How to avoid common art portfolio mistakes with these 4 tips

Edit your college art portfolio with 4 tips that will help you show off your strengths and avoid easy-to-make mistakes.

Your admissions portfolio has a big impact on your application to art school. And we want you to be successful in this first step on your creative journey. That’s why we bring you four tips to help strengthen your art portfolio, including what kinds of pieces you should submit, how many, and the importance of photography.

1. Focus on quality first, not quantity

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.

Many art schools set a range of required pieces so applicants can focus on the quality of their work over how much work they made. At CCA, we require 10–15 examples for most undergraduate applicants.

A common art portfolio mistake: submitting anything and everything.

2. Share your artistic range

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 express your ideas..

A common art portfolio mistake: depending on one type of work.

3. Practice photographing 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. There are helpful guides online that discuss lighting, angles, and placement for photographing art for a portfolio.

A common art portfolio mistake: poorly photographed work.

4. Ask a teacher or counselor to review your work

If you were writing an admissions essay to get into college, you’d get someone else’s feedback and edit it before hitting submit. Your portfolio should receive the same treatment. 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. Show it to a teacher or counselor who you know will give you honest feedback. And be prepared to answer questions about why you chose certain works or arranged them in a particular order. You can also attend a National Portfolio Day and get a critique before you apply.

A common art portfolio mistake: submitting an unedited portfolio.

All of this advice is important, but remember: Mistakes happen and that’s OK! Don’t worry about making a perfect portfolio. Instead, concentrate on selecting works that represent your ideas as well as your technical abilities, which will help distinguish 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 will strengthen your art school applications.