Best Art Portfolio Tips to Apply for Art School

It is the dream of every aspiring artist out there to attend a great art school. After all, it is in a great art school where they will get the chance to hone their artistic skills and become the best artist they can be. However, if you are an aspiring artist yourself, you should know by now that getting to a great art school is a tough competition.

The application process itself is rough. This is because not only will you need to ensure your academic record is spectacular, but you’ll also need to ensure that you have the best art portfolio for application.

By now you must be wondering what an art portfolio is. Simply put, an art portfolio is essentially just an edited collection of an artist’s best artworks. And the primary purpose of this is to showcase to school administrators your style as an artist, as well as your own creativity and method of work. The portfolio is meant to let them show your potential, your strengths and weaknesses, and your growth.

For that reason, whether you’re pursuing a degree in fine art, fashion, game design, or any other kind of art, it is incredibly important to craft the best portfolio that you can. You’ll be surprised to discover that it just might be your golden ticket to a great art school.

We’ve already covered the step-by-step guide into making an art portfolio. But as of now, you still might be wondering if there are other tips you should know about. Read through these tips and apply them into your own process of creating an art portfolio.

Art Portfolio Tips You Need to Know About

Start Building Your Art Portfolio Early

You should know by now that you can’t create an art portfolio overnight. Rather, creating an art portfolio is an incredibly meticulous and exhaustive process, and it takes months — even years! — just to get it right. So, if you’re really setting your mind on getting to an art school, then you should start building your portfolio as early as possible.

Start thinking about which media excite you, what your strengths as an artist are, and which programs you’re interested in. Start doing this years before you’re going to apply for an art school. And in addition to your personal consideration, you should also start seeking advice from current art teachers, working artists, and anyone you know who has attended an art school.

You see, creating a portfolio should not be an effort that you have to do on your own. Sure, you’re the only one who truly knows what kind of artist you are, so you need to put the most effort in your portfolio. But if you really want your portfolio to shine through, you need to get an outside opinion so that you’ll know what to improve.

Take the initiative and ask for constructive feedback from people whose opinions you trust. This can include your art teachers, or your mentors, or even your peers. Basically, anyone who knows your art and who knows all about art, in general, will do. Their feedback will go a long way to make sure your portfolio is the best that it possibly can be.

Familiarize Yourself with the Programs and Art Schools You’re Applying to

The art and design programs in one school are going to differ greatly from the art and design programs in another. So, the type of portfolio that they want from you can also differ greatly. The great way to remedy this problem is to constantly read and reread the application guidelines of your chosen school throughout the process of art portfolio creation. Make sure you get all the criteria right down to a tee, thus saving you more problems in the future.

If some of the guidelines confuse you, then you should reach out to the faculty professors at that school and ask them questions. Don’t be afraid to do so. Professors are more than happy to accommodate your concerns, and asking them will definitely help you in the long run.

Aside from contacting the professors, you should also explore the specific styles of art that they teach and produce. This is because looking at the artworks produced by former graduates and the professors themselves is a good way of getting a good understanding of the type of work that the school fosters. Additionally, it will also help you in figuring out if you will like the program. A school may be high-ranking, but you might discover that you don’t really like the community they’re fostering. It’s better to know that beforehand so that you will be more well-informed when you’re about to apply.

Long story short, try to familiarize yourself with the art schools that you’re planning to apply to as much as you can. It’s definitely going to help you make a decision in the future.

Create Original Work for Your Art Portfolio

Originality is one of the guiding principles of artists. It’s also one that art schools hold dearly. Art schools aren’t interested in seeing you copying other artists’ work, no matter how good you think you are at it. Instead, they want you to have your own exciting ideas and to be able to execute them properly.

In order to show them that you’re capable of this, you need to have artworks in your portfolio that are original. You need to put artworks that are unique, that undoubtedly shows your novel and inventive thinking. This means that fan art and celebrity portraits should be avoided because these won’t help distinguish your work from the crowd.

Another way to show off your originality is to create subjects that are personal and engaging for you. Aside from being representative of your strengths as an artist, an art portfolio should also show off your personality as a whole. The school administrators should be able to see what excites and interests you. If you have artworks that show just that, then your portfolio will definitely stand out from the crowd.

Experiment with Your Portfolio

As was mentioned earlier, every art school is different, so every school will value particular elements of your portfolio over others. But don’t take this to mean that they won’t be impressed and excited by something that is completely unexpected.

So, try to experiment with some of your projects. You don’t have to get it right the first time around. If you don’t like how a certain project turned out, you can always do it again later. Just focus on the experimentation, on trying out new things. It will make for a fun artistic experience, and it will help you grow as an artist.

Include Artworks that Show Your Strengths

This should go without saying, but just in case you’ve forgotten, the artworks in your portfolio should show off your strengths. And even better, you should show off a variety of them. Put artworks that are diverse in terms of approach, media, and content, and you’ll surely catch the eye of the art school administrators.

In a way, think of your portfolio as an art gallery of sorts. The artworks that you’ve chosen should stand as unique beats in the story you’re telling about your work. They should build upon one another to give the viewers — in this scenario, the administrators — a sense of your range of abilities and interests.

However, just because it’s a good idea to submit a diverse portfolio doesn’t mean you need to compromise the quality for the sake of diversity. After all, not every artist is an expert in every category. So, you shouldn’t have to feel the pressure to submit a sub-par work just to make your portfolio look multidisciplinary. As much as possible, try to focus on the aspects that you’re good at.

Consider Adding Works-in-Progress in Your Portfolio

This is a little tricky because sometimes, art schools won’t allow you to put in unfinished artworks. But if the school you’re applying to allows it, then consider putting in works-in-progress into your portfolio.

This is because some art schools believe that being able to see your creative process as it began can speak volumes about what kind of artist you are. They like to see the step-by-step process of how a final project came to be and what the artist learned along the way. And the good way for you to be able to let them see that is to add in some of your unfinished works.

Of course, if you choose to add in works-in-progress, you should also be smart on which ones to pick. You should make sure that your unfinished works should add something to your portfolio. You shouldn’t just put them there for the sake of bulking up your submission.

So, look at your unfinished works. Which ones do you think show the most potential, the most strength, and the most growth? Those should be the ones that you put into your portfolio.

Portfolio Curation Is Everything

So, you’ve already gathered a wide selection of your artworks that you consider as your best and your most original. What now? Well, now you have to actually narrow them down on which ones to include and how to properly arrange them.

Think of your portfolio as an essay of sorts. In order for it to successfully disseminate the ideas that you’re discussing, an essay has to be readable and concise. There shouldn’t be any unnecessary fillers just to bulk it up. The same thing should be said for the art portfolio. Every artwork inside should be strong — they all should showcase your abilities as an artist. There shouldn’t be one that’s considered the weakest link of the group.

Additionally, you should also think about how you want to arrange these works. The arrangement is totally up to you, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about it carefully. Do you want to go for a chronological order where your portfolio starts with your earliest artworks then ends with your most recent one? Or do you want to arrange them by theme or style or approach? Think of what you want to say with your portfolio, then base your arrangement from that.

The portfolio curation is probably the part of the art portfolio creation process that takes up the longest time. But don’t let that worry you. Instead, take advantage of it. Take your sweet time and deliberate very carefully on which works to include and how to arrange them. And if you ever feel lost, remember to ask feedback from other people. You’ll need all the help you can get.

Properly Document Your Artworks

So, you’ve successfully figured out which artworks you want to feature and how you want to arrange them. Now, you have to face another problem: how to properly document them.

The artworks that you’ll be passing into your portfolio aren’t going to be the original copies. After all, you must be submitting to multiple art schools, and of course, you want to keep your originals. So, when it comes to creating a portfolio, you need to duplicate them. You can either do this through photocopies or scans or through pictures.

Whichever route you choose, you need to make sure that the quality of the duplicates is great. The last thing you’ll need is to jeopardize your chances of getting into a great art school because the copies in your portfolio are blurry.

So, do your research and find a way to document your artworks in a high-quality way. Some may opt for professional photography, but that is too expensive for others. Meanwhile, others might opt to go for a video instead. Whatever you choose, it’s totally up to you. Just make sure that the quality is as great as the original copy.

Attend National Portfolio Day

By now you must be feeling overwhelmed with all these tips that you’re having a hard time remembering them. Don’t worry — you can just choose to attend National Portfolio Day, and everything will be right on track again.

If you’re unaware, National Portfolio Day is essentially just an event tailored specifically for visual artists and designers. This is where aspiring artists who wish to pursue an education in arts get the chance to meet with representatives from art schools all over the country who will then review their portfolios.

In other words, this is where artists will get a glimpse of how their portfolios will be received by art schools. And this is something you should take advantage of because it’s during this event you’ll know what actually works in your portfolio and what needs to be improved.

So, consider attending National Portfolio Day. And if you do choose to go, you should also prepare yourself for brutally honest comments. It can be jarring at first to hear brutally honest criticism but don’t take it too personally. Instead, apply those comments into your process of making the portfolio even better than before.

Think about the Big Picture Beyond Your Portfolio

To increase your chances of getting into a great art school, you have to make sure that you’ve met all the criteria. But another thing that you should also consider when you’re in the art portfolio creation process is to ask yourself one question. And that is: “Does my portfolio truly represent why I want to make art?”

Because you’re so focused on meeting the criteria during this process, it’s easy to feel like you’re only making art to impress the admissions team. So, when you start to feel this way, try to remember what attracted you to art in the first place and if you think attending an art school will foster that.

In other words, you have to make sure that you know why you want to go to an art school before you send in your application. And this is something that you can’t ask for feedback from other people. This is something you have to figure out by yourself.

The Best Things to Put in An Art Portfolio

The tips mentioned above actually mentioned the kinds of artwork that you need to put in an art portfolio. But they might be easy to forget since they’re mentioned all over the place. That is the purpose of this section: to give a refresher course of all the important things you need to put into your portfolio. They are as follows:

Original Works from Direct Observations

Originality is a big deal for art schools. So make sure your artworks are “original,” meaning you created them from pure passion and direct observation. These original artworks should show the administrators what interests you and what your personality is like.

Avoid at all times putting in fan arts or portraits of celebrities and the like. Aside from the fact that those won’t let you stand out from the crowd, they are also dull to look at.

Artworks That Are Diverse in Subject Matter

Is there a particular theme that you’re passionate about — for example, religion? Or are you good at a particular kind of artwork, like self-portraits? Great! Include them. It’s always a good idea to put in artworks that show off your strength.

However, avoid making your portfolio simply all about them. Try mixing things up a bit. There must be other subject matters that interest you. Put them in as well. If your portfolio is all filled with artworks that have the same theme, the administrators will get boring real fast.

So, diversify your subject matters and your themes. Doing this will give the impression that you’re curious and willing to take up any subject matter. It shows that you’re not narrow-minded. And that is something that art school administrators are looking for in artists.

Artworks That Are Diverse in Terms of Media

This is very much in the same vein as the previous tip. Basically, the idea is, in addition to diversifying your portfolio’s subject matter, it’s also a great idea to diversify your chosen medium.

For example, let’s say that your strength is graphic design. Understandably, you’ll want to make your portfolio all about graphic design. However, it’s highly recommended to put in other artworks that aren’t graphic design. Throw in some original paintings in there, or sculptures, drawings, and the like. Basically, just show off what other artistic things you can do besides your one true artistic passion.

Diversifying your chosen medium is great for the same reason as the previous tip. It shows that you have more than one skill set and that you can easily move from one medium to the next with no problem at all. It shows your versatility as an artist, and versatility is incredibly impressive.

Artworks That Demonstrate Your Brainstorming, Thinking, and Ideas

Your art portfolio isn’t just there to show off your technical skills to the school administrators. It is also there to show off your personal ideas and expression. Administrators will want to see you express an opinion, a narrative, an emotion, a mood, even a political statement if you want, in your artworks.

In other words, they want your artworks to be more than just visual eye candy. They also want to be able to see that you’re trying to communicate with your artworks and that what you’re trying to communicate clearly seeps through.

Fully Realized Artworks

This is a no-brainer. Of course, the artworks that you put in are the ones that have been 100% fully realized. This means there should be no white backgrounds, no dirty fingerprints, no ripped edges, etc., on your artwork copies in your portfolio. They all should be as clean and as perfect as they possibly can be.

However, as was mentioned before, there is an exception for this tip. It’s true that most art schools will require only finished products. But there are others that will allow you to put in unfinished ones as well. If the school you’re applying to is one of them, take advantage of it. Include at least or two images from your sketchbook. This is because unfinished artworks allow the administrators to see your thinking, brainstorming, and sketching process. And seeing the process is important for some because it really shows a deeper side of your artistic skill.

So, throw in a few unfinished pieces. But remember: you only need to put in a few. One or two images will do. Don’t go overboard with that.

Strong Drawings

A lot of art professors will tell you that accomplished drawings are the heart of a successful portfolio. It doesn’t matter what specialization you have — strong drawings are required nevertheless.

The reason why hand-sketched drawings are essential in portfolios is primarily technical. Drawings allow the administrators to see how you are able to record shape and form, detail, perspective, proportion, and surface quality. In other words, drawings are where you get to showcase your basic understanding of the fundamentals of art. And though we have mentioned how passion and personality are important in your portfolio, the technical side of things is important as well.

Excellent Photographs of Your Artworks

Of course, the pieces that you’re putting into your portfolio aren’t the original copies. They’re simply duplicates. After all, you’ll be applying to multiple art schools, so you’ll need a lot of copies. Plus, you’ll definitely want to keep the original copies for yourself.

So, you’ll have to reproduce your artworks — how you do it is entirely up to you. Some people simply photocopy, others choose to hire a professional photographer, while others rely on scanning. Some might even just choose to use their smartphones. There is no wrong way to duplicate your artworks.

But there is something that you should keep in mind: make sure that the duplicate copies are of high-quality. After all, the last thing you’ll want is to jeopardize your chances of getting into your preferred art school because your artwork images are blurry.


In the year 2019, more and more people are applying to art schools. On the one hand, this is great news because it means art becomes even more prevalent day by day. But on the other hand, it is also bad news, especially for you, because now you have more competition. If you really want to get in, you have to stand out from the crowd. And to be able to do that, you need to have a perfect art portfolio.

The tips mentioned in this post are meant to help you in your process of creating your very own portfolio. Read them carefully and take them as you will. Apply them to your own process, and hopefully, you’ll get into the art school of your dreams.

Related article: Art School and Career Guide for Students