It’s time to prepare a portfolio when you are serious about studying art. Most art schools require approximately twelve to fifteen pieces of your best work. Some college art departments will review serious work as well. If you are a high school student, work from your junior and the first semester of your senior year are the best examples to include*, but start to collect work as early as your sophomore year. You can replace weaker work with stronger as you grow.
Most schools want to see breath and depth in your work. That means a variety of subject matter, materials and techniques. You should however, include only your best work, so if that limits the breath, so be it.
Once you begin the process of putting together a portfolio, there are two important things that will help guide you through the process:
1.Put together a list of schools you might like to attend. The internet is your best tool. Each website will contain all sorts of information about the nature of the school, mandatory portfolio requirements**, and deadlines to be sure to meet. Keep a list or chart to keep this information organized. If you live close by, go see the school.
2.Attending National Portfolio Day (in the US), is an excellent way to get opinions about your work and for understanding the admission expectations of particular schools. Watch the Video.. Portfolio day is really helpful early in your process, so attending early in your junior year is ideal. You will be able to speak with representatives from a variety of schools, and show them your work.
Just between us:
About important thing #1
Art schools are somewhat different. Some have more mandatory academics than others. Some offer more scholarships than others. The culture of the school differs from one to another. If at all possible, visit as many schools on your list as you can. Plan to interview with schools that want to see you. Talk to the students.
About important thing #2
Portfolio Day can be nerve racking. There are crowds, it may feel competitive, even though it isn’t. It feels weird to unveil your work and to take criticism. BUT, if you want to make your living in the visual arts, this is a good way to get used to situations like this. Crits are part of art school. They are part of the art world. Subjectivity is also part of the art world. One table at Portfolio Day could openly dislike what you do and tell you so. The next table may love what you do and tell you so. The ONLY thing YOU can do is to stand strong. Listen to constructive criticism and try not to take criticism that is unflattering to heart. Then go home, take a little time to absorb the experience, and get to work. (The dates and locations for portfolio days will be available online early fall)
Many art schools and colleges with good art departments offer Saturday and summer classes. Some are for AP credit, some are portfolio building and some are just for you to grow as an artist. Some of these programs offer scholarships but only if you apply early. Some schools will tell you that they draw a certain percentage of freshman students from these programs. Some say that participation in their program does not help you gain admission as a freshman, but it shows interest in their school..just so you know. There’s also NOTHING wrong with staying home, reserving time to work and following through.
All schools want to see work that is original. That means not copied from a magazine. It also means that they want you to draw from life not photos, whenever possible. And they DO want to see drawings, even if you are a photographer or performance artist.
All schools love to see sketchbooks. Keep a sketchbook.
*That doesn’t just mean work you made in art class. It definitely includes your independent work.
**Some schools ask for specific mandatory pieces above and beyond your portfolio pieces. The summer before you apply is a great time to get these started!