Portfolio preparation – an overview
Portfolio for art studies – the first and most important piece of advice is to start working on your portfolio six months before you need to submit it.
Do not leave it to the last minute, because it is a key part of your application to university and will either sway the assessors to offer you a place – or see you getting a rejection email. The portfolio is crucial!
Table of Contents
Generally, you should aim to include in your portfolio between 10 and 20 pieces. In addition, 12 seems to be the most common number. Each art school or university has its own very specific guidelines, which cover not only deadlines, but the formats they accept, digital platforms they will access, whether they only want to see the finished work (this is usually the case in the US), sizes, whether they will look at hardcopy reproductions – slides or photographs – or only want to see originals etc. Moreover, certain institutions also have very clear instructions for labelling a portfolio, for example: title, date, details of materials used, while others do not specify.
Remember, too, that you may be given a portfolio assignment, which can consist of between one and three tasks. For example, the Rhode Island School of Design asked candidates to “observe and draw a bicycle”, while Parsons (now known as New School), New York’s global leading school of art and design, sets the famous Parson’s Challenge. Parson’s states: “Applicants must create a new visual work inspired by a piece submitted in the portfolio. This new piece should connect to the theme or concept of their original work. Support your process by writing one 500-word essay describing how your ideas developed. What is more, you may also submit up to two additional visual pieces that document your process”. As you can see, this will require a great deal of thought and can only be tackled after you have put together a portfolio.
You should check whether the course you are applying for asks for a portfolio or sets you an admission task.
Courses which frequently request portfolios include:
What is more, you may also be asked for an essay, to send in images of work which inspired you, or teachers’ references. This depends entirely on where you are applying.
What is the point of a portfolio?
Your portfolio should show that you have a strong sense of aesthetics, passion, the ability to design and follow a process. It should also reflect your beliefs, interests, personality, skills and experiences. Putting together a portfolio does not simply consist of choosing twelve favourite pieces and throwing them into a folder.
Assessors want to see a range of techniques and get a sense of who you are and the influences that have shaped your talents. It is your opportunity to express yourself, talk directly to the admissions committee, and justify your place on the course.
Hints for putting together a good portfolio
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Portfolio can include swatches of fabric, patterns, paintings, video clips, audio files, musical compositions, digital designs or pieces of creative writing – depending on the course for which you are applying. The following guidelines apply to particular subjects:
Producing a portfolio –10 practical hints
- If you are going to be interviewed, you will need to bring your portfolio with you, so make sure it is comfortable to carry and that it does not have any loose sheets, which you might lose.
- When you are not offered an interview, you could upload your portfolio to your own website, or create a Behance profile.
- If you have produced big pieces, 3D or sculptural works, you will need to photograph them. Make sure your photos are clear and the details of the piece are visible.
- Folders should not be decorative, or too large or small. Choose a plain colour and A3 size.
- Make sure that the portfolio is uncluttered and pay attention to the order in which you organise your pieces. You could group items by theme, by subject or by style. Try and establish a visible link, running through everything you have decided to include in the portfolio.
- If you have used a medium which could smudge, use fixative to prevent this problem.
- Mounts, if used, must be neutral in colour and simple.
- Photographs should be matt and not gloss.
- Assess placement as well as order. Is it visually appealing?
- Many institutions will send you a sheet to fill in with details of each piece in the portfolio. If this is not the case, add discrete labels, with the title, the medium, the size and the date.
Portfolios – final steps
Once you have decided what you will include in your portfolio, set it aside and come back to it a few days later, with fresh eyes.
Get feedback. Ask your teachers, peers and friends for their impressions and views. You may discover that they do not understand something which seems totally obvious to you, and this will encourage you to revise your choices and sequences – or even to remove one piece and substitute another.
Cast a critical eye over presentation and check any text and notes for grammar and spelling mistakes. All done? You are ready to submit a stunning, original portfolio and secure a place on the course of your dreams.