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  • Writer's pictureAlmeera Eman

Building a Portfolio on Your Gap Year - Tips from the Creative Pros

Are you looking to apply to an arts and design school but don’t know where or how to start? Does crafting your portfolio, writing your application or even networking with other creatives feel intimidating?

Well, you are in luck! In today’s episode, we invited Danielle, an OCAD Alum and recruiter. She shares her journey pursuing art during highschool, throughout her gap year and in university. She highlights how she leveraged opportunities to connect with other creatives during this process.

Most importantly, Danielle gives us the inside scoop on how to craft your portfolio and feel confident in your work when submitting your application!

Topics Discussed

  • Danielle’s gap year experience and how it played an instrumental role in helping her decide what to pursue in post-secondary.

  • The importance of proactively finding opportunities to connect and network with other creatives and ways you can do this.

  • How to curate an authentic art portfolio that best reflects you as a creative (and getting this reviewed on National Portfolio Day)!

  • The opportunity to get personal feedback and advice from Danielle through her FREE service, Virtual One-to-One Admissions Appointments.

Resources Mentioned In This Episode



  • Get support to light up your gap year! Book a free 30-min call:


Michelle Dittmer 00:00

Hey there and welcome to the Gap Year podcast! My name's Michelle Dittmer, and I am your gap year expert and the host of this podcast.

And today we have the amazing Danielle here with us and she's bringing the Yin to my Yang. I went the science route and Danielle went the arts route, because what I've heard from a lot of people is they're often working on a portfolio on their gap year to maybe get into art school or animation or all sorts of creative outlets and that's not an area of expertise that I have.

So what do I do?

I find somebody who has that experience and we bring them in to get those answers to the question. So Danielle, thank you so much for joining me today.

Danielle 00:46

Thank you for having me!

I'm super excited to chat all about that process of going to art and design school.

Michelle Dittmer 00:51

Amazing, wonderful.

Well, why don't you give us a little bit of background like why, why did I reach out to you?

Why, why was this the perfect fit for this conversation.

So give us a little bit of your back story and where you're at right now.

Danielle 01:05

Yeah, so my name's Danielle Coleman and I work as a recruiter at OCAD University.

In regards to my back story, I was someone who obviously applied to OCAD University, so I was super excited about art and design.

I studied drawing and painting at OCAD University. I graduated in 2019, but I did do that gap year, so I'm super excited to talk a little bit more about that today.

I also work as an art instructor when I’m not working at OCAD.

So I really enjoy that conversation of helping folks you know, build their voice as an artist and designer and I know that preparing a portfolio can feel a little bit daunting. So I do like working in art education to help folks discover their unique voice as an artist and designer and I also work in art gallery settings, so I wear multiple hats within the creative industry.

But I still am a practising and exhibiting artist. So I have a solo exhibition on display right now and just wrapped up an artist in residency.

So folks who are on this call, you never really stopped developing a portfolio. It feels like you're always developing your portfolio. So I'm super excited about today.

Michelle Dittmer 02:11

That's amazing! And I love that you have dipped your toe in so many areas of art because I know there's a lot of pressure that you can never have a career in art or like you're never going to make it or people are pretty narrow minded. Like, oh, I just want to be a visual artist or I just want to be a curator and you are living proof that there is so much more to the industry and it really is an industry that you can, you can explore so many different areas of it and still hold on to that essence of being an artist because that's part of your identity, that's part of who you are and by doing these other things doesn't make you any less of an artist, which is really, really cool.

So when you were early on in your career and you were kind of at the end of high school kind of stage of your life, what were some of the things that you really got to explore or that you did? So maybe your, your gap year or some of those other elements?

Danielle 03:13

Yeah. So maybe we'll backtrack a little bit to grade 12. So I was a creative who was actually conflicted in more than just visual art. I was a band kid in high school, so I play tenor saxophone and I was someone who had a saxophone, went on all the music trips, and was on all the music classes.

And that was a really big conflict for me as well. I knew I loved visual art, but having to decide between visual art music, I also was conflicted between architecture that ultimately rang the alarms to say, let's take a gap year.

Why feel pressured to go off to school if I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do quite yet and I wanted that time to experiment a little bit more, get to know myself more as a creative before I went off to school.

So having that gap year, what happened was I took grade 13, but I only took Co-op as a class. So I really did feel like I had a lot of independent time.

But with that Coop I dedicated that to learning a little bit more about visual arts. So I got paired with the Thames art gallery, which was a local art gallery in my area, and I went to the Thames art gallery and just laid it out on the line. I told them I'm a creative person, visual art is a huge interest of mine and I told them and contemplating applying to OCAD University and I would just like to get some real life experience of what does an artist and designer do outside of just the traditional idea of working in a studio.

So curation, I'm glad you brought that up. I got paired with a curator and their assistant curator and they really opened the doors of what their job looks like. So I got to see behind the scenes of how they connect with artists years in advance before they even have an exhibition having studio chats and that really made me excited.

That's when I started seeing that creatives are really just a network of people still practicing but also engaging with each other, exchanging ideas and so I really enjoyed that aspect and the research as well, reading about an artist's area of interest, you know what they're doing in the studio, what they're experimenting with as they build a show and the curators actually allowed me to dip my toes in programming, so that was really exciting as well.

I didn't just learn the aspects of connecting artists and putting shows together, but I got to see what studio programming was like so other folks who maybe just wanted to dabble in art design in their free time or looking to upgrade their skills and techniques.

I also got to see how those classes are put together and how you can respond to a community's needs and put classes together based on what the community is looking for.

So that was a really big eye opener for me in my victory lap year and ultimately connecting with other creatives is a great way to get advice about the portfolio, they've already done it. So that was a big light bulb moment for me too. It doesn't matter what school they were applying to, but I got to hear their pieces of advice, how they prepared works for their portfolio. I got to learn about their failed attempts and mistakes and it was really the mentorship I needed to get, you know, comfortable and relax a little bit when preparing My Portfolio.

So I was really preparing works that I felt confident about.

Michelle Dittmer 06:19

I'm gonna jump in here because I love this idea of networking and like being connected to the community because that's one of the hugest benefits of a gap year, is you get to go out and you get to have conversations with a wide variety of people that your little Rolodex gets built out with all of these people from diverse backgrounds that are connected to their own communities and your community just begins to grow and grow and you never know when you're going to need one of those people later on in your life or you're going to be able to circle back to some of those early on conversations and say hey it wasn't relevant at the time, but now I'm in this new creative phase in my life and I wanna, I wanna go back to that conversation we had a year ago and that's it's great in the creative realm.

It's great actually no matter what discipline you're in, is building that network of people and finding those mentors that you can ask those honest questions of and maybe avoid some of the mistakes that they made in their journey and I and I think you hit the nail exactly on the head by really going through how valuable that is and it's not just necessarily about a new brushstroke technique or like a new colour mixing, whatever, I'm not an artist, it's about so much more than that and that will come through those relationships that you're able to do by putting yourself out there.

So I'm curious if you have any tips for people that are maybe a little bit shy or nervous or maybe put other artists on a pedestal and be like wow they are, they're like, they're real artists and I'm, I'm just a pretend artist.

Do you have any tips or tricks for people to be confident in those conversations?

Danielle 08:07

Yeah. So actually when I approached the Thames Art Gallery as a Co-op student, they've had never had someone approach them about a Co-op position. So I found they were almost just as nervous as I was, so I think understanding that their creatives themselves, and they're also just looking to network with you, you're someone who's coming in with this eagerness.

That shows your passion so much by just entering in a space and saying I'm a creative and I'm looking to engage with you. I think that makes institutions like art galleries and museums so excited. That shows that you're curious and you're eager to learn more about the field and so I would say, take a deep breath when you walk in these spaces.

I wish I could say that to myself, but take a deep breath when I walked into the space, I did prepare a little bit of a statement.

So I was really, you know, rigid about the process. I thought it was gonna be very formal, so I prepared a small statement just outlining my interests as a creative but I was looking for within my gap year.

So again outlining. I'm a visual artist but I also have this music interest and I really just wanna sort some ideas out in my head. I wanna get this real life experience but ultimately just be prepared to have a conversation.

It didn't have to be super formal but it was just super great to outline this is what my interests are and this is some potential areas.

I could see myself in the future understanding that I'm gonna grow so much as an artist and designer in the next four years that ultimately I'm not being held to this statement, but it's just nice to outline yourself and be able to leave that statement with someone.

So even after a conversation, you never know when these networks are gonna come back like we were mentioning. So I think just being, you know, take a deep breath when you arrive into a space and knowing that just stepping into the space is ultimately what a Art Museum or institutions looking for. They want to engage with you as much as you wanna engage with them. So I just wish someone had reassured me when I was taking those first steps.

Michelle Dittmer 10:01

Yeah, I think that's like such sage advice, so like spread this word far and wide, everybody. If you're out there, if you're creative, if you're, if you're nervous about this we're talking to the expert here.

This is like a hard and fast rule. So be confident that you're doing something pretty amazing by even just showing up, that's awesome. Now I interrupted your story, so continue on from there.

Danielle 10:25

Yeah. I would just say, you know you never know, like we were saying you never know where these connections are gonna lead you. So after my Co-op opportunity, I had got to really dabble with, you know, just seeing how an exhibition was put together, opening receptions, how those functioned. Ultimately I was getting to really know that creative community in my area, so hearing about their stories, but I also felt a lot more confident going to art gallery openings outside of my Co-op.

So this wasn't just at my gallery, but I felt more comfortable going to other galleries. If I'm visiting a different location, artists and designers listening to this podcast, you probably relate to that feeling of do I belong here quite yet? So I know the language of what do I need to talk about?

I find honestly just engaging with a local art gallery a great way to dip your toes in the water, get used to those conversations and build up your confidence on how you want to describe yourself as an artist and designer.

Not everyone's an expert and your work's gonna change so much so you don't have to feel scripted when talking about your work or other works, Creatives just wanna hear your opinion on works. They want to engage with you and learn more about you.

So I wish someone had told me that back in the day, but my Co-op really did help build that confidence.

But I just wanna outline that these connections will come back in the future. So it was really great to be invited to help out with summer art camps or just help out with gallery position roles.

So these contacts actually kept up to date with me throughout my whole journey at OCAD up until I was graduating to offer me employment. So I would say not only just introduce yourself to these spaces, but consider volunteering or being a part of their Art Advisory Board, find ways that you can inject yourself into their projects.

You are a creative and you have a lot to offer, as creatives are so much skill sharing that happens. So we like to work in collaboration.

It's not so much an “I” situation, it is really based on team work and working together as you know a unit. You are your community or a community of artists and designers.

So I just want to emphasize that just stay in touch with them cause they want to help you succeed and reach your goals and ultimately helping through volunteering could lead to some really great paid positions with programming or potentially an exhibition in the future, so you never know where that becomes full circle.

Michelle Dittmer 12:40

I sent some foreshadowing here. Yeah, I think that's I think it's just such a beautiful piece.

Now what does staying in touch look like? Is that like calling them up every week and being like hey pal, how's it going since last week or what does what does that look like?

Danielle 13:00

That's a great question. So for me what happened was I felt comfortable adding a few of them on social media.

So obviously gauge that how you will if you want to add these folks. For me it was more or less that programmer was really interested in my studio work as she had studio works that she was working on and teaching programming.

It's nice to see your skill set develop when you're at school so that they can engage with what you can teach if you wanted to come back and offer these skill sets to other artists and designers in your area, I would say LinkedIn is always a great way to start that conversation if you wanna gauge what social medias you wanna connect on.

So if you don't have a LinkedIn, consider making one. It's just a great way to stay up to date on what's happening and I'd say post your works as you're off at school.

I know this is a time to experiment and try new ideas, but feel confident putting your work out there. I think posting about your experiences at art and design school and showing how passionate you are.

Creatives will really catch on to this and I think a lot of art galleries and museums are interested in how younger generations are using social media to draw in crowds to be interested in places like museums and art galleries. So use that to your benefit.

I would say stay in touch through LinkedIn but feel free to send them a message. When you're home on reading weeks, say hey, I'm looking to drop into the art gallery and I want to maybe talk about some of the work I've made, you know, are making this break.

It's a great way to get some critique and feedback. Also just to show you're super excited about, you know their, your connection with them.

And I would say do some of your visual research with them so if they have materials that can help you with a project, maybe for art history or an essay you're working on like reach out and ask about their library and resources that will just show that you're super engaged in you are looking to make their institution a part of your practice moving forward, so they have the materials to give to you, don't hesitate to ask, they are so excited to help you with your process and your journey, and they love to provide mentorship.

I think that's something all creatives really enjoy.

Michelle Dittmer 15:03

And something that I'm picking up here is how much you were in the driver seat of your experience.

You were the one initiating, you talk, you, you use the word engage a lot and I think that a lot of people kind of sit in that passive role and there they wait for people to come to them and they don't want to be the one to, to be the first one to go forward or to reach out or are nervous or tentative or I'm going to be bothering these people by stepping in.

But what I'm hearing from your story is that no, you've gotta be the one to take the reins and take the initiative and that's what's going to set you apart from all the other people that are passively working in their basement and creating the perfect piece of art.

You're seeking feedback. You are trying to get out there and to connect with your network of people and grow your network of people and really being that active part in developing yourself as a creative and developing your network and making use of all the amazing resources that are out there.

Danielle 16:11

Yeah, I think something for creatives just to keep in mind is that if you really want these opportunities, it never hurts to put your name out there and so like you mentioned, it's one thing to be building a body of work in your basement, but it's a whole other experience to engage with your community about the work you're making.

So this could be a small step even approaching maybe a local cafe. This is something I've done as well, just saying, I have this body of work and I'd love to display it in your space.

How can we go about doing this? Just these small steps of reaching out to your Community will also show a level of professionalism and dedication to your practice.

So you're not just making work, but you are wanting to engage with the public or community partners and say, hey, this is what I have to offer.

Ultimately when you start making these steps it can feel a little bit awkward at first, but I find the whole journey of being an artist and designer can be awkward at times because we're never not learning, we're always growing as artists and designers, so understand that there's going to be those, you know, times we get butterflies were like, oh, am I prepared enough?

I would say fake it till you make it. That was a big part of my journey of reaching out to different partners.

It's just putting yourself on the line and being a little bit vulnerable with your practice saying this is what I have to offer, these are some ideas that I have and I wanna share these with you and I think people really respect that when you make them a part of your vision or your goal and it really just shows your eagerness as a young artist and designer.

I find a lot of times when we're looking to engage with the art world, sometimes it can feel like we're being brushed aside a bit because there's more experience artists in our areas. But showing your eagerness to reach out, build those connections, people really start to take you seriously.

And they say, OK, like art and design is really this person's passion and let's bring them in and let's involve them more.

Ultimately, this will help you feel more confident in art and design school, so they go hand in hand and I would say as you go off to school, remember, your professors and studio technicians are professional artists and designers, so utilize them as a part of that networking. Reach out to them and ask what opportunities that you can volunteer your time with or how you can get involved with projects that they have and ultimately, this brings your connections full circle.

It's all about you know, who you know and who you can advocate for and who will advocate for you at the end of the day. So it really does go hand in hand the more people you reach out to.

Michelle Dittmer 18:35

That's amazing. OK. Let's get a little bit more technical here.

So I know some people are really stressed out about the criteria for a portfolio and they want to put their best foot forward.

So what are some of the things that evaluators are looking at when they look at, I don't know evaluators probably the wrong word, but when they're when they're looking at a portfolio what are they assessing, what are they looking for? What are some of those pieces that people should be considering in there when they're designing or imagining or creating their portfolio?

Danielle 19:15

That's a great question. So I always emphasize to creatives. Make sure you've read those instructions for each school.

That sounds really obvious, but you'll see certain schools have very specific portfolios, others are a little more open-ended.

So never assume that a portfolio is the same for each institution that ultimately can lead to some errors within your portfolio prep.

So I find the first step is really doing that research. Look at the schools you're interested in and make notes of what they're looking for in each portfolio and maybe make some reminders for yourself on how each portfolio is different.

Some schools you can have a little more specifics, so they'll really outline what materials they wanna see, what sizes they're looking for, where OCAD university is a little more open-ended.

So thinking about our portfolio, we're looking for 8 to 10 finished pieces.

A piece of advice would be to make sure at least half of your portfolio reflects the program you're applying to. Now this might sound like an obvious, but when you're preparing your portfolio, you want to demonstrate that you understand what program you're applying to.

So we wanna make sure that when you're preparing works in the portfolio that you can show us some skills and techniques that you're exploring that are related to the program.

Now we're not expecting anyone to be an expert, so take a deep breath and skill and techniques great, but it's not everything. We just wanna see that you're exploring some of these skills and techniques either in the classroom or in your own time that are related to the program you're looking to apply to.

That way your reviewer gets a really good understanding that you know what program you're applying to, so never assume that they understand your ambitions. I think having half of your portfolio reflect the program you're looking to apply to is a visual way to show that, yes, this is the program I'm excited about.

Within the other half of your portfolio, definitely feel free to include a variety of skills and techniques that speak to you as a creative. So when I applied to drawing and painting, I ensured at least half of My Portfolio had drawings and paintings, and I explored some different mediums.

So acrylic was something I felt really comfortable with but I also was exploring watercolour a little bit more, and I also took some risks with charcoal.

So make sure that you take this opportunity to experiment, show your curiosity and your excitement to work with different materials like this is the time to do so, to experiment with those ideas that maybe have been kicking around with your sketchbook or they're in the back of your mind.

This is the time to explore them, why not explore it right now?

And the other half of My Portfolio I had very architectural based works. So the reason why I wanted to add that in was I really wanted my reviewer to understand that I did have this design background as a part of me as an artist and designer. It's never gonna leave my practice. It's something that ultimately makes me unique as an artist and designer.

So within that other half of your portfolio, please feel free to show a variety of other ways you like to work and different processes or themes you like to explore, because ultimately these aspects are always gonna seep back into your practice.

So make sure you reflect who you are as an artist and designer within your portfolio.

I find them more passionate about each work in the portfolio. It also really helps you write descriptions about your work. So for OCAD and within our portfolio, you get 50 word text box descriptions to really describe to the portfolio reviewer what they're looking at or why you included this work in the portfolio.

Maybe the chat about some processes, there's not a right or wrong way to describe what we're looking at, but it's just a way for us to feel like we're engaging with you in conversation. So as portfolio submissions done online, we really miss that aspect of being able to talk to you about your work.

So feel free to provide those descriptions. I would say if you don't provide those descriptions, it's almost like going to a job interview and not saying anything.

How can we engage with your passion and your interest within this program if you're not speaking to us? So use those text box descriptions as a conversational way to just really highlight your interests and why this works in the portfolio.

Ultimately, that's what really gets me excited when I talk to folks about their portfolio and it really does advocate your passion, so I just want to emphasize that those aren't something we take for granted. I think that's one of the biggest components of your visual portfolio when you're submitting to OCAD.

Michelle Dittmer 23:40

Yeah, I think it's a great way to translate your passion like the few galleries that I've been to.

It's one thing to look at a piece, but when the artist is standing beside you and explaining where this piece came from and what it really is about like that, the piece just comes to life in a whole new way and I think 50 words is not a lot to communicate that, but it's better than zero.

So yeah, put those, put those really meaningful words into place and help that passion to shine through because I think it just adds a whole other dimension to the pieces that you're submitting, which is just so cool.

Danielle 24:20

And I would say, like, just treat it like you're sitting across from me at a table.

If you want to make it more conversational because we've never met you before, treat it like you're introducing your work to me for the first time.

So maybe, you know, 50 words isn't a lot, but if you wanna preemptively type them out, you can always show them to the friends and family and have them read them over and say, what do you take away from this little blurb when it's paired next to my work. I did that with friends and family and it really did ease that, you know. Oh my goodness, it's only 50 words, how do I describe all of these ideas I had? But showing other people your little blurbs will help you feel more confident about what you're putting down on paper and I'm also always here if you wanna e-mail me and chat about your portfolio. I am here to have those conversations with you if you're not sure how to get started on writing those statements.

Michelle Dittmer 25:05

I love that. I think there's just so many things that this represents and I know a lot of the people that I work with, they feel great pressure to put something together because it's a finite way to express your infinite creativity, which can feel really, really overwhelming.

So do you have any advice on how to kind of put to rest some of that anxiety around selecting the pieces and putting a finite collection together.

Danielle 25:40

Yeah, I just want to emphasize again, we're not looking for anyone to be an expert because ultimately that's why you're applying to art and design school and I wish someone reminded me this, but you're applying to art and design school to gain those skills and techniques and to grow as an artist and designer.

So the portfolio you create now, once you're in first year, you'll look back and you'll see how much you've grown as an artist and designer and that sounds cliche, that this might happen within the first few months of being in a program in art design. You'll look back and you'll say, Oh my goodness, that was My Portfolio. But it's so true.

You're going to grow so quickly as an artist and designer and experiment and let your curiosity lead you down different avenues.

So when you're preparing works for the portfolio, a piece of advice is I would just create works up until you submit the portfolio.

Because as you're preparing these works, even your skills and techniques are already growing, your confidence is building. So make works right up until you have to submit that portfolio and review your collection and you'll start to see certain pieces come together.

It might be some of your most recent works as you've been building works, maybe themes or certain processes have kept emerging throughout your body of work.

Consider why this is happening. If there's a certain theme that's standing out, maybe you wanna revolve your whole portfolio around this theme. If certain processes or materials that you find are coming back in and seeping in through different works, then maybe consider the processes and the stories that are being told through those processes.

As someone who was a process based artist, I was always worked up in My Portfolio, really doesn't have a theme like is someone going look at My Portfolio, not take it seriously. But I also wish someone was there to remind me that process based art is just as important and there are some really great aspects of looking at works that just speak to process that really speaks about your interests and your stories as an artist and designer in the studio.

So never take those works for granted. If that's the avenue your portfolio is going down. Then keep exploring that rabbit hole cause there's not a right or wrong way of preparing works for the portfolio.

Michelle Dittmer 27:47

I love that and I love that you said keep on creating right until you have to submit and that kind of incorporates my next question. So people on a gap year have a lot more time because they're not trying to squeeze in their art after their math class.

So they have a lot of time to be free and to explore and to get different experiences that are going to deepen or strengthen their body of work, so I'm curious if you have any recommendations of activities or things that people should consider that will that will help them on their journey kind of to discover who they are as an artist, but then in the end with the ultimate goal of having that portfolio together.

Danielle 28:31

Yeah, so I would say definitely when you are reaching out to museums and art galleries, never hesitate to ask what studio programming is available. I didn't realize how much programming is actually offered for free or on a pay, what you can scale.

So as someone when I wasn't in that Co-op period, feeling kind of not isolated and alone, but realizing I don't have that high school art club to turn to, I was really looking for that way to engage with the community, or at least just feel a part of a class, experimenting, trying new things.

And I didn't realize how many workshops are available through art gallery and museum programming where they bring in artists and designers and professionals who teach workshops and even if this is a time that you're just experimenting with the new process, these conversations could be a great time to say, oh, I'm actually preparing works for My Portfolio, this is what some of My Portfolio looks like.

Have those conversations with people around you. But also realize that this experimentation is not just something that is one and done thing. This might be a new way that you're going to start pivoting your work towards. Maybe this is a new process you'll engage with.

So I would say I wish I had been able to look back at myself and say, you know, reach out for programming earlier because there's such an array of programming.

This could be anything from painting to drawing to working with sculpture or printmaking, but it's just getting you out of that comfort zone, but allowing you to also engage with other creatives. So I find that would really help prepare works in the portfolio, but also feel free to just visit exhibitions, either online or in person. I especially right now online, we're coming out of this digital COVID experience of everything being online. So you have so many exhibitions at your fingertips.

Really reflect on what stands out to you and you look at art and design because ultimately this can be some visual research that could really, you can explore in the studio and it could make some light bulb moments happen for you in regards to like what styles you're interested in or ways of working.

And so as you're preparing a portfolio, like engage with that visual research, it's not cheating, it's not something to look down at, but engaging with other and other artists and designers in the real world. Ultimately is going to contextualize what you're doing and make you feel a part of an even bigger art and design community, so I wish someone had told me that as well.

Michelle Dittmer 30:56

OK. So aside from submitting like the works themselves and their little descriptions often I'm assuming there's some other components that go along with that. Can you touch on some of the other components of a submission or an application to a school?

Danielle 31:30

Yeah, so for OCAD university students will have to submit a Sketchbook and process work and a statement of intent, so I'll break those down.

A sketchbook and process works submission at OCAD we suggest 15 to 25 pages combined in a multi page PDF that really describe your creative processes as an artist and designer, I like to say sketchbook and process cause not everyone works in a traditional sketchbook.

So if you're someone in the studio who likes to work with maybe a whiteboard and you do brain mapping, make sure you snap a picture of this brainstorming you're doing. Or if you're someone who has a shoe box full of random sculpture explorations, maybe you're working with clay and you're working with, you know, pressing things into the clay to explore surface design, texture, colour, pattern. Then make sure you document this process or your collection of things that exist in a shoe box.

If you're someone who works digitally on a computer, take screenshots of your layers and your works in progress. This can be considered your sketchbook process.

Now for folks who do work in a traditional sketchbook. Get in the habit of using this as a tool to explore, be experimental, and ultimately explore those curiosities. Your sketchbook is not just a book of finished, polished drawings.

OCAD reviewers are actually looking for everything but the finished, polished drawings. We wanna see those doodles, those failed attempts and mistakes, leave them in the sketchbook.

Our reviewers get the most excited about that. We wanna see the research. So if it's chicken scratch notes, if you're just doing colour swatches in there, maybe you're documenting these ideas as they're fleeting.

My books covered in chicken scratch notes so it doesn't have to look pretty by any means, but this is a tool for you to document those ideas as they come your way, explore, be creative, and know that this is just an experimental space so you're not bound to a finished work.

You don't have to worry about how folks are interacting with your sketchbook. This is a tool for you, so get in the habit of using this as an experimental space. Observational drawings, never hurt either. So if you're looking to brush up on some skills and techniques, consider just drawing objects around your house. Maybe it's the knickknacks in your bedroom, this could be objects in your kitchen, or maybe just, you know, other family members chilling around in the living room.

But this is a great way to do that observational work and have it just in a quick little study in your sketchbook. So we look for about 15 to 25 pages of sketchbook and process work.

I also wanna outline that you will submit a statement of intent. So just as I was advocating that those small blurbs are a great way to document your process and your excitement about the program.

Your statement of intent is 250 to 300 words describing who you are as an artist and designer. This statement of intent is super important because we've never met you before. So as we are just about to flip through your works in the portfolio, we want a good sense of who you are. We wanna know who you are as a creative. So let us know about those themes you like to explore in your work or those materials that you keep going back to maybe there's processes that get you really excited to be in a studio.

This is your space to outline that. 250 to 300 words might go by quick as you start writing the statement of intent, but this is a space to showcase your ambitions, your interest within art and design.

You can talk about skill sets you currently have or skill sets you want to further develop during your time in art design school, so this is your soapbox moment to really outline what makes you excited about art and design and who you are as a creative.

A great way to wrap up a statement of intent is to include while you're applying to the school you're applying to and why that program that really will summarize your fit for program before they even look at the visual works in your portfolio. So just a piece of advice there.

Michelle Dittmer 35:10

I think those are fantastic and it probably also will follow with your advice around the blurbs, the 50 word blurbs is to have other people take a look at it too.

Does this, does this actually communicate my passion? Does this show how lit up I am about applying to this school?

Because I know a lot of people that I work with they get bogged down in and being professional or being formal.

And this and that, it's not who they are as a person. This is supposed to reflect who you are and if you are putting on a different hat to write this, then you're not necessarily communicating what you think you're communicating by being professional or by choosing the exact right technical 4 syllable words. So I'm curious if that's accurate or not or if I'm just out in left field.

Danielle 36:04

No 100% I would say like this doesn't have to be super formal and rigid statement. This should be again like you're sitting across from your reviewer and this is almost like your handshake moment. So it's like, hi, this is who I am as a creative. This is ultimately like why I'm passionate about what I do.

So I have a list of really great questions that are reflective questions that can help you write that statement of intent. So thinking about, you know, what skill sets do you bring to OCAD university as a creative? What skills do you want to further develop when you get to OCAD? What are some studios you want to possibly explore when you get here?

But these questions that are reflective could be a great way to jump into a statement of intent. You can reflect on as many questions as you want and edit down your statement of intent later. But I find thinking about these reflective questions will get you out of that rigid formal box of trying to talk about yourself as a creative.

So you know free right at the beginning, let these ideas flow out and then edit down later. Again, we wanna see who you are as a creative, so I would say it doesn't have to be super formal if you wanna treat it more of a conversation.

Again, we just want to get to know who you are before we look at the visual works in your portfolio because it ultimately will help us contextualize what we're looking at when we do flip through your portfolio.

Michelle Dittmer 37:21

Amazing, amazing. Now you have been so full of tips and tricks and advice and suggestions based on your lived experience, based on your professional position, is there anything left in that brain of yours?

Any last minute tips for folks who are where you were a couple years ago that are that are fretting and concerned? Do you have any last little bits of wisdom to share with them?

Danielle 37:47

I would say utilize national portfolio day. It's just such a sigh of relief to have your works reviewed before you even submit a portfolio.

So this could be works in progress, but just a meeting with someone doesn't even have to be the school you're applying to. There's so many art and design schools who are just there to provide support and review the works in your portfolio with you.

So you can ask them questions, you can discuss your works in progress, they can give you tips and tricks about what they see in your portfolio, and you can start to write down some of the language they use about your work. But it's a great way, just get in the habit of talking about your work.

So if you are conflicted about how am I gonna write those little blurbs about my work, maybe attend national portfolio day and engage in some conversations and then maybe having like a sketchbook or notebook nearby and just write down some of the words that are being used about your work.

And ultimately that's just gonna take the edge off of when you do submit that portfolio and you're in that waiting period for a response back on your portfolio.

Michelle Dittmer 38:46

That's amazing. I didn't even know that was a thing and I bet a lot of other people out there also don't know that that's a thing.

So another amazing little gem. Now there are so many things that I'm taking away from this.

Number one, I want to become a creative. It sounds super awesome. So I need to learn to flex that muscle a little bit more. #2 everything is a process and a work in progress, whether it is your portfolio which seems which or which can seem to be this finite end of the road piece, it's actually just the beginning and that schools recognize that.

I think that's a huge take away and hopefully that relieves some of the stress that some of these students are feeling or some of these creatives are feeling that building your network and getting out there and being the active person in your creative journey, I think are just so many incredible messages that maybe you didn't hear in your high school art class that I'm, I'm so glad you were able to share with us today.

I think this has just been so incredibly valuable and I can't wait for people to take advantage of all the things that they've learned from this podcast. So beyond all of the amazing feedback and ideas you've given us today, if folks wanted to get a little bit more support or they wanted to ask you more about your journey, how can they get in touch with you?

Danielle 40:13

Yeah, so I'll provide my e-mail, and if anyone has any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out. I offer something called virtual one to one admissions appointments, so they're half an hour appointments on a platform similar to Zoom and we can chat about any questions you might have related into the admissions process.

Life as a creative, you know, during your time at art and design school, but we can also chat about that portfolio. So if you are stuck, you really need to talk out some ideas or questions you have about the portfolio.

Please don't sit with them in silence. Please contact me and I'd love to get in touch with you.

Michelle Dittmer 40:45

Well, this is wonderful. I can't thank you enough for being the yin to my Yang, the creative to my science. It has been just such a pleasure to chat with you.

And I know there are going to be so many people who really benefit from listening to this episode.

So thank you for joining me.


And thank you for having me.

Thank you so much.

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