Posted 11 November 2019

Portfolio tips from experienced Central Saint Martins tutors

Whether you’re set on moving into a career in art and design or looking to pursue a university degree, entering the creative industries can be rather daunting at first. It’s a highly competitive environment, to say the least, but one that Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, works to make more accessible for all. In its new book, Central Saint Martins: Key Lessons in Art and Design, Lucy Alexander and Timothy Meara, the Curriculum Leaders on the CSM Foundation, have brought together contributions from fellow tutors, alumni and students to present guidance and exercises from across the disciplines. Fashion and textiles, fine art, communication design and three-dimensional design – whichever specialism it is, CSM’s new book has it covered. Here, we’re sharing the first of three extracts from the publication, which begins with a necessary round-up of portfolio top tips.

Central Saint Martins Foundation: Key Lessons in Art and Design

Highlight your ideas
When you start to organise your portfolio, highlight your ideas rather than your technical skills. This might simply mean labelling each work with the title, concept and intention, or it might involve presenting rough and spontaneous tests and experiments alongside finished outcomes.

Your portfolio needs to make sense to somebody who does not already know the context of your work. Label the type of work clearly (for example, outcome, experiment or documentation) and indicate succinctly the motivations behind each project.

Showcase your ambition
Demonstrate your ambition for the work and the context in which you would ideally place it by mocking up formats and interactions that you might not be able to realise yet. Your ideas about audience and engagement are helpful to a prospective client or university.

A portfolio is your chance to show the range of your creative practice. You will therefore need to be motivated to self-initiate projects that showcase personal themes and interests alongside school projects or commercial briefs.

“A portfolio is your chance to show the range of your creative practice.”

Keep it organised
Attention to detail in terms of presentation and organisation shows you value your work and will directly impact how much time your audience spends looking at your portfolio.

In a physical portfolio, try to keep the orientation consistent as it can be annoying to review a portfolio where the work has to be continually rotated.

Putting together the portfolio
When putting together a physical portfolio, mount all the work on thin white card and use a consistent form of labelling. Good-quality printouts are essential and it is worth considering the paper stock and finish of printed work.

All three-dimensional and oversized work should be photographed and included as documentation.

Moving-image works can be embedded as edited clips in a digital portfolio. In a physical portfolio, you can present moving image as a series of stills that capture key moments in the narrative.

Title pages from the book

“It is important to select only the examples that are most relevant to your current interests and concerns.”

Keep it relevant
Your portfolio should not be a complete archive of your output to date. It is important to select only the examples that are most relevant to your current interests and concerns.

For each course or job that you apply for, you should edit your portfolio to suit the context in which it will be viewed. Make a careful study of the organisation you are pitching to and put together a focused version of your portfolio. Think about which projects, skills and approaches you would like to foreground.

Before making a physical portfolio, make a dummy using photocopies of your work. This will allow you to try layouts and decide on the size of images before spending money on printing.

As a rough guide, 15 to 20 pages of work is a good quantity to aim for in a portfolio. Make sure you include a few sketchbooks in a physical portfolio or, if you are putting together a digital portfolio, make sure at least a third of the pages relate to your development process.


Central Saint Martins Foundation Book by Lucy Alexander and Timothy Meara is published by Ilex, £25. Available to purchase here.

Written by Lucy Alexander and Timothy Meara
Introduction by Ayla Angelos