wikiHow to Develop Work for an Art School Portfolio

Getting into a reputable art school is competitive. The best art, animation, and design schools want to see a portfolio of your best and most recent work. If you're looking to apply to one of these, here's what you need to do to build a winning art portfolio.


  1. Image titled Develop Work for an Art School Portfolio Step 1
    Draw from life. The biggest skill that serious schools look for is observational drawing. This is the same for any nearly any discipline, from fine arts to design, architecture to 3D animation. If you draw from photographs or 2D work, it will be obvious to the reviewer. You need to prove that you can translate 3D concepts into a 2D space, that you can rotate a subject and keep the correct proportions and perspective.
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    Keep a sketchbook. You'll want to show your process work - how you developed your ideas and how your work has matured. Some art schools will require that you submit your sketchbook along with your portfolio to give further insight.
  3. Image titled Develop Work for an Art School Portfolio Step 3
    Show some personal work. This may be experimental work or pieces that showcase your personal interest in a subject or medium. If you want to get into an animation school, for example, you might need to provide some motion graphics work or a demo reel.
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    Do your research. Find out what specific requirements or exercises your school may require, such as the famous RISD bicycle exercise or water study.
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    Be original. There are many aspiring artists applying to art school every year. Out of all the hundreds of portfolios and blogs, you want yours to be one that stands out and is remembered.
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    Demonstrate good technical skills. Make sure that you have the basics down: anatomy, color, lighting, etc. A creative art piece without proper proportions is not going to impress.
  7. Image titled Develop Work for an Art School Portfolio Step 7
    Photograph your work professionally. Photograph outdoors or using natural light where possible. For three-dimensional work, use a 3-point light system: one overhead light, and two spotlights set at 45º angles to the piece.
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    Digitize your work. Most schools now require that you upload your portfolio rather than send in hard copies. Make sure you save your work with sufficient pixels so that the reviewer can zoom in on your work without pixelation. Use RGB color mode, and save in one of the following formats: jpg (max quality), pdf. Be sure you always archive a high-resolution image for your records.
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    Curate your work. Choose your best and most recent work (within the last 12 months). Make certain that each piece showcases your talent and is as good as you can make it. Create a narrative throughout the portfolio that speaks to your intended audience, bearing in mind the particular program you are applying to.
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    Get your work professionally reviewed. At this point in your career, it's not enough to ask your mom for her opinion. If there's one in your city, find a National Portfolio Day event where many art schools will have admissions officers available to review your work and give you feedback.


  • Draw staircases, building interiors, exteriors, and surrounding environment
  • Around your house: Draw object studies of kitchen appliances, TV remotes, staplers, and anything you find interesting. Throw a pair of boots and an umbrella in a corner and draw them.
  • Check out one of the many workshops and portfolio programs in most major cities. Some colleges offer pre-college preparation programs. There are also online options available, including some very specific online portfolio development programs like
  • Make sure your work demonstrates short gesture drawings (2 to 5 minutes), longer studies (30 minutes), and sustained drawings (those that take 2-3 hours to complete).
  • High school art classes do not offer nude models, so take a life drawing class at your local community center or college.
  • While at the zoo, explore studies in structure (no shading studies), shape, form, color and contrast. Focus on one or two animals and study them well. Have fun! DO quick drawings of them running, eating, playing, sleeping. DON’T take lots that you can draw from later.
  • Improve on your work constantly. Go back to pieces you have completed and see if you can improve on them.
  • Take your sketchbook with you everywhere. Record your ideas and document how you have developed a concept. If you get an interview, you will need to talk about your work and these notes and sketches will help.
  • Draw your hand, or sit on the floor and draw your feet - right now.
  • Draw a self-portrait using a mirror NOT from a photo.
  • Go to the zoo and choose an animal to study. Capture motion with quick sketches, and show different perspectives.
  • Draw and explore perspective. Draw a perspective view of a room in your house from two different corners – that’s two separate drawings. Make sure the horizon line is consistent in both drawings (around 5 ft/1.6m).


  • Presentation is nearly as important as content. Make sure your work is neatly and uniformly displayed, labeled and indexed.
  • Pay attention to documenting and photographing your work for portfolio presentation.
  • Don't include too much of any particular subject or medium.

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Categories: Exhibited Arts | Job Strategies