By “portfolio” we mean a body of work, not that beautiful black leather case you just bought. Most art colleges require ten to fifteen pieces of original artwork in an admissions portfolio. Fewer pieces will not represent the skills and variety admissions committees want to see, and more than twenty pieces can indicate a repetitive, unselective portfolio.
Ten Steps to a Better Portfolio
1. Drawings from direct observation are the best possible pieces to include.
Your struggles with drawing your family dog or yourself in the mirror are much more meaningful than your copy of an eagle from National Geographic magazine. Live subjects show us how your eye translates three-dimensional objects to a flat surface. Drawings from life say much more about you as an artist than copies from photos, album covers or comic strips.
2. If you include drawings taken from photographs, make sure that you use photos that have not been published.Drawings taken from album covers, books, T-shirts, comic strips/cartoons, or copies of other artists’ works do not represent your own creativity. Drawings from the imagination may be included but choose only one or two.
3. Variety is the key to success.
A portfolio for presentation to an art college is very different from a portfolio you would use for getting a job. For college admission, variety is the key; in subject matter, media, size of works, etc. Of course you want to include your best work, but variety indicates your willingness to explore and learn, your initiative, creativity, and drive – characteristics that are a must for developing artist.
4. Include both classroom assignments and works that you have completed on your own. Classroom assignments can indicate creativity and problem-solving abilities, while self-directed works show motivation and initative.
5. Include sketchbooks and one or two pieces you are currently working on. Your thinking process, the things that interest you and the way you develop a drawing are very important.
6. Although a majority of your portfolio should consist of drawings, include any other works that represent what you think you do best. These could include sculpture, design, illustration, graphics, collage, oil or acrylic paintings, watercolor, mural works, ceramics, weaving, etc.
7. Make sure your work is neatly presented. Dirty, stained, torn work, even if it is the best piece you have ever done, should not be shown. You must be responsible enough to care for your work -no excuses – and show that you are serious about becoming a professional artist.
8. Do not use old work. Limit what you show to work you have done in the last year or two.
9. If you live too far away and cannot travel to the college for a personal interview, send slides. Use only a 35mm camera and make sure the lighting and background are appropriate. Protect your slides in 8 ½ “ by 11” plastic sleeves, with stiff cardboard packing if you must mail them. Label all slides with your name, the name of the work, and the size, media, and date of completion. You should also include an inventory sheet with this information and a descriptive note for each piece.
10. Take the portfolio review seriously, but do not be nervous. This may sound contradictory, but although your portfolio review is important, admissions counselors were not invented to “chop you down to size”. We never expect incoming students to be professionals, just to show potential. The portfolio review is meant to give you suggestions on what you need (or do not need) to work on before entering college.