How to make an art portfolio in 6 steps

Your art, design, and writing portfolio is a major factor in how admissions counselors and application reviewers determine if you would be a good fit for their art school or university. It’s an opportunity to share your individuality and creativity, rounding out the picture of who you are for your college application.

We asked actual portfolio reviewers for their guidance on how to make an art portfolio. They share their art portfolio tips and application advice in six steps:

1. Follow the portfolio requirements

Every school has different portfolio requirements, such as the number and type of pieces to include. Figure out where you want to apply, closely read the application instructions, and build your art portfolio with those requirements in mind.

2. Experiment across different mediums and techniques

You can show reviewers your willingness to get out of your comfort zone by including a few different mediums or styles in your art school portfolio. Consider experimenting with different types of materials or get creative with the written word. If most of your pieces are in the same medium, try out different techniques. For example, if you are a photographer, include a variety of images and compositions—landscapes, portraits, action shots, long exposures, infrared, etc.

3. Share your point of view

Choose works for your art school portfolio that show how you see the world using your creative voice. Portfolio reviewers want to get to know you as an artist and a person through your work: What makes you you? Select works that present your artistic abilities as well as your unique perspective and values. Works inspired by stories from your own life or that show excitement for a topic are often best at conveying your individual voice.

4. Choose work that is uniquely yours

Application reviewers say that a strong art portfolio includes a few observational works created from something you can see in real life. Be sure that these works reflect your take on the world around you—they should not be copies of work by other artists or fan art. Observational pieces from life show how your artistic skills communicate your unique eye and a sense of individuality.

5. Provide good documentation and add context

Make sure you present work neatly and clearly—take high-quality images, use natural light, label each image with title and medium, etc. Consider how a reviewer could best experience the piece, such as through multiple angles or details, and make sure it looks good on various digital displays. Portfolio reviewers are also interested in how you think about and make your work, and some art and design schools (like California College of the Arts) ask for written explanations about every piece.

6. Get feedback from a trusted source

Outside advice and objective feedback are key when building an art portfolio that communicates what kind of student you are. When asking for feedback and critique, try to choose someone with experience creating or judging art portfolios, such as an art teacher or artist. Admissions counselors at many art schools offer free portfolio reviews too.

Your art portfolio is an important part of your college application because it tells your personal story and your relationship to art-making. Putting time and effort into your portfolio increases the likelihood of your admission to the art college or program that's the best fit for you and can even unlock possible scholarship opportunities.