Artists: How to Stay Focused on College

Haverford College

It’s that golden time of year again. The ghosts, goblins, and Disney characters have all gone home. Sidewalks are blanketed with autumn leaves and daylight savings time ends this weekend. Thanksgiving and winter break will be here before you know it. Even though the calendar ahead is whispering “r & r,” families of college-bound artists need to stay focused. Yes, the approaching December break is a good time for rest and relaxation, but I’d like to add another “r” into the mix: reassessing the family college plan. Irrespective of the grade your high school creative is in, make sure he is being strategic, planning wisely, and taking action towards his artistic future.

Here are some tips to help your visual artist stay focused:

Studio space, Carnegie Mellon

Seniors
January general application deadlines are looming. Now is the time to stop procrastinating and double-check everything. Finalize essays, confirm that applications and transcripts have been received, and verify that reference letters have been submitted. If discrepancies are found, contact your guidance counselor or the college representative to clear things up. Finalize your portfolio. If you find it doesn’t say all you want it to, then create more art! There is still time. Then upload your selections to each college’s SlideRoom account. Lastly, consider squeezing in an interview. Contact your top choice programs to inquire if they offer them. Interviews show demonstrated interest and might be just the added ticket to place you into the “accept” column when decision time comes around.

Juniors
Keep creating! Winter break is a perfect time to focus on your growing portfolio. The downtime also provides opportunities to get closer to what makes you tick. Attending art fairs, local craft shows, and art exhibits can all provide inspiration. Have honest conversations with family and friends to help you hone in on what’s important to you artistically and otherwise. Is your ideal college location a large urban setting? Or would you prefer to stay close to home? What about cost? College costs are staggering. If financial aid is a necessity, then make sure you include it as part of your college family discussions. All these thoughts and considerations will help you find the right college fit. Being realistic now will help eliminate idealistic expectations and crushing disappointment down the road.

College for Creative Studies

Underclassmen
It’s not too early to begin envisioning your college future. Your best preparation is to keep drawing, creating and making. Follow wherever your art takes you. December is also a great time to see what winter is truly like on the campus of your dreams. Go exploring and get your steps in by visiting a college or two – even if most students have gone home for the break. Those still on campus will most likely be happy to answer questions about the place, the food, the professors… You get the picture. And when the weather dictates indoor time make sure to keep up with your reading. The commitment to it now will help develop your vocabulary and writing skills for those upcoming pesky standardized tests.

Juniors and underclassmen can all benefit from campus visits. Most tours and information sessions are unavailable in late December, but it doesn’t hurt to swing by a college or two if you’re nearby. Strolling across campus and checking out the local neighborhood can still influence future decisions. And, especially if winter isn’t your season, start thinking about summer art programs. Sign-ups for pre-college programs will be on college websites before you know it.

Stepping Off the College-to-Career Treadmill for a Gap Year

(Getty Images)

Today’s the day. Acceptance letters are in, deposits are paid, and audible sighs of relief can be heard from parents across the country. Woohoo!

Another year of graduating seniors are headed to college. If you’re a parent of one of these aforementioned teens the relief is real. I’ve known the joy and accompanying melancholy of it myself.

I’ve also known the other side of this coin, with a son who wasn’t ready to keep pace on the college-to-career treadmill. He, like many others, needed a gap year.

Gap years can prove to be life-changing opportunities of growth and opportunity, whether considered because of placement on a college wait list or just time off needed before launching a career. Their real value is the ability to press pause.

So what actually is a gap year? For starters, it’s not a frivolous vacation. It is strategic time for your teen to fine-tune his or her personal path. In his recent New York Times article, Kyle DeNuccio referred to his year off as “an opportunity to discover a sense of purpose outside of school.” A year on your own terms can do that for you. Whether traveling, volunteering, interning, learning a new language, or testing a possible career direction, gap years provide strategic time for teens to step out of their comfort zone to explore and uncover new things. The outcome of newfound skills, clarity, independence, and an appreciation for how others live can be transformational.

My son, teaching English in Vietnam during his gap year

Art and design majors have the benefit of being creative problem solvers by their very nature. A year off the treadmill will only enhance that skill set. The time away also proves that they’re not risk-adverse. Coincidentally, both those attributes are highly coveted by employers.

Traditionally gap years occur between sophomore and junior years at college – when I needed mine. But, they can be taken anytime. My son took his after college; he was fortunate to have a job waiting for him when he returned. We each paid our own way, benefitted immensely from the experience, and were clearly focused when we stepped back on the track.

Want to learn more? Kyle’s article is a great place to start understanding the realities of stepping off for a year. Only you and your teen will know if it’s the right thing to do.

No Starving Artists Here

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

Vincent Van Gogh as a starving artist (The Bedroom 1888)

One of my pet peeves centers on the common misbelief that most artists are starving artists. I say Bah Humbug to that notion!

The reality is that artists can live – and thrive – if they’re got the right tools. Colleges and universities across the country have received the message that artists need to learn about the business of their passions, and are incorporating the appropriate courses into their curricula. Makes sense to me.

Accounting, intellectual property, and marketing are just some of the key tools necessary to create and sell your art successfully. The details include understanding how to best price your work, what your copyright and licensing rights are, and how to promote yourself.

My local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, recently addressed the subject in “Artists Learn How Financial Side of Business Works.” It delivers some good tips and a variety of viewpoints on the subject.

If art is your passion, make sure you take these words to heart: you will benefit greatly from learning about and understanding how to manage the business side of your creativity.
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What’s the Best City for Artists?

Nashville map 4A number of years ago when my husband and I were visiting the Boston area, we were invited to a casual dinner with new acquaintances. Early in the evening, as we were getting to know others at dinner, the “where are you from” question came up. The discussion evolved into a comparison of east and west coast living when someone turned to my husband and asked him, “Which coast are you from?” With a smile, he responded, “There is something in the middle you know.”

My husband grew up in Michigan.

Let’s face it; in this country we typically look to the coasts for new ideas and endeavors. It’s been that way for years, and will continue I’m sure.

The good news for artists and designers is that there’s a groundswell of creativity coming from the rest of the nation. From the Northwest to the Midwest to the South, creatives are discovering wonderful, welcoming, and less expensive communities in which to live and thrive. Even better news; many of these communities have first-rate art colleges nearby. Perhaps it’s a case of the chicken or the egg; I don’t know which came first but the outcome is beneficial either way.

15 Cities for Creative 20-Somethings is a great starting point for researching up-and-coming artistic havens. Read the post to see if any of them grab you. And while you’re at it, check out nearby art colleges and programs. I’ve listed a sampling of public and private art programs near some of these artistically-minded cities, but suggest you do your own homework to learn what each community and college has to offer.

University of Texas at Austin  – Austin, TX
Oregon College of Art & Craft, Pacific NW College of Art   –  Portland, OR
University of Louisville (excellent glass program)  –  Louisville, KY
College for Creative Studies  –  Detroit, MI
Carnegie Mellon University  –  Pittsburgh, PA

One more thing; I’d like to amend the list to 16 Cities, and add Columbus, Ohio. I know I’m biased, but this city does have a lot to offer all types of creatives. And, CCAD is a great career launching pad for future artists and designers.

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What’s Missing From Your Portfolio?

 

 

(c) CloudKid animation

(c) CloudKid animation

MassArt alumnae Dave Schlafman and Matt Karl founded CloudKid, an up-and-coming artist-driven studio based in the Boston area. Their young company has received attention for creating award-winning games, animations, apps, and websites for the likes of Nickelodeon, Hasbro Toys, PBS Kids, Scholastic, and Disney Online. Pretty cool.

If you’re interested in animation and kids, this sounds like a creative and collaborative place to work. But here’s the thing; they recently posted a blog about the difficulty they’re having searching for a good animator. The message: drive and passion need to be visible.

The post offers up suggestions for future job seekers but is applicable to future college students as well. The insight and advice shared could help you land a job with CloudKid or help you gain acceptance into the college of your dreams. Either way, my suggestion is to read on, and keep drawing…

 

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