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.