Applying for Art and Design in the UK: Portfolio advice from UAL!

Updated: Jan 18, 2019

It can be a daunting experience pulling together your first portfolio when applying to university. It can seem like time is running out and the pressure to fulfil all your university requests can be challenging.

I was in your shoes 5 years ago, applying to art schools, trying hard to bring my portfolio together ready for my interviews and portfolio reviews. I managed to secure an offer to study BA Product Design at Central Saint Martins and looking back I realise the key for me was starting the process early whilst using my support network (teachers, peers & family), this gave me the confidence I needed to showcase my unique creative thoughts within my work. I have gathered my top tips below to help you as you start to prepare your portfolio. Good luck!

Choose topics to explore that are unique to you

Make it interesting to look through by choosing topics to explore that are unique to your taste. If you are passionate about current affairs, a particular culture or if you love another subject that you are studying; make some work around it. Your passion will show and hopefully, you will be proud of the outcome. It will also give you something to discuss that you are confident about during your interview or portfolio review.

Be inspired by others – consider & respond

If you’re unsure about what to make or how to start, look at work from students and recent graduates in areas you aspire to work in and add your own twist. Don’t copy, but rather, consider and respond. For example, you could use a technique you are confident with to explore a different subject area. At all times use your research and contextual work to communicate your thinking, the academics want to understand your thought-process.

Include independent projects

Don’t forget to include independent projects. As strong as your school or college work may be, it will naturally be similar to that of other students. This isn’t a bad thing, but it can be limiting, for example, you may not have enjoyed every brief, or your outcomes from each project may be similar, causing your portfolio to look one dimensional. A quick fix to this is setting your own briefs. Self-initiated work is a big part of independent learning, and will stand in your favour with academics. Working on a project purely from your own interests proves you can think and work independently. Examples of self-set projects could be: daily sketches during your commute, collaging every evening from the newspaper or editing pictures each morning. Don’t forget to be resourceful – don’t take for granted the interesting people, materials and places around you!

Showcase your understanding in your subject area

Showcase different mediums and approaches, but remember what you are applying for and find a balance. In your portfolio, you are building a case demonstrating why you are well suited to the course you are applying for.

Resist the temptation to present chronologically

Don’t be tempted to present your work in a chronological order, this is unnecessary. Older work tends to be weaker because it’s less developed. Resist the temptation and instead focus on creating a strong start and finish to your portfolio. Recent work is always more relevant, even if it is not entirely completed. If you have any older pieces of work that demonstrate a skill you haven’t used in a while consider doing a short project to showcase that skill instead of including older work. If you are unsure about what to include or leave out - ask your teachers for their advice.

Don’t forget to bring your sketchbooks

Sketchbooks are key to showing your research, experimental and developmental work – they give the academic context to how you make decisions and tell the whole story of your creative journey. Bring at least 2-3 full sketchbooks along to your interview or portfolio review.

Practical tips

· If you have 3D pieces or large paintings photograph them in good light with an appropriate background.

· Give yourself enough time to print, trim and mount your work in a tidy manner.

· Fix charcoal and pastel drawings and consider using newsprint to prevent your work from transferring.

· Be clear and tidy with the presentation.

· Don’t be late – plan your journey in advance!

Finally, enjoy the process. Interviews are an opportunity for you to showcase all the hard work you have been putting in. Be open and positive when speaking about your work. Ask for advice from the tutors interviewing you. As the interview is ending to you could ask them what they feel your strengths and weaknesses are.

Good luck!

Useful links

Find out more about University of the Arts London

Further guidance on preparing a portfolio

Research current art and design projects

Use these four sites to filter by discipline for high-quality research examples in your pathway:






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