Portfolio Preparation Guidelines

Admission to the Department of Art and Design

Introduction -- First Steps to Portfolio Preparation  -- What to Include  --  Things to Avoid -- Digital Uploading  --  Portfolio Interview  --  Expanding your Vision  -- Separate Guidelines for Industrial Design


While there is no exact formula or singular way to create a portfolio, below are some tips and words of advice for preparing a portfolio for submission to Montclair State University. 

First and foremost we recommend that you select examples of your work that best represent your approach to the visual arts.  You will also be expected to present your work in a digital format as well as bring original works to a campus interview, where possible. In presenting your portfolio, please note that each work should be described with a title (even if "untitled"), medium and dimensions.

Additional recommendations are listed below.


What to Include in a Portfolio

Number of pieces

It is a good idea to include 15 to 20 pieces of work in your portfolio. Less than ten may not show enough diversity of ideas. More than twenty can become repetitive. Include only your strongest work instead of trying to show everything you've done. Your art teacher(s) can help you edit your portfolio if you're not sure what to include.

Color can be represented in a variety of ways: in your drawings, paintings, and even in 3-D work. When looking over your portfolio, check to see that you have a variety of color projects examining different color relationships.

The way you arrange shapes and forms on a page demonstrates your sense of composition. Even in realistic painting and photographs, the way you choose to crop an image and choose the view shows your compositional skills.


Your portfolio may consist of any combination of the following:

  • Drawing - Drawing is a way in which visual artists communicate. Your ability to draw should be represented in your portfolio. This should include drawings from observation.  Some drawings you might include are those of objects, still lifes, landscapes, self-portraits, and/or life drawings.

  • Painting - Painting may include watercolors, oils, acrylics or gouache, separately or in combination. Your paintings may be realistic or abstract, but should reflect your ideas about color and composition. Paintings, like drawings, preferably should be original and/or reflect live subject matter.

  • Photography - Photos may be included in your portfolio, especially if photography is an area of interest for you. Be careful not to include snapshots but to think of photography as a compositional way of seeing.

  • 3-D Work – Three-dimensional work may consist of many different forms, such as sculpture, ceramics, architectural models, etc., but included work should relate to your area(s) of interest. It is not necessary to include 3D work in all portfolios, but if you have created 3D work and enjoy it, include it; however, please make sure it is safely packed or else photographed for your portfolio.

  • Computer Work - If you have created art or design on the computer, print out good samples and submit them as part of your portfolio. Pick the pieces based on how well they work as designs, not on how well you used a particular computer program.

  • Video - While not a necessity, if you have done work in video that you wish to show, please provide it in an electronic format. For work over 5 minutes in duration, edit the submission to show those portions you most want to be seen.

Sketchbooks - No matter what your area of interest, sketch books show how you think, and this is a very important element in a portfolio. Sketch books need not be fancy, but should show examples of various projects. In looking at these, the reviewer can see how you develop a project from start to finish.

Additional Requirements by Major:

In conjunction with the above general guidelines, please review the additional guidelines respective of your intended major:

  • Animation/Illustration – Please include works that illustrate: portraiture; figure drawing; 3-point perspective of some form of architecture (e.g. buildings, room interior, etc.); plus sequential narratives (e.g. comic book panels.)  If you have any experience creating animation, feel free to include that as well.

  • Fine Arts, Studio – There are no additional requirements.

  • Graphic Design – View additional guidelines here: Graphic Design Admission

  • Industrial Design – Industrial Design has a separate set of guidelines here: Industrial Design Admission


Things to Avoid in a Portfolio:

  • Drawing directly from printed photographs - Drawing from photographs printed in magazines or books does not show how you would interpret an image, but how another artist already has. You may, however, use photos for reference, or draw from your own photographs.

  • Copied Work - Try not to copy directly from other artists or designers for your final portfolio work. Although copying can sometimes help you learn technique, you should only do it for exercise.

  • Dated Work - Include only your more recent work, completed within the last two years, in your portfolio. Although you may like a piece you did when you were a high school freshman, it will not show your current abilities.

  • Superheroes/Cartoons - One or two drawings of comic book superheroes may be acceptable to include, especially if this is an area you are interested in pursuing as a career, but most reviewers frown upon seeing too much emphasis on them. This is because in most cases, the student draws in a pre-existing style as opposed to demonstrating a style of his or her own.

  • Celebrities - Everyone likes to do drawings or paintings of their favorite celebrities, but most often, these are inspired by another artist's photographs. If you truly want to include a star piece, make sure that it is the art itself that is interesting, not just the fact that the subject is a celebrity.

  • Snapshots - Snapshots differ from photographs in that they tend to be quick remembrances of a vacation, party, occasion, etc. rather than thoughtfully conceived work. Photographs that are interesting compositionally through the use of tone, color, and point of view, however, would be worthwhile to include.


Preparing your Portfolio to Upload Digitally

While there is no ideal substitute for presenting artwork in its original form, the Department of Art and Design asks that you also upload your work electronically as part of your application.  This will enable us to have a record of your work and enable additional faculty members to view it.  Below are some options for preparing digital files for submission:

  • Create a multi-page portfolio in PDF format. To learn how to create a PDF, click Here
  • Post your portfolio on a blog. To create a free blog using Tumblr, click Here ? 
  • Post your portfolio on Facebook by creating a photo album titled "My Portfolio."
  • Upload all works as single files using the system in any of the following format: jpg, pdf, tiff, word, .mov Make sure that your images do not exceed 2MB each.
  • If you have a portfolio website, provide the URL in a PDF. Your PDF must be under 10MB. 


Preparing Your Portfolio for In-person Presentation

Neatness counts! A good portfolio can easily be ruined by smudges, bent corners, and other sloppiness. Be careful to protect your artwork as you make it, and especially afterwards. Store your work in a place where it cannot be easily damaged. If you can, mount drawings and design work to same-sized matt boards to make them look more professional. Talk to your high school or community college art teacher, who can be help you choose your strongest work for your portfolio. Don't be afraid to ask him/her for advice.


The Portfolio Interview 

After submitting your application and uploading your portfolio, you will have the option to attend an on-campus interview. Interviews are conducted one-on-one with one or more faculty members. During the interview you will show your sketchbook(s)/journal (this is important because it will give us insight into your creative process and your dedication to craftsmanship). You will show original examples of your work, respond to questions, and discuss your interests in art. You will also have opportunity to ask questions of your own, so it's a good idea to prepare a list of things you would like to know about the university or the Department in advance. Remember: You are not only being interviewed for acceptance into the university's program, but you are also considering whether studying art and design at Montclair State is the right choice for you. (note: Where travel to campus is prohibitive, applicants can opt to have their uploaded, online portfolios reviewed as their total submission.)


Things to Do to Expand Your Vision

One's art work is informed by a broad range of experiences, including art created by other artists - both past and present. Try to visit museums often to look at both recent and historic work. Seeing a work of art in person is very different from looking at a reproduction in a book, and will help you to better understand color and technique. Galleries are the best places to see current trends, and some show design as well as fine art.