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.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Trainee Digital Forensic Analyst

£17000 - £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Trainee Digital Fo...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + OTE: SThree: Real Staffing Group is seeking Traine...

Technical Support Analyst

£23000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client are cuu...

HR Advisor (Employee Relations) - Kentish Town, NW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Advisor (Employee Rela...

Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment