One question often asked by art students applying to art school is how many pieces to include in their portfolios. There are several answers to the question; the most obvious is to submit whatever the school requires. The successful portfolio, however, goes beyond the number of works submitted to the kind of work submitted. Another consideration is how much material is available from which to choose. Students assembling a portfolio in the winter before beginning the application process have begun years too late. Here are some thoughts about the art portfolio that may answer, indirectly, the question of how many examples to include.
Include Early Examples
Most professional artists recommend beginning a portfolio in their freshman year of high school. Art schools are interested in seeing the progression of a student’s proficiencies. Although students will not include everything they have done in the portfolio, they should not throw anything away, professionals say. Take the highest levels of art classes offered by the school, including university classes, if available. Try several different techniques and media. Eventually, students must cull out everything but their best pieces, and the strongest of these earliest pieces will demonstrate student potential.
Attend Portfolio Days
Art schools often offer portfolio days when students can take their raw work and get advice from art professors and art school admissions personnel about the size, the quality and the content of their portfolios. These recommendations will be universal but can give students an idea of the creative process and of how to present a portfolio. An article in The Guardian Magazine says that the purpose of a portfolio is to “ give potential tutors an idea of your ideas, concepts, practices and potential.” The art portfolio is vital to the art school admission process, and portfolios must be thoughtfully and skillfully designed. Understanding the process, in general, will help students decide what type of representative work to include.
Research the Program
Once students identify the schools in which they are interested, they should research the specific programs. Art schools, like artists, have personalities. Artists suggest contacting professors at the school to ask questions about the kind of styles and art they are looking for. Format Magazine points out that looking at the type of art produced by school faculty and graduates will help students decide if they would be a good fit for that particular artistic community. Students who identify desirable programs can then design their portfolios to include compatible work. Not only that, but they may even complete some pieces especially intended to appeal to that program, though these should display their best work as well.
Although the ability to make a good copy of another artist’s work is valuable to the learning process, copies should not make it into a portfolio. Students should cull out all but their original artwork. During the years of developing the portfolio, it is important to experiment with several styles and media so that students can assess their strengths and their preferences. Some professors even recommend including some works-in-progress. Of course, this depends upon a particular school’s regulations about unfinished art, but a W.I.P. can show the creative process. The pieces included in the portfolio should be the most striking representations of the artist’s work and his voice.
Curate your Portfolio
According to Format Magazine, the tip to be an art curator when making the portfolio. Curators not only select art pieces toward an identified theme but they also label and often interpret the work for others. Just as every example of a technique or period cannot be included in a curated collection, students cannot include every example of their work in a portfolio. Every piece should have a reason for being included. Additionally, students should label each work as to its medium, its technique or for whatever reason it was submitted. Sometimes a portfolio is submitted to a school before an interview, but often students deliver it in person. Whichever occurs, students will not have the opportunity to go through the portfolio with the interviewer and explain each piece. For that reason, the portfolio should be self-explanatory.
Another duty of curators that should be observed by students developing portfolios is to keep the work as clean and presentable as possible. There should be no stray pencil marks or smudges and no wrinkled or ragged pieces.
Make Certain of the Requisites
As important as researching the personality of the school a student wants to enter is making certain of submission requirements. Schools do vary in the number of examples provided in the portfolio, but the average number is 20. As to size, most schools prefer the A3 or 12X17 paper size for photography or painting. Some schools accept online portfolios as well. If that is the case, the same rules apply. Some artists recommend using a website with templates to make a video of print artwork, or a portfolio of videography. Additionally, some schools prefer prints of original work and some prefer to see the original itself.
A lot of planning, research and preparatory work goes into the final product. The question of how many pieces to include, then, is answered by starting with the requirement (sometimes just a minimum and maximum number) and then deciding which entries tell the student’s story best within that requisite. Which pieces must be included, and which are duplicate thoughts? Which displays the strengths and the potential of a budding artist, and which are just additional examples?
Students who begin work on their portfolios early in their high school careers will have the most options. Students who understand their goals and their strengths will be able to select the work that best tells their narrative. Perhaps the question of how many pieces to include in a portfolio is best answered by another query. How many pieces can be excluded, within the requirements, and still present a complete picture of the student-artist?