Your Guide to Art School Resources and Information

Art Portfolio Requirements for Students

An art portfolio is a small, representative collection of an artist's current or recent work. The art portfolio plays an important role in the art school admission review process by identifying the skills, abilities, and potential of the student.

Student portfolios intended for art school admission review are quite different from portfolios of working artists. Working artists' portfolios are highly focused toward the type of job or client being sought, and they generally contain only highly polished works, in order to show a high level of artistic achievement. Prospective students' portfolios, however, are intended to show the potential of the artist. To this effect, a wider selection of mediums and techniques may be required, as well as works showing the creative process of the artist (i.e. sketches, life drawings, etc.).

An art portfolio has two sets of requirements: content requirements and technical requirements. The content requirements deal with the type of artwork included, while the technical requirements apply to the physical aspects of the artwork.

Content Requirements
There is no formula for an acceptable portfolio, however, the artist should submit his best, most recent work that represents his personal interests and abilities. It should reflect the individual's unique art background, experience, and abilities in the arts to date.

Specific content requirements for portfolios are determined by the program the student is applying for. For example, fine art or illustration portfolios (we'll call this "traditional arts") will differ greatly from photography or graphic design portfolios (we'll call this "design"). A definitive list of requirements would be exhaustive and is beyond the scope of this article, so we will focus on traditional arts and design, generically.

Traditional arts
(Advertising Design, Computer Animation, Fine Arts, Game Art & Design, Illustration, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture)

For traditional art portfolios, emphasis is often placed on skill in drawing from direct observation of live 3-dimensional objects (i.e. life drawing).

  • Include 10 to 20 works completed recently
  • Drawing samples - Include self-portraits, figure drawings, object studies, still lifes and landscapes.
  • At least half of the portfolio should consist of drawing from direct observation.
  • Color theory - Demonstrate use of color in painting, printmaking, drawing, and/or collage work.
  • Three-dimensions - Include strong examples of composition, light, form, and spatial relations.
  • Digital work should be kept to a minimum.
  • Past work can be included, but it is more important to submit work that represents current skills and experiences.
  • Do not include such things as anime, tattoo designs, dragons, unicorns, etc.
  • Never copy directly from another artist
  • Submitting work simply to show a range of mediums (such as one charcoal, one pastel, one watercolor, etc) is not recommended if it sacrifices consistency of quality.

Most recent sketchbooks can be included to show your creativity and problem solving skills.

(Digital Filmmaking, Graphic & Interactive Communication, Interior Design, Motion Design, Digital Imaging, Web Design)

  • Include 10 to 20 works completed recently.
  • Include samples of logotypes, lettering, and typography.
  • Include layouts or comprehensives for projects, such as posters, brochures, editorial design, package design, motion graphics, web design and identity systems.
  • Include relevant work in any media - including design projects, websites, photography, film, drafting, and multimedia.
  • Drawing samples may or may not be required. Some schools require ALL students to submit portfolios showing strong life drawing skills.
  • Work may be created by hand or digitally, but must be original.

Technical Requirements
The technical or physical requirements of a portfolio must be followed exactly. Portfolios not following the requirements may be rejected by the review board.

Digital submission

  • CD/DVD format (labeled with your name, address, and phone number). Check PC/Mac compatibility requirements.
  • Images should be 72 dpi (screen resolution) with a minimum height/width of 600-1,000 pixels. Each school will have it's own size requirements.
  • Include a work description sheet (also called index page or inventory sheet). This is a physical piece of paper with printed thumbnail images (numbered according to filenames) with title, medium, date completed, and dimensions. In the case of professional or group projects, applicants should indicate their personal responsibilities.
  • Image filenames should follow the same naming convention and include a number corresponding to the work description sheet (i.e. LastnameFirstname_01.jpg, LastnameFirstname_02.jpg, etc.).
  • Each image should be a separate .jpg file, and not combined into a slideshow or presentation format (i.e. Flash, PowerPoint). *Digital and multimedia programs may have different requirements.
  • Animated or time-based work (film/video) should be included in QuickTime, mpeg, or Flash video format. Check school requirements.

Online portfolio services
Schools have begun to use online portfolio services to handle their portfolio reviews. These services allow students to upload portfolios (and associated info- title, medium, date completed, and dimensions) directly into the school's portfolio pipeline for quicker review.

Most schools do allow submission of portfolios via personal websites.

Physical submission

  • 35mm slides should be arranged in a plastic slide-holder page.
  • Photo prints should be no larger than 8” x 10” or 20cm x 25cm each.
  • Label each item with your name, address, and phone number.
  • Do not send originals through the mail. When holding in-person portfolio reviews, original works may be required.

What about students with no formal art training?
Previous studio art experience is not always required for undergraduate admissions. Many art schools offer intro level courses to teach fundamental art and design skills, but they may still require drawing samples to show creative and technical potential.

Schools that don’t require formal studio training may require the student to complete a series of exercises to demonstrate their artistic skill level.

These are sample exercises:

  1. Select three to five objects that are familiar to you. Arrange them together, then draw them using line and tone.
  2. Make a free-hand drawing of one corner of a room in your home. Include at least three pieces of furniture.
  3. Create a self-portrait in any medium. Do not refer to a photograph.
  4. Using "nature" as a theme, create a collage by tearing images from a magazine and pasting them on a sheet of paper.
  5. Visually interpret and express the word "connection" in a drawing of any medium.

While we have presented the most common portfolio requirements (as compiled directly from school websites), it is critical that students review the requirements of each school they will be submitting portfolios to. Failing to meet the requirements will assure rejection of the portfolio and may hurt the student's chances of art school admission.