Portfolio class with Sonya Blesofsky, 11/17/10, and National Portfolio Day, 11/20/10

Although not all Art Ready students will choose to apply to art schools, it never hurts to get a realistic picture of what these schools are looking for in an admissions application, and generally what is considered a quality portfolio for a young artist. This was the purpose of a special Art Ready portfolio prep workshop led by Smack Mellon teaching artist Sonya Blesofsky. The workshop was supplemented by an optional field Saturday field trip a few days later, to National Portfolio Day at Lehman College, an opportunity for students to receive professional portfolio reviews from art school representatives from across the country.

Summary: Portfolio Class

Sonya shows examples of the artwork on her own website

Sonya’s portfolio prep workshop, held at Smack Mellon and at an empty studio space at 55 Washington Street (donated by Two Trees Management), consisted of a presentation of some portfolios of varying success by other high school students, in 2-D and 3-D design (mostly taken from the AP studio art exam website); a discussion of key components of a portfolio and the types of artwork that colleges are looking for; a tutorial on writing a good artist statement; and individual reviews of Art Ready students’ bodies of work. Sonya also demonstrated how to properly document two-dimensional and three-dimensional work through photography.

Sonya shows students how the artist statement on her website relates to her artwork

Sonya demonstrates how to photograph 3-D objects with clamp lights for dramatic lighting.

Sonya gives different Art Ready students individual critiques of their work

While different art schools have different portfolio requirements, some of the main take-aways from this workshop were:

Portfolio Prep Tips

– The first step in developing a portfolio is to create a list of first choice and back-up colleges that to which you are planning to apply and contact each of their admissions departments to obtain their particular portfolio and admissions requirements. Some schools have very specific assignments, such as the Parsons Challenge at Parsons/The New School of Design, while the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) has a pretty standard portfolio requirement.

A good portfolio should demonstrate both depth and breadth: unlike a professional working artist, whose goal is to demonstrate consistency of materials and concepts, as a high school student, you should be able to show facility in more than one medium and with a range of subject matter. However, you should show a consistent style and several works that investigate a subject matter that interests you.

It is important to get a lot of practice working from life (as opposed to copying photographs, or drawing just from imagination); using different kinds of media (for example, a portfolio should not just have pencil line drawings); and mastering basic technical skills such as composition and value. Working regularly in a sketchbook can be great practice developing these skills.

Giving yourself enough TIME is key, as well as simply creating a lot of work that can be pared down later in a portfolio. Most colleges ask for 12-20 works in a portfolio, but you should have much more work than that from which to choose.

Most colleges will expect you to write some kind of essay (or “artist statement”) describing your work, so it’s great to get practice writing about your work. Sonya explained, “When I’m stuck, I do a lot of research and writing about my own artwork, so I can figure out what it’s actually about!”
Click here to read Sonya’s artist statement on her website.
Click here for tools for writing an artist statement.

Taking care of your work, as well as being mindful of general presentation, is important: colleges will not take your portfolio seriously if the work is torn, wrinkled, etc. You should get in the habit of storing your finished work in a place where it won’t get damaged.

– It is also important to submit good quality images of your work. Some schools want to see original works while some want digital images. Work should be photographed in good lighting–outdoor light is best when you want even lighting on the artwork, and clamp lights are useful in providing dramatic lighting for 3-dimensional work. While it is sometimes important to take more than one photo of a 3-D object to show different viewpoints, most colleges don’t want to see too many images of the same piece, or jpgs that combine pictures of more than one artwork in the same file.

Summary: National Portfolio Day

On Saturday, November 20, a small group of some current Art Ready students, some alumni of the program, and some 2010 Smack Mellon Summer Arts Intensive students, traveled to Lehman College in the Bronx for the National Portfolio Day event. The campus was swarming with young art school hopefuls toting large portfolios from table to table in several different classroom and gymnasium spaces. At each table, a different art school representative spent a few minutes looking through students’ work, giving feedback, and in some cases filling out evaluations.

The lines were long, but most students seemed to be getting very helpful advice, most of which reinforced the advice given by Sonya in the after-school class: draw more from life, keep a sketchbook to regularly practice different skills and create more work, and keep your work in good condition. Some of the students on the field trip only had a small amount of work to show, especially those who were only sophomores, but college reps advised these students to follow the above advice in order to get a good portfolio ready by senior year. Some students currently in their senior year had in-depth conversations with officers from schools to which they may actually apply this fall.

Click here for a list of participating art schools at National Portfolio Day 2010!

Summary of helpful links (most used in Sonya’s portfolio class)–Also visit the resources section of this blog:

Preparing your Portfolio for College Admissions
By Kavin Buck, Artist and Director of Recruitment & Outreach, UCLA School of the Arts & Architecture. A summary of the steps to take in preparing a portfolio, and what colleges are looking for.

Tools for Writing an Artist’s Statement
A helpful step-by-step guide to writing about your own artwork for college application essays and any type of presentation of your work, compiled by Smack Mellon teaching artist Sonya Blesofsky.

Contains helpful articles and databases of different art schools, as well as insights on the portfolio application process.

AP Studio Art website
Summarizes the components of a successful Advanced Placement Studio Art portfolio exam.

College board website
A comprehensive resource on the college application process, including information on selecting a school, applying, and financial aid.

National Portfolio Day
The official website, with updated information on upcoming National Portfolio Day events.


About smartready

Mentorship Program Manager, Smack Mellon
This entry was posted in Portfolio/College Prep. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Portfolio class with Sonya Blesofsky, 11/17/10, and National Portfolio Day, 11/20/10

  1. Pingback: Portfolio Prep class with Sonya Blesofsky, 10/26/11 | Smack Mellon Art Ready

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