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High School Student

Art School Admissions Portfolio


Clara Lieu, RISD Adjunct Professor

Clara Lieu
Art Prof & Partner

Artist Statement
For years I struggled to find that missing piece. Heeding my elders’ mandate to center my life around academic pursuits, I dabbled in introductory biology, partaken in philosophical discussions on Shakespearean sonnets and surveyed the complexities of the Spanish language.

But nothing I tried can fill that ever-present void in my life. Instead, I dealt with the pressure of fitting into a mold not meant for me. In the midst of the chaos, the only seemingly stabilizing moments are when I drew out my emotions past 2 a.m. on a Moleskine sketchbook. Caught between the looming mountains of parental expectations on one side, and the vast skies of my creative potential on the other, sketching when I am ‘not supposed to’ is the only time that I felt at ease. It’s the hours upon hours I spent honing my craft.

The delight I brought to viewers as I proudly displayed my work. The inspiration I spread to younger aspiring artists in my community and beyond. It all culminates in an obvious epiphany: art is my legacy, the cornerstone and pedestal of my existence.”

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Video transcript

“Immediately what I see in your portfolio is that every single piece has been so comprehensively finished. I feel that every artwork that I’m looking at in your portfolio really has been fully resolved. Every single area of your pieces has been totally addressed and considered, and that’s actually rare for an art school admissions portfolio to show that.

It’s quite often that I will see student portfolios where they’ll have pieces that look like they’re off to a really good start, but aren’t fully resolved. You really have pushed every single piece to its ultimate potential. I don’t feel when I look at any of your artworks that anything has been left behind, that anything is really lacking, and that’s such a wonderful thing. I think it also shows very clearly that you are a very hard worker, you have an excellent work ethic, and that you really pay attention to fully resolving all of your pieces.

An art school portfolio really needs to have diversity in terms of materials and also subject matter, and you definitely have that. When I look at all the subjects that you’re doing, there’s a huge range. For example, you have some still life images, you have some portrait images, not only that, but you also have a bunch of images that seem like they’re suggesting some kind of a narrative.

You have some pieces that are little bit more surrealistic and so what I like about your work is that it doesn’t seem like you’re doing these academic studies of things. It seems like there is a lot of thinking and story behind a lot of your pieces, and I think that’s wonderful.

You really care about your subject matter, and you’re not just this machine that draws, so that’s fantastic and that’s another thing that I don’t see very often. I think often times when students are applying to art school, they get really really caught up in just the pure technical skill, and they don’t really think about what it is that they’re trying to talk about, if they’re trying to communicate an idea. That’s great that you’re really thinking about those things.

Art schools are really looking to see that you have an openness and willingness to really work in a wide range of different kinds of materials, and I definitely see that in your portfolio. You have a three-dimensional piece, you’ve got many paintings, you’ve got drawings, a wood burned piece, you got some mixed media pieces…that’s fantastic, not only that you’ve really taken the time to experiment with all those materials, but that you’re quite accomplished in a lot of those areas. And so it really shows your versatility as an artist, that you’re not an artist who only knows how to draw in pencil but that that you can use charcoal, you can use all these other different kinds of supplies, that’s really fantastic that you’re showing that in your portfolio.

Your compositional skills in terms of how you’re laying out your subject matter on the page are quite good. You have a couple of pieces that I think could be improved where there are some areas that look a little bit blank, but I think for the most part you really are tackling the entire surface of the piece, and that’s great because what I see very often is people get so focused on the subject, and then they have this blank background, and the piece ends up looking really unfinished and empty.

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3 responses on "Art School Portfolio Critique"

  1. Your portfolio displays some really excellent skills in rendering and control. You’ve got a well rounded array of mediums and subject matter, so already you’re one step ahead of the game and will probably have some great portfolio reviews with the schools that you’re interested in.

    My two favorite pieces are the fabric still lifes you’ve put together. Not only does it show that you can construct an interesting still life, but also, it shows that you have potential to work in other ways besides realism. Your color sensibility is good, and I can see you toying with shapes and pattern. I think this could be expanded upon to give your portfolio more variety.

    You seem to be a bit awkward working your way into the expressiveness of paint when you’re just trying to pull things from your head, as seen in your self portrait with paint. If you can construct as much as you can either in thumbnails or in a still life ahead of time, you can pull these motifs into your final painting. You might even find it useful to create paint or charcoal swatches of many different marks and techniques that you can refer to later.

  2. All of your work is so expertly rendered and vivid, I would really encourage you to pursue more surreal work like the piece with the black background and blue-skinned figure – where that high level of naturalism could really provide some truly bizarre images with the necessary grounding and credibility. In that painting, in particular, I also love your use of positive and negative space… It’s not your best composition, but I see you experimenting there in a way that isn’t as apparent in many of your other pieces.

    Speaking about this collection of work purely as an art school portfolio, you have such an incredible range and expert grasp on so many different types of media that anyone should be impressed by what you’ve achieved. Great job!

  3. Wow! Right off the bat, I notice that your portfolio has great diversity in materials and processes, which is fantastic! You also have a great range of subject matter!

    All your pieces are extremely well-considered, and seem to be fully resolved. This is great, but I would actually love to see you let loose a bit more! I think allowing yourself to be a bit more fluid, a bit less meticulous and more experimental can push some of your pieces further. For example, the piece with the figure (possibly a dancer) jumping, with lines coming out of their body, is one where I’m craving for you to go a bit crazy! I see that you’re attempting to make these really exciting and energetic marks, but I think the desire to create a well-rendered body is preventing that from being fully realized! Try caring less about making the body so obvious, and rather focus on how these crazy work with the body to deliver your message! Perhaps making sure we see the body is less important that showing us the energy this body is full of!

    This is an exceptional portfolio! I think pushing yourself to work in different ways, experiment more, and allowing yourself to be a bit messy could open some new and exciting doors!

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