You’ve been thinking about it for a while. You’ve always wanted to do it. Perhaps you did start at some point back in the day but didn’t get to finish.
Or perhaps you did do some art classes here and there in the past.
But it’s been nagging. You want to get more involved in visual arts.
You see. I did. I was all those things above. So, I signed up for art school.
I just completed a one-year Visual Arts Certificate. This post explains some of my experiences.
People of all ages attend art school
It seems that it was just yesterday when I walked into my art class at the beginning of the year. I didn’t know what to expect. Here I was a 60 something year old starting art school.
I needn’t have been too worried. Amongst the students, there was another older student. I was instantly relieved.
Then, as the classes went on, I found there were more and more students like me. It seemed that as the year moved on, as younger ones dropped off, most of the mature students stayed. We kept turning up.
I wondered about this. Many years ago, I had been in the same situation as those young students. I had started at art school, but because I couldn’t afford to live, I had to leave and get a job.
That’s how it stayed for 40 years. Until this year. This was an opportunity I had waited a long time for.
Perhaps those students will have the chance to get back into their art in the future. Or perhaps its easier now to do art on the side without the study. We have many online systems that can help us with our creative lives. Who knows?
My experience is that you can do it at any age.
My one year at art school
This is a snapshot of my experience. There was much more involved in my first year of art school, yet this will give you an overview of my experience.
So, what did I do at school during the year? What did I study?
Visual Arts is a mixture of mediums. We studied art theory, drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, digital arts, video arts, along with studio practice, work health and safety, and copyright.
At the outset, we learnt about art theory. We learnt that art is a historic yet evolving discipline. Artists came before us who tried new techniques. They created work that communicated ideas counter to societal norms, or they used new or unusual mediums. They may have created work reflecting their evolving environment. We learnt to view our artwork in a historical context, and our place on the artistic continuum.
As with all the subjects, we researched artists, and completed assessments for each subject. The assessments were both written and contained artwork examples.
We were introduced to colour theory.
My artwork in the year was created using colour harmonies found on a red yellow blue colour wheel. Colour combinations used have been listed with some of the artwork examples below. Already, even after one year of study, I see I am developing preferred colour combinations.
After my initial drawing classes, I was exhausted at the end of the day. Not just mentally, but physically as well. Observing an object and replicating that object on a flat surface is hard work.
However, this tiredness subsides as you learn, and your muscle memory and skills improve.
In drawing, we learnt proportion, perspective, line, blind contour, amongst other techniques. We drew with charcoal, pencil, and ink.
Drawing has an element of control. For example, you place the mark of your drawing instrument, and there the mark stays. You can go on immediately to make another mark. And in most cases, depending on your drawing medium, it stays there.
As well as learning to draw, we learnt about narrative. We explored how to draw to communicate ideas.
However, drawing, and drawing communication was different to the next subject – painting.
We learnt to paint using acrylic paints, and watercolour paints. As well, we explored collage, and expressionism.
The painting class was my first attempt at acrylic painting. We drew realistic still life paintings. As well, we drew expressionistic pieces with texture, and created collages from water colour experiments.
Experimentation in visual arts
The one year of visual art course encouraged us to experiment. In my experimenting, I made my own paint and paintings using a range of old items. For example, I made paint with coffee grounds and glue. I made a canvas from an old sheet. I used old garden stakes as a picture frame.
As such, you will learn to create according to a brief of concept, or an idea. You use your creativity to make something accordingly. It is something you will do when you leave art school and take on your own professional creative practice.
Screen printing, photo emulsion, cut templates were part of our introduction to printmaking. Where drawing and painting is considered in putting a mark on a surface, the preparation in printmaking is done prior to any paint or ink application.
Apparently, artists can have a preference for being 2-dimensional (ie drawing or painting on a flat surface), or 3-dimensional (ie sculpture). Some artists could enjoy a mix of the two.
On my journey at art school, I found my preference is 2-dimensional. That said, by doing sculpture, it was evident that it helped me to observe. For example, when creating sculpture, you feel objects, you view their shape, and angles. This helps you to observe objects that may be part of a 2-dimensional work, such as still life.
As well, learning sculptural techniques can help you add structure, or texture to a 2-dimensional work.
It is important of keeping an open mind about other art mediums. Learning is found in areas you may not expect.
Do you love the smell of paint, pencils, chalk, the physical feel of art implements, and the play of pigmented colours on a surface?
Digital art is none of these things. It is sitting at a computer, using software to create artwork, or to manipulate artwork. It is challenging for a beginner. Yet you need to know it to work online, to show your work, or even as part of your creative workflow.
Our next subject, video art was like digital art in that we needed software to create final videos. We used our phones or cameras to capture initial video and used software to edit and manipulate that video into a final product. We learnt you could create video or animation with stop-motion.
Work Health and Safety
Throughout the year, we consistently considered the work health and safety when creating our artwork. We considered risk assessments, risk management, material safety, posture, environment, protective equipment, and other elements when creating artwork.
As well, in every artwork we created – we considered ours and other’s copyright. This is an important issue that will travel with us throughout our artistic lives.
Finally, at the end of the year, we had to bring all our learning together.
We needed to consider why were we doing visual art? What did we want to say? What was our artistic style?
This was difficult. However, after what seemed like weeks and writing hundreds of notes about what I want to show visually, I noted a theme running through them.
It was from our own in-depth analysis that we started to identify our art styles and voices – ready for the next stage in our visual arts journey.
In conclusion, what can you expect in one year of art school?
In the first few weeks of a new subject, be prepared to be mentally (and you may be physically) tired. You will be learning new subject, new skills, new techniques, and learning to think and observe life differently.
Expect to finish the year with a greater knowledge of art history, other artists work, and your own art style and techniques.
However, you need to prepare to play and have fun with materials. As well, you will need to have an open mind. You may not prefer some subjects, or mediums, however, you will find that you will learn skills and techniques from one medium can translate to another.
You will have a greater understanding of yourself, and what you want to say visually.
Read how more study provided a clearer understanding of my art niche.
Originally published on 31 December 2022. Updated on 3 January 2023.