My Thoughts On Art School After One Year

I’ve been at art school for a full year now and I thought I would do a little recap. I will explain my expectations before starting my graphic design course. How they have changed now I’ve been on the course for a year. And how those changes are both positive and negative.

Before starting art school I found it very difficult to get information on what a graphic design course would actually cover. Of course, you can always check the university prospectus. But they seem to be very similar at each university I applied to. What I know now is that a course can vary depending on the university you attend and the lecturers that teach it.

Desk with bullet journal lying on it. The page dated as the 26th of march and entry reading "finish the damn essay".

It becomes even more complicated when it comes to art subjects. Graphic design, communication design and digital media all sound very different. But for the most part deal with slightly different aspects of the same subject.

MY THOUGHTS ON ART SCHOOL AFTER ONE YEAR

TIME SPENT IN UNIVERSITY

The number of hours I was expected to be in university was very important to me. These varied wildly between each university. At college, I was timetabled to be in two and a half days per week. Either for a full 9 till 4 day or for a half day. This was considered to be a full-time course, you were in college for half a week and were expected to continue working at home for the other half.

My college was quite strict with attendance, you would be pulled up if your attendance dropped below 70% and could be asked to leave the course if your attendance was bad enough.

Attendance at art school.

The university I now attend came across at first as being quite strict with attendance. Though you are only timetabled to be in two and a half days per week you are expected to be in more. Treating the course as though it is a full-time job. Something that isn’t always possible when students actually have a full-time job.

In reality, the lecturers on my particular course are very laid back when it comes to attendance. I need to highlight the fact that this is specific for my graphic design course. I know there are students on other courses who have to ensure they have signed their attendance sheet every day they are timetabled to be in. For my course so long as I attend tutorials and lectures I am free to figure out a schedule which works for me.

Because of my Chronic Fatigue, this works better for me. While at college I would be marked as late or absent if I arrived after 9. At university, I work to my own schedule. Arriving later if I feel the need and staying in university later. The art building doesn’t close till 9 so I can work in the studio as long as I want.

SEMESTER LENGTH

It might be surprising but the semester length is one thing I found hardest to adapt to since starting university. At college the year was made up of three 12 week semester blocks. At university we only have two semesters, meaning the course is finished by April time. Though final hand in isn’t till the end of April. Mostly so the university can still say you get an Easter break.

Again I think this is down to the nature of art courses. Exam time at my university doesn’t start till May. So students get April to study for exams. Being a graphic design student I don’t have any exams. My grade for the semester is calculated based on all the work I’ve done over that semester.

University terms are shorter.

The term length is one thing I don’t like about university. I feel like I’m wasting my time. Especially in Scotland where you do four year-long courses unlike the three-year course in England. My year at college ran from September to June. Because of this, I did far more work in those months than I have done at art school. This works out to 9 college projects compared to the 4 at university.

Sketches on tracing paper for an animation project at art school

I feel like I learned far more at college simply because I was there for longer. This is still only year two of my university course. I know it could get far more intense in years three and four. I don’t think its right to say at this moment college was better. But I did prefer it because I had less time during the summer.

As of writing this post, it is April, I’m not due back at university till September. This means I need to find my own projects to work on for the summer months. I don’t want to waste this time not learning simply because I’m not in university.

THE ART SCHOOL FACILITIES

While term length was one of my major problems with university. The facilities available to me is one of my favourite things. I’ve mentioned in previous posts how the art school has many different workshops available. I was able to learn about the darkroom process and even developed my own black and white film using it. This was just one of the workshops that the art school has.

They also have photography studios, a maker lab, printing workshops and a wood shop. All these services are freely available for students to use. It’s not like you have to be on a specific course to use a workshop.

Letter 'E' in a serif font which was cut out of paper using a laser cutter at art school.

If you want to use a laser cutter you just book a time slot and use it. Some workshops are slightly harder to use. For the print rooms, you need some sort of training first. But the art school also provides times where you can learn to use the spaces.

You do you.

My college also had many of these things available for students to use. But the process of using them wasn’t so simple. If you wanted to screen print a design you really had to plan out far in advance and ask a lecturer if there was a time you could use the facilities. If you wanted to use a laser cutter you had to ask a lecturer to do it for you.

At university, you just do whatever you want. It’s interesting how this changes your work. You’re actually encouraged to use the workshops as part of your practice. If there is something you want to do but you don’t know how then there are technicians available to help. Literally, their whole job is to help students with the technical side of making an idea. So long as I know what I want to make there is someone who can help me do it.

TECHNICAL SUPPORT

Not only are the technicians able to help with workshops. There are specific technicians available to help if you have software problems. This is the one thing I find really interesting. I was told in college from students who had moved on to university that my ability to use software (Illustrator, Photoshop etc) would be much better than students who had started the course in year one.

Cyanotype print from graphic design project which reads "timeline of the far future with data from information is beautiful".

MORE LIKE THIS: Experimenting With Cyanotype At Art School

Going to college and doing direct entry into second or third year meant at college I had more one on one time with lecturers. As a result, this would give me a better understanding of how to use the software.

I knew starting college I had a slight advantage over students who came directly from school. Part of this came from the fact I was slightly older than other students. I started college when I was twenty-three. Before going to college for graphic design I had studied computing.

My experience with Adobe software

Going through high school and into college had an interest in design and more specifically designing websites. I was using Dreamweaver in high school before it was even owned by Adobe. From this, I went on to use a totally legit version of Photoshop in my later years of high school.

That meant by the time I started my design course at college I had already been using Adobe products for 5 or 6 years. I could make something without the additional problem of not knowing how to use the software to achieve my vision. Even if I didn’t know how to make something I was able to use Google to find the information I needed.

As I went through college I had specific modules which were entirely about software. A requirement of my course was that you had to prove you’ve gained technical knowledge. You have to show that you’ve learned how to use the software. This is through certain modules and in the final graded projects. I had to write an essay as part of my final project. In that, I had to explain what I learned while doing the project.

Development work in sketchbook for a graphic design project at art school.

What I’m trying to say is that knowing how to use the software was really important going through college. It did give me an advantage starting the university course in second year. But it isn’t as much of an advantage as I expected because there are technicians available who can help if you have problems. You don’t do a graphic design course to learn how to use Adobe software. The software is just something you use to create your idea.

COURSEWORK AT ART SCHOOL

The coursework has been one of the most surprising things at university. I’ve found it to be far easier than it was at college. I think there are two reasons for this. First the university course. Second year is a mix of students who applied to university straight from school and have never done graphic design before. Then you have the students who have gone away and done a graphic design course and already have some experience.

The lecturers have this task of making the work easy enough for people who have no experience of graphic design. But still challenging. My college course was quite full on, to the point it was stressing me out much more than I realised at the time.

Hand made publication for an art school project resting on desk.

In a way, because college was so full on it has been nice taking it easy for a year. It’s actually strange the ways in which college has helped me with my university coursework. The way I use a sketchbook is very different to some students, I have more experience of explaining ideas and doing presentations.

This was massively helpful in semester one where I had problems with my CFS. I knew I wasn’t doing as much work as I could have done. This was made obvious in the grade I got for the semester. But that experience at college meant I could do the bare minimum and still get a respectable grade at the end. I’m still slightly annoyed at myself because I could have done more, but taking it easy in semester one was the best thing for me to do.

FUTURE CAREER

It’s hard to talk about a future career since I haven’t finished my university course. I know it’s possible for students to come out of college and get a job. That was my plan if I didn’t get into university. There is always the possibility that I finish my time at art school and end up working in Tesco. It’s hard to say which has set me up best for working in the graphic design industry. Especially because college is so different from university.

I think the graphic design course I’m on is much more specialised than some. We look at one small aspect of graphic design. College was more like a broad take on the entire subject. I’ve already had the opportunity to work with outside entities. I’ve worked with an outside company for a group project and an animation project.

Handmade sketchbook with blue cover resting on table top.

I think it’s hard to say which is best. I know a complaint some designers have is that university didn’t teach you the business side of working. Certainly, at college, this wasn’t a problem.

I tried to do projects outside of my course and as a result, came across a few issues I hadn’t encountered. Pricing my work and creating contracts were a few of those things. But my course was taught by designers who worked in the industry and I could ask them for help with these issues.

FINALLY

Wow, that was a lot of thoughts based on the second year of my graphic design course. I’ve tried to not be too negative about art school. College and university both have positive aspects.

With this type, of course, you have to take advantage of every opportunity you get. Like learning the business side of design even if it isn’t taught on your course. Or taking advantage of workshops and technology available to you.

I’ve really enjoyed my courses both at college and university. I’ve learned skills which I’m sure will help me in the future. Some have already helped me with things like running my blog and taking photos for Instagram. But it’s important to note that the courses are very different and so both are better in different ways.

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