Build an Effective Portfolio

Your portfolio should include at least 10-20 examples of your best and most recent work (usually completed within the last year). It is very important that you conduct research about the schools you are most interested in, and find out what is required within the portfolio.

Personal work and/or work outside the classroom assignments can strengthen the overall portfolio; this demonstrates personal motivation. You should assume complete ownership for the ideas and visual information in each piece. You should also try to use assignments and technical exercises as vehicles to express your own personal ideas, viewpoints, emotions, stylistic approaches and individual ways of working.

Here are suggestions regarding work that could be included in your portfolio.

Breadth: art based on life, objects and general surroundings (when working observationally, you should try to address personal concerns).

Portraiture. A common source for observational work is the self-portrait.

Objects (Still Life). You might locate items that hold some meaning or are visually interesting to use in the work.

The Figure is one of the most traditional subjects utilized throughout the history of art. Working with the human body as subject matter can add a better understanding of formal structure. You can sometimes use the body as a reference point for your ideas.

Landscape, working with both exteriors and interiors to explore depth and spatial relationships.

Personal Work / Thematic Concentration: work based on imagination, personal interests and ideas, and exploration into selected subjects.

The Sketchbook is one of your most important tools as an artist. A sketchbook is your diary/journal. It is not uncommon for a student to include some of their strongest from a sketchbook in an admissions portfolio.

Choice of Medium: some portfolios have a medium concentration (such as photography, graphic design, or digital animation) to emphasize one’s own personal interests.

The Series, or “Body of Work.” Working in a theme or in a series can help you find personal focus, add a sense of cohesiveness, and identify strengths or possible future topics.

Portfolio Context and Arrangement

Think about the portfolio as a written essay: each piece placed in your portfolio is a like sentence in that essay.

Or, think about the portfolio as a musical composition. This can be especially helpful if your work tends to be more expressive or abstract. Try to identify relationships through rhythm, pattern, tone, and color.

Or, think about your portfolio as a solo professional exhibition. Imagine how to arrange the “body” of work for display. What is the first piece you would like the viewer to see? What is the last? Do not just put all the best work in the beginning, or at the end; try to balance your entire portfolio. Attempt to start off strong and end strong.

Just because a school requires a maximum amount or 20 pieces doesn’t mean you might also consider the minimum amount of 10-15 pieces. You do not want to put in “filler” work – work that is unfinished, work that is older than two years, or work that does not relate to the bulk of your portfolio. Including work that you do not feel strongly about can sometimes weaken the overall presentation. You want to make the best impact that you can.

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