Undergraduate Portfolio Requirements

Otis has two options to meet the BFA portfolio requirement:

Open Portfolio

10-20 images of your best, most recent work in any medium. Applicants whose work is digital or photo/video based should include five examples of work in other mediums. Students are encouraged to incorporate direct observation.

Structured Portfolio

In your portfolio, please include works based on the following prompts. These works can be done in any medium such as photography, collage, drawing, painting, 3-dimensional work, etc. At least 3 of the images should be made in traditional (non-digital) mediums.

  • 3 images: Illustrate portraits of yourself or someone you know. Do not focus only on the face but consider including the objects around them, the clothes they are wearing, or the environment you would find them in. Please label your pieces with “Portrait”, along with any other title you feel is appropriate.

  • 4 images: Using 4 images, tell a story related to an event or moment in your life, or your own personal narrative. Is there an event in your life that impacted everything that happened afterwards? Do you remember a moment that you learned something that you have never forgotten? Please label your pieces with “Personal narrative”, along with any other title you feel is appropriate.

  • 3 images: Create 3 images that show places that are important to you. These could be interior spaces, exteriors of buildings, landscapes, cityscapes, or any subject that qualifies as an important place for you. Be creative in interpreting the environment, mood and experience of being in the space. Please label these pieces “Place”, along with any other title you feel is appropriate.

  • In addition to these 10 images, you are also welcome to include any additional work labeled as “Personal work.”

For First-year (Foundation) applicants applying through the Common App, you will access our portfolio submission portal through the Common App. See instructions here.

Need help on your portfolio or have questions about what to include? 

Schedule a portfolio review with an Otis Admissions Counselor online.

Schedule Now

Build a Series

Applicants are encouraged to have at least one series in their portfolio. A series is multiple works centered on the same idea or theme. Here are some ideas for projects that will help you get started on building a series for your portfolio if you are feeling unsure of where to begin. 

  • 3-5 works that tell a story about someone important in your life
  • 3-5 works that explore another interest you have outside of art & design
  • 3-5 works that explore your personal history and narrative. Was there an event that greatly impacted your life?
  • 3-5 self-portraits, all showing different emotions or elements of your personality
  • 3-5 exterior environments or interior spaces that are your happy places

More Tips and Recommendations

Your portfolio is one of the key aspects of your application and can weigh heavily in your admission decision. Here are a few tips to ensure that you are successful at putting together a strong portfolio:

Admissions representatives enjoy seeing work that demonstrates a student's interests and passions. Be unique and open to experimentation.  

Use a sketchbook to build your observational drawing skills, plan projects and to develop your ideas. It should be a place to explore and practice without judgment or fear. Sketchbook work can also be included in the portfolio by editing together your favorite sketches or pages. You only get better with practice and your sketchbook is a great way to make sure you practice daily.  For your portfolio submission, out of 20 images, 2-3 may be sketechbook pages. It is great to see what your process is and where your ideas begin. This is also a great way to show some of your technical drawing skills. 

Use a DSLR if you can to shoot your work, but you can also take good photos with your smart phone. Smaller pieces can be scanned at high resolution. Think about your lighting and also make sure to color correct/crop.  Your work should look on the screen as close as possible to the way it looks in real life. Use neutral backgrounds of black, white or grey to photograph 3D works. Save all of your images to the cloud so they are backed-up and document as you finish your work! You do not want a piece to get damaged or lost before you have the chance to capture it. View our Photo Documentation Guide developed by our Otis Photo Lab.

These descriptions should be a few concise sentences about the piece and its concept. You should also include the dimensions and medium. You will submit these descriptions along with your work in SlideRoom. Please make sure you proofread for typos!

Think about the curation of your portfolio (which pieces you will include) and the order that you will upload your works into SlideRoom. The maximum number of images you can submit is 20, so think about which pieces capture a balance of your technical skills and creativity. There should be an organizing principle to your portfolio, which may be by medium, theme or project. Think of how you want your images to flow and the viewer to experience them. You do not need to include the maximum of 20 images. Take out an older piece, or one that is not as strong as the rest or perhaps does not fit with the others in your portfolio. Remember, your portfolio should be a reflection of your best, most recent work!

Showing your work to an admissions representative is a great way to practice talking about your work and getting feedback on what you can do to improve. Having multiple portfolio reviews from diffiernt institutions can also help you curate a specific portfolio to each institution you are applying to. Schedule a portfolio review with an Otis representative here. You can also attend one of our Portfolio Development Virtual Info Sessions. Sign-up here.

SlideRoom is the platform that many colleges will ask you to submit your portfolio. They accept a variety of file types, including JPEG, GIF, Auto-Cad, Sound, Vimeo and YouTube links. The cost to submit the portfolio is $10. Freshmen applicants applying through the Common App will connect to SlideRoom through the Common App portal directly. Transfer applcants will be provided with the SlideRoom link to submit their portfolio through the Otis online application. 

Additional Resources

  • Approach: The combination of materials and technique you use to make the work. Example: a soft charcoal drawing with neutral tones (a soft approach) vs. a pencil drawing with scratchy, hard marks and heavy shadows. 
  • Background: The area of an artwork that appears farthest away from the viewer; also, the area against which a figure or scene is placed.
  • Body of Work: Refers to the collection of your art.  This can be centered around a certain idea or theme, or over a period of time.  
  • Breadth: Breadth means a “wide range”.  In the context of a portfolio, if you are showing breadth, you are likely sharing a wide variety of skill sets or works in different mediums.  These are often assignment-based works that test or challenge your technical abilities.  Think of this as practice or exercising your skills before you incorporate your personal touch! 
  • Cohesive:  When something is cohesive, it exhibits continuity or connection between its parts. A portfolio is cohesive when a certain theme, narrative, aesthetic, or recurring image carries over from one image to the next.  There is consistency and you are building on the same idea over multiple pieces.  
  • Composition: The arrangement of objects within the frame of your piece.  Consider how much space an object is taking up on your paper/canvas/digital frame compared to the negative space within the paper or canvas.  Are the subjects centered, spread out, close to the edges of the frame? 
  • Concept: The idea that you are seeking to convey through your work about a subject or topic. What are you trying to communicate?
  • Curate: To curate your portfolio means to select and arrange your images based on some type of organizing principle. You might choose to curate your portfolio around a particular theme, or to organize your pieces based on medium or materials used.
  • Dimensions: The size of your piece.  What is the length, width and height? 
  • Direct Observation: Drawing or painting from life, as opposed to using a photograph, a cell phone image, a magazine, your imagination, or YouTube tutorial for your subject. You might draw a person, your environment, or an arrangement of objects in front of you. Show us how your brain interprets what you see in front of you! 
  • Documentation:  Documentation is the record of your artwork. Different types of work might require different types of documentation.  Does a photograph best capture your piece? Or maybe you use a high resolution scanner to have a digital copy of your final piece.  You might also consider a video clip if your work is interactive, or if you want to flip through your sketchbook. Think about building a visual archive for yourself of all your completed images. This will make creating your final portfolio easier if you document as you finish each piece.  
  • Environment: The physical space or background in which the subject of your piece exists. Do you have floating figures in most of your pieces?  Think about the space the figure exists in, this is the environment. 
  • Figurative Work: Refers to the representation of the human form, in any of its various shapes and postures, within your artwork. 
  • Landscape: The depiction of an outdoor space, either real or imagined.
  • Medium: The art materials used to make your piece. 
  • Narrative: The story being told within your piece or your portfolio.
  • Perspective:  Creating a 3-dimensional space within your 2-dimensional paper or canvas. This technique is used to depict volume and spatial relationships of interior and exterior environments. 
  • Observational Drawing or Painting (See also Direct Observation): Drawing or painting from life, as opposed to using a photograph, a cell phone image, a magazine, your imagination, or YouTube tutorial for your subject. observational art is simply; "drawing/painting what you see," it's a realistic portrayal of what's in front of you. This type of drawing can include a landscape, a still life, or a figure drawing.
  • Portrait: A painting, drawing, photograph, sculpture or any other art form that captures the representation of a person. 
  • Series: A collection of artworks that follow the same theme or narrative. 
  • SlideRoom: The digital platform where you will submit your portfolio: www.otis.slideroom.com.  
  • Technical Skill: Your ability and strength in using a particular medium.  
  • Theme: The dominant idea that runs throughout your piece or your portfolio.

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