Portfolio Requirements


Part of the application process is to present a portfolio.  Here are some helpful hints to put one together.

What should you include?
It may be easier to start with what not to include . . . old work should not be considered since your most recent work will usually be your best.  Try to choose from work done in the past year.  At Memphis College of Art, we ask to see 10-20 examples.  Think about quality over quantity!  In other words, don’t include more work for the sake of having a lot to show, but be sure you are showing your best work.  We recommend not including any of the following: anime or cartoons, viking warrior men or women, tattoos, unicorns or other mythological creatures or any other overused imagery whether copied or original, copies from magazines or portraits of celebrities.  This might be what you prefer to draw, but colleges look for a different type of original work.  (Keep in mind, however, that nothing is absolute.  If you are interested in illustration and want to submit one or two representations of work from reference material, limit this to one or two.  The bulk of your portfolio should be drawing from direct observation.)

What is the admissions committee looking for?
We are looking for drawing from direct observation.  This means looking at three-dimensional objects and translating that to the two-dimensional surface of your paper or canvas.  Draw still lifes, portraits, self-portraits, landscapes or cityscapes from life.  When you draw from a photograph, half of the work has already been done for you.  The composition has been laid out and your values captured by the camera.  It is important that you learn to visualize these things on your own.  That’s why we encourage drawing from life.  You may also like to draw from your imagination, but again, we want to see the direct observational drawing to look at your ability to see and make the translation of image from life to your two- dimensional surface.  It is more difficult to draw from life and may be frustrating at first, but as you strengthen your visual skills you will see a remarkable improvement.  Self-portraits are a wonderful addition to your portfolio.  You can be your best model.  You are always available when you are ready to draw.  Variety is important.  Varied subject matter, media, scale, techniques, even working methods will show that you are not afraid to experiment with new ideas, techniques and materials.  You should not be locked into a particular style yet.  You will want to show some flexibility and diversity in your work.  Add some work done in color.  These along with your black and white drawings will really add strength to your portfolio.  Although you do want to show variety, you do not want to do that at the sake of adding something in an unfamiliar medium.  Do not show the first watercolor that you ever attempted.  Practice will make you comfortable and more proficient in your media and techniques.  Some of your pieces can be carefully rendered while others may be quick studies, contour line, or gesture drawings that take less time.  Both are appropriate to include.

If you are considering a career in graphics, illustration, photography or another specific discipline, you may submit a few pieces from those areas.  In graphics, where craftsmanship is so important, pay careful attention to your lettering, your layout and your design.  The concept is just as important as the final pieces: both should be carefully executed.  Illustrations often require working from reference material and not direct observation.  Illustrators do work from photos to create images that a camera can’t capture.  This is one of those exceptions to the rule where your work may not be solely from life, but don’t forget that the bulk of your portfolio should be.

Other important considerations:
Interesting subject matter with varying textures or focusing on and enlarging an area of a still life can lend interest as can cropping an object off at an unusual angle.  Concentrating on a series can be interesting as well.  It also shows an admissions committee that you can take a problem through several alternative solutions.  You might explore the use of one subject with varied media or a series of one technique with varied subject matter.

Composition is important.  Try to avoid the typical composition of an object stuck in the middle of the paper.  Consider placement before you start your piece – don’t leave it to chance.  Do preliminary sketches or thumbnail sketches.  From these sketches, choose the composition that you find most interesting.  Letting your image run off the edges of the picture plane can break up the negative or background space.  Be sure to show a full range of values in your drawings, whether you are drawing in black and white or color.  It is important to show value contrast which is achieved by making shaded areas very dark and your lighted areas light.  Consider your background as important as the imagery in your drawings as well.  Don’t just concentrate on the image and quickly throw something on the background to get it done.

What should I draw?
You should never lack for ideas about your art (what to draw or what to try next).  Explore other artists’ work by looking through current art publications such as Art in America, Graphis and by visiting galleries to see what contemporary artists are doing or by going to art museums and reading art history books to see what artists before you have done.  This can be inspirational and you can apply some of these ideas to your own work.

Presentation of your work will speak of your craftsmanship and professionalism.  It’s like going on a job interview.  You want to make the best impression possible.  Take pride in your work and in how you present it.  Keep it stored in a safe, clean place – not under your bed or in the attic collecting dust.  A portfolio case can be purchased at any art store or you can make a case with two large pieces of cardboard taped together.  Once you have made decisions about which pieces you plan to include in your portfolio, clean them up as much as possible.  It is not necessary to mount, matt or frame your work.

Can I submit my work digitally?
Never give your work away or sell it without documenting it first.  You can take digital images of your work and email them to us at portfolio@mca.edu.  Be sure to put your first and last name in the subject box.  You can burn them to a disc or even save them to a flash drive.  You may also include a description sheet detailing assignments and other information you feel the committee should know about each piece.  Images of your work should focus on the work, not the background.  Crop in as close to the work as possible.  The best way to photograph your work is on a black cloth that covers a large space like a wall or chair.  Place work out of direct sunlight, but in a light area.  Be sure to take off any reflective covering of your work such as acetate or glass.

Three-dimensional work, sculpture, ceramics or any work that is not flat should also be submitted in digital format.  You should include no more than two views of the same piece.

If you are attending a portfolio day, you will be required to provide the equipment necessary for viewing your digital work such as your laptop computer.