Article by Bill Schaaf
Head of School of Design & Craft at Buckinghamshire New University
Your portfolio is one of the most important tools in your career development. The portfolio you create today to help you get into the college or university of your choice is only the first building block in a project that will continue to expand and develop throughout your study and into your profession(s). It should not be seen as a static thing to create once and reuse many times but, instead, as a dynamic changeable thing which you can easily add to, take away from and re-order to tell different stories about yourself to different audiences. A good portfolio is not a single object but a collection of stories that can be told in many different ways. A portfolio is used to open doors for you – to get into university, to get a job, to show off what you are and what you are capable of doing.
Colleges and universities use portfolios to help understand a number of things about you: what interests you, what skills you have, what you are passionate about and how committed you are about reaching your goals.
Students should maintain at all times a portfolio of work that demonstrates their experience, abilities and professional interests. At any time, you may be asked to demonstrate to someone else what you can do. Generally speaking, you rarely have enough time to create something entirely new. You must have materials, ready to hand, which you can easily customize to fit the ‘client’s needs’.
Your portfolio should be considered to be a collection of work that is under continual development, editing and improvement. You should maintain your work in physical and digital form and be able to rearrange or customize the components easily. Depending on the intended use, you may need to provide a single high-quality image, a collection of five-ten images with associated descriptions, a CD-ROM or a presentation to an extended audience. You should always have available short, descriptive text about each piece; you are not always in a position to present the portfolio so, therefore, it needs to be self-explanatory.
You should select pieces that demonstrate your skills (in, for instance, drawing, composition, colour selection, making models, craftsmanship), your understanding, your interests, your creativity and your commitment. In particular, universities look for demonstrations of your creativity, passion, process or approach to developing work and skills – frequently in that order of importance. It is vital that students can show an element of creativity in what they make and/or the approach they take to developing work. Students enter art and design study from a number of different routes and have very different experiences and skills. With passion and commitment, students can be taught new skills in their chosen discipline and, while universities like to see some experimentation related to the intended study, they do not expect to see a high-level of specialist skill. Much more important to demonstrate are the transferable skills of drawing (seeing and interpreting), craftsmanship and attention to detail.
You should have examples of finished work as well as ideas in development. If possible, include the stages of development in a more complex project – initial sketches, inspirational images, models, photographs, colour studies, evaluation/feedback from users. This might be considered one ‘piece’ presented, for instance, as a developmental log-book.
It is useful to demonstrate a variety of projects and approaches – two-dimensional and three-dimensional work, multiple physical media (charcoal, paint, block-print, papier-mâché, plastic, metal, wood…) moving image, computer and hand-generated. For moving image work and animation you should print keyframes and/or storyboard development so that some aspects of the work can be understood without seeing the animation itself. It is particularly beneficial to include work done outside your class assignments; universities want to know what you do on your own inspiration, without the direction of teachers.
For larger, three-dimensional work, you should include photographs rather than originals; 3D work can be awkward to carry, handle and present and difficult to pull out of packaging and wrap back up for safety. Furthermore, presenting a portfolio is a kind of performance. It should appear effortless and flowing; the last thing you want is to be fighting your work because it is in awkward plastic sleeves or constraining packaging.
Some universities, in fact, recommend that you do not place work in plastic sleeved portfolios but, instead, mount work on light card-stock. The reason for this is so that they can see the work without annoying plastic highlights, that they are not fighting metal teeth and mangled plastic sheet and that they can quickly sort through the work to examine the pieces that interest them.
While some colleges and universities will provide strict guidelines for the number of pieces, others will not. Generally, your portfolio should include a maximum of 25 pieces. They should be carefully selected to show the balance of your capabilities appropriate to the position for which you’ve applied. It is better to put in fewer excellent pieces than more poor ones.
Flexibility of portfolio materials is the most important aspect to be able to easily prepare an appropriate portfolio. One university may provide very strict guidelines to how work may be presented such as a portfolio of a particular size and number of sheets. Another university may wish the work in DVD or slide form only. You must be prepared to have it in a variety of formats. Whatever form is chosen, it is important to think of the stories to be told.
Consider the sequences of pieces and how they relate to one another. Contrary to how many students present, it is helpful to put the finished work at the front and then follow it with the development sketches and subsequent refinement. This enables the viewer to know ‘the end game’ and focus on the development work accordingly. What are the ‘chapters’ of the story? Do you want a separate section of skills or of personal extra-curricular work? Do you want the portfolio arranged chronologically or thematically?
Whatever you decide, try to apply a consistent approach to presenting. You should aim for a consistent set of sizes (either all one size or, at least, only a few) and position work in the same location on each page or, at least, a graphic grid (like a newspaper where images only take up one or more columns but don’t stop halfway across a column). You might select a colour scheme to pull together themes or provide consistency of appearance. The more consistent the presentation the fewer distractions from the work itself.
In summary, a portfolio is a very personal thing that should show, to a variety of audiences, who you are, your views and capabilities in art and design. Your stock of portfolio materials should be readily available and easily modified or rearranged to create a focused presentation specifically targeted to a particular purpose. It should be sequenced and formatted to demonstrate your creativity, experiences, skills and, most importantly, passion for your subject.
Mer om: Portfolio Guidelines