Lauryn Welch, ART PROF Teaching Artist
“When I put together this art school portfolio, I had no idea it was only the first of many art school portfolios I’d end up creating. Looking back, the thing that strikes me is how different each portfolio is as a high school senior, a college transfer student, and a graduate school applicant. Even the personality of the school ends up somewhat dictating what the portfolio looks like.
I didn’t know about these special contexts when I was making my first portfolio in high school. All I knew was that I needed to create a bunch of work in as many mediums as possible. The majority of my portfolio came from a supplementary after school art program my parents enrolled me in when I was sixteen. Most of the rest came from an independent study I did at school with one of the art teachers. I split my second block so I could fit in 45 minutes of studio time every day. It wasn’t much, but even having someone to check in with regularly helped keep my momentum going.
I don’t think I was technically very skilled, but I liked to be cheeky with the concepts in my work, and that made people laugh. For one of my home test drawings I mimicked a New York Times front page depicting my personal version of the apocalypse, and I hand wrote all the articles. I think it’s really important to go beyond making art that looks pretty or realistic.
Your art school portfolio is more memorable if you insert some of your own personality into it. It’s okay to make it nerdy or dorky. In fact, that’s what people end up loving the most.”
“Making my art school portfolio was hectic and MISERABLE. I spent 3 straight months just churning out as much art as I possibly could, because I felt like I wouldn’t have time to really work on my portfolio while I was doing my college essays over the next school semester.
So, I got some really good pieces out of it, out of all that time I spent just sort of grinding it, but I also came out with some real duds, and I was pretty exhausted throughout the entire experience.
It can be really hard to pursue the elements of your art that you find difficult or frustrating, so I’d really recommend finding a mindset that would allow you to sit down with something that makes you uncomfortable and keep going.
I know that when I started drawing humans, I was so upset with myself, because I felt like I should be able to turn out good pieces, but I hadn’t worked with humans for very long, and I didn’t really know what I was doing.
So it’s important to find a way to make yourself relatively happy and comfortable as you’re pursuing these harder elements of your work, so that you’re able to actually progress rather than beat yourself up to the point where you can’t keep going.
When I was really struggling, I didn’t really want my teachers or my parents to see the work that I was putting out, but I was able to upload it online. And the feedback that I got was really positive, and that really enabled me to keep going when I was really, really hard on myself and I was saying ‘you need to be better, this needs to look perfect.’
People really enjoyed the artwork that I didn’t like, and it made me realize that I could mess up and people could still really enjoy my artwork.”
“When I started building my art school portfolio, it was when I started taking classes outside of school because that’s where I started to learn how to draw realistically and with charcoal, and where I really cared about my own techniques and my improvement.
Throughout high school, I took AP Art my senior year. I’ll never forget the pieces that I made in that class because I didn’t have the same type of constructive feedback, and sometimes there was no prompt. I was just making pieces. I’m a person that needs restraints in order to, like, really be creative with something.
I just remember there was this one artwork, this one painting, that I thought I could do but I did not do well. I did not include it in my art school portfolio, and it just was this beekeeper, did not even look like a person. That’s when I learned that I needed to practice drawing the figure.
It was wonderful because I had some really great pieces from that class. I can’t even begin- it was just so much more of a challenge because I was giving myself prompts. I wasn’t necessarily attached to what I wanted to make. I made, like, ten more, only a couple of them did I really include in my portfolios when I applied.
By the time that I was applying to my last school, I was so completely done that I was not even thinking about the prospect of which schools I was going to get into, because I was just so nervous of being denied from the 11 schools that I applied to. I just had to sleep after that. I don’t even know where to begin.”
“Describing my art school portfolio as a chaotic hot mess would be an understatement. Since I didn’t really have a conventional artistic background, I didn’t take any art classes till my senior year in high school and even then, I wasn’t qualified to take our school’s AP Art class. I only had two months to create a whole art school portfolio from scratch and I don’t think I’ve ever hustled that fast before in my life.
That being said, those were two of my favorite months in high school. I drew everything and anything that inspired me, completely dedicated myself to produce something everyday or every week, and tackled so many different types of mediums and problems.
I tried some after school art studios but because I felt restricted by their methods, I ended up preparing most of my art school portfolio completely by my own taste and standards. Looking back now, it’s funny to see what I thought was cool and how that drive to tackle anything still lingers in my art and creative process.”
Catherine Huang, Guest Teaching Artist
“I felt that gathering a portfolio for art school was extremely disorienting because not only was I trying out for different art schools, I wasn’t really sure what I was doing in general. I had all my artwork and I had it all scanned, or photos taken of them.
All I had to do was edit them and pick and choose which ones I wanted in my art school portfolio. That in and of itself was difficult, I didn’t know which artworks were good enough to put in. All I knew was that I needed variety and I needed good quality images.
One thing that I tried to do to help myself with this art school portfolio process was go to National Portfolio Day, which honestly was the worst. There were so many people; I came just a few minutes late but already there were such long lines at each booth. I got into line for one school, and by the time I had finished with that school, it was closing, so I only saw one art school’s representative.
One thing that really helped me when making my portfolio was attending any art-related programs that colleges were offering – art schools, community colleges, really anything – because not only do those events force you to make art, they will also get you to be in contact with other people interested in what you like to do as well.
An overall thing to really remember when making your art school portfolio is to enjoy making it. That might sound a little weird, but artwork is something you should be passionate about doing, and if you’re not passionate, I feel like it shows in the artwork that you’re about to prepare for this portfolio.”
“Applying to art school for me was not as stressful as I thought it’d be after I “got over the hump” and just went for it. There’s a great section of Art & Fear: Observations On The Perils (And Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland that really spoke to my art school application process. It reads:
“Fears arises when you look back, and they arise when you look ahead. If you’re prone to disaster fantasies, you may even find yourself caught in the middle, staring at your half-finished canvas and fearing both that you lack the ability to finish it, and that no one will understand it if you do.”
Applying to art schools for me felt a lot like the situation Bayles describes about a painting. But more importantly, once I escaped from that middle place, it became easy to compile portfolios and write about my art.”
“Building my portfolio for art school admission felt like a whirlwind, it required a lot of time, focus, and determination. At a summer pre-college program I attended, I learned so much that my art changed drastically and I was only happy with the work I produced onward.
My art portfolio building experience was concentrated into a couple of months in which I learned to place value on clear decision-making, and emphasize artistic problem solving. It was a crazy period but the push to consistently produce pieces led me to fall even more in love with art (as cliché as it sounds) and proved that art school was for me.”
“My experience in preparing an art school 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.”
“My decision to apply to art school was a result of attending a summer pre-college art program. This meant that I had only half of a school year to prepare artworks I already had, and to create new ones.
One thing that I focused on was creating a portfolio that demonstrated my ability to create in various media after being encouraged repeatedly that art schools want to see variety within your works.
I took a couple of art classes at my high school, and some outside of school. With these classes and creating art on my own, I was able to compile a diverse art portfolio that got accepted to six out of the seven schools I applied to!”
“Developing my art school portfolio was quite a stressful but fulfilling experience for me, as many of the schools I applied to were looking for different things. For that, I was able to create an abundant amount of art to fulfill the requirements needed for each school.
I unfortunately did not have a strong art program at the high school I attended, and it was a lot of self motivation because of that. I have been very fortunate however to have been able to attend a summer pre-college program. This helped me develop my skills needed for my college portfolio.
Throughout this process, I was really able to understand the types of artwork and mediums that are enjoyable for me. From this, I was able to focus my skills on creating more conceptually adept and narrative works of art.”
Jordan McCracken-Foster, ART PROF Teaching Artist
“Preparing my art school portfolio as a high school student was really stressful. Mostly because I didn’t realize what an art portfolio really was. I was told what certain schools would and wouldn’t like, and it confused me that I had to put stuff in that wasn’t really connected with what I wanted to do in the long term (concept art and visual development)
Thankfully, I had high school art teachers that really helped me out with this process. They helped me to go through my best pieces and explained to me why some pieces worked better than others. Looking back, I’m surprised by how little variety I actually had back then, but it was all I had.
Most of my work came from high school art classes, and pretty much everything that I put in was a traditional graphite drawing or charcoal drawing. Painting was a serious weakness of mine (and in some ways still is) and I thought it would be better to remove that from my portfolio almost entirely.
One of the more unique aspects of my portfolio was a short 15-second animation I made while taking a pre-college class in animation. I only had 2 weeks to make it, but I think it was one of the highlights of my art portfolio. It’s amazing to see how much I’ve grown since my high school art days, but it’s also interesting to see what things particularly stuck with me, but are now just more refined.”
Art School Portfolios Video Tutorial
“I found that preparing my portfolio for art school was made much easier by being enrolled in an AP Art Class in my junior year of high school. Because I had spent my entire junior year creating a Concentration, a cohesive body of 10-12 artworks that share the same theme, for submission for my AP exam, when senior year came and it was time to apply to art schools, I already had been working on a portfolio that I could describe in detail and assemble in a way that shows artistic growth and direction.
A lot of the logistics of preparing my art school portfolio were actually pretty simple for me, because I had been unknowingly preparing to create it for years. My high school art teacher was an amazing and proactive woman who required us to take high-resolution photographs of every piece we made, right after we made it, from freshman year to senior year. Though it was a hassle at the time, having that documentation on-hand when it came time to assemble an art school portfolio was really useful.
Choosing which pieces to include in my art school portfolio was challenging. Ultimately, I decided to get super technical and create a number system for what- types of work to include- for instance, if my application required 15 portfolio images, I would decide to include 3 still-lives, 2 sketchbook page examples, 3 figure drawings from life, and 7 examples of artwork that I made based off of themes I was into, which at the time centered around ideas of suburbia, the home, and the adolescent experience in America.
Breaking down my portfolio like this took away a lot of uncertainty, and was a great way to make sure that I incorporated both my artistic technical skills and personal thematic expression into my portfolio.”
“I had no idea that there were some schools that really, really wanted finished works, and other schools that wanted some finished works in your portfolio, and a lot of actual charcoal drawings.
And I didn’t have any charcoal drawings; I didn’t have the opportunity in high school to, kind of like, go to these figure drawing classes, where there would be a nude model posing– never had that until I did Pre-College.
And Pre-College was just my saving grace– really, really, really prepared me for what art school was like, and just how intensive the workload can be. I would gain so much knowledge when I would go to portfolio reviews, because different schools want different things.
So, some schools wanted just totally completed works, and other schools wanted to see more of my charcoal drawings that I didn’t think were art school portfolio worthy pieces, but they think kind of are.
I definitely think I had a sense of confidence, and it was mainly because of just my teachers kind of encouraging me, and I think that’s just the most important thing: is just have confidence, and have faith in yourself. When you create your art school portfolios, I would suggest that you have a range of the work that you like to do.
I would also suggest that you only show what it is that you really like to do. Because if you throw in things that you’re not really that interested in doing, then you might end up kind of going down that path, or the art school might suggest that you do specifically what that is.
Work in your art school portfolio that you really love, and that you’re passionate about, and you’ll end up seeing where it takes you.”
“I was primarily applying to liberal arts schools, which require a lot of essays, while I was only applying to one art school. This meant that I had to put all my effort into the essays and I kind of had to put art on the back burner. That was very frustrating for me because it felt like I couldn’t really do my best with my art.
High school art class wasn’t very rigorous. My high school teacher didn’t really push us to make a lot of work. I probably [only] made three pieces.
The art school that I was applying to required these two particular assignments; I waited until the weekend before they were due to complete them. It was a very very stressful experience. I [wouldn’t recommend anyone] do what I did.
I think one of the greatest strengths of my portfolio was that I included a lot of breadth in it in terms of media and techniques. I wasn’t a master at these things. I included acrylic painting, sculpture … things that I just wasn’t comfortable at. I wanted to show that I was willing to experiment and try new things, and I think that’s something that art schools really look for.”
“I wanted to go to architecture school, and I wasn’t even sure what an art school portfolio was until I went into my College Counselor’s office and I told her what I wanted to do. I wanted to do design, and she said that I had to get started on an art portfolio.
I wasn’t even sure what that was. I was kind of confused, and then when I found out what it was, I got really nervous and scared and felt like I had no time whatsoever. So immediately I went over to my art teachers and I started asking them all sorts of questions, trying to find all the resources I could. They told me that I just needed to start making, making as much as I could in whatever free time I had.
So I started sculpting, drawing, you know, whatever came to mind. I just kept making those things and eventually I got to the point where at any given time I could have 20 to 25 artworks just ready to go, up to date, and I really felt ready. So what I did is I just kept making as much as I could until I felt like I had enough that really represented who I was and was really ready to show the schools.
Even if the school you’re applying to asks for 20 pieces and you make 20 pieces, don’t stop there. Just keep making and making. You want as much work as possible and you want it to be as up-to-date as possible. Remember to show you are. Colleges are looking for a fit, so you want to show as much of your personality as you possibly can through your work.”
Annelise Yee, Guest Teaching Artist
“Preparing an art school portfolio wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I had already taken a wide range of art classes, so I had a fair amount of work ranging from glass work to charcoal drawings to figure drawings, so I wasn’t really worried about diversity in my artworks
It was more about trying to weed out which pieces I really wanted in my art school portfolio and which ones weren’t really serving any purpose. So for that I would recommend talking to art teachers. I found my parents to not be that helpful. Their comments were more like, ‘Well, this is cool.’ That’s not very helpful, so I would stick to art teachers.
When I was applying for art school, I was actually Googling the art school portfolios for those art schools, and comparing what I had in my portfolio to what they had posted on Google. And honestly I was terrified.
But what I learned after I got into art school is that they’re not necessarily looking for the most stellar work ever in your portfolio. They’re looking for potential.”
“Applying to art school was a very interesting situation for me. After becoming used to sharing my art for reaction and feedback, I now had to send my pieces off without knowing who is going to see them and what they think. I feel that this notion forced me to push my art skills beyond their limits, and to manage my time even better than before.
The entire process was a huge learning experience for me, and having to juggle it with everything else going on in my life (senior year, extracurriculars, family, etc.) allowed me to see how I function under such a great amount of pressure.”
“Creating an art portfolio for art school certainly was not easy; it required significant of dedication and planning, as well as resilience for sticking to a theme. Everything had to be carefully considered, from the materials I used to seeing how the artworks interacted with one another when placed in the same space.
I wanted to make sure that the people viewing my art portfolio had a good grasp on my skill and familiarity with all mediums, as well as my ability to think conceptually.”
“Preparing for my art portfolio portfolio 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.”
“Preparing an art school portfolio was all about creating as much work as possible. It was much less stressful to create new work without predetermined goals, rather than make work specifically for my art school portfolio. Then I was able to select the best images I had from a larger group.”