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Our staff offer critiques & Skype calls on art school portfolios.

Our portfolio critiques and Skype calls provide a detailed assessment of your overall portfolio, including specifics about each individual artwork, what aspects are working well, and recommendations for concrete strategies for how to make progress.

Purchase a critique or Skype consult

Critique by Prof Lieu

Critique by Eloise Sherrid

Portfolio Examples

Eugenia Yoh

“Preparing for my art portfolio for college admission was one of the most enjoyable and stressful times of my life. One one hand, the experience could be perceived as pleasurable, mostly because my mom forced me to draw. (and not many juniors could say that during the pinnacle of their academic career) However, it was also frustrating.  As you could imagine, trying to blend outside figure drawing courses with an unpredictable grade point average does not make a great smoothie.

Fortunately, attending Orange County School of the Arts allowed me to produce a fair quantity of work and continuing my studies at a summer pre-college art program greatly helped me build my portfolio. Perhaps the hardest challenge to overcome was not the action of creating the art, but the psychological endurance to keep going in order to meet the rapidly approaching deadline.”

Art School Admissions Portfolio

Elizabeth Yuan

“My experience in preparing an art portfolio was very natural as I did not know I wanted to go to an art school. The summer pre-college art program I attended definitely helped this process a lot and I encourage anyone to go to a summer pre-college art program if they can.

Although I think that lack of a thoughtful theme hurt my body of work a little bit, it is important to always draw what you like and learn from this process rather than stress over it.”

Art School Admissions Portfolio

Preparing a Portfolio for Art School or College Admission

Preparing a portfolio for college admission is not a casual undertaking, it’s very common for high school students to underestimate how much time and labor is involved.  For most students it takes several months, even up to a year to create a body of work that is rigorous enough for the competitive art school and college admissions process.

If you can maintain a prodigious level of production, the quality of your work will progress tremendously and you’ll have many more pieces to choose from. Even of the portfolio requirements state that you only need 15 pieces, this means you should aim to create between 20-30 pieces. Not only will your work improve from more experience, but you’ll be able to weed out the weaker pieces and emphasize only your best work.

Every school is going to have their own unique set of requirements, so be sure that you check each school’s guidelines first. I recommend re-reading the guidelines multiple times as you’re working on your portfolio to be certain at every stage that you are following their precise requirements. It’s an awful lot of information to keep track of, one student told me she had Google spreadsheets for the entire process!

The level of specificity in terms of requirements for each school can vary tremendously.  Some schools are quite open ended in terms of what they are looking for in a portfolio, while others can be incredibly specific. For example, CalArts has a sketchbook requirement, while the Animation program at Sheridan College has requirements that state exactly what media to use, what subject matter down to the last detail.

Several art schools and college will provide a prompt that students will need to respond to, specifically for their application on top of the portfolio. Keep in mind that many schools that provide a prompt frequently change the prompts every year, so make sure that you are referring to the correct year’s prompt. You’ll need to set aside time to work on these specific assignments in addition to creating the entire portfolio.

For this reason, it’s highly likely that if you are applying to multiple art schools that you’ll have to create several different portfolios depending on what school requires.  Don’t make the assumption that for each school, you’ll be able to use the same 15 artworks!

Create Original Work from Direct Observation

Drawing from life is rare for most high school students

Drawing from life is hands down the number one, absolutely essential thing to do that essentially all high school students fail to do.

This problem is so prominent, that drawing from direct observation is now the rare exception among high school art students. Just doing this one directive will distinguish your work from the crowd, and put you light years ahead of other students in terms of developing your drawing skills.

Beyond just standing apart from the thousands of other student who are copying from photos, drawing from life is an amazing, enriching experience that will provide the foundation for a strong drawing skills.  Read this article that Prof Lieu wrote about the importance of drawing from direct observation, and about the bad drawing habits that develop as a result of drawing exclusively from photographs.

Drawing from life takes patience and time

Only problem is, when you draw from life, you have to work a lot harder to train your eye, work in less convenient situations,  work at a faster pace, and interpret the image on your own.  Drawing from life requires a lot of patience and willingness to practice regularly.  Progress is generally slow, not very visible, and won’t produce immediate gratification. The fact is, the vast majority of students really are unwilling to invest that kind of time and consideration in their drawings.

It is easy to see why students have only learned to draw from photographs: photographs are much more convenient than drawing from life.  If you want to draw a portrait, you don’t have to ask anyone to pose or sit still for you.  Need to draw an elephant?  Just do a Google Image search and in one second there are hundreds of options to pick from.

Drawing from photographs is a limited experience

It’s rare for a photograph online to have exactly what you’re looking for.  If you are drawing a hand in a specific pose, it’s really unlikely you will find that exact position in a photograph online.  Consequently, most students compromise their image or just end up making up the hand up out of their imagination, which never goes well.  How many people can draw a convincing hand, with good anatomical structure completely out of their heads?

When students draw from photos, they don’t have to work remotely as hard to get half decent results. A photograph has done all the work for you, you’re looking at an image that is 2D and transferring that image to a 2D drawing.  When you draw from life, your eye has to work much harder to translate the 3D objects in space in front of you into a 2D drawing.

Precisely copying a photo is not drawing

Drawing is not about turning yourself into a human xerox machine and trying to create a perfect replication of a photograph. There is nothing artistic or creative about copying a photograph, it’s simply a sterile, mechanical process that is dull and boring to look at.  However, most students don’t see this process this way.  In most high schools, the norm is that whoever has the most photo realistic drawing is deemed to be the best, most skilled artist.

This is a complete contradiction from what most art schools are looking for.  There are thousands of high school students who aspire towards making photo realistic drawings, so it’s startling to hear that actually, that’s not what an art school wants to see in a portfolio for admission.

Learning to draw only from photos has consequences

In addition to making poor portfolio pieces, drawing from photographs causes students to develop terrible drawing habits that will be difficult to get rid of later. Many college freshmen who haven’t drawn from life before have a very tough time making the transition in college because their drawing habits are so bad.

This is not to say that drawing from a photograph is WRONG and shouldn’t ever be practiced.  Prof Lieu and many of the Teaching Artists here at Art Prof use photographs all the time in their artwork.

What’s the difference between copying a photo and using a photo as a visual reference?

 Many artists shoot their own reference photos by staging the imagery they are looking for:  getting a person to pose a specific way, visiting a location on site, etc.

 The photo an artist shoots themselves, specifically for a piece of artwork is merely a reference, seen as the raw material from which an original image can be generated from.

 Many artists create artwork that uses visual references from multiple photos, grabbing a tree from one photo, placing a person from another to fabricate a new image.

 When reference photos are used, the images are manipulated and transformed so dramatically that the final drawing does look exactly like the original reference photo.

Most high school students are not provided the instruction they need to be able to use reference photos successfully.  The default way to use a photo in high school for drawing is to copy it verbatim, where a perfect replica of the drawing in pencil is considered to be a successful outcome.

For a demonstration of how to shoot your own reference photos, watch the above video starting at 08:50 min.

How can you tell a drawing was copied from a photo?

Many students ask how an admissions officer can spot that a drawing has been copied from a photograph. Generally speaking, the qualities that indicate that a drawing has been copied from a photograph are:

 extreme, hyper focused detail in the drawing; this level of detail is generally not achievable when drawing from life, especially if it’s a portrait. There is no model who can pose for a portrait for 40 hours.

 a figure in a pose that would be impossible for a real person to hold over a long period of time.  The one exception here is if the pose is very dynamic and the drawing is a 2-5 minute gesture drawing. Any figure drawing that is drawn from life that has been worked on for several hours has to show a model in a pose that would be comfortable for a person to hold for a while.

 an image of a subject that the vast majority of people will never experience in real life: 2 helicopters flying in the air, a hyper realistic drawing of 10 flamingos, a bird with it’s wings spread open, etc.

 shadows in the drawing look really flat:  the shadows are filled in straight black, with no nuance in the tone, and they have very flat crisp edges.

Video courses that show how to draw from life

Variety in Subjects

Students frequently ask how much they are expected to show works that are related to their intended major. Most art schools will not expect you to already have expertise in the field you are planning on majoring in during college.

For example, if you want to major in Graphic Design, your portfolio should not be 20 graphic design pieces. You can certainly include perhaps 1-2 graphic design pieces if you have them, but overall you should focus on showing that you have a wide, well rounded skill set.

Depicting a wide range of subjects demonstrates your willingness and interest to work with different subject matter. Figures, self-portraits, still lifes, landscapes, interiors, are all excellent subjects to address in your portfolio.  Admissions officers don’t want to see a portfolio of twenty self-portraits.  A portfolio with only one topic comes across as narrow minded and limited.

At the same time, you don’t want every piece in your portfolio to appear to be simply a technical exercise.  A portfolio of still life drawings that look entirely like class assignments will not show off your ability to communicate an idea, an opinion, a thought, in a visual manner. Art schools are looking for students who can think about their artwork, who can develop and brainstorm ideas that they can communicate through their artwork.

Art School Admissions Portfolio

Take the initiative to create artworks that demonstrate your thinking process, that pushes beyond the most obvious, literal, cliche reaction in a piece. Technique is important, but it doesn’t matter how brilliantly you can draw if your artworks don’t have any substance behind their motivation and purpose.

The videos below demonstrate techniques and strategies for how to brainstorm, develop, sketch, and execute an artwork that addresses content and visual communication.

Show Brainstorming and Ideas

Keep in mind that Admissions officers are looking to see much more in your portfolio than several classroom exercises; they want to see that you are able to express an opinion, a narrative, a mood, an emotion, perhaps a political statement even, etc.-whatever it is that you want your artwork to communicate.

Show in your pieces that you are engaging with your subject matter beyond just being visual eye candy or a mindless technical exercise. Create several pieces for your portfolio that show that you are thinking about your subject matter, and brainstorming ideas for your pieces.

This Digital Illustration video below leads you through every step of the process: brainstorming, thumbnail sketches, shooting your own reference photos, and transitioning into a finished piece.

If you’re looking for ideas for prompts, check out our Monthly Art Dares, we give out art supplies as prizes too!


You may want to include 1-2 images from a sketchbook, but keep in mind that the rest of your portfolio should be focused on finished artworks. The advantage of showing a sketchbook page is that it’s an opportunity for you to demonstrate your thinking, sketching, and brainstorming process.

A sketchbook can show that you are engaged with your images beyond just the visual, that you are considering the subject and meaning behind your pieces.

Finish & Presentation

Be sure that everything else in your portfolio is a work that has been 100% fully realized.  This means no white backgrounds, no dirty fingerprints, no random sketchbook drawings, no ripped edges, no half finished figures, etc. I’ve had students in my courses bring in drawings that were torn on the side, had masking tape hanging off the edge, and more.  It takes very little time to clean up your presentation and makes a huge difference in your application.

The quintessential problem I see in artwork by high school students is not bringing a piece of a full finish.  Many portfolio pieces I see by high school students are only about 50% finished, and have big problems like glaringly empty backgrounds and lack detail. The majority of students get really worried that they will ruin their piece if they continue to develop the piece.  The consequence is that many students stop working on their projects prematurely, which leads to works that are unresolved.

In my experience, it’s very rare that I will see an artwork that is overworked in a student portfolio, the vast majority of pieces are under worked. Err on the side of working your pieces beyond what you would normally do, usually the students in my courses who think they are doing “too much,” end up bringing their pieces to a good state of completion.

Student Charcoal Drawing

Variety in Media

You’ll need to make sure that your portfolio represents a diverse range of media. Showing many media is a way to demonstrate that you have taken the initiative to learn and hone skills in contrasting media.  This is your chance to show the admissions officers that you have more than one skill set, and can move fluidly from one media into the next. Include drawings, paintings, sculptures, mixed media, collages, digital media, printmaking,  comics, or any other formats or media you have worked with.

Discover new materials in our art supply pages!

Make sure that you have both black and white pieces as well as works that display a full range of color. The color pieces you show in a portfolio should demonstrate that you can use color in different capacities.  You can include some monochromatic pieces, some pieces that have a more subdued color palette, or a pieces that use highly intense, saturated colors.

When creating color pieces, create pieces where not only are you using color, but you are mixing color. Using color well means needing to make your own color mixtures, it’s generally very obvious when an acrylic painting has been made entirely with colors that are “straight out of the tube.” Take the extra time and initiative and mix your colors, create a subtle range or differences of one color within one acrylic painting, it will be well worth your time!

Many students assume that if they want to incorporate color into their portfolio, the only option is acrylic painting and oil painting. However, painting supplies are costly, and without proper training in painting techniques, both media can be incredibly difficult and frustrating to learn on your won.

Instead, consider doing drawings using color drawing media such as chalk pasteloil pastels, oil bars, or Caran d’Ache crayons. Each of these drawing media can be picked up without any professional training, and can yield really terrific results.

Keep in mind though that the brand that you purchase of these color media really matters.  In some cases, for art supplies, the brands don’t make a difference, but with chalk pastels, the expensive brands vs. the cheap brands can literally make or break your experience.

For example, the best brand of chalk pastels is Rembrandt, but be aware that this brand is expensive., especially if you want to purchase a large set. A more affordable brand that has decent quality for chalk pastels is NuPastel. NuPastels won’t have the subtle nuances in color and texture the way the Rembrandt bran will, but they will get the job done and produce decent results.

Make sure when creating a chalk pastel drawing that you’re using a neutral colored pastel or charcoal paper. White paper is nightmare to draw on for chalk pastels, it’s very difficult to sufficiently cover the paper, and the consequence is that your drawing will have a white graininess all over it, which is hard to get rid of. On a toned or black sheet of paper, that white graininess doesn’t exist, and provides a solid foundation of color for you to work on.

For Caran d’Ache crayons, I recommend drawing on black mat board.  Our video course on drawing a still life using Caran d’Ache crayons would be a great place to get started.

Strong Drawings are Critical

Accomplished drawings are the heart of a successful portfolio when applying at the undergraduate level. You might have 15 digital paintings, but none of that will matter if you have poor drawings.  In terms of drawing media, the vast majority of high school students are creating tight, conservative, photo realistic pencil drawings drawn from photographs.

Drawing is not about just copying a photograph as accurately as possible; we now have cameras that can do this instantly with incredibly precision and quality. Ask yourself what you can express with your drawing that a camera would not be capable of producing by itself.  What types of marks and imagery can you create that are unique to your drawing materials?

Take the time to explore a wide range of drawing media.  Frequently, most high school students are not taught to draw with anything except pencil, which is an extremely limited way to study drawing.

Our art supply encyclopedia provides tons of information on many different options for supplies that can be used in drawing.  Get beyond the pencil and explore charcoal, ink, chalk pastel, crayon, and more!

Don’t know where to start with drawing? Draw Along with Prof Lieu in real time on Instagram Live video!

Charcoal Drawing by Juwon Joon

Photographs Are Everything

One of Prof Lieu’s colleagues once said “As artists, we live and die by our photographs.”  When applying to schools with a portfolio, this could not be more true.

A poor photograph of your artwork is hugely distracting and can really make or break an admission officer’s initial reaction to the work.

Shooting high quality photographs that accurately represent your artwork is not a task that can be done overnight. The process is time consuming and requires lots of advance planning. Don’t leave this task until the last minute!!!

Camera Options

Smart Phone

Many smart phones today are now capable of decent quality photographs, and the resolution is pretty good.

If you really absolutely cannot afford a high quality camera, a smart phone will get the job done.  However, there are limitations to what a smart phone can achieve in terms of the quality of the photo.  For example, the resolution of a photograph shot on a smart phone is significantly less than the resolution of a photograph shot on a DSLR camera.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

DSLR Camera

However, the quality of the photographs shot on a smart phone are nowhere near the quality of  a DSLR camera. The first time I saw a photo shot with a DSLR camera I couldn’t believe how much crisp and clear the photographs were.

The clarity of the image, the vibrancy of the colors, and is really outstanding, and makes a smart phone photo look poor by comparison.

A high quality digital camera really is a worthwhile investment.  Think about it this way:  if you are planning a career as an artist, this won’t be the last time you’ll need to photograph your artwork.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Lighting Options

Lighting Kit

You can do it yourself by investing some standard photography equipment. Purchase a kit with 2 stand lights with umbrellas, a tripod, with photo flood bulbs that are 500 watts each. These lighting kits cost about $200, and again, are a worthwhile investment.

Regular incandescent and florescent lighting is nowhere near sufficient to produce high quality photographs.  Regular lights are too weak, and therefore they will not produce the color accurately, tend to be out of focus, look grainy, and be far too dark to see the image well.

Art School Admissions Portfolio: Photographing Your Artwork


The cheapest lighting solution is to shoot your photographs outdoors. However, this option can be so inconvenient that it may cause you more frustration than is worth it, and there is no guarantee you will get the lighting you need.

There are no walls to hang your artwork on, you have to deal with wind, and most importantly, the weather causes the lighting to fluctuate a lot.  This is an option, but it’s one that is really not easy to do.

Hiring a Professional Photographer

If you can afford it, another option is to hire a professional photographer to shoot your photographs, but be aware that it can be astronomically expensive. However, this option does ensure that you will have top notch photographs. (assuming you find someone who is a pro) The first time I saw a professional photographer shoot photos I was blown away by how amazing the photos looked.  3D pieces that looked ordinary looked remarkable with the lighting and color the photographer was able to capture.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 3D artwork

Photographing 2D artwork

Lighting 2D artwork

Set up the two stand lights so that there is one on the left, and one of the right.  Hang your artwork on the wall so that it is evenly centered in between the lights. One trick is to hang the artwork horizontally; it’s easier to shoot if you don’t have to angle the camera vertically.

Position the lights so that light is directed from the left and right of the artwork.  This creates lighting that will move evenly across the artwork.  Adjust with the distance of the lights in relation to the artwork.  If the lights are too close to the artwork, the lighting will be too bright and therefore uneven.  If the lights are too far away from the artwork, the lights won’t be bright enough.

The umbrellas are really important to have, they diffuse the lights so that you get soft, even lighting.  Without the umbrellas, you’ll get sharp shadows that are really harsh and the lighting is much tougher to make even.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Look for these attributes below for a quality photograph. Mistakes are chronic in many student portfolios, and most of these mistakes can be easily prevented with just a few simple adjustments.

Even Lighting

Make sure the lighting is consistent across your artwork.  If the lighting is very bright in one area, but dark in another, your piece will be misrepresented.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Neat cropping

All your photos will need to be cropped.  This can be done in Photoshop. Be sure that the orientation of the image is correct too, it doesn’t look good if your image is tilted.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Accurate color

Inaccurate color is usually happens because the camera setting doesn’t match the type of light, so make sure your camera setting and your lighting matches.   If shooting indoors, your camera has to be set to tungsten. (artificial lights)  You can try to color correct in Photoshop, but isn’t always effective.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

High Resolution

Your photographs have to be high resolution, so that details are clear when the admissions officer review your portfolio.  For example, an image that is 400 x 300 pixels is far too low. Aim for images that are at least 3000 pixels.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

In Focus

Blurry photographs will always be blurry, you can’t fix this in Photoshop. Solid lighting definitely lowers the possibility of getting a blurry photograph.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Avoid Glare

Paintings are prone to glare. Play with where you position you lights and keep tweaking until the glare is not visible.  It is possible, but takes time to get right.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Balance the Contrast

In Photoshop, many people like to adjust the contrast to get the lights and dark to balance well.

However, be careful to not over do it.  You can blow out the white areas, and make the contrast too severe.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Adjust the Brightness

If your lighting is insufficient, your artwork will appear too dark. This is one of the main reasons why it’s so much better to invest in a lighting kit.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Remove borders

Unless the borders are absolutely critical to the design/format of your artwork, crop them.  Cropping borders significantly enlarges the image, making the image more prominent.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork
Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 2D artwork

Photographing 3D Artwork

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 3D artwork

Three-dimensional artwork is especially difficult to photograph well, and are the most problematic photographs for most students. The above images are examples of clean, well lit photographs of 3D artwork.

First, get a wide roll of paper that is a neutral color. Don’t use a sheet of fabric; fabric wrinkles too easily and therefore your background won’t be smooth and clean.  Make sure to take the time to select an appropriate color for your backdrop based on the color and brightness of your 3D piece.   In general, it’s best to choose either white, grey, brown, or black to create contrast so that the sculpture is visible against the back drop.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 3D artwork

In the photographs above, the white background is a poor choice because the sculpture is also white.  Therefore, the photograph lacks contrast and the sculpture is difficult to see. The black background is too stark of a contrast against the white sculpture, making it hard to see the more subtle greys in the sculpture.  The grey background balances well against the white sculpture; it’s dark enough bring out the white sculpture, but not so dark that the piece looks too harsh.

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 3D artwork

Too often students shoot photographs of 3D work with distracting backgrounds which make it difficult to see the 3D artwork clearly.   A chronic problem is placing the sculpture on a table against a wall, creating an ugly horizon line between the table and the wall which looks terrible. (above right image)

Tape the top of the paper roll to a board behind the artwork, and then gently pull down the paper roll so that it falls on the surface of the table.  Tape the paper to the table so that it is secure as you photograph. The roll of paper provides a smooth, clean, neat background for the sculpture to sit on. (above left image)

Art School Admissions Portfolio, Photographing 3D artwork

Photographs of 3D artwork should show the entire piece.  Cropping too many parts of the 3D artwork makes it difficult to see the entire piece, (above left image) while having too much background makes it tough to see the details in the work. (above center image)  Crop enough of the background that you can still see the entire 3D artwork, but not to close to the edges of the piece. (above right image)

Lighting 3D Artwork

If you can, try to use natural light from a window if you can to light your 3D artwork. The advantage of natural light is that it can create soft, subtle shadows that will articulate your piece well.  Make sure if you use natural light that you use a window that will provide diffused light.  Direct sun light will be far too harsh and create stark shadows on your 3D artwork, causing it to appear flat and lose its sense of volume.

If you don’t have a window with the right lighting available, use one of the stand lights from the lighting kit with a lighting umbrella.  The lighting umbrella will diffuse the light from the stand light, and create soft shadows similar to natural light.

Art School Admissions Portfolio: Photographing Your Artwork

Take the time to consider the direction and height that your light is coming from.  Try positioning your stand light from above, from the left, from the right, etc.  Depending on the 3D artwork, different positions will make the artwork look better or worse, so it’s worth your time to try out different options.

Avoid placing the stand light very close to your 3D artwork, that generally creates harsh lighting.  On the other hand, you don’t want the stand light so far from your 3D artwork that you don’t have sufficient light and dark contrast in your shadows.  Like positioning the light, try out many options in terms of setting up the distance between the stand light and 3D artwork.

Get Feedback from an Art Teacher

Creating a portfolio should not be an effort that you have to do entirely on your own, and yet many students do not take the initiative to seek out feedback and help on their portfolios. Consider this:  would an aspiring concert pianist who is trying to get into Julliard try to figure out how to play a Rachmaninoff piano concerto on their own with no piano teacher?

Visual arts is no different from any other field, you have to get an outside opinion to improve.  All artists, even professionals will get stuck in their own heads and won’t be able to evaluate their artwork objectively.

A fresh eye from someone else is hugely important when developing your artwork.An art teacher can aid you in weeding out the weaker works, and provide invaluable advice about what direction to head in. Don’t rely only on yourself (or family members) to make decisions about what works go into your portfolio.

Take the initiative to get a critique to an art teacher whose opinion you trust to get a thorough portfolio critique. Watch the videos above  to get a sense of what a professional art critique is like.

If you don’t have access to an art teacher who can provide professional feedback with your portfolio, you might consider purchasing a 30 min. portfolio video critique from Prof Lieu or from one of the Teaching Assistants.

Purchase a portfolio critique

Another option is to take a continuing education course for adults or teens at a local college, art museum, or art center. You may be able to find an instructor at one of those classes might be able to help you with your portfolio.

Unfortunately, diverse and rigorous course offerings for high school students in the visual arts are very meager.  You will likely find that you will actually have many more options looking at adult continuing education courses aimed at a specific medium or subject you wouldn’t normally have access to at your school, such as figure drawing or oil painting.

Summer Pre-College programs are also great experiences where you can intensively study visual arts in a college context with other high school students who are committed to visual arts.

National Portfolio Day

Finally, the real test of the strength of your portfolio is attending a local National Portfolio Day event, where representatives from art schools and colleges with solid art programs across the country are available to critique your portfolio in person.  If you’re really serious about being accepted into a high caliber undergraduate art program, this is the event to go to.

We recommend going in the fall of your junior year, just to get a feel for things, and then again in the fall of your senior year. Attending this event is always overwhelming for students, and going twice will most certainly make your second experience much more manageable.

Be ready for very long lines and huge crowds, especially at the top schools.  Prof Lieu first went as a junior in high school.  Despite having waited 2 hours in line, she didn’t even get a review from my top choice school. The line at this school was so obscenely long that at a certain point the school just closed the line and turned everyone else away.

The second year Prof Lieu went, having learned my lesson the year before, she went to wait in line for the doors to open two hours in advance of the event starting!

At National Portfolio Day, brace yourself for the possibility of harsh words, rushed comments, and feedback that is less than helpful or not considerate of you as an individual.  Frequently, students are told at National Portfolio Day that they essentially have to start over from scratch because their portfolio is headed in the wrong direction.

Don’t be discouraged if you get a tough critique or a rude comment!  This event is difficult and it’s common for students to have a frustrating experience.

On the other hand, it’s also up to you to be on your best behavior as well at an event like this.  (don’t do what Prof Lieu did, watch the video above to find out!)

1) Be gracious, polite, and say “thank you.”
Introduce yourself at the beginning of the reviewer, make eye contact with the reviewer in the eye, and shake hands. Make sure to say thank you when the review is over, no matter how you feel about what they had to say, it’s common courtesy to do so!

2) Research the schools in advance.
Visit National Portfolio Day Association’s website, and make a list of the schools you’re interested in before the event. Next, visit the websites of the schools you’re interested in before the event, so that you know what their focus and emphasis is on. For example, there’s no point in wasting your time at the event speaking to a reviewer at a school that has no illustration department if illustration is a field you have interest in.

3) Be concise when you speak. 
Prepare any questions you have in advance of the event, and you might even consider taking the time to run the 1-2 sentences by someone else to make sure it makes sense and is clear. These review sessions are quickly paced, you won’t have time to explain your work in a great deal of depth. I

4) Organize your portfolio beforehand. 
Have your artwork neatly packaged in a large portfolio case that is easy to open. Nothing is more frustrating, or more of a waste of time, than for a reviewer to have to sift through a giant mess of drawings that are disorganized and therefore difficult to view quickly.  If you’re going to show any images on a tablet or a laptop, have a folder of the images you want to show prepared in advance. Again, no reviewer wants to sit there and watch you searching for files on your laptop for 10 minutes!

1) Don’t make excuses. 
The reviewers are interested in the work, they’re not interested in discussing why your hard drive crashed 1 hour before the review began or why you’re so busy with your classes and don’t have time to make better work. For the most part, statements like this really don’t get your conversation off to a good start and are not useful at all.

2) Don’t apologize for your work. 
You want to always present yourself and your work in the best light possible.  Speak about your work with confidence and be prepared to answer any possible question with enthusiasm and clarity.  A friend of Prof Lieu’s who is an actress said that the actor Phillip Seymour Hoffman said in an interview once that you always want to do your best work; regardless of whether you are performing for an audience of 3 people in a tiny local cafe,  or in Carnegie Hall for an audience of hundreds. When you apologize for how bad you think a drawing is, or how when you go into depth about what you’re not good at, there’s a high risk that your statements will be perceived as whiny and immature.

3) Don’t be defensive. 
This means not arguing with the reviewer or telling them “but everyone else likes my work!” You’re there to get feedback on your work, not plead your case to a jury. Remember that schools have specific criteria they are looking for, that your work may not necessarily fit what that school wants in a student.  Inevitably, you’re going to speak to some reviewers who you vehemently disagree with.  Instead of starting a fruitless argument stay cool, nod, and then move onto your next reviewer.

One of the toughest things about National Portfolio Day is the overwhelming amount of information you get in such a short period of time. In my experience, it’s hard to even begin to think straight at events like this!   Most reviewers at National Portfolio Day will only be able to give you a 5 minute reviewer, maybe 10 minutes if you are extremely lucky.  Therefore, it’s unrealistic to expect to receive a portfolio review that really is in depth and thoughtful.  You might consider purchasing a 30 min. portfolio critique from our staff if you want a review that goes into much more detail and provides a comprehensive critique of your portfolio.

Portfolio Critiques

Purchase a portfolio critique

Sofie Levin
Critique by Jordan McCracken-Foster

Vivian Young
Spring 2017
Critique by Prof Lieu

Emily Jiang
Critique by Prof Lieu

Vivian Young
Fall 2017
Critique by Prof Lieu

Andy Wei
Critique by Prof Lieu

Rachel He
Critique by Prof Lieu

Dessery Dai
Critique by Prof Lieu

More Resources

Finally, we have many free resources here on Art Prof that can help you with preparing your portfolio!

Many of our viewers tell us that they learn a lot watching other artists’ critiques, so consider exploring our Critiques section. Our Pro Development section is great for learning about the wide range of aspects of being an artist, and our Art Dares are a great source of motivation and resource, and you can get more involved instructions for projects in our for Project Ideas section.

Our video courses provide concrete instruction on techniques from beginning to end, and you can get inspiration by reading columns and videos featuring young artists in our Emerging Artists section.

Can’t get trusted, professional feedback on your portfolio?  Consider purchasing a portfolio critique from one of our staff. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask our staff, we are happy to help you out!

Purchase a portfolio critique

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