What to include in your artist’s portfolio

Applying to an art college, architectural program or for a job in the arts field will in most cases require an artist’s portfolio. Your best artistic qualities will be revealed in the art work you include in your portfolio. There will be specified guidelines for the different programs for which you may apply. Specific programs at each college will vary depending on the focus of the college. For example:

The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) requires an ePortfolio. There are also detailed guidelines as to how one should submit their ePortfolio, such as digital images must be saved as IPEG and must be a maximum of five MB each; “film, video, animation and/or sound portfolios” can be only five minutes long.

Additionally, there are specific guidelines and requirements for each degree program offered. They offer six different degree programs in art – bachelor degrees in Studio, Art Education, Writing, Architecture, Art History, and Visual and Critical Studies.

Columbia University’s Master of Architecture program has admission requirements, which include a portfolio that must be mailed and postmarked by the application deadline. Portfolio requirements require that art work cannot exceed eight and one-half by 11 inches and can be no more than one-half inch thick. Slides, CDs and DVDs are not accepted.

Parsons the New School for Design offers prospective students the opportunity to submit their portfolios at National Portfolio Days. This event is sponsored by the National Portfolio Days Association of which there are 35 participating art schools. Each school may have different requirements for submitting or showing your work at National Portfolio Days. The requirements for your portfolio for Parsons are not listed here, so you should know the basic requirements of an artist’s portfolio. When you attend National Portfolio Day and check out the school of your choice, the organizers will give you critical feedback on your basic portfolio and tell you what is required for their school or college of the arts.

However, the portfolio requirements can be found in Parson’s applications page: All applicants for the BFA must submit their application online and portfolios are to be submitted to the slideroom. There should be eight to 12 pieces in your portfolio. They can be “drawings, paintings, photographs, digital media, design, three-dimensional work, web design, animation and other digital media.” There are other degree programs with their representative degree and portfolio requirements.

Basic requirements for an artist’s portfolio

If you have not decided on the art college you want to attend, or the specific program of art you want to go into, it is a good idea to build up a solid basic portfolio. After deciding on a school and degree program, you will find out what your portfolio instructions are for the particular school you want to attend. You can then adjust your portfolio accordingly.

Your basic portfolio should include all your best work and samples of each type of medium you work in such as watercolor, oil painting, pen and ink and acrylics. Pieces to include should be drawings, paintings and sketches. If you are into photography, you can also include your photography work. There should be samples of life drawing, still life, portraits, landscape and abstract drawings. Once you have applied to a program, you will receive a more detailed requirement of what should be in your portfolio. When you receive this information you can go through your basic portfolio and pick out the best you have to offer.

Your portfolio case

In order to collect your art work and put them in a portfolio, you will need a portfolio case. Portfolio cases can come in many different sizes and design. You can either purchase them online or in stores like Staples, Michael’s or any art supply store.

Your portfolio case should ideally be sized according to the sizes of your artwork. Once you receive instructions from the college to which you have applied, you may have to purchase another portfolio to have the right size according to their instructions.


In all cases, submitting an artist’s portfolio when applying for a job may be the most conducive to your original portfolio. Since art jobs can be in many different areas, you would include work specific to the job for which you are applying. Advertising would include your samples of advertising, graphics and commercial art pieces. Fashion design would include your best fashion designs. Architecture would include your best architectural designs. Jobs may also have specified requirements for the portfolio you will be required to submit.