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Art portfolio workshop with Dr Jake Abrams

08 Oct, 2020
Art portfolio workshop with Dr Jake Abrams

On Tuesday 6th October, Dr Jake Abrams, Associate Professor and International Director at Kingston University, London, delivered a useful session about how to build a great art portfolio. The talk was attended by Kings students and teachers from across our UK schools who are taking either the Art Foundation course, Art A-level, or the Art module within their Advanced Level Foundation course.

As well as being an associate professor at Kingston, Jake is also an Admissions Tutor and sees many portfolios from the students who apply to courses there. Based on his extensive experience, he says “Good ones make such a difference!”.

Before beginning his talk on portfolios, Jake gave a brief introduction to Kingston University and its impressive School of Art. Kingston is one of the top universities for art, design and architecture in the UK, and was named #1 for Design & Crafts in the 2021 Guardian rankings.

He also highlighted its great location close to the excitement and diversity of Central London, and its fantastic range of modern facilities. Many Kings students have chosen Kingston as their preferred university in recent years, and Jake commented on the high quality of work that he has seen from them.

Key aims of a portfolio

Moving on to the topic of portfolios and university application, Jake said that the key things students should be aiming for with their portfolio are to stand out from the crowd, and to be themselves. Expressing your personal identity is very important. If you struggle with this, Jake recommended speaking to friends and family for advice about how they see you and what your strengths are. His main pieces of advice about putting together a good portfolio were as follows:

Be professional. Present yourself as professional artists and designers. Start with an image and a short statement that talks about who you are as an artist, and who you want to be. Think about why you are applying for a particular subject, and express what makes you excited about it.

Think about presentation. From small details such as how you label your portfolio and include your name, right up to the overall design and layout. Always ensure your images are accompanied by a caption that explains the piece and what you were trying to achieve.

Have structure. It’s a good idea to draw up a story board or some other way of seeing the whole of your portfolio in one go. This will allow you to see the overall picture and the flow of the portfolio. Starting – and finishing – with your best pieces will enable you to make a good first and last impression.

Demonstrate your subject knowledge. If you want to pursue architecture, for example, include studies of buildings and talk about why they captured your attention.

Show both finished work and research work. The finished piece is important, but so is the development process.

Show course work AND self-initiated work. Work completed outside of your Kings course helps show universities your passion and commitment.

Photograph your work well to present it in its best light. Poor photographs do not sell your work well.

Quality over quantity. Most universities ask for portfolios of around 20 pages, where you could feature 3 - 6 good projects. This isn’t a definitive guide, but generally it’s important to showcase your best work that’s indicative of the artist you want to be, rather than showcasing everything you’ve ever done.

Start early. You should be thinking about your portfolio and starting to prepare work for it as early as possible.

Kings teachers, Giuseppina and Kate, had a couple of questions for Jake at the end of the session. They wanted to know whether open days and interviews would take place online this year. Jake advised that there would be a series of virtual open days coming up for students to attend, and that interviews, depending on when you apply, were likely to take place online this year.

At the end of the talk Jake wished all Kings students the best of luck in their future applications. He advised everyone to do as much research as they can and to see and speak to as many universities as possible when deciding where to apply. To sum up, he said:

“You should present yourselves as real artists and designers. Push yourselves, and be experimental, creative and ambitious.”

Kings staff and students were very grateful to Jake for hosting such a useful session.


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