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Tips for college portfolios


chestnutz

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I realize I may be asking a good deal of questions around here now, but now is the time (mid-junior year) when searching for colleges becomes more important and happens more frequently.

The thing I'm concerned most about is this: the portfolio. My GPA is average, my SATs are above average, and with art majors I hear the deal breaker could be the portfolio. I know for most schools, they ask for specific pieces of art. My problem is I don't really have that many actual, anything near portfolio worthy traditional drawings. When applying for a GD major (which I hope to do), how important is the conventional type of art (pencil, charcoal, paint, etc) to include in the portfolio?

Now I have no idea what the average portfolio for an aspiring GD major is, or the skill level with Illustrator and such going into college, but I'd say I'm above average when it comes to doing things that actually pertain to graphic design for still having a year or so left before applications. You guys who have seen my concepts know my skill level; is it sufficient to get into a solid school? I'm not very good when it comes to that conventional art, I much prefer working on the computer - how much of a problem is that?

I just want to know more about the application process, portfolios, the skill level required going in, anything like that. Advice for what I should do to bulk my portfolio (or lack thereof) up? I know some members here will be attending college next year, or are recent alums or currently going there (for graphic design), so any tips from ya'll would be greatly appreciated. Also, if anyone wouldn't mind sharing the portfolio or a sampling that they submitted to a college, I would love to see it just to get an idea.

Here's a very, very rough list of a couple schools I'm interested in:

-Syracuse U

-Boston College and University

-Northeastern

-Cincinnati

-Drew University

-Temple

-RISD, Pratt

-UMass Dartmouth

Any other suggestions (I want to stay northeast) are welcome. By the way, I know that the GD program is only as good as YOU make it at a school, so I don't need to hear that whole speech ^_^:P

Thank you very much to anyone who comments.

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I've got to be honest with you, I don't have much to advise on a college entry level portfolio. One it was just before high schools were teaching design on computers, so all my art was drawings or paintings, and two...mine was awful. Full of still lifes, drawings from photos, etc. I had little if any "creative" art. I still don't do much "creative" or abstract art to be honest with you. I've never been any good at it.

But I will go ahead and tell you what I think makes a good job hunting portfolio, because I think if you have a good job hunting portfolio it'll look good to a college art professor. There are also 100s of different opinions of portfolios, so don't take anyone's as gospel. I think these are some basics though that everyone can somewhat agree on.

1) Keep it clean. Make sure everything is well matted and you have good craftsmanship. This includes not only the piece itself, but the matte and everything. The matte should be a neutral color. White or Black are fine, I prefer grey but that's up to you really, and your piece. I'd avoid having multiple colors or anything that isn't in the white/black/grey realm.

2) Same size. This is more for a design portfolio, but I think you won't be lugging big paintings and drawings to interviews so most likely you'll have photos. If you cut all your mattes to the same size, it has a much cleaner and professional look. Basically, you don't want a 4" x 4" matte next to a 30" x 56" matte.

3) The case. Something different but not too out there. My case has always been a metal toolbox. Its about a the size of a briefcase and its silver braided metal. I bought it at a menards for less than 20 bucks. I came with foam so I could size it exactly to my matte board size (I used 13" by 18" btw and had them cut at a Hobby Lobby in the framing department) The reason I say this is if you bring a basic black porfolio bag, everyone has that. Do something somewhat unique but not way out there. It'll give them something to remember you by (what about that kid with the cool portfolio bag/box/etc, I swear I got a callback or two just based on that cause they could remember me) and it shows you have some creative problem solving. The two most popular cases for portfolios are the zipup black portfolio and the black book with plastic sleeves. You'll find people that both love these and can't stand them.

4) Your Best work. Show your best work (duh) but don't feel obligated to get to 15 pieces or anything (Unless they specifically ask for that) If you only have 5 good pieces, only bring those; ie...don't pad it with work your not comfortable showing. If you have 20, then you might want to cut that down into your best ones of those. I think the perfect number is 12. Make sure you organize them how you want to show them. Show a variety of work and mediums, start off and finish with a bang. Even if you know all you want to do is ceramics or logo design, having other things in your portfolio will show versatility and there aren't many employers or professors that hate versatility.

As for your specific question regarding fine art in a design portfolio, personally I feel its perfectly acceptable to have some fine arts pieces in a college entry design portfolio. Actually its not even a bad idea to have them in your interview portfolio when looking for a job. I've had a page of photography in mine since I left school. Again, it shows creativity and versatility. You never know when you'll have to go out and take some photos for a job, or even illustrate something...esspecially now as the trend in design is going to more hand drawn looks.

That's about all I've got. Its not an easy process and you'll never be finished. You're best piece now most likely won't even be in there in a year's time. Always be updating it because you don't want to be stuck at a FedEx Kinkos at 4am the day before an interview....trust me.

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Pat's got some good points for an interview, but I never actually had to interview. My portfolio was submitted via photo slides, so in the end, they were all the same size.

Although that was just 3+ years ago, I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of places accepted CDs. Still, they're likely to be digital photos, so some of the same points stand. If you DO end up needing slides, get a good photographer to help you take them and go to a good developer to get them turned into slides.

As for the actual portfolio, I submitted only a couple graphic design pieces. It was almost all more traditional art. I had self-portraits and still-lifes (still-lives?) mostly. Pencil and charcoal dominated, but I also used pastels and even though I hate painting, I might have had one in there. I also think I had an abstract sculpture in there (not my thing, but I had one turn out decent from a project).

Here at Illinois, all Visual Art majors have to start with a Foundation Program where you take Drawing I and Design I (note that design doesn't automatically imply Graphic Design) first semester and Drawing II and Design II second semester.

Shortly before second semester ends, you put together another portfolio (mostly from your classes, but you can use outside and old work too if you judge it to be worthy) and apply to the various specific majors you're interested in. Even in that round of portfolio review, the Graphic Design staff made it clear that they weren't out to see how good you were at Graphic Design now, they wanted you to demonstrate that you had the basic principle knowledge and creativity so that they could help you become strong in Graphic Design.

And I think that's the biggest thing to remember, because I think you'll see that at most schools, whether you're applying directly to the GD dept. or not.

They don't care how good you are at Illustrator right now. They don't care if you're good at drawing logos right now. They want to see that you have the creativity, the basic understanding of visual principles, and the potential to learn to become a good Graphic Designer.

Hopefully you got something out of that.

I'll leave you by suggesting that you do try and develop a decent amount of "traditional" media portfolio. Don't worry about being ground-breaking or "deep" or anything like that. Just sketch. Draw self-portraits, portraits, and things from life. Mix in some color. You don't have to blow them away. You just need to show them potential.

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These are all good tips... but something I have found to be very helpful: show your design process.

Design schools are often just as concerned about the way you get to your finished product as they are about the finished product itself. You don't have to show the design process for all your pieces, but if you have one piece that shows your thinking from start to finish, they will eat it up. So think of something like this:

1) Start with a paragraph or two about the artwork itself. Say who the design is for, what they want in a design, problems with the old design, and how you plan to "fix them". This gives them some background into your piece. (HOWEVER, don't bring in your sketchbook and say "look at all my sketches!" not good. Scan them into your computer an come up with a nice presentation for them...)

2) Rough Sketches/Early Drafts. Show them you spent time brainstorming and planning your design. If you have to go back to the drawing board, then show your first sketches and why they didn't work.

3) Finalists. Show them that you can take a rough idea or draft and turn it into an almost-finished product.

4) Final Product. Show them how you changed your artwork to meet the criteria of your client or yourself personally.

You can do a whole bunch of other innovative things like add little commentaries into each of the design steps or you could be original and have your own little step by step process portfolio...

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Thank you all for the advice, I appreciate it a lot.

Ghetto, not sure I understand completely. Say I put my personal logo in the portfolio: are you saying it's a good idea to devote one page to the sketches, one to finalists, and one to the final product? Or put them all on one page?

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These are all good tips... but something I have found to be very helpful: show your design process.

This is actually very good advice for after school interviews as well. I've had more than one job interview ask for either my sketchbook in general (very bad for me, I rarely sketch legibly...I know what I'm going to do, but its usually circles and scribbles) and a project from start to finish.

So keep those sketches! They'll pay off!

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The biggest critique I received about my portfolio was the lack of "application" designs. I had lots of logo work, but none of them were shown in functional applications (on t-shirts, bottles, brochures, whatever). Brand identity packages go over very well I've found. It shows that you've taken the time to work your way through an entire process, not just slapping logos together.

I have 2 versions of my portfolio now (post graduation); a printed paper copy which is 11x11 in a leather scrapbook album. Everything was digitized and placed into a document, then printed out, not pasted onto the page itself. I also have a CD version of my entire portfolio and resume that I mail out to prospective employers. I purchased some inexpensive metal DVD cases with a clear plastic window. This gives me plenty of space to put 2 CDs, plus a business card, hard copy of my resume, and a "leave behind" postcard.

Be innovative; like pcgd said, everyone has a black boring portfolio case. Try something unique like he suggested. It will attract attention before you even open your portfolio.

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Thank you all for the advice, I appreciate it a lot.

Ghetto, not sure I understand completely. Say I put my personal logo in the portfolio: are you saying it's a good idea to devote one page to the sketches, one to finalists, and one to the final product? Or put them all on one page?

This will explain it better than I can: Logo Process

You don't have to go into the depth that he does, but it should give you an idea of what I'm trying to explain....

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No clue waffles. I just have always loved syracuse, it being the closest big school to where I live. I don't know much about the design program, but I've heard it's up and coming.

Ah, ok. The difference boils down to the emphasis of the programs. The VPA program comes at it from a more art-and-design angle, so your 100-level classes will focus more on design fundamentals and theories, while the Newhouse program (which I was in) has a communications emphasis, which means a couple of journalism/media courses thrown in. Some of the non-design stuff at Newhouse was annoying bull :censored: and I'd love to have a more solid foundation of design knowledge, but the Newhouse name on a diploma is golden if you want a job anywhere in the communications field and some of the media stuff was interesting, if nothing else.

I should add, to bring this back on topic, that the portfolio review to get into Newhouse design comes after your first year of general communications classes in Newhouse and is comprised of stuff you've already done for the 100-level design class every communications student takes. It's harder to fail this portfolio review than it is to pass it.

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ghetto, I understand what the design process is, but what I want to know is how to implement that into the portfolio. Thanks.

And another thing: if the school has a co op program, it moves way up on my list. I would love going to a school that offers that.

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ghetto, I understand what the design process is, but what I want to know is how to implement that into the portfolio. Thanks.

And another thing: if the school has a co op program, it moves way up on my list. I would love going to a school that offers that.

Did you see how he implemented that into his portfolio? It was a link near the bottom of the tutorial...

incase you missed it...

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  • 2 weeks later...

Just a side note: have you visited Northeastern yet? I'm a senior, so my apps are all in already, but that place is :censored:ing magical. Temple is also cool, as I know two of the Design professors (who are really brilliant teachers). Also, if your into a place like Northeastern, I'd suggest SUNY Purchase. The only place I'd rather go beside Northeastern is SUNY. Honestly, besides the amazing design facilities, all of the student work we saw was absolutely amazing. As far as the portfolio I included a lot of vector-based branding and art, but (as recommended by a SUNY admissions officer) I made sure to include a couple of hardcore still-life's and charcoal pieces.

ALSO, you were talking about Co-Op's- Drexel has an amazing Co-Op and a pretty cool design program in general. Their new building (well, new spaces) are great. Also, Champlain College offers a great Bring Your Own Business Program, and Co-Ops in Burlington, Dublin, and Montreal (which is only like, a 40-minute drive from Burlington).

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Just a side note: have you visited Northeastern yet? I'm a senior, so my apps are all in already, but that place is :censored:ing magical. Temple is also cool, as I know two of the Design professors (who are really brilliant teachers). Also, if your into a place like Northeastern, I'd suggest SUNY Purchase. The only place I'd rather go beside Northeastern is SUNY. Honestly, besides the amazing design facilities, all of the student work we saw was absolutely amazing. As far as the portfolio I included a lot of vector-based branding and art, but (as recommended by a SUNY admissions officer) I made sure to include a couple of hardcore still-life's and charcoal pieces.

ALSO, you were talking about Co-Op's- Drexel has an amazing Co-Op and a pretty cool design program in general. Their new building (well, new spaces) are great. Also, Champlain College offers a great Bring Your Own Business Program, and Co-Ops in Burlington, Dublin, and Montreal (which is only like, a 40-minute drive from Burlington).

You really think so?

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