How to Stand Out with Your Art School Portfolio

Here are topics & art media that will make your art school portfolio stand out from the thousands of applications art schools receive. Many students fall into the trap of creating generic, cliché artwork that tends to all look the same.

Here are specific actions you can take with your art school portfolio to get your work to jump out from the crowd and be more distinctive. Discussion led by Art Prof Clara Lieu and Teaching Artist Jordan McCracken-Foster.

Video Walkthrough

  • When an admissions officer is reviewing thousands of portfolios, many artworks start to look the same.
  • Admissions officers are looking at so many images that they look at each image for just a few seconds.
  • Try out more unusual surfaces, ripped up cardboard,plywood, that can all create wonderful textures.
  • Not every supply you use has to come from the art store!
  • Search around your house and outdoors for supplies that can be transformed into art supplies.
  • Mixed media isn’t seen very often in high school.
  • Experiment with different combinations of mixed media.
  • Mixed media can be intimidating, but be willing to give anything a chance, no matter what you think.
  • Political art, current events, and history are subjects few high school students address in their portfolios.
  • Political art can be dicey, but it can also show engagement with your subject matter that is different.
  • For most students a rectangle or square is the default shape of an artwork.
  • Creating an artwork with uneven edges, or a fractured shape has a lot of creative potential.
  • Wearable art can be exciting, but steer clear of adding a design onto a JPG image of a blank T-shirt.
  • Purchasing a portfolio critique for MFA admission.

Prof Lieu’s Tips

As much as art school is helpful, it only helps you to a degree, you’ll need to keep learning for the rest of your life. Jordan told me that when he was in high school he thought that art school would teach you everything you need to know, which is not true at all!!

Art school will get you going, but it’s ultimately, everything is up to the artist. There were many people at art school who honestly didn’t try and weren’t willing to work hard, at which point no amount of art school can help you.

Artists mentioned