Setting out your stall: creating the best art portfolio

Your portfolio is at the heart of your application to an art and design course

The major difference between applying for a creative degree and a non-creative degree is that the former requires a portfolio. The idea is that it should demonstrate your potential as well as your commitment to art and design; what it does not have to do is reveal that you have already achieved enough to win the Turner Prize.



“I was initially apprehensive about showing paintings and pieces that didn’t work,” says Andrew Bentham, a graduate in fine art from Manchester Metropolitan University. “However, I was convinced by tutors that when it comes to an interview, someone who brings in a lot of experiments that might not have worked out – rather than a rack of similar portraits – will have a far better chance of winning a place.” Bentham also ensured that each piece had a story to it. “I think the key is to be able to justify why you have done something in a certain way.”

It’s the thought that counts

Remember, a portfolio is all about concepts, says Glenn Tutssel, director at The Brand Union, which supports up-and-coming graduates in art and design. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a half-drawn sketch or a highly finished piece – it’s all about ideas and the real value that a designer or artist can offer. Never use highly finished work to disguise a bad idea – it will never get you through.”

Have a sketchbook

A sketchbook is a key part of any portfolio. “It should be paramount in showing how you work and how you think, telling the interviewer something about your personality,” says Tutssel.

Reveal your personality

Helen Heery, who teaches art and design at the University of Salford, agrees that personality counts for a lot. “It’s no good promoting house styles, as that makes all students’ work look the same. If a student is showing a piece of work from a course, it’s important that it also shows a personal theme.”

Make sure you prepare for the rest of the interview too

When it comes to the interview, don’t assume it will be entirely devoted to your portfolio, says Heery. “You should be able to talk about the broader art world.”

Also be ready to discuss artists you admire, says Patrick Lowry, who teaches fine art at Cornwall College, Camborne. “Research the course and subject too – I don’t think students realise how committed they need to come across as being.”

Don’t waste time and money

Although presentation is important for your portfolio, don’t spend loads of time and money buying flashy folders advises Wendy Rochefort, who is studying a foundation degree in fine art at Cornwall College. “Simple mounts and a tidy finish are fine. Also, don’t put everything you’ve ever produced in your portfolio. Edit it down to the pieces that matter for one reason or another.”

Be original

Emma Rose, who works in the faculty of arts and sciences at Lancaster University, advises that students include some self-generated work – not just the projects that have been assigned on courses. “We want someone with that extra spark – perhaps you’ve gone off with a camera to take interesting photos.”

Know the art world

You must be prepared to talk about what exhibitions you’ve been to recently. “Amazingly, some people can’t answer that question!” says Rose.

“Talk about arty interests other than the subject you’re applying for,” says Clara McMenamin, a third-year sculpture student at Lancaster University. “I did theatre outside school, and they were interested in that.”

Sport
footballHe started just four months ago
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Travel
Streets ahead: Venice
travelWhat's trending on your wishlist?
PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Ashdown Group: 1st Line IT Support - Surrey - £24,000

£20000 - £24000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Graduate IT Support Helpd...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Audit Assistant

£19000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Audit Graduate Opportunities ar...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

SThree: Graduate Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35000: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 b...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect