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Top Tips for Creating your Portfolio

By: Caroline Barr

Building your portfolio is an essential part of life as an artist, both as a student and as a practitioner. It is a way to showcase your work and gives insight into who you are; your passions, your creativity and your style. Putting together your portfolio may seem intimidating if you’ve never done it before, however, it is easy once you break it down. Here are a few of my top tips:

Start strong and leave a lasting impression – This has got to be the best piece of advice I received when I was curating my portfolio. Begin with your strongest visual, choose your favourite piece of work, something impactful that will catch people’s attention from the start. The middle is a good space to show your method and process, think mood boards, fashion drawings, storyboards and sketches. Lastly, finish with another exceptional piece of work, something memorable, this will be what sticks in their minds. 

Use good images – High-quality, well-lit images make a difference in your portfolio. This doesn’t mean going out and getting professional pictures, your smartphone camera is probably good enough already! Just consider where you take your pictures. Can you take it near natural light? Do you have a plain background? Also, make sure to crop off the edges, it looks more professional and helps you to focus on the work, not its surroundings.


Paulona – 20-hour,  A1 charcoal study.

I chose this image for my portfolio as I felt it showcased my artistic skills and interest in rural subjects. This piece was also the piece of work that probably challenged me the most as it was out of my comfort zone but it was an incredible talking point in my portfolio and for interviews.


Check what type of portfolio is required – Also check their guidelines, some have a specific amount of work or request it to have a description alongside each piece whereas some prefer the work to speak for itself. Most universities offer students the option to submit a digital portfolio or bring along a physical one.  If, like me, you have far to travel and don’t want to carry a bulky portfolio around, or worry about transporting your work, a digital submission is a great choice. This brings me to my next point:

Be selective – Choose your work carefully. Some universities recommended that you stick to less than 20 items of work, and always select quality over quantity. Choose pieces you’re happy to talk about, the tutors want to hear about your passion for your work.


Wild Atlantic Way – Final Major Project.
This piece of work was designed, made, and photographed by me. I used this photo for my portfolio title page as I felt it stood out and provided a strong introduction to my practice. I was able to talk about designing the fabric, making the piece, and styling and photographing it. It showed my passion and process, allowing me to show universities who I was and how I worked, as well as the standard I could produce. It is still one of my favorite photographs of my work to this day and I often come back to it.


Be authentically you – Put in pieces that you want to talk about. Don’t be afraid to include something you’re passionate about just because it isn’t on the course you’ve applied for. You can use it to show how diverse your practice is and how you aren’t afraid to branch out and try new things. This way you can showcase how you can bring something new to the table and stand out from the average student. 

For more information on portfolios and interviews, listen to the podcast below!

HE Knowledge Hub Podcast: Series 3 – Episode 1- Interviews, Portfolios and Auditions

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