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How to create a first-class art portfolio for Year 12 and beyond

Looking for ways to improve your study success? Chances are you’ve come across a lot of advice on exams and assignments – but what if you’re doing a folio subject in Year 12?

Art, Studio Art, Media and Visual Communication are just some of the VCE subjects that include a folio as a significant portion of their assessment. And, thankfully (for some at least), the skills you need to put one of these together are totally different to the skills you need to nail your exams.

Dr Meghan Kelly doesn’t beat around the bush. ‘Year 12 folios can be big and arduous,’ she says. ‘Sometimes a hundred pages or more.’ She’s the Associate Head of School (Teaching and Learning) at Deakin’s School of Communication and Creative Arts. So, when it comes to art portfolios, there’s not much she hasn’t seen.

Daunting? We feel you. But with a little guidance you can wrangle a year’s worth of research, conceptual thinking and practical exploration into a first-class folio. Here are Dr Kelly’s top tips for how.

1. Create a clear narrative with signposts along the way

A strong Year 12 folio has a clear structure and narrative that charts the process of creation. Assessors ‘want to see the signposts that informed your decision-making,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘So highlight these, make them obvious: look, here I changed my mind; look, here I made this decision.’

And you need to explain why. If you choose a particular typeface for your final work, says Dr Kelly, show some other typefaces that you considered and then explain why you chose the one you did. Do the same for colours, materials, methods – basically every decision you make.

‘They want to see that you’ve critically evaluated your work,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘And made an executive decision.’

2. Be as linear as possible

An art portfolio needs to show a linear progression of thought. ‘But not all brains work like that,’ Dr Kelly says, ‘so it’s a challenge.’ Her advice is to think through how you might approach your folio all the way through. Speak to your teacher and seek guidance.

It helps if there’s a little space to jump back along the way to flesh out a thought, expand on an exploration or add a bit of research. ‘That’s what boosts your work.’

3. Show a diversity of thought that culminates in a decision

Show that you’ve thought about everything, Dr Kelly says. And then show how you came to your decision. ‘The idea is to go “look, I looked at all of these things” – which could be 20 pages worth – “and out of that I made a conscious decision to go in this direction.”’

A Year 12 folio seeks transparency on the decision-making process.

'They want to see that you’ve critically evaluated your work and made an executive decision.'

Dr Meghan Kelly,
School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

4. Get out into the world and record everything

‘Go to galleries,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘Collect the leaflets, stick them in your folio, write a bit about the artwork – what you thought of it.’ And don’t do it all on the last day!

If you don’t live near any galleries, don’t stress. Take a walk outside – if you see something interesting or inspiring, take a photo, put it in your folio. Record everything.

Dr Kelly says to do this constantly for the 12-month period leading up to submitting your folio. ‘Build your folio with what’s around you,’ she says. ‘And then look a little further afield.’

5. Demonstrate knowledge of your field of enquiry

‘Go to Magnation,’ suggests Dr Kelly, ‘look at the magazines in your field, note them down, take a photo, then stick that in your folio.’ Something as simple as this will demonstrate to the assessors that you’re exploring your field of enquiry.

6. Be kind to yourself

Dr Kelly has seen students put a lot of pressure on themselves by, for example, designing their folio to the nth degree and handwriting everything. Be realistic about your time and workload and don’t forget to give yourself some time out.

With forethought and regularity it’s possible to create an outstanding folio without grinding yourself into the ground. Remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Using your Year 12 folio for university admissions

The entry process for universities is slightly different to the assessment process for Year 12, Dr Kelly explains. Universities want to know that you’re dead keen on the course you’re applying for. ‘We want to know that you understand the area that you’re coming into,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘Show us what you’ve done, whatever stage you’re at, and explain it.’

‘At Deakin,’ Dr Kelly adds, ‘we look at folios a bit differently.’

Firstly, she doesn’t want to see your full art portfolio. Pick two or three of your best pages. And feel free to submit other work also; for example, from Year 11.

And if you want to apply for, say, photography, but you didn’t have the opportunity to study it at school, don’t be deterred. ‘It’s about knowing you want to go in that direction,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘If a student loves photography, but only has a design folio because their school doesn’t offer photography, they should still apply.’ She believes students shouldn’t miss out because of a lack of opportunity.

‘We just want to know that you know what you’re walking into,’ Dr Kelly says. ‘We all have strengths and weaknesses and we’re not supposed to be there yet because that’s why you come to uni. I don’t anticipate that you’ve got it all together yet. The whole idea is that you come to learn.’

Want to pursue a career in art and design? Learn more here

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Dr Meghan Kelly
Dr Meghan Kelly

Associate Head Of School (Teaching and Learning), School of Communication and Creative Arts, Deakin University

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