Portfolio Prep & Development

portfolio3Each degree program gives you a choice of either submitting a portfolio of work or submitting specific art, design or film exercises. If you choose to submit a portfolio, it should reflect your individual style as well as your understanding of foundational skills.

Certain programs have a few specific requirements to be included in the portfolio.  Beyond that, the balance of your portfolio should include a variety of media and techniques demonstrating drawing ability, composition and color usage (for art or design degrees) or film-related work (for the film degree).  Examples of work created outside of class assignments that show more personal direction are also encouraged.  Please limit submissions to no more than 15 examples.

Watkins Admissions representatives and faculty will be happy to assist you in making final choices for your portfolio prior to submission and you are encouraged to meet with them during a National Portfolio Day or on your visit to the Watkins campus.

Your portfolio is the basis for which portfolio-based scholarships are awarded. NOTE: Digital portfolios are preferred. If submitting original material please be aware that although every precaution is taken to protect portfolios, the college cannot be responsible for loss or damage. Original work will be kept in the Admissions Office for three months after the semester to which you are applying. After that time the work will be discarded.

Fine Art

Technical Skill and Experimentation:

Include your strongest work in your portfolio. Some variety of media helps by showing that you have explored more than one mode of working. But if you excel in a particular media or style, your portfolio should reflect this by including more of that work. It’s best to include both work from your art classes and work that you create independently. The more you practice and learn new skills, the more work you will have to choose from. So, if your portfolio consists primarily of drawing, consider experimenting with paint, collage or sculpture!

Direct Observation:

Fine artists and designers should include two or more realistic images created primarily from direct observation of real life. Examples include drawings and paintings in modes such as still life, figure study, landscapes, and interiors.

Works created by referring to photographs or one’s imagination are great too, but they don’t demonstrate your ability in direct observation.

Conceptual Skill:

Perhaps the most challenging skill to demonstrate is conveying ideas or emotions in your work. Creating a series of related works (as in an AP Art concentration) helps to develop this ability. Brainstorming, researching, and keeping a sketchbook are good methods of planning conceptual artwork. Writing and talking about your finished work is also an important skill for any visual art student or professional.


Photography portfolios can consist mostly or entirely of photographs. Keep in mind that the photography program at Watkins has an emphasis in conceptual work. While it’s great to build your skills by taking all kinds of photos, you want your portfolio to set you apart from the crowd and demonstrate your ability to convey an idea or an emotion through imagery. Photographers often work in series. A series consists of a group of photographs that are dealing with the same idea or subject matter in a few different ways. A series can also be narrative in nature by telling a story- whether it is abstract or straight forward.

Graphic Design

A graphic design portfolio should consist of mostly drawings, paintings, prints or other artworks (see the guidelines for “fine art” portfolios above). However, it’s a good idea to begin working with design skills too. Try some projects where you incorporate text and imagery into a finished piece. Some examples might include posters, album covers, and logo designs. Working by hand is a very important aspect of a graphic design portfolio.

If you have taken classes in design, you should include your best digital work. But don’t overlook the importance of drawing skills or the effectiveness of a medium like collage in creating graphic elements. If you have interest in illustration, consider making a series of images that tells a story.

Interior Design

Interior design portfolios can consist largely of fine art work (see the guidelines for “fine art” portfolios above). To help specialize your portfolio toward a major in interior design, add life drawings of interior spaces or architectural structures. Works that emphasize pattern, texture, mood, and color theory in either realistic or abstract compositions are great, too. Even photographs of a space you have designed or decorated could help convey your point of view and design sense.


Film portfolios usually consist of one or more short films, and sometimes include script samples, storyboards, or other supporting materials. When including group productions, make note of your specific role when making the film. Keep your film reel short- 5 to 8 minutes of video is plenty of time to showcase your best work. If your films are longer than that, it is best to combine short excerpts from several projects. Note that it is helpful to include full scenes in your reel so that your sense of storytelling is clearly represented.

Digital Portfolio

Your final portfolio will need to be in the form of digital images of your work, complete with information about each piece (that you will add to the “description” section when uploading your media to the online application).

Steps to documenting your work:documentation

  1. Use a camera of scanner to make digital images of your artwork. Frame your work to fill the photograph and use a plain white or black background when documenting Three-Dimensional work. Be sure that you make the photograph in a well-lit area. To ensure even lighting, photograph your work outside on an overcast day or in the shade. Use a tripod and set your work on an easel, chair or bench.
  2. If available, use photoshop or other imaging software to perform image corrections if necessary. But don’t change the colors or contrast of your actual pieces. Keep your documentation as true to the original pieces as possible.
  3. Keep a list of title, media, dimensions, and date of each piece in your portfolio.  Also, write a short description for each piece to help us better understand your pieces.


How To Submit Your Work


Your entire portfolio can be uploaded in the online application (slideroom) in the “Add Media” section.

File types accepted:

Images (jpg, gif, png) up to 5 MB each
Videos (flv, wmv, mov) up to 60 MB each
Audio (mp3) up to 10 MB each
Documents (pdf) up to 10 MB each

You can also link to websites like YouTube and Vimeo directly from Slideroom.

**Remember to add descriptions of your work in the descriptions field when uploading your pieces. This is the only information that we will have about your work and this is the only chance you will get to explain any special idea or process you used in your work.


Applicants seeking to transfer prior studio credits must submit a portfolio of original work from each course to be evaluated. Each work/project
should include: your name, title, a description, the course name, the official course description photocopied from the institution’s catalog the
year the class was taken and a copy of the cover of the pertinent catalog.  A copy of the syllabus, if available, is also helpful.


Nashville-Portfolio-Day-ReviewIt’s important to get feedback on your portfolio. There are a few different ways to get a review from a Watkins representative.

  • Attend one of the many National Portfolio Day events that we attend
  • Schedule a portfolio review when you visit the Watkins campus
  • Get a review from the admissions representative that visits your high school

There are many benefits to getting a review before you apply.

  • You will get feedback on what’s working in your portfolio and what areas you can improve on.
  • Seniors and transfer students may qualify for scholarships just by getting a review.
  • Portfolio reviews, like campus visits, are a good way to learn more about the program that you are interested in.

Prepare for a review by bringing your original artwork. If your original work is unavailable of difficult to carry, bring images of the work. Most importantly, be ready to have a conversation about the art you bring. Bring enough work so that the reviewer can get a good sense of your artistic process and voice. 15-20 pieces seems to be a good amount. Show work that is no more than 2 years old. Bring your finished pieces as well as your current works in progress, and most importantly, your sketchbook!

Nashville National Portfolio Day

Date: Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017

Location: Watkins College of Art, Design & Film


10:00 – 11:00  Registration & Campus Tours

10:45 – 11:45     Informational Presentation about Watkins, Portfolio Prep, Financial Aid, and Application Process

12:00 – 4:00     Portfolio Reviews

What is National Portfolio Day?

National Portfolio Days are educational events for young artists held at host colleges throughout the U.S. and Canada. Portfolio Days bring together students and experienced college representatives, who review artwork, offer critique, discuss college plans, and share information about their schools. These events are not an examination or a competition. The reviewers are interested in your development, look forward to seeing your work, and providing you with helpful information for this next important step in your education. So stop by our table and show us your stuff!

Who Should Attend?

Any student interested in studying art and / or design at the college level should attend a National Portfolio Day. Participating in a Portfolio Day will give you a taste of what it would be like to attend a professional art program. Keep in mind you may hear many different opinions about your work. This is your chance to explain your thought process and show us where you want to go with your work.

What Should You Bring?

We want to see your sketch books, works in progress and what you consider your best finished pieces. Always bring original artwork when possible (15 to 20 pieces is fine.) If your work is large, 3-dimensional or otherwise hard to carry, you can bring photographs of the work instead. You may bring your own laptop if you wish but Watkins will have a laptop available to look at work that needs to be viewed on a computer.  A portfolio review usually takes approximately 15 minutes.

Got questions? Email [email protected]

For more information about National Portfolio Days and to view the 2015-2016 schedule, visit

How to Prepare and What to Bring Video


For more info about these events go to