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What is a portfolio?

What should be in a portfolio?

Why these items?

Drawing

Composition/Design

How do I prepare my portfolio for presentation?

Some advice on taking slides

Other things to remember

Portfolio Tips from the Pennsylvania School of Art and Design

What is a portfolio?
A portfolio represents your skills as an artist, including craftsmanship, technique, creativity, and the ability to communicate visual ideas. High school seniors use portfolios to gain admission to art schools and professionals use them to gain employment.

What should be in a portfolio?

  • Drawings from life emphasizing an understanding of light, shadow, composition, perspective, technique, and value.
  • Figure/Portrait studies showing an understanding of the human form. May be completed in a variety of media, as illustrations or as fine art pieces.
  • Paintings in any media (oil, acrylic, watercolor, tempera) showing the ability to mix color and understand form. Demonstrate a familiarity with a variety of media and concepts, including both a realistic and an abstract approach.
  • Designs showing skills in using color, shape, and composition and the ability to think symbolically. May be a poster design, symbol design, logo, abstract exercise, etc.
  • Three-dimensional designs demonstrating the ability to work with sculptural concepts.
  • Personal choices highlighting your special abilities and skills. May include photography, crafts, jewelry, printmaking, commercial art, interior & environmental design, lettering, ceramics, etc.
  • Personal sketchbooks and preliminary studies can be included to show your thought processes in developing your final pieces. These reflect your motivation, creativity, and genuine interest.

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Why these items?
Your portfolio should be a collection of your best efforts, showcasing your individual artistic style. It should include about ten to fifteen pieces of finished work using various media, styles, and ideas. For admission to an art school, your portfolio should show your potential to handle college-level art study.

Drawing is the most basic way an artist communicates and it remains so regardless of major or career choice. Interior designers, sculptors, even photographers rely on drawing to do their jobs efficiently and well. Your ideas and skills as an artist are reflected in your drawings. Hence, your admissions portfolio should include your very best drawings. Your art teacher can help you in selecting your very best work. Whenever possible, include drawings made from observation, like self portraits, portraits, figure drawings, still lifes, and landscapes. Work from familiar objects and/or surroundings, and always refer to subjects that have meaning to you personally. A strong admission portfolio always exhibits a personal point-of-view. Your portfolio should also demonstrate your use of color. Such color work can be accomplished in many ways, but strong painting (oil, watercolor, acrylic) will inevitably enhance your portfolio. You may also submit pastels and drawings in other color media such as colored pencil or marker.

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Composition/Design -- the arrangement of shapes and forms on a page or within the boundaries of a three-dimensional artwork -- should be evident throughout your portfolio. By selecting your most interesting and accomplished pieces, your sense of design will clearly be evident. Try to avoid including too many pieces depicting centered objects on a page, as this type of composition is all too common. Avoid drawings and paintings inspired from photographs; it is too easy to simply copy photographs. Rather, concentrate on the familiar in your own environment. This will ensure creative and personal compositions.

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How do I prepare my portfolio for presentation?
Your work should be presented in a neat and organized way. All artwork should be signed. Your name and address should be on the outside of the portfolio. While slides are not the ideal way to judge your artwork, they are the practical and economic way to transport and judge your portfolio. You may submit actual work along with your slides if you think it will enhance your chances for admission. Sketchbooks, for example, can be a strong addition to any slide portfolio. When including actual artwork, consider using white or neutral colored mats. Slides should be individually labeled with your name, numbered, and presented in a clear plastic slide sheet(s). An inventory list describing each piece should accompany your slides: name, title, media, size, and date. It is advisable to make at least two slide portfolios of your work.

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Some advice on taking slides
Use a good camera, preferably a 35mm with a single-lens reflex. Use the proper slide film and lighting. Consult your art teacher, a professional photographer, or your local camera store owner for advice. Photograph each piece individually; the piece should completely fill the camera frame. Use a neutral background for 3-D pieces. If in doubt about exposure time, take three slides of each piece: one at the automatic reading, one an f/stop higher and one an f/stop lower. Most importantly, take your time. Re-shoot if necessary. Select the best shots -- those that truly represent your work.

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Other things to remember
Familiarize yourself with the various deadlines you're facing, especially scholarship deadlines. Be sure to complete all steps of the application procedures. Do not submit more work than is necessary. Finally, seek advice from knowledgeable professionals when organizing your admissions portfolio, but remember your portfolio represents who you are and what you can do. So you should be the ultimate judge as to which pieces to include. Your portfolio must best represent you as an artist.

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