Preparing Your Portfolio




Quick Overview

Getting Started

Arranging your portfolio

Written work

Preparing to present

Likely questions


Quick Overview



Your portfolio is a window into your personal practice. It is a key part of the application process for most art & design degrees. It is you oppotunity to show your ability, creativity and passion for the subject you are applying for.

Your portfolio needs to demonstrate three things:

  • Your technical ability
  • Your contextual understanding (who/what influences you and why)
  • How your ideas evolved from original thought through to the final outcome.

Getting started


Visit art school websites such as Norwich University of the Arts to get an idea of the kind of work current students make and the type of tools and processes are used on the course you are interested in.

You can also visit your nearest GetSet centre and speak to our people as they will also be able to advise on how to put together your portfolio

What Does A Portfolio Look Like?



Portfolios are usually presented in folders with leaves or pull outs (A3 to A1) or photography boxes, containing a selection of your creative work.

You might choose a creative presentation option, for example a shoe box to present footwear design.

If you choose anything other than a standard portfolio it should compliment your work and not appear clumsy.

Some studentschoose to present their work digitially - see No. 8 for more details.

The portfolio should be tailored to the specific course you are applying for. Portfolios can include a range of work around your subject area including drawings, paintings, collages, photographs or short films.

The Basics

  • Put your name on your portfolio and additional items (an obvious point but every year it catches someone out).
  • Be clear. Fussy arrangements and mounting are off-putting
  • Be consistent. Use the same size and colour (preferably black or white) sheets for mounting.
  • Labels should be discreet. Use the same font and size throughout.
  • Be practical. Don't use materials that are too heavy or delicate - You will probably take your portfolio to a number of interviews and it needs to look great throughout.
  • Be considered. A suggestion is to start with your strongest piece and if possible end on your second strongest for a good first and last impression.
  • Be sensitive. Some work may be part of a series and look best placed together, however avoid repetition. It is fine to dedicate one page to a single piece of work and let it speak for itself. Don't put pieces of work together that don't compliment each other.

Going Into The Detail


Include 20 to 30 pieces of your strongest work. This will vary depending on the course you are applying for and the amount of relevant and high quality work you have.

Plastic sleeves are fine for 2D courses like Graphic Design but they can make viewing textured work difficult for more tactile courses e.g. Fashion or Textiles, where you may want the viewer to feel the work (plus they are heavy and expensive). So consider whether they are necessary.

Demonstrate that you can be experimental and are prepared to push yourself e.g. show work that took you out of your comfort zone and be able to talk about it.

Use Of Photography



If you have large work(e.g. canvasses or sculptures) it's best to photograph it and include the photo instead.
You could include images from a number of angles or of details.

Try to photograph the work in context e.g. where would it be displayed - perhaps in a gallery, shop, museum or home - This will show you are thinking objectively about work you are producing and your audience.


Additional Information For Film, Animation And Games Applicants


You will need to demonstrate skills additional to those of art and design applicants. These might include: technical ability, with cameras, and video-editing, storyboarding, sound design, script-writing, photographic work, animation (on-line/3D/other), interactive software (e.g. flash/HTML5), open source game engines,game design conceptsin 3D/2D packages or links to websites, blogs, etc.

These portfolios are usually presented digitally using a USB stick or DVD, or some students present their work via social media or a website. We recommend,, or as credible display tools. If you are not bringing your own laptop, check in advance that presentation facilities are available.

Film clips should be between 2-5 minutes.
Showreels of clips are acceptable but complete short films of this length are even better. This demonstrates disipline and achievement as well as creativity.

Sketchbooks and Drawing Skills


Sketchbooks offer insight into your creative development and can be one of the most interesting parts of your portfolio.

We suggest that you bring no more than two or three with you to show how your ideas have developed, as well as how you have contextualised your work (who/what has influenced you).

Keep projects within one sketchbook - the panel are looking to see how each project has developed.

The majority of courses are interested in your ability to draw so think about the role it plays in your work and include a range of drawing skills if possible.

This could be either observational: figurative (people/animals) structural (buildings) or organic forms (plants), or imaginative: Illustrations, storyboards, character ideas, abstractions, patterns or product packaging.

Written Work


Preparing to present


It will strengthen your application if you include work that you created outside school/college. Perhaps you have had work experience, worked freelance, featured in a gallery or press article. This demonstrates a real passion for the subject and that you don't just follow instructions.

Show your character - your work could make reference to hobbies outside of your subject area (e.g. sporrts, collections, theatre, bands) This will help you stand out. Make sure this work is in keeping with the flow of your portfolio.

When you are happy with the work you have selected ask tutors, friends and family to look at it with fresh eyes.

The work should speak for itself so let them look through it before you discuss your ideas.

The Interview


Things that may come up during the interview...

Projects that have been important to you - what did you learn (perhaps a new technique, a risk worth taking, working with others etc)?

Creatives who inspire you and why -know examples of their work.

Current interests, influences, materials you are using.
Are you taking risks? What informs your creative decisions?

The strength of your work and areas you hope to improve.

Your understanding of the relevant industry.

Galleries, exhibitions or festivals you've attended.
Did they influence your work? Did you like them?

Most Likely Direct Questions


Why have you chosen this university?

What do you like about this particular course?

What motivates/inspires you?

How does research inform your work?

What are your ambitions?

Do you have any questions for us?


Interview Tips


The interviewer is looking to bring out the best in you and your work, not to intimidate you or catch you out.

Be positive and optimistic about you practice and your future.

Don't shy away from a question or put yourself down.

The interview is a two-way process; it is your chance to show your enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject and you chance to ask questions.

It is important that you show that you are keen to learn and develop your skils further.



Put your name on your portfolio!

Choose work you are confident talking about.

Spend time selecting your work, make sure you tailor it for each individual course.

Include written work.

The most important part of your portfolio is the quality of your work, so let it speak for itself and be proud of your creativity.

Good Luck!


If you still have questions or require subject specific advice please contact your nearest GetSet Set centre