How to Make a Visual Arts Portfolio

A portfolio is a critical part of the audition process for eighth-grade students applying to NYC high schools with special art programs. A thoughtful portfolio shows your strengths and potential for high-school level work.

Always follow the instructions given by the school or program you are applying to for specific guidance. While individual schools may vary slightly in their requirements, the following guidelines will help you assemble a competitive portfolio.

In general, however, reviewers will be assessing your your understanding of composition and the principles of design, which are:

  • Unity/variety
  • Balance /emphasis
  • Rhythm
  • Repetition
  • Proportion/scale
  • Figure/ground

What Your Portfolio Should Look Like

The presentation of your portfolio is just as important as what's inside it. A neat and attractive presentation tells the reviewing committee that you take care of your work and that you are proud of it.

  • Use a sturdy, high-quality portfolio case.
  • The pieces you include should be clean, undamaged, and unframed.
  • Label every piece with your name, school, and title and date of the work.
  • If the work is a photograph or three-dimensional, include labels on a separate page or in a plastic sleeve. 

What to Include in Your Portfolio

Include 10–20 original pieces of artwork that you completed in either seventh or eighth grade. If you don’t have 10 pieces, include as many as you can, but be sure they demonstrate your best work.

Select artwork that you made from observation. For example: a portrait, figure, interior, still-life, or landscape. Some artwork from imagination or memory can be included, but prioritize work from observation.

Here are a few more suggestions and tips:

  • Include a sketchbook of your ideas or preliminary drawings.
  • Do not include copies or "works in the style of" famous artists.
  • Include thematic works that show your in-depth investigation of an idea, or showcase a variety of subjects to show your broad interests.
  • Include a variety of media such as drawing, painting, collage, printmaking, and media-technology to demonstrate your skill with different tools, materials, and techniques.