Four common art portfolio mistakes

Here are four common art portfolio mistakes and advice on how to avoid them.

Edit your submissions with these tips in mind


Every art and design college wants visual samples of your creativity

Your admissions portfolio has a big impact on your application to art school. Compiling a collection of samples that showcase your abilities is the best way to increase your odds of getting into the art school of your dreams. An art portfolio that best represents your skills, perspective, and personality can improve your chances of gaining art school admission or earning a scholarship.

Don’t value quantity over quality

We often see applicants worry about not having enough samples to put in their portfolio. Maybe you only realized you wanted to attend art school during senior year in high school, or maybe you were focused on drawing but now want to pursue graphic design.

Do this instead: Focus on quality first. Many art schools set a range of required pieces so applicants can focus on quality over quantity. At CCA, we require 10–15 examples for most undergraduate applicants. Art school admissions departments would rather see a portfolio with 11 high-quality pieces that are thoughtful and expressive than one with 15 where the quality of work was uneven.

Don’t depend on one type of work

A common myth about art school portfolios is that you need a lot of great observational drawings or that you shouldn’t show a range of forms. After interviews with admissions officers from several art and design colleges, Format magazine reported that schools would rather see work that shows you have your own ideas and the ability to realize them. In other words, that you can achieve technical ability and creative thought. But it’s also important to consider the program you’re applying to as you compile your portfolio. If you plan to study sculpture, observational drawings may not be as relevant as they might be for a student who wants to study illustration.

Do this instead: Share your journey as an artist. We want to see the range of your observational and technical ability as an artist. Select works for your portfolio that showcase your strengths, as well as your unique perspective of the world around you. Highlight a few different styles you’ve worked with and pick samples that demonstrate your creativity and experience, which can include one medium or a range of mediums. Additionally, explain the thought process behind how and why you chose your method, medium, or concept. Describe your process and share your inspiration. Admissions teams want to learn about your interests and see that you can articulate your work. Attend a National Portfolio Day and get a critique before you apply.

Don’t include poor photographs of your work

Many schools require applicants to submit digital versions of their portfolio using a tool like SlideRoom. If you’re going to take pictures of your art for your portfolio, make sure to use a high-resolution camera that accurately depicts your work’s essence. Consider that admissions teams will most likely be reviewing your portfolio on a relatively small computer screen, not standing in front of it.

Do this instead: Get some shutter support. There are helpful guides online that discuss lighting, angles, and placement for photographing art for a portfolio.

Don’t submit an unedited portfolio

If you were writing an admissions essay to get into college, you’d edit it before hitting submit, right? Your portfolio should receive the same treatment.

Do this instead: Enlist a teacher or counselor for review. Once you’ve finished selecting the examples you’ll include in your portfolio, evaluate the way it flows as a whole instead of just thinking about what each individual piece means. Be prepared to answer questions about why you chose certain works or arranged them in a particular order.

Focus on your conceptual ideas and technical skills

All of this advice is important, but remember: Mistakes happen and that’s OK! Don’t waste too much time worrying about making a perfect portfolio. Instead, concentrate on selecting works that represent your conceptual and technical abilities, which will help differentiate you from other art students. If you can demonstrate depth of meaning in your work while highlighting your artistic aptitude, you’ll have a powerful, creative collection that serves as an asset for art school applications.

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