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By: Scott Cline on December 7th, 2016

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6 Things Your Art Portfolio Must Have


The quality of your art portfolio has the single biggest impact on your application to art school. It's critical that your portfolio shows off work that best represents your technical skills and creative outlook.

Here are six things you need to include in your art portfolio if you want to improve your chances of gaining admission to or earning a scholarship for art school:

1. Adherence to the requirements

Once you've identified a school or specific program that interests you, the next step is understanding its portfolio requirements. How should you submit work? How many pieces are required? Can I choose my best work, or do they have a particular ask? It's important to meet at least the minimum requirements set forth in the school or program's application guidelines.

2. Multiple mediums and techniques

It's important that you show the full breadth of your ability as an artist. Your portfolio should highlight a few different styles you have worked with, even if they are in the same medium. For example, if you are applying for a photography program, include a variety--some landscape photographs, portraits, or action shots with different lenses.  

3. Your personality

Technical ability is important, but every artist should also have a fresh voice when it comes to their craft. Select works for your portfolio that show your abilities, as well as your unique perspective of the world around you. Works inspired by your upbringing or experiences are often best at conveying your authentic personality.

4. Observation pieces

Observational art, drawings or illustrations created from a real-life object, person or figure are widely considered some of the most important works for an art portfolio. Ball State University's art program suggests an applicant's portfolio has at least three drawings from direct observation.

5. Effective presentation

You will sometimes be asked to present or explain your portfolio. Make sure works are presented in good shape – mounted evenly, clearly labeled, etc. – and be prepared to discuss any of the pieces and why you decided to include them. Even if you are submitting your portfolio digitally, be sure it looks good on various displays and uses high-quality images.

6. Someone else's input

While it's technically not a requirement, if you want to get objective feedback about how to improve your portfolio, it's best to seek a second opinion. Artists often struggle to accurately judge their own work, which is why outside advice can be invaluable when compiling a portfolio. When soliciting input on your portfolio, try to choose someone with experience creating or judging art portfolios – professors, admissions counselors, art school graduates, etc.

Assembling a portfolio isn't always easy, but if you understand the requirements and commit the time and energy, your portfolio can help you get accepted into one of your ideal art programs that will brighten your future as an artist.


About Scott Cline

Dr. Scott Cline is vice president of enrollment at California College of the Arts, where he leads the financial aid and undergraduate admissions offices. He has worked at CCA for over six years, previously as director and associate director of financial aid.


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