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The Foundation Diploma – The Gateway to the Creative Industries?

Written by Meg Shepherd

Special Thanks to Eleanor Wilkinson, Ruth Pickering, Beth Swan, and Gabrielle Lopez

The Foundation Diploma in Art and Design is a widely discussed (and sometimes contested) subject for students on the path to a degree in the creative disciplines. Many of the top arts universities recommend undertaking this one-year course in order to prepare for degree-level study, but with “creativity under attack” from the government (Sarah Dawood 2017) and the traditional university experience changing, students seem to be questioning if it’s really worth doing.

Given that the course is free for those under-19 upon enrolment, it provides many students with the chance to obtain creative skills outside of the traditional school, college or university experience. Furthermore, with a disproportionately high level of first-generation university applicants attending, and more socio-economic diversity than traditional HE courses (The National Arts Learning Network 2009), the diploma encourages those with less traditional educational backgrounds to pursue higher education spurred by their creative passions.

In order to get a fuller picture of the Foundation Diploma and its merits, I asked some young creatives about their experiences of the course, how it affected their degree course, and what’s next for them. For the students about to begin their creative journey this September–embarking on A-Levels, BTEC’s, Foundation Diploma or degrees, our graduates offer some advice on making the most of it.

Having undertaken a foundation diploma myself, but later deciding to pursue a more traditional degree, at times throughout my university experience I couldn’t help but feel like I had simply delayed my degree by a year. But now, as a graduate, in the wake of COVID-19, and searching for an entry-level creative job, I’m grateful that the course has prepped me with skills, ideas and contacts for the industry. Despite this, the course is not for everyone and it’s important to pursue your passions and talents in an environment that is best suited to you. As such, I hope the graduates can provide some insight and answers for those unsure of their next step on the path to the industry.

Eleanor Wilkinson, Illustration, UWE

@_eleanor_wilkinson_

Eleanor is a multidisciplinary creative based in Bristol. Her work is playful, expressive, and quite often satirical. In terms of visual language, her line work is gestural and lively, rarely containing straight lines–echoing the idiosyncratic nature of its content. Her practice echoes a lost British culture, referencing the past, particularly 70s and 80s, and bringing these influences into modern culture.

Eleanor Wilkinson 2020

Tell me a bit about yourself

Hello! My name is Eleanor and I’ve just returned home to Dorset after living in Bristol for 3 years at university.

Why did you wish to study a Foundation Diploma?

Whilst at school I knew that I wanted to study a creative subject at university, however was unsure what careers were available. I also felt torn between art and textiles and didn’t want to rush into choosing a course that wouldn’t be right for me. Therefore, when I heard about the Foundation Diploma in Bournemouth, I thought it would be the best choice. It was also a bonus that it was only down the road from me!

What was your experience of the course?

I think the Foundation was one of the best things I’ve ever done. I learnt so much more from my tutors on foundation than I ever did at school. Whilst on the illustration pathway my tutors really understood me as a creative and where I’d fit in. I liked how the course was run as the structure allowed a lot of freedom with the right amount of guidance. I lived at home whilst on my foundation as it was close to home.

Did you find it useful? If so, what in particular did you enjoy or find helpful?

I think that the fact the foundation was at a university, rather than a college, was really helpful as it allowed you to be part of the university environment and see what the other courses were creating.

Did it influence your choice of degree?

100%, I didn’t even know that I could do illustration as a degree before Foundation.

Do you feel it prepared you for your degree better than going straight from sixth form/college to higher education? Do you feel it helped with the admissions process?

Yes, Foundation was the perfect next step to take for me as sixth form didn’t explore creative degrees or inform you as to what was out there. The tutors on Foundation also knew which universities were the best for my course which really helped with UCAS.

Can you tell me a little about a particular project you completed on the course?

My final project on Foundation was a set of zines about British Subcultures. Although I look back at this project now and see loads of things I would do differently, it really encouraged me to explore my overlapping interests of illustration and fashion, whilst exploring my visual language.

What’s next for you?

I am currently putting together my portfolio and looking for creative internships in design for culture, music or fashion.

Any advice you’d give to students starting their Foundation Diploma or degree in your discipline?

Make the most of your time and experiment with as many creative disciplines as you can. Just because you have to choose one pathway, don’t feel that you have to pigeonhole yourself as creative disciplines overlap and it’s good to have skills in lots of areas as it can help with future employment. I’d also encourage people to collaborate with other creatives as it allows you to bounce ideas around and come up with creative solutions you wouldn’t be able to do single-handedly.

You can check out Eleanor’s work here: www.eleanor-wilkinson.com

Ruth Pickering, Graphic Communication Design, UAL

@ruth_pickering

Ruth recently graduated with a degree in Graphic Communication Design from Central Saint Martins (UAL) in London. Her work strongly aims to encompass both audience and creator as vital elements within the creative process.

Ruth Pickering 2020

Tell me a bit about yourself

Born and raised in Dorset in the South West of England but now predominantly based in London, my interests very much lie within what I chose as my career; motion graphics, experiential/audiovisual and publishing design. Away from graphics, I am a keen road cyclist and illustrator.

Why did you wish to study a Foundation Diploma?

I wanted to study a Foundation in Art and Design so that I could investigate and interrogate my personal creative practice away from a strict schooled curriculum, I wanted to find who I was as a designer without huge consequences of spending my first year in a paid degree feeling lost and trying to find my creative ‘voice’ in a rush. I used the foundation year to find out what I truly wanted to pursue into degree level. A year to have fun and be creative, gain skills that I hadn’t been taught in school and build up a stronger portfolio and understanding of the design industry. This year to me was completely invaluable.

What was your experience of the course?

The help I got for my degree application was vital to my success. I wholeheartedly would say that it prepared me better for entering a degree compared to going straight from school. The tutors provided help and advice for the interviews, portfolio building and UCAS letter writing. The tutors on the foundation course have lived the experience that we were about to enter when we left the foundation course, they understood that the creative identity and creative courses don’t seek the perfect grades or the most polished statement about the applicant, but rather an eagerness and openness to explore the subject further.

Did you find it useful? If so, what in particular did you enjoy or find helpful?

If I hadn’t done the foundation year I would not have ended up where I am now. It was my tutors who told me to push myself, that I was good enough to apply to the top universities, that I stood a chance. The foundation course gave me an awareness of what creative universities would best suit my direction and intention as a graphic designer. I knew I didn’t want a typically branding based course and that I was searching for a more conceptual and experimental course, open to interpretation and independent learning, this is where I found the CSM course perfectly suited to my intended practice.

Did it influence your choice of degree?

Even if you know exactly what you want to do and where you want to go, I would recommend this course. This course gave me an invaluable sense of confidence to write and talk about my practice to others both in an academic setting and an informal conversation. The course aided a strong portfolio with skills from the core of form (life drawing) all the way through to producing highly executed resolutions to set briefs.

Do you feel it prepared you for your degree better than going straight from sixth form/college to higher education? Do you feel it helped with the admissions process?

My personal experience of the foundation year was as a key turning point in my creative practice and understanding. Whilst on the foundation course I lived at home as I was close enough to commute in each day. I chose the graphic design pathway which was a great insight into working to set briefs and learning specific adobe software skills, I otherwise would not have learnt from school. The course offered lots of excellent tailored workshops and technical lessons about relevant skills and software in relation to our chosen area of study. I made great friends along the way, the tutors were extremely friendly and would always be there to help. The facilities provided to this foundation course are second to none and you really feel a part of the AUB campus. One of the most prominent moments of the course for me was the week away trip to Berlin, this experience still informs elements of my practice now and was overall a very fun week off where we were able to explore and roam wherever we wanted.

Can you tell me a little about a particular project you completed on the course?

A project which I felt was coherently resolved and which I spoke about in my degree course interviews was a ‘book covers’ brief. This brief was good as it allowed for creative freedom through both exploration and execution but had an exacting form as an outcome. It was the brief where a solid foundation of research allowed me to execute a more justified and informed outcome, supplying a reasoning for my design decisions. It was the first brief whereby an encompassment and understanding of text, image and colour all came together to execute the brief.

What’s next for you?

My next step is towards employment within the creative industry in graphic design/motion graphics based in London. I will also be continuing my research into audience centric design and the role of the audience-creator dynamic within the creative industry, an inquest which has heavily informed my practice.

You can check out Ruth’s work here: ruthpickeringgcd.myportfolio.com

Beth Swan, Fine Art: Painting, University of Brighton

@bethswanart

Beth is a painter whose work celebrates intersectional femininity by engaging with the body positivity movement, pornography and the erotic, the female nude and the male gaze, and drag culture as she experiences it as a young woman living in 21st century Brighton. Beth venture’s into the nightlife of the UK’s proudly established “gay capital”, experiencing first-hand the wonders of drag queens, kings and performers at shows, clubs and bars, to accredit these modern feminine icons and establish their place in art history from a contemporary perspective.

Beth Swan 2020

Tell me a bit about yourself

My name is Beth Swan (She/Her) and I am a 22-year-old painter from The New Forest.

What are you currently studying and where?

I am currently studying Fine Art: Painting at the University of Brighton and am about to go into my third and final year of study. Studying painting has allowed me to delve deep into this discipline, learning about traditional methods and histories whilst engaging with contemporary contexts.

Why did you wish to study a Foundation Diploma?

Honestly, I never thought I would go to University because no one in my family did, so I just assumed I would get a job after sixth form. It wasn’t until my art teacher showed me the Foundation Diploma at Arts University Bournemouth (AUB) and set up an interview for me that I really considered going. The thought of experimenting for an entire year across disciplines, exploring mediums and testing ideas I had never had the occasion to study before excited me, and the fact that it was free tuition appealed somewhat too. I thought I’d just go for it and treat it as a year to discover. It acted as an invaluable process to explore a pathway before committing to a degree.

What was your experience of the course?

My experience of the Foundation Diploma was rocky to begin with given that I was commuting from home so felt that I was missing out on the full uni experience. However, it made it much more affordable for me to live at home, commute, and work alongside the course. I enjoyed the rotations which I viewed as 3-week tasters into degree courses giving a little perspective into a multitude of different avenues. It opened my eyes into how I could apply myself to the art world, and how many Higher Education courses were on offer. It goes without saying that some rotations I detested, but I believe that sometimes to know what you want, you must find out what you do not want. The Fine Art Pathway was where I really found my feet. Having specialised tutors with a breadth of knowledge encouraged me to explore within the Fine Arts, led to my realisation that I was a painter. Being one of the only painters in my Fine Art class, I then realised that I wanted to specialise as my fascination with traditional oil painting techniques and processes would get lost in a more conceptual learning environment.

Did it influence your choice of degree?

It absolutely influenced my degree choice. Without taking the diploma, I wouldn’t have met Sam Jackson, an English painter represented by the Charlie Smith Gallery London and also tutor at AUB. We found common interest in inspirational artists and painting language, and he showed me the specialised painting course in Brighton which I am one year from completing now. Without this direction, I would have gone into Fine Art which would not have presented me, a painter, with as much in-depth resource and experience into painting as this specialised course has. With this said, there was not a Fine Art course I completely fell in love with like I did with Brighton, so I always wonder if I hadn’t had been recommended this course, whether I would have even gone to University.

Do you feel it prepared you for your degree better than going straight from sixth form/college to Higher Education? Do you feel it helped with the admissions process?

One thing I feel my Foundation Diploma was incredibly strong in was giving me the skills and support to writing a personal statement. I honestly would not have known where to start, and whilst my school offered similar resources for academic personal statement writing, writing an artist’s personal statement is a different ball game altogether.

Similarly, having an extra year to explore freely between disciplines and expand your skill set as an artist is going to be advantageous in any case. For me, the biggest thing is having an extra year to grow and mature as a person as I feel this will grant you with more life experience when you actually get to enrolling onto your course. I feel my practice developed so much from A-Level to degree over this year as I became more confident in my abilities as an artist.

Can you tell me a little about a particular project you completed on the course?

During pathway, I became fascinated with teen mags and how a boy or girl audience can affect the content. Action magazines with sports and fast cars telling teens to adventure were seemingly directed towards a male audience, whilst pink fluffy fashion mags with school outfits and wardrobe disasters pointed more to a female viewer. Understandably enraging the feminist in me, I began painting hyper-sexualised, sultry models taken from magazine and Instagram posts. This is where I became intrigued by the hetero-normative male gaze which is still a pivotal theme in my practice.

What’s next for you?

This year I plan to focus on the final year of my degree with the added hurdles of COVID-19. I planned on continuing my explorations into the drag scene here in Brighton, but with social distancing concerning the re-opening of shows and clubs, this project has been halted temporarily.

Instead, my practice will explore the reclamation of the female nude with attempt to subvert the masculine gaze which lays upon it and has done for much of art history (and history). I am fascinated by femininity and what that means to everyone, not just biologically female anatomy. To avert the male gaze, those excluded from it must be invited. My body is mine and I own it, and the gaze which lays upon me gives me the ammunition to paint. Bodies should be celebrated, so I continue my journey of empowerment.

Any advice you’d give to students starting their Foundation Diploma or degree in your discipline?

My biggest advice is to allow yourself to explore and experiment freely. Having pre-conceived ideas about a specific direction is great but can haze your experience when offered alternative disciplines you may not have had the opportunity to properly investigate yet. Bringing an open mindset and allowing your direction to change when new disciplines are introduced to you will make for a more enriched use of time, and for more fun, playful experimenting!

You can check out Beth’s work via her Instagram: @bethswanart

Gabrielle Lopez, Fine Art: Printmaking, University of Brighton

@gabrielle_lopezprint

Gabrielle is a Printmaker currently based in Brighton. She started printing at age 16, became further interested in it in sixth form which she built on in her foundation year and beyond into her degree. Her interests range from floral images to the human anatomy along with the links between the two and the im/permeance of life.

Gabrielle Lopez 2020

Tell me a bit about yourself

I’m Gabrielle Lopez, I am 22 and from the New Forest.

Which creative discipline do you have a degree in, and where did you obtain this?

I hold a BA in Fine Art: Printmaking which I received from the University of Brighton.

Why did you wish to study a Foundation Diploma?

I chose to study a Foundation Diploma as I was unclear of my path after A-levels being interested in both art and photography. The course allowed me to have time to think and further explore my options.

What was your experience of the course?

I had a very positive experience on Foundation – I made some great friends who I am still in contact with and it allowed me to start to develop a network of other artists, as well as learning from tutors who had a genuine interest in what I was creating. I remain in contact with these tutors, so the help and guidance are still there which I really appreciate. However, I had to live at home during my diploma and the commute was 40 mins each way which was a struggle considering we had to carry all our things with us back and forth every day.

Did you find it useful? If so, what in particular did you enjoy or find helpful?

I enjoyed the gradual introduction into University life as well as meeting new people who had similar passions as myself.

Did it influence your choice of degree?

It didn’t change my choice in universities, but I did feel sometimes tutors weren’t interested in my choice once they knew I wasn’t going to a fancy London university–I felt they were more interested in the students who were going to the ‘big-name’ creative universities.

Do you feel it prepared you for your degree better than going straight from sixth form/college to Higher Education? Do you feel it helped with the admissions process?

I definitely felt more prepared and ready to go into university with the experience and knowledge I got from Foundation as it allowed me to prepare myself and my work for the leap to a BA.

Can you tell me a little about a particular project you completed on the course?

My interests at Foundation level were mostly around changing forms and the idea of the few being part of the many. It was here I also found my interest in stitched work and making so for my final project I made 50 dolls all individually and then made a large hung sculpture using them as a collective. Looking back on it, it’s not my best work but it gave me the building blocks and base skills to then get to the work that excites me now.

What’s next for you?

I have the intention to get my MA in Print.

Any advice you’d give to students starting their Foundation Diploma or degree in your discipline?

I would say my advice is that my chosen discipline – print – offers the opportunity to be what you want. I range from a textile artist to a sculptural one! Always fight for your work and question the establishment if you truly believe in it. Don’t look at others for what you should be doing – no one else is you.

You can check out Gabrielle’s work here: www.flickr.com/people/165798322@N02/

#graduating #creativeindustry #graduates #Interview #CreativeCollections #Advice

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