Studying Art and Design at Uni

Continuing in our aim to inform our students and parents about art and design options available after sixth form, three of our ex-students kindly allowed me to question them about their experience studying art and design at University, the work they are currently producing and their ambitions for the future. I’m very grateful to them for their time and for their articulate and informative answers.

Perrine Davari ( / @perrinedavari) who has just received an MA in Fine Art from Edinburgh University, having completed five years of study there.

Alex Taylor, who is currently in the final year of her degree course in Fine Art in Manchester, having completed a Foundation Course at the Royal Drawing School in London.

Nancy O’Connor, who has just started studying for a degree in 3D design, following in the footsteps of Insight teacher Lara Sparey at Plymouth University.

I started by asking each of them what the best thing was about studying a creative subject at University. Perrine Davari said that the best thing was that it placed her ‘directly at the heart of a little arts community’, with friends that had the ‘same passion about art’. She said that ‘for five years I got to paint everyday whilst being surrounded by others who were there for the same reason I was, and went to exhibition openings in the evenings. While I will say there are a fair few things I disagree with about how things were done at university, I would not change the experience I’ve had for the world’.

Alex Taylor mentioned that the best thing about studying a creative subject was having ‘the ability to explore and develop your own personal interests and style while having input from a wide range of different academic and creative tutors. It also comes along with many opportunities in both the university and in the outside world’.

Despite Nancy having only just started her course, she is already enjoying the benefits of having shared studio space. ‘We have a large studio space which is open plan and there is always something going on, whether it be the 2nd yrs having a tutorial or the 3rd yrs designing something’. She said that she gets ‘driven by the collective creative energy…..… as anyone can walk past you whilst you’re designing and come and talk to you. Design is a very interactive process and I think that this way of working really brings everything together’.

Nancy’s first project was based on a day trip to the woods near Totnes where she met local craftsmen who taught the group traditional Greenwood skills; working with wood that has been freshly cut, using hand tools. In small groups they were challenged initially to make a step ladder before designing and making their own piece of furniture, which in the case of Nancy’s group was a floor lamp.

Nancy learning traditional Greenwood skills

Alex is currently ‘establishing her practice’ as she’s in her last year of university in Manchester. She describes her practice as ‘exploring how to use and transform materials with a focus on colour and form. Appropriation and abstraction are key parts to my practice along with a strong focus on painting print and collage’. 

Alex Taylor

Alex Taylor

For Perrine’s degree show, she explained how the paintings, drawings and prints she made were a reaction to the ‘current socio-political climate’ in conjunction with ‘mythical and the science-fictional’ ‘satirical compositions’ of ‘farcical characters’ that ‘haunt (her) paintings’. The figures are ‘thrown together in dialogue … violent and conflicting’, she explained that ‘the gruesome nature of compositions helps me work through these issues of identity and disillusionment’.

All three creatives said that attending classes at Insight had helped them with their studies. Perrine noted that she arrived to University feeling confident in the use of oil painting and drawing, allowing her to ‘create more of what I wanted to do rather than labouring quite so much over the technicality’.

Perrine Davari

Perrine’s final MA show

Alex also said that she benefitted from having learnt to paint and draw at Insight, including figure drawing from direct observation (which all of our children take part in every week 3 of term). She noted that being at Insight ‘allowed me develop a confidence in my personal style which gave me a real head start when applying for foundation courses’. She also mentioned that at Insight it ‘was a positive feeling to be surrounded by other students who were as interested in exploring art too; which was something I didn’t find in secondary school’.

Nancy also felt that Insight had given her a head start at University, saying that our school gave her ‘a big push as a designer. It has given me a great confidence in myself and really encouraged me to work harder and think outside the box. It has helped me to become much more reflective on my work and consider different questions and opinions when working on projects’.

So, what do the three of them hope for in the future? Both Perrine and Alex said they wished to remain in the arts and produce more work. Alex expressed how she would like to collaborate in exhibitions and have solo shows around the country and abroad. Perrine has just started working at the Artsdepot in Finchley and in the long run has ambitions to ‘work in arts engagement and education through arts organisations and institutions, putting together outreach programmes and events that ensure that everyone has access to arts and culture, for art is, and should be for everyone’.

It’s early days for Nancy to be making decisions about her future, but said that she has thought about the ‘Designer Maker route …. and then perhaps setting up my own business. I would like to make use of my linguistic skills and love for travelling so maybe setting it up somewhere in Italy, but then again theres also a lot happening down here in the South West!’

I remember all three artists very fondly from their time at Insight. All three came to the school for most of their secondary years, to study and then as studio assistants whilst they studied for their A-Levels. All three were dedicated to developing their skills and knowledge and becoming better artists, and hearing their answers to my questions, I feel that their drive to succeed hasn’t faltered. I expect all three of them to be very successful in their fields in the future and wish them lots of luck and enjoyment.

Paul Regan
Insight School of Art

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