Good Foundations for Studying Art & Design

Even the most focused art students are likely to be overwhelmed by the extensive choice of creative degrees now vying for their attention. For Indian students, far away from the course providers, it is more difficult than ever to make a comprehensive decision about which discipline to choose for their UCAS selection when applying either through route A (September-January) or route B (January-March). Are you sure that you really want Graphic Design rather than Textile Design, Industrial Product Design or Illustration?

Specialist advice and guidance, where available, often fails to force a decision when more time and experimentation is what is really required. So, you will be pleased to know there is an answer to this dilemma. It’s called Foundation Studies.

This one-year course eases the transition from school or college to higher education, forging a link between broad preparatory work and more specialized courses. Within the UK, fewer than 10% of art and design students achieve direct entry from school or college to a degree/higher national diploma. Foundation Studies now represent the most common route into higher education for aspiring art and design students.

Showing what you can do

What are the entry requirements for most Foundation Studies courses? Entry criteria vary across institutions but the backbone of any course application, whether foundation or otherwise, is your portfolio. Simply defined, you will need to put together a folder containing representative samples of your art and design work to send through the post or to show at interview. The quality of this work can often override less brilliant academic qualifications.

Certain guidelines refer specifically to Foundation applications. Firstly, tutors aren’t interested in the portfolio to the exclusion of the person; in fact, enthusiasm and aptitude are the most important factors in gaining a place on a foundation course. Such qualities will be inherent in your character if you are committed to studying art and design but they should also be visible in your work. The best way to show this is to include samples of your own original work, produced off your own back and in your own time. There is no better proof of dedication than this and no better way of getting a head start over other applicants.

Putting yourself in the picture

The portfolio should cover a wide variety of work, as tutors will be looking to develop your talent across a range of art and design disciplines. Suggested items include: observation drawings and paintings, color work in various media, charcoal sketches, pencil drawings, printmaking, photography and examples of design, model-making and 3D work.

It’s worth remembering that tutors will be looking for evidence of the development and progression of creative ideas, not just the finished piece, so sketchbooks and supporting notes are integral to a complete portfolio. You should also know the history of each piece of work, why the topic was chosen and how the result was achieved. Your application form acts only as supporting evidence once the portfolio is passed to an interviewer and what matters to them is the quality of the work inside.

Admissions staff will also be interested in the extent of your enthusiasm for the arts as a whole and some colleges suggest students offer a separate folder of influential work, such as magazine illustrations, articles and gallery leaflets. Quality, not quantity, is important. A useful trick of the trade is to ensure that your portfolio starts and finishes with a strong piece.

Most importantly, when applying for any course, remember that your portfolio is representing you. Do everything you can to ensure that you are proud of it.

Case Study 1: Rachel

Rachel completed a one-year foundation course before going on to university to study interior textiles design

“I had such a fantastic time. When you start, in September, you try out every area of art and design in little projects, usually for a day or two. Further into the course, the college start to set week-long projects and then you specialize in five areas. That was how my course ran but they do vary.

“I enjoyed doing group projects as well as my own work. There’s a really relaxed atmosphere because everyone’s in the same boat and everyone’s experimenting. When you do art at school, it’s usually pretty limited. We did oil painting and watercolors, as an exciting alternative to pencil drawing! Once or twice a year we’d get to do a little pottery. I was also pretty lucky because my school had textiles, but lots of schools really don’t have great art facilities or the time to explore all the routes and options in art and design. It’s such a huge field and it’s really difficult for people to figure out what they’re good at and what they’re not. For example, one of my best friends, who I met on my foundation course, is the worst person in the world at drawing! But, somehow, he knew he was creative and artistic. He’d taken photographs and made his own little films since he was really young. It was always just fun for him – something silly he did when other kids were watching TV or playing with their toys. Now he’s doing an editorial photography degree and he’s doing really well.

“I decided to do a foundation course because I really enjoyed art and design and wanted the opportunity to find out what I was good at. I didn’t have a clue! I went there thinking I’d definitely end up doing fine art, because I wanted to provoke ideas and debate. But I gradually realized how much you can stimulate conversation and aesthetic appreciation through things – just things people are surrounded by. And I love color and texture.

“Eventually I found my niche in interior textiles and have gone on to do a degree course in that. There’s no way I would have found my talent in this area without having done my foundation course. It’s a year of fun and discovery, the chance to be totally creative and enjoy your work without restraints.”

Case Study 2: Anja

Former Foundation student Anja is now in the third year of a BA (Hons) Fine Art degree program.

“The diversity of projects tackled on my Foundation diploma was amazing – there really was a ‘try everything’ approach. The course was certainly concentrated but the high level of encouragement and feedback from tutors helped to spot and develop strengths within the various disciplines, and made for a really productive year.

“I was impressed by the facilities earmarked solely for the College’s Foundation students – the fully equipped print workshop, for example. There was also a lot of help and advice on preparing for life after Foundation – an active approach to viewing the Foundation course as a stepping-stone towards a successful degree.

“A few years on, I am still left with a strong memory of enthusiasm and encouragement from all the tutors, which prepared me for my fine art degree. The focus on drawing throughout the Foundation course was invaluable, as was the emphasis on continual evaluation and the development of imagery. The course encouraged communication about and critical evaluation of each other’s artwork, and also encouraged independent study – definitely needed in any further degree!”