CREDIT: Photo (and mess): Amanda Moore
You may be planning to join a visual arts programme as an undergrad with a broader base. Or you might be about to specialise as a grad student in painting, sculpture, film, print, illustration or photography. How do you make the most of this exciting opportunity?
1. Choose a school which has the right teaching style for you
Courses vary widely. Some people will be happy to be shown to their studio space and left there for 2 weeks until the next tutorial. Others will prefer a more structured course. The school I attended had art history lectures, life and anatomical drawing classes and technical workshops which worked better for me when transitioning straight from high school/college. With less structured courses, you will likely have to be more proactive in reading, researching and visiting shows. Something inspirational has to go in for something creative to come out.
2. “Don’t borrow, steal”
This was a great piece of advice given by a tutor. It will be tempting to try and emulate the style of an artist you like. The better approach is to understand what their work is about, what is the concept, and then own that, improve on it and make it yours. Start with the idea and the style will follow.
3. Make your art political
Your art doesn’t have to be overtly about topical political issues but it’s easier to build up a portfolio of work if there is a central theme or reason for why you are making it and showing it to others. Art is also a great platform for expressing or critiquing something, even for critiquing art itself. So many ideas are communicated on social media platforms to people who already have similar views and so exhibiting art is an opportunity to bring ideas to a wider network.
4. Critique is not criticism
Crit days can feel like a firing squad as you clear up your studio space and prepare to stand up and explain your work to tutors, visiting lecturers and your fellow students. A well-run crit should give objective feedback and help you to feel clearer in the direction your work is going. For better outcomes, choose elements of your practice which you feel you require feedback on and ask another student to take some notes for you as we all have a tendency to only remember the negative comments.
5. Market your art
Be proactive and don’t rely solely on the final degree show for people to see your work. Tutors may not offer any guidance on this. You might use social media platforms to showcase your work whilst also giving more insight into your unique concepts and making techniques. Setting up a website will enable you to direct people to your work when you meet them. Set up your own show, or a themed group show, and be open-minded about venue locations with good footfall. Apply for commissions and competitions.
6. Grow your network
Following on from point 5., talk to people, lots of people. Talk to your studio colleagues about goals, share contacts, offer to help each other. If you meet someone and collect their card ‘old-skool’ or connect with them on social media, set up reminders to check in with them now and again. Share something of interest or find out whether you can help with something they are working on with no expectations in return. Not all opportunities will come your way by applying for them, many will be created and offered from within your network.
7. Take advantage of other school resources
Your school may have a whole set of wider resources which you can use as part of your paid tuition. This may include specialist equipment, lectures in other subjects, business courses or even counselling. All of these resources would cost you some serious coin if you paid for them privately.
8. The art world can be a fickle place
It will prove difficult to understand why curators and galleries prefer certain artworks and artists and some of your colleagues may be more sought after than you at the final degree show. Your art is not bad, there is a place or a situation for all art. It may not be this gallery but another one, it may be for publications, for public commissions, for private collectors, etc.
9. Find ways to make your practice affordable post-school
In school you may have access to everything from printmaking presses to welding equipment. However, you may or may not have easy or affordable access to these tools after school. Think about diversifying the materials you use so that you can keep creating without having to outlay a lot of money on equipment. Depending on your location, you can also rent workshop space on a daily basis.
10. You will always be an Artist
As I approached graduation, I knew that I would need to take a day job and find a way to come back to producing my art in the future. If you want to, or have to, take a break from creating art full-time after graduation, don’t worry, you will always be an Artist. Firstly, make your art for yourself. You will also bring a way of seeing things into everything else you do and you may even become a different kind of creator - a writer, a musician, a marketer, a designer … be open to all opportunities.
What are some of the most valuable things you have learned at art school?
CREDIT: Photo: Amanda Moore
You’re off to architecture school, or maybe you’re already there. It’s going to be tough and challenging at times but also an opportunity to test your ideas and concepts without constraints.
Before I started at architecture school I didn’t know any older students or qualified Architects to ask how they found the experience and the things they wish they’d known or done differently.
Here are the top twelve things I personally wish I’d known before I started:
1. Architecture school is THE opportunity to push creative ideas
This is your chance to explore all kinds of concepts; how you think cities should work, whether food production should be an integral part of our homes, sculptural forms, … You won’t have the constraints of a ‘real’ client and a brief, likely because you’ve also created your own client and brief.
I didn’t fully appreciate this until I was asked to draw 53 bathroom packages for a housing scheme in my first real job. At architecture school I often viewed crits and deadlines as something to survive rather than as a chance to push my ideas to their full potential. My best work happened when I found the bravery to stop, review and start over, even days before a presentation.
2. You will have to work very hard
Tutors will demand a lot in terms of both quality and quantity. You may be sitting in a tutorial and hear, "just do a larger ground floor plan … and erm, a couple more sections … and some night time renders … and an exploded axonometric… and maybe your building should be more like this…" (tutor turns model upside down).
There’s no way around this. However, when it comes to entering the workplace, you’ll have gained phenomenal skills in meeting deadlines even when working a 9 - 5 (ish), rather than a 7 - look, the sun’s coming up again.
3. There are MANY different types of Architect
At architecture school you may feel envious of that person who can do beautiful hand drawings, or the person who has amazing graphics in their portfolio. The actual job of being an Architect is many different things and there are roles for all kinds of Architects. A good boss will recognise this. Being able to solve technical problems creatively, being organised, being able to deal well with clients and contractors with the diplomatic skills of a hostage negotiator … Do not hang your future success as an architect on how many people drool over your portfolio in school.
4. Learn as many different types of CAD software as you can
Hand drawings are beautiful but time-consuming. If you can master 3D software, you can take multiple plan and section cuts, experiment with line weights and layering of colour, shadow and photo images to create equally beautiful drawings with a sense of depth.
You’ll need architectural software skills in the workplace. Learn as many as you can; Autodesk, Rhino, Vectorworks, Archicad, Revit, Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, Indesign, etc …
5. Learn about sustainable methods of building
We have a crisis on our hands. In terms of construction, we need to make our buildings more energy efficient in order to reduce ‘in-use carbon’ and also less carbon-intensive in their materials to reduce ‘embodied carbon’.
A good understanding of this can be taken with you into your future job where you will explore how to implement sustainable technologies in client projects. We need to encourage clients to go way above the minimum requirements of regulations where possible. Hopefully, the results of more ambitious clients and projects will trickle across into all sectors of the built environment.
6. You will find many egomaniacs
At architecture school the best resource is your colleagues. People who will help critique your work late in the studio, swap photoshop techniques and tell you when there’s a discount on foam board. You will be lucky enough to meet many of these people.
However, you’ll also meet others who will see sharing as something which will cause them to lose something. I recall a student colleague who would work with a blanket over his head and his MacBook, yes, a blanket. He didn’t want any of us to steal his genius ideas but he also missed the point of working in a shared studio. Wonder how the blanket’s working for him in the workplace …
Maybe he should invest in one of these. CREDIT: Photo: Becky Stern
7. Make models
Architecture is a three-dimensional experience. Make models to fully explore your ideas. Speed modelling is a great way to try out ideas quickly. Cardboard, wire, clay, wood … whatever is easily available. You can get a lot of use out of these. Light them and photograph them from different angles, print photos and draw over them, add people in poses which interact with your forms.
8. Spending more money on architectural materials doesn’t make a better project
I was part of a studio unit which specialised in digital design. This involved a lot of 3D printing which was incredibly expensive. I wanted to make a large 3D concept model based on beehive structures with lots of little cells. I found that I could use masking tape and roll it back on itself to make thousands of tiny tubes which also stuck together to build forms. During the crit, my tutors asked where I got this "amazing" yellow material from. I’m not going to lie, it took longer than 3D printing but the forms were much finer and I could review and alter it as I was going. There are always inexpensive options.
9. Portfolio printing is expensive
Printing at a shop will prove pricey and the queue at the school printers before crit day will have you crying. Think about investing in your own large-format printer, perhaps going in with a few other people, and then reselling it at the end. Remember, for general portfolio sheets, you may be able to use a smaller format printer. You are only restricted by the width of the paper feed and can go as long in paper length as you like.
10. Always get your drawing scales correct
One of the things which will greatly annoy a tutor or your boss is showing drawings at the wrong scale, or no scale. Also, don’t use that classic well-known scale of 1:345 or multiple scales on the same drawing. The number of crits you will attend where someone is being chastised as the toilets are designed for a giant and you’d have to walk sideways through a door. It’s an unnecessary distraction from your good design concepts.
11. Keep a digital backup of your work
Scan your drawings and photograph your models. Keep a backup of your portfolio on the cloud. Things can get lost. It’s useful anyway so that you can send potential employers images of your work or print a smaller portfolio book for interviews. I had an unfortunate situation where my portfolio and model went missing from an examination room. Luckily I had the portfolio saved electronically but I hadn’t photographed the model.
12. Think about choosing a different Architecture school to complete your studies
What I learned from my colleagues working in architecture practice and tutoring at architecture schools is that different schools have different styles of teaching. I stayed at the same school for my whole architectural education but it would have been interesting to have experienced different schools. Another way around this is to be part of different design units/studios at the same school. In my final year, I joined a computational unit which was very different to all of my previous study years. I brought a (small) bunch of parametric software design skills with me to the workplace and started a design workgroup which helped project teams to model complex forms more efficiently.
Do you have any things you wish you'd known or have just discovered about studying Architecture...?
CREDIT: Photo: Amanda Moore
Have you ever felt as though you are a writer who isn’t writing, a dancer who isn’t dancing, an artist who isn’t making art? What can you do with that liberal arts degree? Maybe there are alternative ways to get back into it.
Becoming an Artist
If there was one thing which defined the start of my career of being an artist, it was the uneasiness in feeling justified in calling myself an “artist”. Being a student is one thing, and studying at art school, the luxury of spending all day in your allocated studio space, you look like an “artist”. But fast-forward to the End of Year Show and this seminal event separates the “artists” from the people thinking, ‘but that guy only came in for a few hours and stood outside smoking roll-ups and then dragged some stuff out of a skip, now he’s got work in the Saatchi collection’. If you’re not going to have a collector buy all of your work and then have a career creating, exhibiting and selling stuff from your studio, (which used to be a set of garages in East London), then what’s the point of all this?
It’s a bit of a throwback but reminds me of the film Frances Ha back in 2012, about a 27 year-old apprentice for a dance company who isn’t really a "dancer". She receives the standard dinner party question, ‘so what do you do?’ and handles it earnestly;
CREDIT: Photo: Pine District, LLC
Andy: So what do you do?
Frances: Eh... It's kinda hard to explain.
Andy: Because what you do is complicated?
Frances: Eh... Because I don't really do it.
Make or Break, The End of Year Show
When I studied at the Royal College of Art, I remember standing near my work at the End of Year Show which was being completely panned by a critic who taught there. I was caught between being embarrassed and wanting to get as far away from that work as possible, but also wanting to run up and slap him across the face. He then turned around with a middle-class ‘Darling’, and told me how great the work was. Two-faced jerk. Quite a few of my colleagues sold work as disparate as clay figures of animals, ‘skip-man’s’ up-cycled objects from the trash, and some really nice intricate and skilfully crafted objects somehow made from dust. I was happy for them. Not really.
I couldn’t figure out what made one person’s art “art” and made one artist an “artist”. Nothing was common amongst the work bought by collectors. It wasn’t the types of material used, it wasn’t the subject matter, it didn’t seem to be based on a particular trend.
What somehow felt more strange was that curators I knew who were at the show kept offering me jobs. Jobs to help them do research for books, to help run studios for other artists, to tutor their A-Level kids, (that’s age 16-18 in the UK). Frankly, I was offended. Much like Frances was when she tried to get a spot ballet dancing in one of her company’s shows and the Head of School offers her a job in the office. I mean, how dare they offer me way above the median UK wage to manage a studio, or four times the amount a care assistant earns to drink coffee and watch a 16 year-old do their homework?
To 'Art' or not to 'Art'
So what did I do?
I had a choice between going for it, potentially living in some kind of squat or squalor in order to afford a studio space with the financial situation at the time and keep trying to somehow break into the elusive “art scene”, or taking one of the day jobs. Or maybe half a day job and half of the squalor.
How did I decide?
I had to decide what my priorities were. I felt pressured to be an exhibiting artist with London-based shows, (shows in established galleries), especially following the gift of being able to study at the RCA. One of my tutors gave me some good advice, that you can keep coming in and out of things through your life. He said not to worry about it, ‘you’ll always be an artist’.
If I was honest, I wanted what the baby-boomers had - a regular income, a working vehicle, a home.
So I took the day job, all of the day jobs - tutoring, managing studios, helping curators and learning more about the business of the art world. It took me several years to even understand what my work should be about or what it could contribute. Subsequently, I studied architecture as I liked the idea of designing things which would serve society, rather than potentially become commodities, and I started to get into working on large-scale public sculpture commissions. This was finally a way for me to combine everything I was interested in - sculpture, making things which have a definite community benefit, and getting paid. Having a brief, a need, was much more helpful to me than when I was in the studio all day trying to find a need for my work. And public commissions often involve a whole collaborative team of interesting people including clients, the local community, engineers, planners and fabricators.
Frances also took the day job, and then she got into choreographing her own dance in her own style. It wasn’t her original plan but she got to be a stronger contributor to the industry she loves.
What am I doing here? I'm collecting sea water to fill 1,000 bottles and hang them from a scaffold inside an old ruin. Why? Why not?