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How Can I Prepare A Portfolio for Interview?

Most of my posts have concentrated on adults who are beginning to learn to draw and paint, but it has come to my attention that I have a younger audience of students (which is great!).  Many whom are studying Art for GCSE and A-Level or at college and preparing to go for  university or art college interview.  I also have had the pleasure of teaching some more advanced adult learners in recent years who wish to progress from my courses to higher level ones.  One thing both groups have in common is fear over presenting their portfolios in an interview type situation, so how do you get over the nerves and make sure you show your work and yourself at your best?

There is much I can say about this topic and I could write a much more detailed practical guide about portfolios, how much work, what order, what format etc.  but for this post I will offer some general tips for art interviews.  I am going to cover some of the key questions I’ve been asked as an art tutor about the art interview and presenting portfolios.

How Important is the Portfolio?

I would say that the portfolio is key to gaining a place on an art degree, as with most creative arts, your work speaks for you.  If you are being assessed for a course they are going to be looking for a good attitude, a motivated person who is keen to learn but your portfolio will say a lot about you and your work.  Never underestimate how important the portfolio is, it is a way to show how creative you are, your level of technical skill and research skills.  It is your place to show off the best of what you can do.  The fact is that the portfolio can make or break your future at many of the best art institutions, so put the time in to create a killer portfolio.

A pile of portfolios awaiting selection

A Brutal Selection Process

I still remember the process of going to art interviews for degree courses, I went to several and they were often nail-biting experiences.  It is common to be selected before you go for interview by sending samples of your work digitally or over a website.  On arrival you may be asked to drop off your physical portfolio and then you will get a chance to look around the institution while they look at your (and usually hundreds of other) portfolios.  I remember this process and being called into a hall where names were called out if your portfolio was good enough to go into the interview process. Don’t expect the interview process to be easy, the top universities/art colleges can afford to be selective and they very serious about attracting committed students.

Be Prepared to Talk About Your Work!

When I say ‘the work speaks for itself’ this certainly doesn’t mean you don’t speak in an interview situation.  Be prepared to answer questions about your work, what media you used, what worked, don’t be afraid to talk about things that didn’t work, they will like to see proof that you experimented and took risks.  You will also be assessed on your verbal communication skills, this doesn’t mean that you have to be the best public speaker but communicating your ideas behind your work is part of being an creative.  They will be looking for people with ideas, so it is best if you show you have them! Typical questions about your work might be ‘What influences your work?’, ‘What were you trying to achieve with this piece?’, ‘Where did your ideas come from?’  and ‘How would you describe your work?’

Show some idea development work not just finished pieces. Be prepared to explain the idea development behind your work.

Do Your Preparation and Research

 Being asked what artists you are influenced by is a safe bet in an art interview so make sure you do your research.  Make sure you know how to pronounce the artist’s name correctly and know more than the absolute basics about their work.  One question could lead to more and you want to show you have done more than look at one piece of their work on Pinterest.  It is also a good idea to rehearse the potential questions and talking through your work as nerves will not help on the day.  Preparing and rehearsing will help you to feel more confident.

 Be Confident

 Easier said than done perhaps but if your portfolio is prepared and presented well it should just be a matter of being able to talk about it.  The portfolio should be a result of months of work and preparation so there is not much you can do on interview day other than be confident and try and enjoy the experience.  The worst that will happen is that you should get some useful feedback on where to improve.   Always put your best work on the first page, it will make you feel more confident and start you off on a good footing.

Don’t Be Disappointed By The Speed 

 Don’t be too discouraged if they don’t seem to be looking at every piece in your portfolio in detail, this is very common.  There is often not the time to go into details, it is often a quick flick through as interviewers know what they are looking for.   The speed might not be a bad sign, being on the other end of the process these days (looking at students work) I find that you see so much that is very easy to identify straight away the best and the worst of the bunch.  The harder selections are those who sit in the middle, this is where the interviewer might ask more questions or spend more time looking at your work.

Good luck to all those going for interviews and showing their portfolios!

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