Tips on Compiling a Portfolio for Art Scholarships

Plenty of scholarships are available for aspiring artists or those with a creative streak. But many scholarship applications may require you to submit a portfolio, samples of your artwork.

Some scholarships will require you to submit physical copies of your artwork; many others will ask for digital copies on a USB flash drive or CD, or even request you upload the artwork to the internet and submit links to your work.

This sounds like a lot of work, but that doesn't mean you should skip applying for art scholarships that require a portfolio. A portfolio will be a significant part of your life as you pursue a fine arts degree too.

Here are four tips for creating your portfolio and positioning yourself as a strong contender for art scholarships.

1. Read the instructions thoroughly: All scholarships have instructions, and those that require portfolios may have additional requirements.

Do you need to submit any forms, essays or statements along with your portfolio? Does the scholarship require your portfolio to showcase a certain medium – such as ceramics, painting or photography – or can you include a variety of works?

The National YoungArts Foundation Visual Arts Scholarship asks applicants who are either ages 15-18 or in grades 10-12 and also U.S. citizens or permanent residents to submit at least five works that represent the same technique, theme or idea. Recipients can win up to $10,000 in cash awards.

If you don't understand the application or portfolio instructions completely, contact the organization awarding the scholarship and ask for clarification.

2. Choose your portfolio pieces carefully: Don't just gather your favorite pieces and put them into a portfolio – give serious thought and consideration into why you're including each example of your work. Unless the scholarship you're applying for specifically asks for only a certain medium or subject, include a variety of pieces to demonstrate your versatility.

Take care not to make your portfolio too sparse or too overwhelming. About 10 pieces should be enough – unless the scholarship specifically asks for more or fewer – to show off your skills and make an impression on the scholarship committee.

For instance, the L. Ron Hubbard Illustrators of the Future Contest, a scholarship for science fiction and fantasy artists, asks applicants to submit three illustrations for the chance to win a $1,500 prize every quarter and an additional $5,000 annual prize. Applicants should submit science fiction- or fantasy-themed illustrations.

3. Organize your portfolio: No matter how great your art is, you will not impress anyone with your portfolio if you do not organize it well. If you're concerned about some pieces smudging, laminate them or purchase portfolio sleeves that prevent pencil or charcoal from smearing.

Judges will want to be able to open your portfolio without dropping or losing any of your art, so make sure you have secured your pieces in folders or a binder, unless the application specifically states otherwise.

You may not be required to mat your work, but this can add a polished look and feel to your portfolio, especially if you're including photographs. Use neutral mat tones – bright colors like neon pink or green will distract from your artistic abilities.

Your physical portfolio should be labeled with your name, school and contact information so the artwork once they have completed the selection process. can be returned to you after the contest.

Submitting a digital portfolio may seem easier, but this requires the same amount of work. Make sure copies of your art are well-lit, comply with size requirements and are in the correct format, such as JPEG or PNG. Your images should never be too grainy, dark or difficult to make out.

It's common to submit a USB flash drive or CD with copies of your best pieces, but some big scholarships may have a platform through which they would like you to submit your work.

Others may ask you to post your work on a free website – such as WordPress, Wix or a similar platform. Make sure any links you are submitting work as expected before you finalize your application.

For some applications, you may have a choice on the type of portfolio you include. The Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art Scholarship, for instance, allows applicants to choose which format – digital or physical artwork – they are comfortable submitting. The scholarship is open to high school upperclassmen from certain Indiana counties who plan on continuing their art studies in college or other arts programs.

4. Prepare to present: Some scholarships may require you to present your work to a panel of judges or write an essay explaining your work. The presentation or essay is nearly as important as your portfolio.

If you're presenting, write yourself a short script and practice your presentation in the weeks leading up to the event. If you're writing an essay, carefully consider what you want to say about your pieces and any specific topics you need to cover.

The $2,500 Young Artists Scholarship Fund for high school seniors in Ventura County, California, for example, requires applicants to write an essay on how their art shapes their responsibility to the local community. In addition to the essay as well as letters of recommendation, applicants must have a 3.0 GPA and plan to enroll in an undergraduate arts degree program.

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