portfolio review

It’s a lot of fun. But first you need to get in. In order to do that, you’ll need a portfolio of your best art. But how do you decide what to put into your portfolio? What are art schools even looking for? Well, the good news is, they’ll tell you… in person… to your face. 

You see, the fall semester is just lousy with portfolio open houses (or portfolio reviews). Representatives from various art schools (usually an admissions officer or two and a handful of local alumni) will gather at a particular school, sit behind plastic folding tables, review your portfolios, and hand out promotional material (pro tip: the smaller schools usually try to tempt you with candy). 

You get that one afternoon to visit as many schools as you can and talk to one of their reps for 5-10 minutes (20 if you’re unlucky enough to find me on the other side of the table; I tend to go on). You’re gonna want to make the best of it so you’re gonna want to come prepared.

“So, what’s the big deal? My art class has critique all the time?” You ask… rather rudely. A fair question, but be mindful of the fact that a portfolio review is not going to be the same as a critique in your art class. Portfolio reviews are brusque and can be brutal… and that’s a really good thing. It’s not that one is better than the other. Reviews and critiques are more like flipsides of the same coin… the coin of your journey to become a better artist?



Critiques vs. Portfolio Reviews

Before you go… There are a few things you can do in advance of your portfolio review that will make the whole experience run more smoothly.

General Portfolio Tips:

Best to Worst…

Put your best foot forward, and then your second best foot, followed by your third best, and so on. This is a portfolio not a mixtape… is that an outdated reference? I know kids don’t make mixtapes anymore but you still get what I mean, right? No? Sigh, all right. What I mean is, some folks are tempted to spread their best work evenly through their portfolio or build up to their best work at the end. As if their portfolio has a narrative arc or a climax. Don’t do this. We want to know what you think your best work is. And, if you rearrange your work based on their feedback as the day wears on, you’ll leave with a pretty good idea of what should go in your portfolio.

A Method to your Madness

Yeah, I’m gonna kinda sorta contradict the last thing I said. Try to group similar work  together. If you want a stranger to give you their best advice after looking through your portfolio for five minutes, make it easy on them. It could be by subject matter, style, medium, size, or anything really. It’s not that there’s an optimal way to organize your portfolio so much as there just needs to be some sort of rhyme and reason. This will help your reviewer see trends that carry through your art (as well as making it physically easier to flip through your work). Be particularly mindful of this if you have a lot of…


Traditional Media

Think about the presentation. There are a lot of ways to put your art together. But, whatever you do, make sure it’s easy for the reviewer to go through and for you to pack up and transport to the next table. Pro Tip: If you can, avoid shiny plastic sleeves; they’ll reflect all the fluorescent lights and make it really hard for the review to see your work. And if they can’t see your work, they might just flip past your best art.


Mind the Mess

People will be touching your art work. Be cautious of putting in anything that’s going to get messed up, rub off on your other work, or rub off on me; most importantly me. If it’s pastel or charcoal; matte it, spray it, put a cover on it. If it’s a wet oil painting… really? Maybe just take a picture of it with your phone.  


Digital Media

It’s a lot easier carrying around a laptop or tablet than a whole portfolio. It’s also the best way to display purely digital art instead of worrying about matching printouts to their original screen quality. But, it’s not perfect.

- Make sure you get quality images of your traditional media. This isn’t your finished portfolio, so you don’t need to spring for professional photography. But remember, we can only judge your art by what we see.

- Your art needs to be ready to show as soon as you step up to the table. That means the computer needs to be on and any and all programs open. It has to be easy for your reviewer to navigate through all the art you want them to see.

- Make sure your battery is charged. It’s going to be a very long Saturday afternoon if your battery gives out at 2PM. When you’re not showing your work, turn off the wifi and put it to sleep. If you can get your hands on an external battery do it.

- Got sound? Maybe a short animation or film? Great! Look at you; so industrious. But, the only person who should hear your vid is your reviewer.  Bring headphones (preferably not earbuds, people get weird about putting other folks’ earwax in their own ears… go figure).

Okay, so that covers everything you need to do before a portfolio review. Next time we’ll talk about how to survive the day itself: Surviving Your Portfolio Review!

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