3 portfolio improvements

Recently I’ve been doing student portfolio assessments. It can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of the semester, it can also be one of the most soul-destroying. You spend a semester teaching students, investing your time, energy and emotions in the hope that they will submit a good portfolio at the end of the semester. Some do, others don’t. Letting you, and ultimately themselves down. What’s interesting (and unsurprising) is that although the faces change the same areas of improvement are always there. Here are the main three:

1. Line Technique

Hairy lines give an indication that students are not confident in the mark they put down.  Hesitancy in line, as in speech puts in many when just one is best. The ability to put a line down with confidence is a must for any art student. One big way this can be helped is by incorporating the whole arm instead of just the wrist. With practice, using the whole arm can produce one line quickly and accurately. I think the inclusion of the whole arm in drawing forces you to see the bigger shapes in your subject. Instead of focusing on every part of a particular line (which produces many lines) you look for the beginning and end of a line. In life drawing this could be a line from the pelvis to knee or it could be one that runs the whole length of the pose if you are trying to show gesture. Just locking your wrist will be a big help, you will be forced to use your elbow or arm. This video by Proko is quite helpful on the subject.

2. Poor Presentation

It’s such a simple thing, but not paying attention to your presentation can seriously affect the light in which your work is viewed. Give your work its best chance by presenting it carefully and thoughtfully. Here are few tips

  • Double fix your drawings, before putting it into portfolio sleeves. If you don’t do this the graphite will rub off on the sleeve giving it a dirty look. In most cases if this happens, the best thing you can do is just buy another sleeve.
  • Don’t use masking tape for labels, just don’t — use proper labels.
  • Organise your work chronologically. It’s good to see the progression through your portfolio. Don’t do this if you’re sending your work to an art director, as you’ll want to start with a strong piece and end with one too.
  • Make sure your sketchbooks aren’t falling apart. A well used sketchbook is a great, but it can be quite distracting for the person looking through something that dissolves in your hand.
  • Make sure any work is fastened securely inside wallets.

3. Artist Research

It’s amazing how many students just don’t seem interested in looking at art. Sure, they like drawing some pretty pictures but there is usually so little interest in finding other artists. To improve your own work look at others. Gain a wider range of influences for you, and your work. These don’t just have to be illustrative, they could be literary,  film, theatre or photographic and many more. The classic example is how African art influenced Picasso’s work. These influences are then filtered through your own individuality to produce original work, the wider the influences the more original it will be.

Closing thoughts 

Obviously every student is different and there a multitude of areas that could be looked at, but I’ve tried to focus on the main three that I see. Lest this post seem to be too negative I must say that there is still a lot of positives about assessing student work. The above areas can be worked on and improved quite significantly. In reality the main point is whether the students heart is in it — do they want to be an artist? If so then they will improve, no question. The job of the teacher then, is to make the student passionate about being an artist. If you can make someone passionate about a subject then the rest will follow on its own.

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