Creative industries are getting competitive and admissions are never simple.
Higher education applications are daunting at the best of times, but are even more so in the creative field (where opinions can be so much more subjective). Admissions season is here and in the competitive world of art and architecture programmes, acceptance rates have plummeted. If your child has shown tremendous interest in art and architecture, you may need some guidance on how to help him or her apply for university. If art school language is Greek and Latin to you though, simply hand over this helpful guide to your teen. We’ve listed five useful tips to help them apply.
The good news for all of you applying to art or architecture school is that preparing the best possible portfolio can make all the difference. A spectacular portfolio can show what you are capable of, beyond grades, and help you stand out from the rest of the applicant pool and significantly increase your chance of admission. Whether your dream is to attend the five-year B.Arch Program at Cornell or major in Game Design at RISD, these tips are for you!
You cannot say you are an artist if you do not look at other artists. Likewise, you can’t call yourself an aspiring architect if you do not even know other architects. Tumblr and Instagram do not count. They are good sources of inspiration, but you should be familiar with the contemporary giants.
As much as possible, go to see their work in person. You don’t have to travel far to see the masters. Norman Foster designed the HSBC Building, IM Pei – the Bank of China, Frank Gehry – The Maggie’s Cancer Centre in Tuen Mun, Zaha Hadid – The Jockey Club Innovation Tower and Thomas Heatherwick – Pacific Place Mall. For some traditional Chinese inspiration, visit the Chi Lin Nunnery and take in the Tang Dynasty style that has been constructed without a single nail, or head to the Mid-Levels and admire the red bricks and green tiles of the historic King Yin Lei. From architectural heritage to the works contemporary “starchitects”, these buildings that define our city may literally be steps away.
As for artists, there is no shortage of gallery openings, museums and exhibits to visit. Don’t just say you love the work of so and so, if possible schedule a studio visit, to understand the work first hand. Spend an afternoon in Para Site, or H Queens, browse the galleries on Hollywood Road or visit M+. Take your sketchbook with you. Document and digest.
If you study visual arts in high school, treat your final year exhibit as if you are a practising artist or architect. This will force you to label everything, with title, year, medium, dimension and provide a good description. The calibre of your work will go up because you know there will be an audience.
Both creating a website and holding an exhibit are tremendously helpful exercises because they force you to be articulate about your work. If someone comes up to you with an interpretation that is a radical departure from your intent, you can always edit the work to make sure your ideas are powerfully conveyed.
Whenever possible, try to show your work with detailed didactics, (the labels you see next to a piece at the museum). You will need these when you upload your final portfolio to Slideroom or a portal, and having it done early means you have more time to improve.
Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Ask your (helpfully overcritical) brother who will tell you the truth, or put it online and ask netizens to comment. Soak up the criticism and improve.
Find out about the architects and artists that have taught or come out of the schools you are applying to. Understand the specific programme through its students and faculty. Make sure you tailor your application to the types of schools you are applying to, as well asyour specific major.
For example, RISD Illustration will be more about technical skills, whereas UCLA Fine Arts will be more concept-based. USC B.Arch wants to see the breadth and diversity of mediums, whereas Cooper Union requires a home test for evaluating technical skill.
Why not send a DM to current students? They might just share their experience with you and give you a competitive edge. Write famous alumni and professors fan mail. You never know, they might write back!
Use a variety of mediums. Explore using tools and materials not generally offered in your high school programme, or that differ to what your peers around you are using. Creative thinking goes beyond what you put down on paper. You can be creative with your medium as well as the surface you paint/draw/write on.
Have a cohesive portfolio that shows an interest and investigation of an idea or ideas that you are exploring. Titles can play a role in pushing your narrative. Whenever possible, include a self-portrait.
Keep a sketchbook that shows drawings, sketches and the brainstorming processes. Some schools specifically ask for these. Do not limit yourself to the general Instagrammable sketch of your hands or the old man at the coffee shop. These are good, but they shouldn’t fill your sketchbook.
Write about things you are interested in, small moments that might turn into more significant projects, and then flesh out these little ideas into detailed plans for project execution.
Please don’t use a mobile camera phone! While the quality of these has improved significantly these days, there is so much more you can do with a DSLR. Set the ISO at 100 and, unless you are using a tripod, the shutter speed should be at least 160 to ensure clarity. Adjust the aperture according to the light metre (use only natural sunlight or studio lighting).
If you do not have access to an infinity room, purchase a heavyweight white cloth, iron it and hang it up near a window with indirect sunlight. For post-production, use the perspective crop tool on Adobe Photoshop and err on the side of bright images. On that note, don’t forget to shoot in RAW format, it will give you a lot more freedom in editing and recovering harsh shadows (if there are any).
Best of luck on getting into your dream school!