portrays your interests as well as experience with a variety of media, styles, and approaches. Getting into a reputable art school is competitive. The consultants at ArtsBridge have some very specific advice to offer.

1. Do your homework. Learn the specific requirements or exercises that each school to which you are applying may require. Many art schools provide definitive parameters for the work that needs to be submitted. The guidelines vary between courses and schools.

2. Create art from life. One of the biggest skills that many schools look for is observational drawing or painting from still life, figure models, or landscape. This is the case whether you are applying for fine arts, design, or animation. Reviewers can tell if drawings are created from photographs. They want to see that you can translate 3D concepts into a 2D space while keeping the correct proportions and perspective.

3. Include personal work. Complete your portfolio with work that speaks to your personal experiences or draws from your background. Consider including experimental work or pieces that showcase your personal interest in a particular subject or medium.

4. Explore ideas and originality. Don’t play it too safe. While it’s important to demonstrate good technical skills (anatomy, color, lighting, etc), it is equally important to make sure that your portfolio stands out with work that reflects thoughts and concepts. There are thousands of aspiring artists applying to art school each year, so make sure your best work includes out-of-the-box thinking.

5. Keep a sketchbook. You’ll want to show your process work – how you developed your ideas and how your work has matured. Some art schools will require that you submit your sketchbook along with your portfolio to give further insight.

6. Photograph your work in its best light. Use outdoor or natural light to photograph your portfolio pieces. When shooting 3-D artwork, use a 3-point light system: one overhead light, and two spotlights set at 45º angles to the piece.

7. Digitize all artwork. For most schools you’ll need to upload your portfolio or send digital attachments rather than hard copies. Work should be saved with sufficient pixels so the reviewer can enlarge without pixilation. Use RGB color mode, and save in JPG or PDF formats. Always archive a high-resolution image for your records, and create an image inventory of your work that includes title (if any), medium, date, and size.

8. Be very selective. A portfolio submitted for admission will usually consist of 10-20 digital images of your best and most recent work. Be sure that each piece showcases your talent, conveys your ambition, and represents your finest capabilities. It is better to have 10 really strong pieces than 15 or 20 that aren’t your absolute best. Organize the portfolio to create a flow for your audience considering the program to which you are applying.

9. Practice discussing your work. For your art school interview, preparation is important, so arrange for a mock interview with a teacher or another authority figure. Select a couple of pieces, and get comfortable talking about your work and what it means to you. Think about when and why you created the work, what the work is about, and the media you used. Share what you like about the pieces and why.

10. Have your work reviewed by professionals. It can help tremendously to get the opinions of college admission representatives before applying to schools. You can do this by attending a National Portfolio Day event where many art schools will have admissions officers there to review your work and provide feedback. Representatives offer guidance in the presentation of your portfolio as well as information about programs of study, admission requirements, scholarships, and financial aid. If your portfolio is further along, it may even be an opportunity to have it approved for admission at the event! For additional information, including event schedules, visit www.portfolioday.net.

College consulting advice for students of all the arts. Learn all about ArtsBridge college consulting and see how former college deans of admissions are able to offer specialized guidance to bring out the best in every high school student of the arts. Contact us when you’re ready.

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