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Exploring Creative Paths: Portfolio Review Returns for Its Second Year

What makes a portfolio eye-catching and uniquely you? For Senior School art and design students, that question can be explored through the Art Portfolio Review. This is a collaboration between students and teachers in the Visual Arts program and the Career Education Department—a two-day event now in its second year here at CHS!

Students in Grade 9 to 11 can share their digital portfolios with staff from art and design schools across North America. Each day, students had the opportunity to meet with three to four schools. 

“This helps show the changing landscape within careers and the world around us and the need for creative thinkers and problem-solvers. It’s an opportunity for students to be highlighted in the creative arts and design fields,” Ms Cheong, Department Head, Career Education and Post-Secondary Counselling, Senior School, said.

“Students in this generation could have 25 jobs in their lifetime. So being able to have a whole toolkit of skills, being flexible with those tools, and going into a review and taking feedback from somebody on their work— those are skills to develop that can help them later on in life.”

Ms Poole, Teacher, Art, Senior School, highlights that taking art in School allows students to work together in a collaborative studio environment and build each other up as they build their individual portfolios. 
“In Crofton House’s beautiful art studio, students develop problem-solving skills, explore new materials, processes and ideas together, which ultimately helps them see the world in new ways,” she said. “Students discover how art helps them communicate their own ideas, and create works of art that are personal, well-informed, and meaningful. Each portfolio is completely unique and individual to the student.”

This year, eight art and design schools reviewed student portfolios: 

  • Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) in Toronto, Ontario
  • Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles, California
  • School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois
  • Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, Georgia
  • Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland
  • California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland, California
  • California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), California
  • Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles, California
  • Parsons School of Design at New School, New York
  • University of the Arts London in London, England

Here’s what some CHS students thought of their first portfolio review experience: 

Victoria, Grade 10

Victoria enjoys digital art, drawing and painting. She is figuring out what she wants to do for post-secondary education, so the portfolio review sessions were an opportunity to explore potential art schools. For this portfolio review, she presented a selection of gestural drawings and some ink sketches, finished character sheets and concept designs, and a few paintings. 

What was the experience like?

As someone who only does art classes in school, it’s really interesting and important to get actual critique from someone involved in the industry or the schools. I was nervous, but everyone was super nice and gave me a lot of constructive feedback that was really specific to what I am doing.

What was a takeaway you had from the portfolio reviews?

I feel like the main thing a lot of schools want to see isn’t necessarily the technical skills—they place a greater emphasis on getting to know you through your portfolio. They wanted to see more pieces based on your identity in art. 

What advice would you give to students considering this opportunity next year? 

Even if you don’t have a lot of finished pieces, and you’re in a younger grade or haven’t done this before–just go for it! This School gives you a lot of opportunities; you are only here for 4-5 years, just do it!

Mimi, Grade 11

Mimi is focused on a career in fashion design, sewing, and patterning. She is looking at applying to fashion schools for post-secondary, with significant interest in programs in the UK. She signed up for the portfolio review sessions to better understand what a strong portfolio would look like, what pieces to present, and how best to present them. 

What did you learn from the review experience overall?

The American schools wanted more drawing and things, which is not my strong suit–so I'm glad I'm not currently considering that. And the UK reviewers said to put fewer things in that aren't fashion-related!

What was the most valuable part of the experience for you?

They were all super nice and told me that I was on the right track. It might sound strange, but the validation around my work was good! Hearing people say your portfolio looks good and that you have a good chance of getting where you want to go makes you so much more relaxed.

How did the process help your decision-making around potential school applications? You mentioned focusing on the UK—do you feel like you understand what that might be like?

Many schools do a foundation year where you have to go through everything; I already feel like I know what I want and have done a lot of experimentation. It was nice to see that there's a school that fits that. Because I know what part of art I like and what I want to go into–because it's not even design that I'm interested in, it’s pattern making—it was nice to hear that if I did take a course there, I would be super focused.

Siena, Grade 9

As a younger student in the Senior School, Siena is still exploring art and experimenting with various mediums. She enjoys watercolour and acrylic painting, pencil and pen drawing, and mixed medium work. She chose to participate in the portfolio review to better understand the experience of communicating with university admissions staff, network, and get some initial feedback on her work to date. 

What was the highlight of the experience for you?

Everyone was warm and welcoming! I think their feedback was really valuable—it was specific feedback, so that was really appreciated. They gave quite technical feedback, but they also shared some information about programs at their schools. I was definitely nervous for the first few, but it was a little less nerve-wracking after about the second one! 

What were some of the helpful takeaways they gave you for your work?

For a lot of my work, one reviewer thought about how I could focus on the background. I tend to zoom in on my objects. So instead of having like a blank background, taking an element and thinking, ‘if you're going to have a beautiful object, have a beautiful background as well’. 

One reviewer gave me some food for thought around material recommendations—because his school is primarily textiles and fashion-based—“could you turn this watercolour design into something wearable”. It was really interesting because it was something that I had never thought about.

How has this changed your thinking around post-secondary education or even future courses at CHS?

It’s shown me that so much growth can happen as artists! When I was chatting with the schools, especially the first session I had with MICA, it was about identifying a theme or inspiration guiding your work—I’m going to start thinking about that. For me, a theme they identified was nature or your environment and sending a message through your work.