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Why studying on our Art Foundation is possibly the best year of your life!

The Art Foundation course at York College is one of the longest running Art Foundation courses in the country. It attracts students from all around the Yorkshire region, nationally and internationally and is the best way to prepare for university education within art and design – in fact, the top universities for studying art and design want you to have an Art Foundation!

But what is an Art Foundation and why should I consider it?

The Art Foundation is a one-year course typically studied after A Levels or other similar Level 3 qualifications. Whilst A Levels are a fantastic way to develop your skills and techniques, the Foundation course gives you the time, facilities and space to create work that is much more independently produced and pushes you to think in many different ways – it is fundamentally about problem solving and finding creative solutions to a brief – and you can also specialise in an area that you have maybe not had the chance to do at school and begin to build a specialist portfolio.

On our Art Foundation course you will typically start by rotating around lots of different art and design tasks – drawing, designing and image making are fundamental skills that we as staff are pushing you to explore in lots of new and unusual ways. Some of the tasks are intended to stretch your thinking and conceptual skills whilst others are intended to push you to try a technique you haven’t experienced before or to consider a different way of working to how you have previously worked. You will be surrounded by like-minded fellow students and tutors who are all on the Art Foundation because they love art and design, and also because they want to take part in challenging and exciting art and design projects. The new friends that you make on the course will undoubtedly be the people you learn the most from as you build new networks and share ideas and insights with a wide variety of people from all walks of life.

An Art Foundation course is a right of passage. It is what you do if you love art and design, it is what most artists and designers in the UK have done and you will be one of 16000 students a year who complete an Art Foundation course. It is not just for students who need the extra year – far from it – it is there to give students the year to develop their practical skills and to find their voice as a creative practitioner.

The difference between what you study at A Level and what university art and design education is, is often very different and the Art Foundation course is a bridge between the academic nature of A Levels and the Art School environment of studying at a university.

How is the course structured? What sort of projects will I work on?

The one-year course starts in September and follows the same academic year as other schools/ colleges – so you get your half terms and holidays in! It starts by getting students to explore lots of different creative options and ideas. Whether that is through drawing, or image making or practical, experimental tasks. Some projects during this time might last a week whilst others might last a day. Angela Newdick, Course Leader of the Art Foundation:

“A typical scenario during this time would be for all our students to be given a brief and then they go and explore it in their own unique way, with a deadline and end product in mind. As staff we team teach across our four main studio areas and get to know all the students on the course. We pride ourselves on knowing everybody by their first name as soon as possible!”

After trying out lots of different ways of working, the staff team give talks about the different specialist areas. These are Contemporary Art Practice, Communication Design and Applied Arts and Fashion. In Contemporary Art Practice students produce a wide variety of work, some challenging and conceptual and some more traditional. This might typically include painting, sculpture and drawing through to video art, installation, architecture, photography and performance art! Students in Communication Design work on projects to develop portfolios in animation, graphic design, illustration, computer games design, transport design and typography to name a few. Applied Arts and Fashion students work on everything from menswear and womenswear collections, fashion marketing campaigns, and fashion photography as well as textiles and surface pattern design, interior design, jewellery and contemporary crafts. Students are then free to chose which one of these areas to specialise in for the rest of the course.

“We help students to decide through a number of tutorials and talks throughout the first six weeks. There is always a group of students who still don’t know after this time and we sit down with them and offer advice on how we think they work and what it would be like to specialise in a certain area. Sometimes we can see that a student would really suit a specialist pathway, but it is only when we sit with them and talk it through that the penny drops. It’s great to see that moment when it all comes together, and a student suddenly realises which path to pursue!”. Steve Hemingway, Pathway Leader for Contemporary Art Practice.

Trips are really important to our course and getting out and seeing work and being inspired is really important for creative minds. Past trips have included a residential trip to a castle in Northumberland where students have been given tasks such as drawing, sculpture, collage and photography. They then take this work back to the College to develop into an ambitious piece of work at a later date. Barcelona and London are also popular trips as well as taping into what’s going on locally, in the city and further afield to places such as the Baltic and Hepworth Gallery - as well as the wonderful Yorkshire Sculpture Park - which is always a great source of inspiration.

What happens when I specialise?

Once you specialise you will work with tutors who have experience in that field. Our tutors are highly experienced within their field and can help to show students what is currently happening within their area as well as all the great stuff that has happened in the past. This helps to give students a well-rounded knowledge of what, why and how they are to make their own work.

Before a student specialises, students can sit wherever they wish within our four large studio areas – but upon specialising students are all given their own purpose-built studio space in which to work. This is great for putting up inspirational images and work in progress. It is a space where we hold tutorials and group critiques where groups of students talk about work produced, it is a great way to learn from each other rather than just a tutor! – this network of friends you share a studio space with is really important and the sharing of ideas and helping each other to develop is all part of the Art Foundation experience.

During specialism you will work on specialist project briefs and start to build your portfolio for university – or employment if that is what you wish to do. All our students receive help with their progression whether the student is aiming for a top art and design university or if a student wants to look for work or take a year out. We are there to help our students with whatever they wish to do next and we always think it’s really important to have a plan and to open doors rather than close them.

Live projects, visiting speakers, contextual studies

We are always on the look out for an exciting live project and we have been fortunate to have worked with a number of different companies in the past such as; York Museum Trust, The National Trust, Tate Modern and The NHS. We are always keen to work on interesting projects that will inspire and challenge the students and there is nothing more exciting that seeing the work out there existing in the real world! We get many people come and visit us throughout the year including artists and designers who come and give inspirational talks about how they got started and projects they have worked on. They more often than not come and give tutorials to students and offer advice that is really important and beneficial. We have a gallery space at the College and we have a number of different exhibitions in the space that are there to inspire students and this might be established artists, former students returning to the College to put on a show or our current students might even decide to take over the space for a pop-up exhibition! Students also receive a weekly contextual studies lecture which is a mixture of the history of art and design, visiting speakers, films and documentaries and seminars. We think it is really important for the course to be vocational and to give you lots of different insights into how artists and designers make a living but also to give you lots of inspirational information that will help to inspire future projects.

How will I be assessed?

Throughout the course you will be given tasks and project briefs that need to be assessed. We then give you face-to-face feedback and talk through the best bits and the things that need to be developed further. This could be anything from the quality of the finish of the work, to the amount of research that should have happened. We think its important that assessment is transparent and that students know clearly what they need to do next in order to progress.

Our students are an ambitious bunch and many are striving for top grades. The final grade for the course comes at the end when students work on a Final Major Project. This project is written by the students themselves and the students make their work which is fully backed up by research, tests, experiments – sometimes lots of accidents and things going wrong – until everything comes together for a big exhibition at the end of the course. We then assess the exhibition at Pass, Merit or Distinction and this is the grade that students leave the course with. This part of the course is graded at Level 4 which is the same level as the first year of a degree course.

“We are very happy to say that many of our students get a strong grade as they are incredibly driven and really step-up for their Final Major Project. We are always so proud of the collective effort by all students and our external examiner is always very impressed”. Angela Newdick, Course Leader.

Next steps

At the end of the course our students are so much more prepared to go off to what they wish to do next, with the majority progressing to university. It is a great way to top-up UCAS points or to simply have the extra year to develop ways of working outside of mainstream education. You will be at a real advantage by having completed an Art Foundation course. Whoever thinks studying art and design is an easy subject is wrong! It is mentally and physically demanding and requires great thought and effort. The Creative Industries in the UK is something that we are famous for and last year and last year grew five times faster than any other industry in the UK and last year contributed £111.7 billion pounds to the UK economy – that’s £12.7 million pounds an hour!

Studying on the Art Foundation course is the natural next step to take if you want to get ahead within the Creative Industries. Our aim is for you to look back and consider it your favourite year within education. Our students say again and again how they wouldn’t have been ready to go straight to university and that the course has prepared them much more for the demands and rigour of continuing with art and design.

If you have any questions, or would like to discuss the Art Foundation course further, please email Course Leader, Penny Marriott at