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How to Prepare an Art Portfolio | Examples and Advice

Updated on February 9, 2015

Applying for College, University or a Foundation Course

Whether you are applying to college, university or another art & design based course, you will need a portfolio to showcase your work, ideas and skills. I've created this page in order to keep information from all over the Internet together in one place to make it handy to browse through.

There are some great videos showing you what to include, what not to include, and some examples of other student's work. Each and every place you apply to will have their own set of guidelines and particular elements they require from an applicant, but you will find general guidelines on this page which apply to most places.

It is important that you show a range of work and skills without putting too many of your pieces in the one portfolio. Only pick your best, most recent work and present each piece of art well. Don't wait until the last minute, and make enough work so you can edit together the best portfolio for each course you apply to.

I hope you find this resource useful :-)

Preparing Your Art Portfolio


General Portfolio Outline

Choosing what to include in your portfolio can be difficult because there are no definite rules or instructions, so it's something that only you can really decide. Most art programs will request artworks that fall into 3 different categories; observational art, personal art or a home exam. Sometimes only works from one of these categories is required, whereas sometimes you will need to submit all three types.

The most important thing is to always check exactly what the college/university you are applying to requires. Guidelines differ between each course and each each school.

- Category One: Observational Art

Observational art is a traditional form of drawing or painting where the subject is something real that you can see, such as a landscape scene, a still life arrangement, or a figure model for instance. This is an integral area of art because it proves that you can transfer something you are viewing in real life onto paper realistically and accurately. This type of art is usually drawn (in pencil or charcoal mostly) although paint can also be used.

The art paper/canvas size should be quite substantial (around 18" x 24" at least.)

- Category Two: Personal Art

Personal art is the work done independently in your own time, and should reflect your own personal interests. This category allows you much more freedom than the other categories, and you can use pretty much any media you want to. For instance, you may favor the traditional methods of drawing or painting, or you may want to showcase your interest and skills in areas such as photography, video, sculpture, ceramics, performance art or animation. This is your chance to show self-motivation and drive, as well as show what you are all about.

If observational art is to prove your technical skills, personal art is to show your personality and passion for the subject. It is an opportunity to stand out from the crowd.

- Category Three: Home Exam

The home exam is a specific piece of work you must complete by yourself at home; the subject of which is chosen by the college/university/school. It may be an extremely simple brief such as 'bicycle' or 'draw your room', or the assignment may have a few different parts to it.


- The interview part of an art school application is important too; a decision is not based purely on your portfolio. Therefore, be sure to prepare yourself by thinking about what questions the interviewer could ask you - so that you aren't taken by surprise in the interview - and make sure you know why you created everything that features in your portfolio. Perhaps try to set up a mock interview with your teacher as practice. The more preparation you do, the more confident you should feel. Be enthusiastic about your work.

- Usually you will be asked to provide sketchbooks alongside your main portfolio, but make sure to check what each course requires you to submit. Don't tear out pages from your sketchbook because you think they are 'messy' or 'not good enough'; sketchbooks are for researching, exploring ideas and sketching roughly so they don't need to be perfect. Don't worry :)

Information source.

Art Portfolio Review Videos

Presentation Portfolio

Prestige MN2436 Carry-All Soft-Sided Art Portfolio 24 inches x 36 inches
Prestige MN2436 Carry-All Soft-Sided Art Portfolio 24 inches x 36 inches

Make a good first impression by presenting your portfolio in a smart case.


Art Portfolio Advice

Art Portfolio Examples

200 Projects to Get You Into Art School

200 Projects to Strengthen Your Art Skills: For Aspiring Art Students (Aspire)
200 Projects to Strengthen Your Art Skills: For Aspiring Art Students (Aspire)

This book is ideal for those hoping to get into art school as it gives mini lessons on 200 different projects - you can just pick and choose the ones which interest you.

There is also a section specifically dedicated to putting together a portfolio the right way, plus examples of art school sketchbooks.


Life Drawing

Life drawing is often an essential inclusion within the portfolio.
Life drawing is often an essential inclusion within the portfolio. | Source

Art Sketchbook Pages

I love the mix of media used on these pages, and the layout is very striking.
I love the mix of media used on these pages, and the layout is very striking. | Source

Sketchbook Examples

Go to to browse the other videos in this fantastic series of sketchbook examples.

Sketchbook Experiments

These pages are part of A-Level coursework, where the aim was to experiment with 'Colour in Portraiture'.
These pages are part of A-Level coursework, where the aim was to experiment with 'Colour in Portraiture'. | Source

If you are currently preparing your portfolio, what course are you applying for?

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Please Comment on my Lens!

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    • profile image

      invictus95 3 years ago

      There's a lot of useful information on here!

    • profile image

      CalobrenaOmai 3 years ago

      So glad I found this. Got to bookmark. Thanks for sharing this info.

    • profile image

      pennyovenden 4 years ago

      Thanks for the info. Very helpful

    • Followthedon profile image

      Followthedon 4 years ago

      good amount of information.

    • profile image

      portfoliooomph 4 years ago

      @anonymous: Take a look at too for advice and resources.

    • profile image

      hazirsite 4 years ago

      very nice...

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      Thank you! I've been looking for something like this :)

    • profile image

      jiancara 4 years ago

      I really want to draw!

    • mariacarbonara profile image

      mariacarbonara 4 years ago

      @DiddydelDesigns: Fantastic advice. I have a potential artist in the house so this really helps.

    • profile image

      DiddydelDesigns 4 years ago

      Great Lens and great advise! plus lovely art work.

    • Hexadecimal LM profile image

      Hexadecimal LM 4 years ago

      awesome, lots of good advice here!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @anonymous: Hey Elainne,

      If you're just starting out, collecting all the pieces of your work experience is a must, I believe. All your sketches, drafts and rough models could help you in your future projects. Unfortunately, I lost all my hand drawings from the time I was studying in art school and I was very sorry about it later, when I was preparing my portfolio for entering into university.

      If promoting yourself to your prospective employers or customers means showcasing your work portfolio (which usually constantly growing and needed to be carefully curated), I'd suggest you to start building your portfolio from a very beginning of your career.

      You may keep all the results of your work at home (I know it takes lots of storage space or huge CD archives on your shelves!) and additionally to backup all your sketches and working files in online storage for all your future needs. I'm using EspressoWork service for it, It also lets you easily create an art website from your portfolio archive and showcase your CV/resume, which is very helpful in my case.

      Good luck!

    • profile image

      jimmyworldstar 6 years ago

      I feel for any portfolio, you should include your best work. It's not a timeline of your progression as an artist, but the sum of your capabilities.

    • kathysart profile image

      kathysart 5 years ago

      VERY COOL.. thanks for the info. I know my portfolio needs some work and this was very helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Really useful videos and the only site I could actually find with some proper visual examples - thank you! What a relief to find such a useful resource as this is the first time I've had to do this and without guidance it's a nightmare.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thanks for the advice - I am helping my child put a portfolio together for an art magnet school

    • profile image

      JessicaJohn 5 years ago

      these are awesome pieces of art, i really love this stuff

    • profile image

      dfishbac 5 years ago

      Lot's of useful information here. Thanks for sharing.

    • Richiewest profile image

      Richiewest 5 years ago from Devon, United Kingdom.

      Great stuff! Very helpful.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      What if you are going to take a life drawing class and want to improve but need an art portfolio...

      what is recommended to put in mine for such a class?

    • retrochalet profile image

      Cindy Fahnestock-Schafer 5 years ago from Hedgesville, WV

      Nice job keep up the good work!

    • profile image

      maiterodrigue17 5 years ago

      good advice

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      @ArtzykindofGuy: whats the difference?

      undergrad is like bachelors? and grad is like masters?

      am confused

    • ArtzykindofGuy profile image

      ArtzykindofGuy 5 years ago

      Just a tip there is a difference between Applying for Under Grad and Graduate level portfolios.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I wish my art teachers would have shown me and the other advanced higher art students in the class these videos and this information - especially the sketchbook stuff - as it's so helpful and I feel very inspired in knowing how to approach my sketchbook!

    • daisychainsaw lm profile image

      daisychainsaw lm 5 years ago

      Really useful and inspiring lens thanks!

    • craftycollector profile image

      craftycollector 5 years ago

      Most useful, if I were still tgeaching I would recommend this to my students

    • joseph-r-davis profile image

      joseph-r-davis 5 years ago

      Some good info here!

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 5 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      I want to make a portfolio - - so this lens is definitely very helpful!

    • ElizabethSheppard profile image

      Elizabeth Sheppard 5 years ago from Bowling Green, Kentucky

      I want to make a portfolio - - so this lens is definitely very helpful!

    • efcruzarts profile image

      efcruzarts 5 years ago

      wonderful tips on this lens

    • profile image

      DMVAgent 5 years ago

      Like the lens and so informative.

    • ArtMan1 profile image

      ArtMan1 5 years ago

      Thanks for a great lens! Very informative indeed!:-)

    • profile image

      adam3pg 6 years ago

      great page, im sure this will help a lot of people

    • Darla Dixon profile image

      Darla Dixon 6 years ago

      Very good page, thanks so much! I plan to share this with my daughter.

    • JoyfulReviewer profile image

      JoyfulReviewer 6 years ago

      Very informative lens ... full of helpful tips, resources and examples. Nicely presented. ~~Blessed~~

    • i Dia1 profile image

      i Dia1 6 years ago

      Really useful information. Thanks.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      thank you for the information!

      ive not been doing art for a very long time and im a junior.

      I want to focus on sketching a sketchbook and ithink im a decent drawer who understands how to copy most things. but im probably a quarter or 1/3 as good as DANA. shes been drawing all her life, while istopped years ago. and iwant to train to become a sketch/cartoonist/ animator. Do you think i can focus on just sketching a sketchbook to establish a portfolio?

      ihavent seen all the videos yet in this site... just saying.

    • profile image

      Li-Li-ThePinkBookworm 6 years ago

      Cool lens! Great information.

      Li Li

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very useful information!


    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      very useful information!


    • profile image

      ArtProMotivate 6 years ago

      Wow very informative!

    • masaad profile image

      masaad 6 years ago

      Thanks great info

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      Great and informative lens on preparing a portfolio - shame the internet wasn't around when I was preparing mine - I could have done with this kind of resource!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      The videos you includes with this lens are great!

    • profile image

      blanckj 6 years ago

      I took a lot of art classes in high school but never pursued art beyond that. I love it and acrylic paints has been my favorite medium to use. Thanks for sharing this informative lens. Keep up the good work.

    • profile image

      spiritartist 6 years ago

      Wonderful and informative lens!

    • nikhelbig lm profile image

      nikhelbig lm 6 years ago

      Never been to art school... Seeing the kids on the vids, I feel like I've missed something...:(

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 6 years ago

      great lens thanks for the input...RWJR

    • Actiongames LM profile image

      Actiongames LM 7 years ago

      Vary well done and informative. I have made many portfolios and these are some nice tips.

    • UKGhostwriter profile image

      UKGhostwriter 7 years ago

      incredible lens - well done!!

    • EdTecher profile image

      Heidi Reina 7 years ago from USA

      Great ideas for putting together an art portfolio. Blessed by a Squid Angel ~

    • stephenteacher profile image

      Stephen Carr 7 years ago from Corona, CA

      Good student tips! Nice lens.

    • noobeegin profile image

      noobeegin 7 years ago

      Great lens. It is so helpful to know what works best for a portfolio. Especially if you are just getting started out.


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