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Monthly Archives: October 2016

Tips to make an art portfolio for college

What should be in an art school application portfolio? How do you present a portfolio? What gives you the best chance of being accepted by the art school of your dreams? This article explains how to make an art portfolio for college or university and is packed with tips from leading art and design school admissions staff from around the world. It is written for those who are in the process of creating an application portfolio for a foundation course, certificate, associate or undergraduate degree and contains advice for specific art-related areas, such as Architecture, Fine Art, Graphic Design, Illustration, Interior Design, Animation, Game Design, Film and other creative, visual art-based courses. It is presented along with art and design portfolio examples from students who have recently gained acceptance to a range of art schools from around the world, creating a 9,000 word document that helps guide you through the application process.

What is an art school application portfolio?

In addition to meeting academic requirements, Art and Design Schools, Universities and Colleges typically require a practical art portfolio as part of the application process (this is often accompanied by a personal statement and/or an art school interview – more on this soon). So what is this?

The University of the Arts London gives the following definition of an application portfolio:

A portfolio is a collection of your work, which shows how your skills and ideas have developed over a period of time. It demonstrates your creativity, personality, abilities and commitment, and helps us to evaluate your potential.

Just as every art student is different (with individual strengths, experiences, passions and ideas) every art school has different requirements and expectations. While some universities and colleges have strict criteria when it comes to preparing a portfolio, others are open and flexible. This variation in expectations can leave students uncertain about how to proceed. Even when criteria is clear, applicants may feel overwhelmed and wonder what to draw/paint/make/create, which mediums to use and how to best select and present their work.

Producing an art portfolio is not to be taken lightly. Top art schools often accept very small percentages of applicants. Understanding how to produce a great portfolio is crucial. Although it is impossible to generate a list of criteria that are appropriate for all applicants in every circumstance (there is unfortunately no guaranteed magic formula for creating a winning art portfolio) this article highlights tips from experienced admissions staff and makes general recommendations to help you produce the best university or art college application possible.

A step-by-step guide to creating an art portfolio for college or university

Research carefully and record the art portfolio requirements for a number of courses that interest you

Deciding which art or design school is for you is a big decision (our upcoming article ‘how to find the best art school in the world’ will help with this). While you consider your options, it is advisable to apply to a number of different schools, in case you are not accepted into your first choice. There is no shame in applying to college or university and not getting in (many highly successful individuals are not accepted into their university of first choice); but being left with no place to go because you didn’t apply to enough schools is an easily avoidable circumstance!

Create a list of art or design schools that you would be prepared to attend and find their admissions criteria (you can search for art schools in California and New Zealand on this website – more areas coming soon). All university and college art portfolio requirements are different. Record the exact admissions requirements carefully, well in advance, as deadlines can be earlier than you expect and portfolios take a long time to prepare. Print these out, highlight key information and keep on-hand, so that you can refer to them as needed throughout the application process.

In particular, keep careful records of:

  • Open Day times
  • Application and Portfolio due date/s. If you are currently studying Art at high school, check how the portfolio due dates compare to your own coursework deadlines and exam timetable. In some cases there may be issues with work needing to be in two places at one (i.e. submitted for assessment at high school and delivered to an art school in hardcopy at the same time). This occurs particularly for students studying international qualifications or applying to art schools in different countries, so you need to prepare for this in advance. Mark the deadlines of the schools that you are applying to clearly on your calendar.
  • Size and format of work required
  • Whether only finished pieces are expected, or whether sketchbooks, development and process work are also welcome (some schools require only finished pieces, particularly in the US; others love to see development work as well).
  • Whether submissions are digital, hardcopy reproductions or original artwork. If copies of work must be sent in, find out whether these should be colour photocopies, slides or photographs etc. Find out whether there are specific criteria for time based media (animation/moving image/video/interactive website design and so on).
  • Labelling and presentation requirements. Many art schools have precise portfolio presentation requirements, with work labelled or identified in certain formats, with details about titles, dates and materials used, for example. Digital portfolio submission may use online tools such as SlideRoom.
  • Whether there are special requirements for international or out-of-state applicants. If you are applying from another location, there may be special application criteria for you. For example, some colleges may accept international portfolios via email, instead of delivered in person.
  • Whether supplementary material is needed, for example, a personal statement or written essay (more on this soon). Art schools typically have academic requirements set by the university or college as a whole, which may require a separate application form and a different deadline. You may also be asked to submit images of work or objects that have influenced your work or teacher recommendations, testimonials or reports (only include these if specifically requested).
  • Requirements about what to draw / include. Many art and design schools leave applicants free to select what to include within their portfolio. Unless specifically stated, the portfolio should contain primarily visual artwork, not art history assignments, artist analysis or extensive annotation. You may have to submit a combination of personal artwork, work produced in high school classes and/or ‘home tests’, exams or assignments set by the art school you are applying to. In the RISD application portfolio, for example, applicants must respond to three set assignments, such as ‘observe and draw a bicycle, or an interior space’.

A Guide to Make Line Drawing

 When we first picked up a pen or pencil and started making marks on paper, we began with line. Whether self-taught, through trial and error, or guided by others, we learned how line defines form, creates structure, divides a frame, traces contour, creates tonal variation (cross-hatching, for example) and leads the eye from one part of a work to another. Initially a mechanism for getting outlines onto paper – identifying edges – we begin to applaud lines for their own merit: celebrate their presence…whether a quiet flick of charcoal on paper or a streak of graphite.

This article contains exercises for Art students who wish to produce contour line drawings, cross contour drawings, blind drawings and other types of line drawings. It is a teaching aid for high school Art students and includes classroom activities, a free downloadable PDF worksheet and inspirational artist drawings.

Blind Contour Drawing

Definition: A blind contour drawing contains lines that are drawn without ever looking at the piece of paper. This forces you to study a scene closely, observing every shape and edge with your eyes, as your hand mimics these on paper. The aim is not to produce a realistic artwork, but rather to strengthen the connection between eyes, hand and brain: a reminder that, when drawing, you must first learn to see.

Blind Drawing Exercises: Blind drawing is an excellent way to start a high school Fine Art programme. Drawing wobbly lines that bear little resemblance to the chosen object is relaxing and stress-free. Often, a classroom bubbles with laughter at the unexpected results. Blind drawing stretches the arms and soul; eases you into observational drawing without fear.

A warm-up activity in which students were asked to create blind contour line drawings of shell (teaching exemplar by the Student Art Guide). These blind drawings were included in the first preparatory sheets submitted by CIE IGCSE Art and Design students.

Gesture Drawing / Timed Drawing / Movement Drawing

Definition: A gesture drawing is completed quickly – often in short timed durations, such as 20, 30, 60 or 90 seconds – using fast, expressive lines. Gesture drawings capture basic forms and proportions – the emotion and essence of a subject – without focusing on detail. Due to their rapid completion, they are a great way to record movement and action, as well as increase your drawing speed, confidence and intuitive mark-making skill. Gesture drawings are best completed with smooth, easily applied mediums (chunky graphite pencils, charcoal sticks, pastels, soft brushes dipped in Indian ink, for example), without the use of an eraser. They are often completed on large, inexpensive sheets of paper, where you can move your arm fluidly, be bold with mark-making, and not worry about mistakes. As with blind drawings, gesture drawing is an ideal warm-up activity.

Gesture Drawing Exercises: When you begin investigating your subject matter in the initial phase of a high school Art programme, it can be helpful to make several first-hand gestural drawings. The best of these can be selected for your final portfolio (taking advantage of a photocopier or digital camera to reduce in size, if necessary). A small still life scene can be depicted just as easily as a large moving form.

Continuous Line Drawing

Definition: A continuous line drawing is produced without ever lifting the drawing instrument from the page. This means that, in addition to outlines and internal shapes, the pencil must move back and forth across the surface of the paper, with lines doubling back on each other, so that the drawing is one free-flowing, unbroken line. To avoid the temptation to erase lines, it can be helpful to complete a continuous line drawing with an ink pen, varying the line weight, as needed, to indicate perspective and areas of light and shadow. Like the drawing methods described above, this drawing method develops confidence and drawing speed, and encourages your eyes and hand and brain to work together. Continuous line drawings work best with in-depth observation of your subject, without interference from your thinking mind. According toSmithsonian Studio Arts:

Continuous Line Drawing Exercises: This drawing method is great for sketchbooks and drawing from life. It can be an excellent starter activity, with drawings completed on large, inexpensive paper that can be scanned / edited / cropped and used in other ways within your projects.

Contour drawing

Definition: A contour drawing shows the outlines, shapes and edges of a scene, but omits fine detail, surface texture, colour and tone (‘contour’ is French for ‘outline’). According to Wikipedia:

The purpose of contour drawing is to emphasize the mass and volume of the subject rather than the detail; the focus is on the outlined shape of the subject and not the minor details.

The illusion of three-dimensional form, space and distance can be conveyed in a contour drawing through the use of varied line-weight (darker lines in the foreground / paler lines in the distance) and perspective.

Contour Drawing Exercises: Using line alone eliminates the challenge of applying tone, colour and mediums; and instead focuses attention solely upon shape and proportion. After completing warm-up activities such as blind and gesture drawings, slower, more formal contour drawings can be an excellent way to begin more realistic representations of your subject matter. Used intermittently throughout projects, contour drawings can also be helpful for the student who needs to work faster.

7 Creative Sketchbook to inspire

 An A2 Art sketchbook page by Ruth Beeley:

This A Level Art sketchbook page is exactly as a high school Art sketchbook should be: an exciting investigation of media and ideas. Using ‘modrock’ (a plaster of paris bandage) and glue to create raised areas, with other mixed mediums such as wire, ink and Biro pen, Ruth adds careful and detailed drawings over a chaotic ground. The piece is not a finished, resolved image: rather, it is a beautiful and competently executed exploration of ideas.

An A2 Art sketchbook page by Lucy Luu:

At its essence, a sketchbook page should provide insight into a student’s ideas and intentions, as well as revealing the influence of other artists. This A Level Art sketchbook page is beautiful in its simplicity: devoid of all superfluous decoration, it shows a dedicated and committed student learning a technique from an artist and then carefully applying this to original artwork.

Sketchbook pages completed as part of a VCE Studio Arts folio by Australian high school student Heesu Kim:

Heesu writes about the project: “I want to create a narrative-like line of work that illustrates the process of birth and innocence to slow corruption and finally death of soul. For me, the ‘death of soul’ is when our minds are shaped to fit the norms of society and cut to think only in the values that it presents. This process both starts and finishes at high school. Ultimately the conclusion is thousands of machine-like individuals, fresh and ready to become slaves to the system. I talk to my friends and see peers that conclude their whole lives and future based on how high their ATAR score is, who adopt dreams that their parents decide for them, dreams that make more money, instead of following their real passion. I’m aware of it but accept it myself as there is no other choice but to. So subtle and complete is the control over us that we embrace it, actively acknowledge to it, and at the same time still suffer emotionally under it.”

A Level Art sketchbook pages by Lisa Jiang:

Many high school Painting / Fine Art students worry that their sketchbooks must be wild, gestural explorations, with layers of media exploding from each page. This sketchbook is a reminder that this is not always the case. Here, a sketchbook layout has been approached with the sophisticated eye of a graphic designer; each page taking on the aesthetic of a contemporary magazine.

An AS Art Sketchbook page by Charlotte Taylor: 

This AS Art sketchbook page shows visual research at its purest. Students often forget that research doesn’t just involve analysing artist work; it includes the visual investigation of forms: drawing items from a range of angles and in a range of different mediums. Here, Charlotte has worked over scraps of lined note paper (some with maths equations left on them) with meticulous, detailed pen drawings, developing familiarity with the human form.

An A Level Fine Art sketchbook page by Sally Al Nasser:  

This rich and vibrant A Level Art sketchbook page is a reminder that the high school sketchbook is a prime opportunity to demonstrate your love of Art to the examiner. Here, the lavish, gestural, brush strokes contrast with careful annotation, resulting in a composition that oozes passion. Every speck of the page has been considered and worked over, using colours that integrate and link with the Chrissy Angliker artworks analysed. The whole page thus becomes an opportunity to absorb information from an artist; imbued with technique, emotion and style.

An AS Level Art sketchbook by David Wasserman from Monks Dyke Tennyson College, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom:

Above all, a sketchbook should be a place for developing and refining ideas. It should show thought processes and provide insights into a student’s thinking. This sketchbook page is a helpful reminder that a Fine Art / Painting and Related Media sketchbooks need not be overly gestural or expressive: those who prefer working in a tighter, ordered, structured style should not be afraid of doing so. Indeed, such presentations can be less distracting and allow emphasis to be placed exactly where it belongs: the artwork. Here the integration of artist work, student photographs and observational drawings clearly show the journey taken while exploring and developing ideas.

7 Tips to Draw And Paint Faster

 1. Use a ground

There are many benefits to working on a ground. One of these is increased painting or drawing speed. A ground covers a painting or drawing surface from the outset. It can act as mid-tone, with only black and white used to apply dark and light areas (as in the examples below) or be left partially visible in the final work. This results in an artwork that is much faster to complete (see our article about painting on grounds for more information).
The beautiful A Level portrait on the left has been completed upon a pale brown ground (this provides a mid-tone skin colour and is also left visible in the background). On the right, a wash of ochre, blue and brown provides a background to the drawing black and white pencil drawing.

2. Incorporate mixed media /patterned surfaces / textural elements

As with using a ground, patterned, decorative or textural items can cover areas of an artwork quickly. Although this strategy should be used with care, selecting only materials which support or enhance your project (usually with reference to a relevant artist model) this can be a great way to speed up your project and introduce creative use of mixed media.
Exploring fairy tales (the ‘Princess and the Pea’ and ‘Rumpelstiltskin’, these well-composed works allow the student to demonstrate observational drawing skills in certain areas of the artwork, while saving time by covering other areas with mixed-media patterned surfaces.

Artist Scott Waters produces gripping paintings on a range of found surfaces, including wallpaper, postcards and romantic paperback book covers. Note that the chosen surfaces are integral to the message in the work; the shattering of domestic bliss.

3. Work on several pieces at once

Working in series – completing several paintings or drawings at one time – is a very helpful strategy for Art students. This speeds work up for a number of reasons:

  • A single colour can be used throughout a number of works, without needing to stop for remixing / washing brushes
  • While one work is drying, another one can be worked on
  • Similar processes or techniques can be mastered quickly and repeated on subsequent works

In addition, when working on several pieces at once, ‘preciousness’ about the work tends to be lost, leading to more experimentation and greater work speed.
These photos of Willem de Kooning’s studio show several works in progress pinned to the wall and scattered across the floor. Although creating a glorious working environment such as this is not possible in most high schools, many Painting classrooms have small pin board alcoves which can be used to display work in progress.

4. Paint things in the right order – background areas first

Painting things in an illogical order is surprisingly common amongst high school Art students. In almost all cases, the background should be completed first, followed by the middle-ground, ending with the foreground. This is easily understood when considering a tree in front of a cloudy sky. If you make the mistake of painting the tree first, the sky has to be meticulously painted around every leaf and branch: an irritating task that takes hours (and ends up looking a little shabby). Painting the sky first, however, means that a large brush can quickly be used to paint the sky, with the tree then easily added over the top. Painting in the correct order also results in a painting that has layers (which gives it a richness and lustre, as with using a ground). If you find that subsequent layers of paint do not adequately cover earlier ones, you have an inferior brand of paint. (We will detail our paint and art supply recommendations in an upcoming article – stay tuned)!
These vibrant, architecturally-inspired abstract works by Susan Danko are a prime example of an artwork that must be painted in a logical order. These paintings would have been exceptionally tedious had the rays of light had been painted first.

5. Use masking tape to create straight edges

Some students are concerned that it might be necessary to ‘prove’ that a straight line can be painted by hand. This is not the case. Your control of a paint brush can be ascertained immediately by looking at the remainder of your painting. Masking tape creates straight edges in seconds. Once mastered, this trick can save you hours – and make your paintings sharper, cleaner and more professional in the process. If you haven’t used masking tape before, buy some now!

6. Leave artwork purposefully incomplete

Artist work is sometimes purposefully ‘unfinished’. Art students shouldn’t feel obliged to ‘complete’ every item. There are many occasions when a fully rendered drawing is not necessary. Drawings, especially those in sketchbooks, can be left with edges trailing away and tone only applied to some areas. Leaving work unfinished is particularly useful when conducting visual research, exploring ideas and experimenting with media. Depending on your artist influences, this may even be appropriate in final works – as a way to draw attention to focal points and direct attention within an artwork.
Jim Dine is an outstanding artist to use with middle and high school Art students. His charcoal tool drawings combine precise, analytical outlines (which fade away and are incomplete in places) with perfectly rendered areas and gestural, and expressive mark-making in some of the negative spaces left around the tools.

Completed as part of the high school qualification AP Studio Art (2D Design) these drawings are purposefully rendered in small areas only, creating emphasis and directing vision.

7. Omit parts of a scene

Deliberately picking out certain parts of a scene to draw has a strong impact on the final work and must be used with care to ensure that the resulting image supports the ideas explored in your project. As with the previous option, this allows you to demonstrate strong observational drawing skills, while saving time by omitting part of the scene.