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.

Where Do Creative Ideas Come From?

Donnel Garden (Morisius Cosmonaut)

I’m fascinated by the evolution of design. Whether it’s a thought or an artistic expression I’m curious to know what influences the next thing, and the next, and the next. And as a textile designer, I’m often asked, “what inspires you?” For me, that’s easy: everything.

Why do influence and inspiration matter? Because that’s how the best design ideas are formed. 99% Invisible’s “The Pool and The Stream” podcast offers a great example of how ideas beget ideas. It describes how unforeseen circumstances can influence thought, and how unrelated entities and events intersect to problem solve and create new opportunities.

It’s also an evolutionary tale of skateboarding, of how international architecture, life in the 70’s, and Southern California helped forge it into the cultural sport it is today.

Design is a BIG part of this story. Listen to it. Read it. Then consider the creative teens in your life. The ideas they have now and the time they dedicate to them may not seem as unusual or out-of-the-ordinary after listening.

There’s always inspiration and a new idea right around the corner.

How Artists Can Find a Meaningful Summer Experience

art-splattered-resumeBuilding a resume for college can seem overwhelming. Many parents become confused with the vast expectations put upon them and their college-bound teens. What should my teen focus on? Should she prioritize grades and test scores above all else? Should he allocate extra time to his art? What about extra-curricular activities, volunteering or work?

The seemingly endless questions could make you hyperventilate with anxiety but don’t. Taken one step at a time; there is value is each of these activities but it isn’t necessary for your teen to have them all. Admissions representatives repeatedly will tell you that grades, test scores, and a portfolio top the list. Yes, they want well-rounded teens who have been exposed to a variety of experiences, but they also favor students who are focused and purposeful in their endeavors and accomplishments.

With those confusing requirements in mind consider summer as an opportunity, a great time for your teen to further explore his passion for the visual arts while building his resume. Numerous summer opportunities exist for high school artists who want to explore their creative passions and expand their skill set while working, volunteering, or attending a pre-college program. Any of those experiences will positively impact a resume.

Pre-college Summer Programs

School of Visual Arts dorm room

School of Visual Arts dorm room

I’m a big fan of pre-college summer programs. They provide a wealth of opportunities. Teens typically live on campus, giving them a true taste of college life while they experiment with artistic approaches that are different from those they’ve practiced in high school classes. Instructors, who are working artists, can become mentors. More importantly, they provide a window into the real world of creative careers.

The downside to pre-college programs is that they fill up quickly. And, they can be expensive, at roughly $2,000-$6,000 for a two-to-eight week experience. Other options are available but will vary; mostly depending on which art form your teen is interested in pursuing.

Off-campus 

Disney's Fish Hooks

Disney’s Fish Hooks

So how does your teen prepare otherwise? For many majors the recommendation is the same, “draw, draw, draw.” Diana Lafyatis, children’s comedy director and writer for Nickelodeon’s Harvey Beaks and Disney’s Fish Hooks, and animation alum of the Art Center College of Design echoes that sentiment. “In animation, there is a heavy emphasis on drawing from life.” Her recommendation? “Bring along a sketchbook with you everywhere you go and continually draw the people and places you see.” It’s an excellent way to gain confidence in a skill set. The additional benefits are that many colleges encourage submitting sketchbooks as part of the portfolio application, and they want to see drawings specifically from observation not just what’s in your head.

Jaclyn Didas, RIT grad student

Jaclyn Didas, RIT grad student

Anne Holman, jeweler, and owner of The Smithery is a former college teacher herself. She’s experienced first hand how “translating a 2D drawing into a 3D piece of jewelry can be a challenge.” She suggests tapping into the programming at a local community center or even a local organization’s workshops in jewelry, sculpture, or 3D design to get over that hurdle.

Jane Lewis is a textile designer who began her craft drawing prints by hand but then quickly moved into digital design. Her recommendation for those serious about designing anything in print is two-fold. “Focus on your design and color skills in whatever medium you love – digital, watercolor, pastel, drawing, etc.” Then, if you don’t have the skill set already, make sure to learn graphic software such as Photoshop and Illustrator. “Even a base understanding of the tools in these programs will give you a huge leg up,” she added.

STACKED CUPS - WELLIE'S [Converted]Separate from making art, students can maximize their summer experiences learning about a specific field of interest. Examples include shadowing, interning, or volunteering. Students can reach out to intern at a local advertising agency, shadow a team at a fashion magazine, or approach an art gallery or photographer about volunteer work.

In-depth learning, experience, and exploration can be found via numerous avenues. Whether on campus or not, the idea is to focus on increased knowledge and skill development. At summer’s end, your teen will have a better understanding of future college and career goals, and she’ll have added one more thing to include in her resume.

Future Design Careers: What You Need To Know Now

I’ve often heard it said that today’s college students are studying and preparing themselves for jobs that don’t exist yet. Could that really be true?

Technology has changed everything.

The folks at Fast Company interviewed a dozen leaders in the design world to get their take on where we’re heading, and what design careers to plan for. No plan is perfect, but 5 Design Jobs That Won’t Exist In The Future clearly identifies some of the changes future designers should expect.

I asked Tom Gattis, Dean of the School of Design at CCAD for his opinion on how design fits into our continually changing landscape. Clearly, it’s a high priority issue for him. “Reflective of what’s happening in the marketplace, [design] disciplines are changing daily,” he explained. The basic technical skill set of the past is today’s minimal requirement to gain entry. “UX and graphic design are morphing together. Product designers and graphic artists all have to have the breadth of knowledge to work across what used to be discreet disciplines.”

In other words, design fields are simultaneously merging and broadening.

Schools across the country are adapting to meet the needs of industry. They’re integrating their creative disciplines, including more social science and research into the curriculum, exposing students to international cultural norms, and incorporating business basics that today’s employers demand. They’re also providing learning opportunities that extend well beyond the studio and classroom. The skills of “collaboration, professionalism, and networking,” are all important interactions that make for better professionals and employees, stated Tom. Employers are looking for an “amalgamation of skills beyond just being creative,” he added.

The bottom line brings good news: the world is waking up to the problem-solving value that designers bring to the table. Creative opportunities lie ahead!


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@Pre-College: 8 Tips To Find The Best Summer Arts Program

Temple University, Tyler School of Art

Summer seems a long way off. Especially since the first real snow is just beginning to accumulate outside my window. Yet, even with snowflakes falling, this is the time to put a summer plan in motion for your artsy teen.

I realize that warm summer months are the perfect time for downtime. But getting into top college programs is competitive; a summer program can further your teen’s artistic skills and resume while simultaneously giving him a real taste for college life.

What should you and your teen look for as you search for the best college fit in a pre-college program? Here are just a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Syracuse University Senior Fashion Show: Lailee Waxman

    Syracuse University Senior Fashion Show: Lailee Waxman

    Programs vary in length between one – six weeks.

  • Some colleges limit their summer programs to rising juniors and seniors.
  • Many institutions will count pre-college courses towards college credit. But make sure to inquire even if your teen matriculates elsewhere; some courses are transferable.
  • Some colleges require campus residency over the summer while others don’t provide campus housing at all. The latter means living at home or finding another residence.
  • Most pre-college courses have spring deadlines. So don’t wait until the snow melts to do your research.
  • And speaking of deadlines, if you’re looking for a financial aid to help cover the costs, keep your eyes open to scholarship application deadlines. They often have different deadlines.
  • When totalling up your costs make sure to consider tuition, housing, meal plan, fees, and supplies. Supply costs vary by course.
  • Health and other campus services are typically available just like during fall – spring school terms. Residence hall and academic advisors are available as well. Recreation and other facilities are open.

Attendance at a specific summer program is no guarantee that your aspiring artist will be accepted in the fall. However, it will provide a substantial leg up by delivering a college-level challenge, building strengths and skills, contributing to a future portfolio, and providing the opportunity to connect with a professor – who could possibly write a reference letter when its application time.

I’ve listed a few great art and design programs to get your search started. Good luck! And let me know where you end up –

CCAD
RISD
SCAD
Syracuse University
Temple University (Tyler School of Art)

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