So a good year on I am finally getting round to doing a Portfolio Help Post!
One of the most daunting things about applying for a course in the Creative Arts is the requirement of a Portfolio of work. Depending on the course you are applying for your portfolio will be different. For example, a Fine Art course requires different pieces to a Fashion Design course.
The first thing to consider when applying is are you applying through the right path?
When embarking on further education, degree courses are applied for via UCAS. However, if applying for a Foundation Degree in Art and Design you are normally asked to apply directly to the school. This means you are not limited to only 5 options and you are also able to pick and chose the most relevant of the qualifications you possess.
If you intent to study a course in the Arts you are usually expected to have completed a Foundation Degree in Art and Design or have an exceptional portfolio of work, if you are under 19 in the September that you will start the course it is a free year. This is an opportunity that you should not pass off, a foundation degree with build up a better portfolio and a wider understanding of the creative arts, additionally it will help inform the course you chose after completing the year.
I applied for a 5 degree courses via UCAS and then 2 Foundation Courses separately. I applied and was offered places from Lancaster, Newcastle, Bournemouth, DeMontfort and Reading for a 3 year degree in Fine Art. I also applied to University of the Creative Arts Canterbury and Central St. Martins, I was accepted by Canterbury but rejected by St. Martins.
I used the same portfolio for every interview (Newcastle and Lancaster do not do interviews, they ask for a digital portfolio) and was equally prepared for all interviews.
It is very important to check the websites and course details for portfolio requirements for the course. Often I found that they tend to be pretty lenient however some ask for a size limitation, a specific number of pieces or certain labels/presentation of pieces.
When creating a portfolio it is difficult to decide which pieces to include. You will be asked to include sketchbooks that inform your pieces and sometimes written work as well. Additionally you are often asked to only include work from the last two years which can make choosing a variety of pieces quite difficult. It is a very good idea to include as much work as possible that you have done outside of Alevel and GCSE as that will demonstrate a wider interest in the subject and a more driven student.
In addition I also produced 4 sketchbooks that informed the larger pieces above.
I would add a disclaimer, reminding anyone viewing this that my work is my original work and that it should not be copied. However, when applying for an art and design course if you have pinched an idea off someone else its very unlikely you’ll have the originality to survive the interview.
Interviews are the other main worry. An Art interview is completely different to another interview process. From the schools I did interviews the format was mostly similar. The session (either morning or afternoon) began with a talk from a student or member of staff then a tour followed and then one by one we were called in for interviews. In the interview you are expected to talk through the pieces you have brought, discuss your likes and dislikes and processes you have used before. You will be asked where you want to go after completing your course and what your long-term aspirations are. You must also be prepared for questions that will catch you off guard, the ones that are designed to pick up on your personality and your drive, for example, at DeMontfort I was asked about interests that were not Art related in the slightest, I chose to answer by talking about my interest in Literature and writing.
Another aspect of the interview process is the daunting ‘group interview’ I was not aware that Bournemouth were going to do group interviews and I was caught completely off guard, so here’s how it worked :
I arrived in the reception where 50-odd students were waiting with portfolio in hand to be called for their interview group (as other courses were also interviewing the same day) when my course was called me and 20 other applicants slowly advanced towards our course leader and followed him though to a large building where we were split into two groups of 10.
My group was led upstairs where we were left for 10 minutes and asked to pick out two pieces from our portfolios, 1 which we thought was our best piece and another which we felt had room for improvement. At this point I was panicking, the other 9 were quick to open up their portfolios on the desk space available to start flicking through their work, I chose not too look at all at the risk of my confident disappearing completely. There was no desk space left and as no one was talking to each other at all I sat on the floor opened my portfolio and pretended no one else was there.
I chose my two pieces quicker than I expected and also decided to use one of my smaller sketchbooks that informed one of the drawings to boost it up a bit. Trying to be friendly I smiled at one of the girls and asked “how are we even supposed to chose, I wasn’t expecting this!” the girl looked at me blankly and then looked down and continued rifling through her paintings.
Not a single one of the 9 spoke to each other, this made me realise juts how competitive these interviews are and I will say it was a real shame that just being friendly wasn’t a possibility.
The course leader returned after what seemed hours but was only 10 minutes and asked us to grab our pieces and stand around the large table. He worked around the table and finally reached me. I placed my two pieces on the table with an unbelievably shaky hand and he asked me to introduce myself and my work I introduced myself and explained my work, referenced my sketchbook and the tutor liked it, he then asked if anyone had anything to add.
He had done this for everyone and we had all remained silent but to my absolute horror one of the girls piped up saying “it’s a bit simple but its ok” instead of being modest I responded sharply with “it was supposed to be simple otherwise it would lose impact, but thanks”.
I will say this, if you’re in an interview and someone wants to be even the slightest insulting you do not want to just agree otherwise the interviewer may think you have no self belief and that may cost you your place. Following this group session we were sent away and then called back again for further individual interviews where we go the chance to talk through the entire portfolio and ask any questions we had.
On the train home I got an email saying something had changed on my UCAS and I had secured my place, and the grade requirements were lowered as well, I was absolutely thrilled.
So there we have it, my experience of Art School Interviews and Portfolio planning.
I hope this has helped in some small way, and has answered any questions you might have.
Also, the offer I will be taking is the one from UCA Canterbury where I was offered an unconditional offer on the day. My plan for next year is very open I’m looking into courses at San Francisco Art Institute and Chelsea School of Art but I am also considering travelling for a little while (that is if I can save the funds this year).