There is a whole world or art supplies out there waiting for you
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. Step outside of what you see everyone else in high school doing.
For some reason, there’s an assumption among many high school students that drawing means pencil drawing. There are so many more drawing media than just pencil that it can be baffling to see high school students so unwilling to try anything else.
Crayons, conte crayon, markers, soft pastels, oil pastels, oil bars, india ink, pen, brush pens, charcoal, graphite powder, colored pencil, and much, much more.
Every art supply brings a new artistic perspective
You’ll find that every single art media will bring out a different side of you as an artist. Every art supply art out there behaves in it’s own special way and it’s exciting to see how your creative process might change depending on what you’re working with.
Try not to make assumptions about art supplies, it’s easy to assume before you’ve tried an art supply that it’s not going to work for you, but how can you be sure until you’ve actually tried out the supply with your own bare hands?
Demonstrate your versatility in a wide range of art 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, photography, paintings, sculptures, mixed media, collages, digital media, animation, printmaking, clay, video, installation, or any other formats or media you have worked with.
Remember that for every area of visual arts, there are so many sub categories and variations on different techniques! Even in a relatively small area of visual arts like book making that seems like it can’t get any more specific, there are so many different ways to make a book: the lotus fold, the meandering folds, the Coptic stitch, and much more. There are infinite ways to do animation: stop motion, charcoal animation, animating by drawing on a 3D object, pixilation, and more.
Look beyond the art store for your materials
Certainly, there’s lots of good reasons to experiment and try out all different types of combinations of supplies, and you definitely shouldn’t limit yourself in terms of what material can go with what. One way to really go further with your supplies is to consider supplies that aren’t even at the art store. Teaching Artist Lauryn Welch mixes coffee grounds into her acrylic paint to create a gritty texture for her paintings,
However, there are specific circumstances where specific materials simply cannot be used together for archival reasons: if you are doing an oil painting, you cannot paint a layer of oil paint and then add a layer of acrylic paint on top. Oil paint can be painted on top of acrylic paint, but not the other way around. Teaching Artist Deepti Menon uses found objects such as pasta, toys, pom poms, etc. which are terrific to mix into a stop motion animation piece.
Don’t know what art supplies go together? Need suggestions on where to get started? Ask us here at Art Prof!
Often times, half the problem that students have with their artwork is simply having the wrong supplies, or not knowing that a particular tool existed that could solve all of your problems.
More obscure supplies like canvas pliers can make or break your experience stretching a canvas, (watch the video above to see why) while a good quality non-photo blue pencil can be super helpful in illustration and comics work.
Charcoal drawings should be done on charcoal paper, linoleum block prints look great on rice paper, whereas gouache works best on hot press watercolor paper or mat board.
Black & White vs. Color artworks
Make sure that you have both black and white pieces as well as works that display a full range of color. Black and white artworks are important so that you can demonstrate an understanding of a wide range of tones, and to explore contrast and lighting.
The color pieces you show in a portfolio should demonstrate that you can either layer or mix colors and get beyond painting with colors that come “straight out of the tube.”
Experiment with a wide range of different color schemes. You can include some monochromatic pieces, some pieces that have a more subdued color palette, or a pieces that use highly intense, saturated colors.
Mix or layer your colors
When creating color pieces, make artworks where not only are you using color, but you are mixing & layering color. Depending on the media you are using, you’ll need to either mix or layer.
In painting, you’ll need to mix your colors with a palette knife while in a drawing using soft pastels or crayons, you’ll need to create layers of color on top of each other. The most common problem with color media is that students do not take the time to layer and mix sufficiently, causing the colors to be flat, obvious, and literal.
This painting below of the oranges is beautifully painted: the painting has gorgeous details, the texture of the oranges is really well catptured, the contrast is excellent, and the highlights on the oranges seem to glisten in the light. However, in terms of color, this painting could not be more literal.
The color of the oranges is really monotonous throughout the entire painting. What if there was a slight hint of blue in one of the shadows of the oranges? What if there was a glaze of purple in another shadow? Grass is never just green, and apples are never just red. It’s easy to look at an orange and just tell yourself, “it’s orange, I don’t see any other colors.” You won’t see other colors if you don’t look for other colors. This circles back to drawing from direction observation, and sharpening your eye to be able to see beyond the first glance.
If you’re afraid of color, exaggerate your colors
Frequently, students are too timid with color so they end up either working black and white with little touches of color, or working monochromatically. If you’re struggling with this, try a crayon drawing or an acrylic painting where you play with absolutely outrageous colors: blue tones in a face, green in the shadow of a sweet potato. See this experience with color as an experience to get yourself out of trying to be so accurate and literal with color!
In this crayon drawing course below, you’ll see Prof Lieu building up the layers of color with garish pinks, greens, blues, and purples to articulate the color of the skin tone in a self-portrait drawing.
Color mixing takes time and effort
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 on your palette when painting, create a subtle range or differences of one color within one acrylic painting, it will be well worth your time!
This video below explains a lot of the common problems students have when getting started with color and offers some solutions in terms of what mind set to take when exploring color more in depth.
Painting is not the only color media that exists
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. Oil painting especially should not be done without proper training and guidance. There are many safety concerns associated with certain supplies in oil painting, and if you are not informed of what those are, oil painting can actually be hazardous to your health.
Instead, consider doing drawings using color drawing media such as chalk pastel, oil 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.
The brand of art supplies you buy can make or break your experience
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. For example, if you need to buy a ball point pen, the brand really doesn’t matter at all. However, with supplies like soft pastels and acrylic paints, you definitely get what you pay for.
There are so many awful acrylic paints on the market, and if you can, it really is worth the extra month to ensure a good quality material. Some art supplies are such poor quality they actually are not an accurate representation of what a media actually does! Bad art supplies can create problems for you that simply won’t exist if you are using higher quality supplies.
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.
Used a colored surface when working with color
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.