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The Complete Art School Portfolios Guide: Artists & Inspiration

Updated September 22, 2020

By Clara LieuAdjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design

Look at both art history & contemporary art

Resources for art history and contemporary art are growing every day, and the speed and access that you now have to all of that information is simply staggering for us old folks who grew up without the Internet!

You might think that you can just research drawings online, but actually, there is a range and diversity of drawings in books at the library that have yet to be documented online. (let’s face it, Rembrandt and Artemsia Gentileschi were never on Instagram.)

Browsing for famous paintings and sculpture, etc. online works is super convenient and easy, and definitely Google your heart out!  However, there are certainly a lot of drawings that are obscure enough that many are simply not available online.

Search online, but also go to a library and look at art books

This might seen antiquated, but occasionally, make the effort to go to a library and flip through those gigantic art books that weight 50 lbs. each. I find that when I flip through an art book, I look at the artwork at a different pace. I look more slowly, more carefully, in a more focused manner than when I’m on my phone scrolling and tapping all over. Try it!

Find the art books aisle at your local library, pull those books off the shelf, have a seat and spend your afternoon there. Look carefully at the drawings, and ask yourself what you see.  Do you see light sketchy lines, or dark, dramatic ones?  Analyzing these drawings by observation will teach you just as much as practicing drawing.

Contemporary Drawing

Historical Drawing

Contemporary Painting

Historical Painting

Artemisia Gentileschi
Johannes Vermeer
Jean-Honoré Fragonard
Jean-Antoine Watteau
John Everett Millais
Jacques-Louis David
Nicolas Poussin
Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres

Figure, Pre-Raphaelites
Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema
Dante Gabriel Rossetti
John William Waterhouse
Edward Burne-Jones
John Collier

Figure, 20th century
Alice Neel

Chaim Soutine
Oskar Kokoschka
Edward Hopper
Tamara De Lempicka
Paul Gauguin
Joaquín Sorolla
Anders Zorn
Ilya Repin

Figure, Impressionists
Pierre-Auguste Renoir
Mary Cassatt
Berthe Morisot
Édouard Vuillard
Pierre Bonnard
Édouard Manet

Sandro Botticelli
Georges de la Tour
Peter Paul Rubens
Jean-François Millet
George Bellows
Lucas Cranach
Andrea Mantegna
Théodore Géricault
Eugene Delacroix
El Greco
Jan van Eyck

Maxfield Parrish
J. M. W. Turner
George Inness
Claude Lorrain
Thomas Cole
James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot
John Constable
Caspar David Friedrich

Still Life
Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin
Willem Kalf
Juan Sánchez Cotán
Juan van der Hamen
Paul Cezanne
Antoine Vollon
Pieter Claesz
William Merritt Chase

Mark Rothko
Arshile Gorky
Willem de Kooning
Alexander Calder
Eva Hesse
Wassily Kandinsky
Franz Kline
Kazimir Malevich
Jackson Pollock
Helen Frankenthaler


Antoine Bourdelle
Auguste Rodin
Umberto Boccioni
Alexander Calder
Edmonia Lewis
Medardo Rosso
Franz Xaver Messerschmidt
Henry Moore
Barbara Hepworth
Hans Arp
Alberto Giacometti
Wilhelm Lehmbruck
Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux
Gian Lorenzo Bernini
Germaine Richier
Edgar Degas
Lorenzo Ghiberti
Alexander Archipenko
Constantin Brancusi

David Alfaro Siqueiros
Diego Rivera
José Clemente Orozco
Thomas Hart Benton
Alexis Rockman
John Singer Sargent, BPL
Shepard Fairey

Jenny Holzer
Jessica Stockholder
Portia Munson
Alex Da Corte
Yayoi Kusama
Adrienne Tarver
Sarah Sze
Chiharu Shiota
Gina Osterloh
James Turrell
Jenny Holzer
Barbara Kruger


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