3 Paths to an Art Degree

Oregon State University

Oregon State University

Want to help your artistic son or daughter find the best college fit? Two key decisions made early in the search process can lead to a simpler and less stressful college search. Help them figure out what type of degree they want to pursue and what type of environment suits them best. The two go hand-in-hand, and it’s easier than it sounds. Here are three paths you’ll need to consider:

 

1 – Art and design colleges provide the ultimate in immersion. Most of your son’s time will be spent studying the arts, just like all his peers. Living and breathing art and design, and preparing for a future in the field are the focus here: 24/7. This is study with commitment. Roughly two-thirds of your teen’s time will be focused on the arts. Math, science and humanities play supporting roles, with subject matter that informs the arts. A BFA is most common.

Kenyon College

2 – One-on-one attention is in the DNA at liberal arts colleges. The emphasis is on teaching strong foundational skills like writing, critical thinking, and communication. Classes are typically small, with lots of discussion and opportunity for professors to get to know their students. Approximately one-third of students’ study time will focus on the arts and most graduate with a BA. Students major in a variety of subjects.

3 – Amenities are the name of the game at large college campuses. You want it; chances are the university will offer it. Football games, fraternities and sororities, and an affiliation with every organization known to mankind come to mind. So do opportunities to study across fields and even create your own major; think design and engineering, or biology and art. Interdisciplinary studies create endless learning possibilities. And, once on campus, if your daughter decides design isn’t her thing, she’ll have a wealth of other majors to consider.

Maine College of Art

Maine College of Art

Getting clear about what your teen wants to study, and what type of environment will be best for them will get everyone off to a great start. Begin your family conversations early, and include a visit to each type of campus if you can.

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California College of the Arts: An Easy Choice

Graphic DesignIf finding the best college fit is all about options and decisions, then California College of the Arts (CCA) is sitting pretty. Why? Simply put, the location, history, and course offerings of this small arts college combine to create a wide-ranging combination of options without the need for much compromise.

Let’s start with location. CCA resides where the open-minded and creative culture that defines northern California slams head-on into our hi-tech future. Twitter, Pinterest, Adobe, Pixar, and Intel are just a few neighbors that the college draws from for educational inspiration and contributes to, in the form of future employees.

Two seemingly opposite campuses in Oakland and San Francisco actually complement each other by fusing their two aesthetics. The historic Oakland site is where CCA began more than 100 years ago. The Arts & Crafts movement is readily apparent in this lush, residential-style and almost camp-like setting, which is also home base for the school’s First Year Program and freshmen housing.

Oakland campus

Oakland campus

Fittingly, it’s also home to the more traditional and craft-focused programs of ceramics, printmaking, photography, textiles, glass, jewelry, and sculpture. The San Francisco campus is the urban pair of this duo. The culture and tempo here fit its industrial and mixed-use setting, footsteps from the University of California’s biomedical research campus and the Dogpatch neighborhood that is bursting with artisan studios.

Major offerings here include painting and drawing, and the design-focused programs of architecture and interior design, graphic design, industrial design, and furniture design. Students decide their major by the beginning of sophomore year, giving upperclassmen the chance to live on either side of the bay. The college shuttle provides an easy connection between the two.

The depth and breadth of course offerings are front and center in the San Francisco campus main building. The “nave” of this light-filled former Greyhound bus terminal acts as display and critique center for class projects, constantly changing throughout the year. More importantly, it’s a hub of activity and cross-pollination for the college’s 22 undergraduate and 13 graduate majors, providing fodder for the stimulating interdisciplinary and exploratory vibe here.

Critique in the Nave

Critique in the Nave

David Asari, Assistant Chair for Graphic Design, explained that CCA’ers learn how to figure things out. The institution’s must be present to win attitude inspires “students to take responsibility and ownership, and give back to others,” he said. Student critiques are just one way “they develop the thinking and confidence skills to run the show in a few years.”

Due to its long-standing reputation, CCA has developed some top-ranked programs, each attracting faculty that are leaders in their respective fields. A few to check out include the internationally known ceramics program and the fashion design program, which was recently ranked as one of the best in the world. One of the campus’ newest programs is Interaction Design. It doesn’t focus on the form and material of Industrial Design, but rather on how people interact with objects. Think smartphones, apps, TV, etc.

Delve into CCA’s excellent website to learn more. Better yet, go visit. Make a day of it to ensure you see both campuses. It’ll be worth your time. They are making a difference and changing lives here. It’s all in their tag line: Make Art That Matters.

Interested in researching a specific college or program? Let me be of help. In the meantime make sure to catch all the latest Art.College.Life. news on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

Meet Fiber Artist Liz Robb

Every once in a while I come across a young artist whose creativity, vision and talent elicit a compelling and audible “wow” from me. Liz Robb is one of those artists.

A friend of mine introduced me to her work and I was immediately intrigued. Clearly, I needed to learn her story first hand.

basket of yarn2

Tools of the Trade

A fiber artist, Liz began her career as a fashion designer, and is now charting a new path as a fine artist. She holds a BFA in Fashion Design from the University of Cincinnati (UC), and a MFA in Fibers from Savannah College of Art & Design (SCAD). In between the two she worked in fashion in New York and Wisconsin. Last fall I was in San Francisco, where she now lives and works, and had the opportunity to visit her studio. We talked about her chosen career path, her influences along the way, how she’s making it work as a fine artist, and suggestions she has for future artists. Here is an edited and condensed version of our conversation.

Art.College.Life.:        You were drawn to textiles at a young age. How did it all start?

Liz:           Sewing was always part of my childhood. My mom taught me, and in high school I made my own dresses for dances, which kind of sprung into going to school for fashion design. My ruling out criteria for colleges was I wanted someplace where I could take it from sketching to finish. That was important to me; a big part of my ethos was to actually make. Now, instead of just thinking and ideating and sketching I can actually execute a finished product.

ACL:         Tell me about your shift from clothing design to fine arts.

Liz:           I knew that I wanted to go back to school because I wanted to teach someday. I knew I had to get my masters if I wanted to be a professor. I didn’t think I’d need one in fashion design but I wanted to diversify. Since I was always knitting sweaters it kind of opened my eyes to building from the fiber up instead of just the fabric.

It was a personal challenge to move away from design into fine art. That was at the core of what I loved about making and creating, being more conceptual and art related instead of practical. Of course I got a lot of push back from my parents at first.

IMG_0492 studio wallACL:         Let’s change threads here (sorry!). You’ve got a wonderful indigo theme. What inspired you?

Liz:           While at SCAD I spent two months at their Lacoste, France campus. Denise Lambert, the master Woad (French indigo) dyer of France came to study with us. I was able to work intensely and it changed what I was working on and thinking about. I started dyeing linen and papers, and making impressions, which was a big shift for me. I made my first big weaving.

After returning from France I visited a friend in New Orleans. They have an art walk there every month, and I ended up doing a group show with five people. I dipped tassels, dipping and rewrapping, constructing and deconstructing, mostly working in indigo. Later on I tried plaster and then encaustic. I wanted to push it further. It was uncomfortable, and it was hard to put paint on something I had just woven.

ACL:         What have been some of the biggest hurdles you’ve had to face?

Liz:            The scariest part for me was doing it; just starting. For applying for fashion design too, just thinking what do I want to do? Luckily, through the co-ops [at UC] I was able to rule out the things I didn’t want to do. The internships there helped me weed it down.

Choosing to go back to school was a big decision. I knew I had some dream schools, and I visited the ones I wanted to go to. It helped me a ton, visiting them and meeting the people and understanding the energy and culture there. That was a big influence for me.

ACL:          So now, looking to your future, what are your goals? And what type of marketing and networking tools are you employing to reach those goals?

Liz's studio

Liz’s studio

Liz:            I’m looking for gallery representation in three cities, and globally. My big cities I love are SF, NY, and Berlin or Tokyo. The Japanese market I think is really special.

I have a one-year business plan and a five-year plan. SCAD has a professional practice class – for undergrads too – where you work on your website, business cards, all your marketing materials, and business plan. I’d thought about it but didn’t know what it meant. Now I have it, and reference it often.

I’ve also got a few books that have helped me, from people who’ve done it themselves. Art, Inc., tells how to properly submit to galleries, what sort of paperwork you need, etc. I need to focus on the fact that I’m creating a body of work. I need to photograph it well. I’ve set up a website, and use social media to create multiple touch points where my audience can go to get to know me. I can be really shy and not want to market myself. I don’t like being in the spotlight, promoting myself so hard, but you have to. So I’m learning how to do that gracefully.

ACL:          How do you support yourself?

Liz:            I want to focus on my work. I know it doesn’t make enough money. I’ve saved a lot from working and have been supporting myself, kind of living like I was in school. To replenish it I’ve been thinking, do I want to work in an artistic field or completely unrelated? I’ve seen and heard both ways. I’ve looked at being a studio helper or installing shows, which is great for networking too. I actually just signed up to be a Lyft driver, which is part-time work that you can choose whenever you want to work. I figure if I do that Monday through Friday morning I can cover my rent and materials, and focus the rest of the day on me. It’s actually a great way to do it.

ACL:          If you could do it all over again what kind of advice would you have given yourself in high school?

Liz:            Everything I feel sounds like a cliché. I guess, just understand yourself. Write things down. What do you want to see happen for yourself next? Think outside of what you think is supposed to happen. For me, travel and especially volunteering helped me see outside myself, and my small world. I have friends who want to be the top if their field. Others want to move in different ways like philanthropy or work with non-profits. You need to be humbled; especially at that age, because everything has been so “you, you, me focused” It’s the nature of being a teenager, but you need to get outside yourself.

I respect people who can take a year off and find themselves, as opposed to forcing themselves into a program that they’re not interested in. Although I think you have to trust yourself; some people need that push to get to know what they want to do. It really depends on the person.

Liz (and Hank) in her studio

Liz (and Hank) in her studio

ACL:         Any other words of wisdom to younger aspiring artists?

Liz:            Stay authentic. Be authentic. That’s always what’s going to come through in the end.

You can see Liz’s fiber art at Art Works Downtown in San Rafael, CA, January 9 – February 27, and at the International Textile Biennial in Haacht, Belgium in February and March. In May she’ll debut a new line of fabrics for P&B Textiles at the Minneapolis Quilt Market.

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Guest Post: On Building A Portfolio

By Thom Glick

The portfolio is how artists share their work, their skills, their strengths, their weaknesses, their goals, their fears and, of course, themselves.

portfolio - concept art - scad 2Over the years, I have found myself on both sides of the portfolio. I’ve been a high school student applying to BFA programs, an artist applying for jobs and competitions, and an undergraduate applying to MFA programs. I’ve been a judge, jurying art competitions and exhibitions, and a college admissions representative, reviewing applications to a BFA program. Both sides of the portfolio can be equally intimidating, when you don’t have a clear understanding of its purpose. Over the years, I’ve developed an approach to the portfolio, as a builder and as a reviewer, to encourage a more transparent and meaningful dialogue. I’m hoping that the following advice will be helpful for those of you building portfolios as well as those of you reviewing portfolios.

Mind you, this is just my advice.

Regardless of whether you are applying to a college with a traditional foundations program or a direct-to-major curriculum, the portfolio should be built upon the same four basic ideas: technique, concept, risk-taking, and effort. Before we can get into your specific portfolio, which might be focused on animation, portrait painting, abstract sculpture, vehicle design, or something broader or more specific, it’s a good idea to get familiar with them.

The Four Parts

kitchen sink - d'albon high school 2013Technique is about control. When I look for technique in a portfolio, I’m looking to see how well you know your materials, how well you know the basic principles of design and, if you’re working observationally, how well you understand your subject matter. When I look for these things, I’m not looking to see that you’ve mastered them; I’m looking to see that you’re aware of them and making purposeful decisions.

Material can be graphite pencils, oil paint, computer software, stone, fabric, or an infinite number of things. What’s important here is that you do your best to take control over your material and showcase what you know about it and what you can do with it.

Design principles have to do with understanding color relationships, composition, proportion, value relationships, shape relationships, and so on. In other words, the basic building blocks of making a visual art piece.

Understanding your subject, when it comes to technique, has to do with trying to capture the observable world on paper, with clay, or whatever material you choose. For instance, if your subject is people, do you understand anatomy, proportions, skin and hair textures, and posing?

Again, technique is about control. When having your portfolio reviewed, the reviewer assumes that every decision you’ve made, you’ve made purposefully. This is apparent in the material you use, how you use it, why you use certain shapes repeatedly, and why you use certain color combinations. Be prepared to answer questions about your decisions. If you don’t have answers, don’t be afraid to say I don’t know and ask for advice on how to gain more control.

Concept is about communication. Whether you intend it to or not, your artwork reveals something. It speaks. It’s more than graphite on paper, text on a printout, fabric stitched together, or clay cooked in a kiln. Your artwork is alive, and an extension of you. It’s autobiographical, and reveals what interests you and what doesn’t.

portfolio - parsons 2009 - shoesA strong concept engages your audience, encourages discussion, and compels participation. A strong concept might be making a political cartoon, designing a collection of fall garments, or creating a series of abstract sculptures inspired by sea creatures. It’s whatever inspires you, gets you thinking, and challenges your creativity.

This is your opportunity to decide what kind of relationship you want to have with your audience. Do you want to be an entertainer? A storyteller? A protester? An illuminator of ideas? Someone who makes people’s lives easier? Someone who helps people communicate? Someone who speaks about injustice?

Just like technique, you want to take control of your concept. You want your artwork’s message to be purposeful. Consider that what your art doesn’t say can be as interesting as what it does say. Being in control of your concept is important because it shows you’re not just making stuff, you’re thinking and giving your audience a reason to be interested in what you’re sharing.

Risk-taking is about exploring. This is where progress happens. Being an artist is all about taking risks, pushing limits, getting outside of the box, and figuring out what challenges you. If you get too comfortable your work may become stagnant and boring. As you develop more and more skills and confidence, you should constantly be asking yourself what more you can do or need to do to keep growing.

Risk-taking is different for every artist. What is scary or difficult for you might be safe and easy for someone else. For you, it might be working with a different material or subject matter. It might be working larger or smaller, or working dimensionally. It might be telling a story with comics, redesigning a microwave, learning to sew, building a website, or animating a gif.

Don’t be discouraged if your work isn’t always successful. Failure has a way of revealing things and can guide you ever closer to success.

When adding exploratory work to your portfolio, make sure it supplements your other work. It shouldn’t be disparate or distracting. It should be complementary, offering more insight into your goals and interests. As a reviewer, I’m looking at your risk-taking work as a way of understanding what you’re aspiring to as an artist.

Effort is about commitment. You can’t have a strong portfolio if you don’t have effort.

This should be the easiest of the four components to understand, but can often be one of the most difficult to execute. As artists, we constantly question our decisions and chase after a perfection that doesn’t exist. In this way, we can often be our own worst enemies.

If you’re truly serious about building a successful portfolio, being a successful artist, and getting into your dream art college, my advice is get organized. Make a plan. Build yourself a schedule. Set aside time every day to work. Some days you might write down ideas and do research, or do preliminary work, sketches, and mockups. Other days you might work on your final piece. You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish by setting aside as little as thirty minutes a day.

Your effort is apparent to the person reviewing your portfolio. This is important. I suggest that you include 15-20 pieces in it. If you have fewer, it might be a sign that you’re not devoting enough time to your work. The same rule applies for portfolios with more unfinished than finished pieces. And, consider what it says if all of your work is from your art class. Reviewers can easily determine which pieces are class assignments. Class assignments can be good portfolio pieces, but we do want to see that you’re working outside of class, that you’re making work even when no one is asking you to.

Effort is so important because it tells your reviewer, almost immediately, how serious you are.

Your Portfolio
Think about the four parts as a foundation upon which you build something that is uniquely yours. What actually goes into your portfolio should represent your interests, your goals, and above all else, it should represent you. As colleges become more selective and applications more competitive, it’s important to find ways to separate yourself from others. The more purposeful your portfolio is the better.

Make sure your portfolio lines up with your interests. If you say you want to be a fashion designer, but your portfolio is full of portrait paintings, there’s a disconnect. You might not have access to the right equipment or know how to make garments, so you might have to get creative. Consider designing a collection with illustrations or paper dolls. Do some research; look at fashion portfolios online for ideas on what to include. If you feel stuck, don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to ask for advice. For any major or career you might consider, think about whether or not the work you’re producing contributes to your interests or dilutes them.

Portfolio folder 1Don’t be afraid to be specialized. If you’re interested in animation and specifically focusing on backgrounds, that should be apparent in your portfolio. If you’re interested in industrial design and specifically designing office furniture, your portfolio should reflect it. If you’re interested in sculpture specifically multimedia abstracts, your portfolio should show that.

Don’t be afraid to be multidisciplinary. If you’re interested in more than one major, career or type of art, consider how you can include that and still build a cohesive portfolio. Look for the intersections within the different types of work and exploit them. If you’re interested in fashion design and cinematic arts, your intersection might be storytelling. As you build your portfolio, focus on how important storytelling is to your fashion design and cinematic arts work.

Have influences, but find your own voice. It’s important to have influences, ones you admire and ones you loath, and as many as you can find. It’s also important not to simply copy your influences. You should be looking to develop your own voice, your own way of working, your own style, your own spin, your own way of solving problems.

When building your portfolio, remember, it’s your portfolio. Be true to yourself and your goals. Be smart, be passionate, be creative, and make sure you’re portfolio says to your reviewer what you want it to say.

Now What?
Do keep in mind that some colleges have specific portfolio requirements. Some might ask for a specific number of drawings from life or works based on a particular theme. Some want more variety, some want more focus. Be sure to do your research and follow directions.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to your art teachers, local artists, artists you find on the internet, and college reps. Have your portfolio reviewed often and by different people. You’ll hear a variety of feedback, some you’ll like, and some you won’t. Be smart about the feedback you accept and the feedback you dismiss; all feedback has value. Some will guide you to what you want to accomplish and some will guide you away from what you want to accomplish. The more you work on your portfolio and the more you have it reviewed, the better you’ll be at curating the feedback you receive and ultimately, the better you’ll understand your goals and the work you’re making.

Thom Glick is a graduate of Columbus College of Art & Design. He has been working as a professional freelance artist for over fourteen years and in college admissions for over seven. Connect with him online at thomglick.com or linkedin.com/in/thomglick.

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5 Tips From Portfolio Day

Portfolio Day review

Portfolio Day review

Earlier this month I had the opportunity to observe Portfolio Day, up close and in person. What a great experience!

Sitting alongside Thom Glick, CCAD’s Associate Director of Admissions, I witnessed first-hand, how beneficial the advice and guidance of a good counselor can be. Thom will be offering up his own portfolio guidelines for burgeoning creatives in a future blog post, but for now I wanted to share my take on a few of the tips he handed out for those working on their portfolios.

1 – Try to focus your work. Most colleges are looking to see your skill level as well as your passion. If you concentrate your work in the areas you’re most passionate about, admissions personnel will be better able to guide you towards a more successful college path.

2 – Work to develop your own voice. This sounds easy, but takes time and dedication. It’s about expressing what you see and how you see it. We all have artists, artwork, and design styles that influence us. Creating your own voice begins with finding the multiple influencers that speak to you, then interpreting them, and incorporating that interpretation into your own work. Thom Glick said it clearly. “Don’t copy exactly what you see; find multiple influences, make them yours and your style will develop.” Clara Lieu is a visual artist and Adjunct Professor at the Rhode Island School of Design. She describes it this way; “the best way to find your own individual style is to try out as many different ways of working as possible.”

3 – Having a theme can be a good idea. That doesn’t mean paint only trees, but maybe nature and scenery in different seasons, from different perspectives, created using different mediums. Stretch yourself. Nature can also be portrayed as a hurricane-damaged environment or new growth after a wildfire. Consistency shows planning and forethought which means you’re filtering and thinking strategically. Admissions personnel and professors love to see those traits and skills.

4Your work doesn’t need to be finished. Well, not all of it at least. But including unfinished work actually shows professors how you think, how you process, and what draws you to a subject matter. Besides that, your goal is to attend college so you can perfect your artistic skills. They don’t need to be perfect when you walk in the door.

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

CCAD Portfolio Day 2014

5Review your portfolio. And as you do, ask yourself does this reflect my interests? Does it line up with what I want to study and create? If fashion design is your thing and you only draw static items (think: classroom still life) you’re not expressing what sits at the core of fashion: people and clothing that move. Taken a step further, you’re also not expressing your stated interest. That sends a conflicting message to those reviewing your portfolio.

For objective advice and counseling, Portfolio Day is a slam dunk! Sophomores, juniors and seniors can all benefit from the time invested. Find one near your neck of the woods, grab your portfolio, and go visit. You won’t regret it.

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