I don’t know about you, but over here in Scotland we’ve been running around trying to put together our portfolios for the last few months. It’s not much fun, let me tell you. There’s a school of thought that says collecting your best artwork and showing it off should be fun, however there’s also a school of thought that says preparing your taxes is fun (no offence to any accountants or money-people out there).
The truth is that preparing your portfolio is nerve-wracking. You do all this work, some of which you may not even feel that happy about in the first place (it happens, and we all know it), then somewhere down the line you’re expected to sift through it all and choose the best. Except, that you’re not to choose the best; you’ve to choose the best within certain categories. Life drawing, still life, abstract, imaginative (not gothic or manga, apparently art schools don’t like those).
So off you go to sort through what you have again, make the dreaded self-portrait, find more life drawing (because you think that the stuff you have isn’t anywhere near good enough), and spend a few weeks or longer stressed out, worried, and miserable.
The Problem with this Approach
The main problem I see here is that by following the guidelines universities set for your portfolios, you’re going to send in work that looks very similar to someone else’s. This is fine if you’re really, truly good at what you do (though why would you be going to art school if that was the case?). For the rest of us, this is a death sentence. There’s always going to be someone better at life drawing, still life, and other very specific drawing skills like that than you are; with the amount of applications that universities receive chances are there’s going to be several people there that are technically better.
Further, because 3D and Art students all have to produce traditional work for at least part of their tutorial, the art students are likely to be better at it. Even if you’re applying for an animation course, they may well have an edge there (unless you can pull it back with your other pieces, we’ll get to that in a minute). Not to dismiss what art students do – I find their work amazing actually – but I ask you, does this seem fair?
Rise up and Revolt!
“That’s great,” I hear you say, “but what am I meant to do about it?”
I’m not suggesting that you cut out life drawing and traditional arts from your portfolio. They are necessary, and they do show your technical ability; this is still important, if you can’t draw you’re not going to get very far.
Here are some things we CAN do about this though:
- Be yourself. By this, I mean go ahead and create all the requisite pieces of artwork (life drawing, self portrait, etc) but do it in a way that only you would have thought of. Pose for your portrait in a costume, draw someone in a dynamic pose that no one else is likely to have, whatever it takes to make your work scream your name.
- Bend the rules. Good at drawing animals, but not so good at humans? Why not draw a human with an animal? That way, you can show your competency with animals, and steal attention from the less-awesome human rendering. Or draw them with interesting props, possibly partially concealed, you get the idea here.
- Have a theme. Since most student portfolios (at least from the uninitiated) have a very eclectic feel to them and no real coherent message, you can get ahead by having something in each image that ties it to the others. You see this a lot in professional portfolios and it seems to work for them, so why not steal the technique?
- Stubbornly refuse to not have fun. It’s your artwork, just have fun with it! It may seem scary to think that someone you don’t know is going to sit and look through it at some point, and that your applications depend on it… but ask yourself this; if you were sorting through portfolios, would you rather see something soulless or something full of energy?
- Get advice. Preferably from your art teacher/tutor; they’ve been working with you for a while now; they know what you’re like as a person. Chances are they’ll know how to portray yourself so that you’re seen in the best possible light. Go ahead and ask, go through your work with them, it’ll help a bunch.
- Change the way you present it. Careful with this one; you’ll want to check with the universities you’re applying to before you mess about with too much here because in some cases they won’t accept portfolios unless they’re presented in a certain way. Some things to consider if you can get away with it; Create a self-published book with your artwork, make a DVD, take photos of everything and mount them into a sketchbook, create one of those flip-file things people carry around in their wallets… use your imagination. But again, only if your university will accept it.
Or… Play by the rules.
Personally, I don’t see why you’d want to follow their requirements exactly to the letter. However when you’re running short on time and all you want is to finish your portfolio so that you have something to show during your interview; just do the best you can to make sure that all they ask for is in there.
Also, bear in mind, you don’t have to submit the maximum amount of artwork you’re allowed. Usually universities have a minimum amount too; if you’re pushed for time (or even if you’re not) it’s worth considering only submitting as much as you need to. So long as it’s the best you have you’ll do well enough without the extra, possibly less proficient, bulk to slow you down.
Conclusion: How I’m dealing with it this year
I wish I’d realized all this at the start of the academic year. By the time I figured out that I could tweak things like this, I’d already put together most of my portfolio. That said, my self portrait isn’t what I’d call typical, some of my life drawings are… odd, and my method of delivery is different.
Still working on it; but after I take photographs of my traditional artwork (mostly in pencil, so this is a bit of a challenge) I’ll be submitting my portfolio for self-publishing. I’m also going to build a quick DVD interface for my animations and 360 views of models to include with it. I’ll let you know how that goes when I have an interview!
So what does everyone think – how are you going to make your portfolio stand out from the crowd? Any more tips to add? Let me know in the comments below.