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.

4 Resources To Kick-Start Your College Search

Painting, University of Maryland, College Park

It begins in high school or even middle school for that matter, that panicky feeling in the pit of a parent’s stomach when you envision your teen’s future. What college will my child attend? Where will he get in? What will she study? What type of career can an art major lead to? What will it cost? All of those concerns, circling around in your brain can definitely stir up unwanted anxiety and panic.

When my kids were beginning high school I felt like I needed to know all the answers to these questions and more. Truth-be-told, I didn’t even know where to start and surely didn’t know which questions would help move me forward without generating more anxiety.

With that in mind, here are four smart and accessible resources to get your and your family started. It begins with conversations and asking questions – lots of questions.

  1. High School Counselor  These tireless advisors are true advocates for your children. Given the responsibility of guiding students through high school, they offer the ultimate in academic, personal, and developmental support. Traditionally they work with each student for four years, which gives them the chance to truly know your child and help with the transition to college. They offer specific college suggestions based on your child’s academic strengths, provide advice on grade point averages and standardized tests, and help with transcripts, recommendation letters, and much more.

    Wood shop, Carnegie Mellon University

  1. High School Art Teachers  Your high school art teachers are tour guides for your child’s creative exploration. They introduce teens to the basic principles of art and design and expand each student’s comprehension of the visual arts by familiarizing them with a diverse variety of artists, artistic styles, and media. As up-close observers, they assess your child’s creative skills, guide for strengths, and make suggestions for the future.
  1. Neighbors  If you have teens in high school then I’m guessing you have friends or neighbors with college age children as well. Although they haven’t walked in your exact shoes, they’ve been down this road before and should be a wealth of information. They can make recommendations based on their own experiences and offer up personal tidbits that you might not have heard of otherwise.
  1. Foley sound recording room, Watkins College of Art, Design & Film

    Art College Advisors  Yes, I’m tooting my own horn here, but I hope you’ll hear me out. Visual arts college consultants focus on the visual arts, period. We’re the ones engaging specifically with art colleges and with art and design programs across the country. We make it our business to learn the specifics about which program is top at which institution and the nuances that accompany each. And, because of our focus, we have a better understanding of what programs look for in future students. Gaining guidance in the details of course and portfolio prep, learning about the value each type of art program provides, and obtaining an understanding of future career opportunities won’t completely remove all that pre-college anxiety, but having a guide through the college search process will help you identify which path to traverse and help your teen find her best college fit.

As a parent, you’re the one with the front row seat to your child’s artistic strengths and passions. If you want to know how you can guide them to their best college fit, start talking. Even asking, “where do I begin?” or “how did you begin?” will get you going.

What’s the Value of a Summer Tour?

The short answer is PLENTY!

Summer has most of us dreaming of “me time.” Of lazy days spent sleeping late and staying up late, with nothing but choice relaxation in between. Hanging out at a beach with toes firmly planted in the sand would be my heaven.

But reality dictates that summer should be put to practical use too. If you’re the parent of a high school teenager that means college tours should be high on your radar. It’s a great way to spend family time together and to generate ideas of where your teen wants to spend four years following high school.

Here’s a post I wrote about Summer Tours that links to other reliable resources. The thoughts and recommendations are still very applicable today.

What Art & Design Students Need to Know About RIT

I know, I know. An institute of technology is not the most obvious place to find a top arts program. Most likely it’s not even on your radar. Right? Well, it should be!

cias-twitter-logoAfter an in-depth tour of the College of Imaging Arts & Sciences (CIAS) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) last month I came away thoroughly convinced that this is a great school for visual artists.

Despite its name, artistic learning has been part of RIT since it’s founding in the 1820’s. Today, CIAS encompasses roughly 2,000 of the 15,300 undergraduates on campus. That means visual arts students can benefit from the intimacy of a small college and the resources of a large research university.

CIAS boasts high retention rates, and both the university and the college continually receive high rankings. Clearly, they’re doing something right.

Abundance of available photography equipment

Abundance of available photography equipment

The School of Design is the largest school in the college and it provides a wide path of instruction in 2D, 3D, and 4D design. Emphasis is on designing for process over product and using technology to connect to real world experiences.

Photography looms large on campus. That makes sense when you realize this is the land of photography and print pioneers Kodak and Xerox. Students in the School of Photographic Arts & Sciences start with a comprehensive introduction to the field. As Susan Lakin, program chair for Advertising Photography further explained, “RIT has so many facets of photography available. Students discover the field and its broadness, then are able to explore a multitude of options to discover what their interests are.” Those options include everything from fine art and commercial applications to integration with journalism, business, and science. 

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Zara Davis, sophomore ceramics major

Another distinguishing program on this technology-focused campus is the School of American Crafts. Seriously. As with other majors, students studying artistic craftsmanship are focused and dedicated. The program has a rigorous studio requirement and includes a year of business courses in preparation for a career in the arts.

Engagement with the real world is built into the curriculum here. Co-ops and time abroad are both highly regarded and highly encouraged. Creative Industry Day, an annual event, promotes portfolio reviews and networking with creative industry professionals.

It’s difficult to gain acceptance into CIAS, which is foretelling that you’ll be challenged once you’re in. Over and over during my visit, I heard that dedication, passion, and focus are required for success. But the benefits are clear and enormous. Artistic mastery, a career-focused education, and a job after graduation. I hope you check it out.

An Artistic Success Story

I’m often fascinated by life’s journeys. The twists, turns, and road bumps that direct and redirect us often lead us exactly where we need to go. I’m especially drawn to the journeys of artists. Unfortunately, many people today still question whether artists have viable paths to career success.

The SmitheryAnne Holman and Jen Townsend are two artistic success stories merged into one. Their individual winding paths are full of life’s hiccups and misdirection, but those paths led them to CCAD and each other. The serendipity of it all has built a friendship, a business partnership, and The Smithery a unique and welcoming retail store, artist’s studio, and workshop in Columbus, Ohio. Clearly, they’ve landed in the right place at the right time.

I was fortunate to meet Anne and Jen earlier this summer, and learn their story of how they got to here and now. Each had a passion for making art growing up. And they each pursued a creative college education, but neither in the medium of metalsmithing that they’ve come to love. Anne combined studies of printmaking and sculpture into her own jewelry major before CCAD had one. Jen’s path included transferring from a regional state university where she wasn’t being artistically challenged.

The two met when Anne was a guest lecturer in Jen’s Studio Professions course. Anne’s suggestions for the different ways artists could make a living after college – including working in industry or selling at art and craft fairs – were spoken from personal experience. And they struck a chord with Jen.

Tools of the trade

Tools of the trade

Their paths crisscrossed a number of times again before they recognized a similar work ethic and began sharing studio space and a passion for creating a place where they could sell art, make art, and teach making. “We wanted it all in one space,” Jen explained. “To make stuff, teach, have our studio, sell, and support other people making things – all in one building.”

Timing is everything in life, and when Anne was trying to sell her handmade jewelry at an East Coast trade show in January of 2014 she turned her downtime into recruitment time, researching and networking with other artisans who could someday sell their handmade art at her dream store. With little personal business experience, the two found an out-of-town entrepreneurial business course for creatives, requiring weekly late night drives to Cincinnati. They wrote a savvy business plan and secured funding, then obtained a prime location for their creative endeavor, beating out other companies with solid reputations in competing for the same storefront.

The Smithery opened in October of 2014. “The idea all along was to open a place where we could showcase our own work and that of other artists,” Anne affirmed. And that’s just what they’ve done. Thanks to the relationships they’d built over time the store is filled with curated artwork representing artists at all different stages of their creative careers. The majority is jewelry, but it also includes textiles, ceramics, and hand-made prints. “A lot of these artists don’t sell in Ohio, many don’t sell in the Midwest, and some international artists don’t sell in the United States at all,” added Jen.

make artAnne explained that the part of making she enjoys most is having her “hands in the material.” Unfortunately, running a new business allows less time for that, although she and Jen do make time to design custom jewelry. Workshops seem to be the most fun because that’s when they can teach their craft to other burgeoning artists and get the next generation of designers excited about making.

Which brings things full circle. Art school taught them “the practicality of being in the studio every day and just making, making, making constantly; and realizing how much time goes into figuring things out,” explained Jen with excitement in her voice. That is where it came together for these two artists. I wonder where their paths will lead them next.

More information about The Smithery can be found on their website.