View Full Version : UK art qualifications/mature students/seeking a life in Art

03-14-2003, 03:53 PM
Hello all

Don't think I've ever posted in this forum before. I hope I don't bore anyone. Just going through one of those life crises... this one seems to recur every couple of months :D

I'd like to sign up to do 'A' level Art & Design at a local college of continuing education in September and am wondering whether any among you are UK WC'ers and are studying, or have studied, for a qualification in art as a mature student ~ and if so, whether you can offer me any advice.

I did 'O' level Art 17 years ago ~ didn't learn anything from it, though I passed the exam, and then went on to study languages. My 'career path' has taken me from bookselling to private language tuition to EFL teacher to editor: all wordy professions, none of which have really allowed me to indulge my interest in the visual arts, which I feel is a real shame, since as a child I was the kid who entertained the teachers by drawing illustrations in her schoolbooks to accompany essays and compositions... I have always loved art and was even dissuaded from taking History of Art at 'A' level by parents and teachers who believed it would be of little use to me in whatever career I chose.
In short, I feel life that is passing me by without my having explored the possibilities of art as a career.

Not wanting to sound too melodramatic, I do find myself increasingly depressed in the mornings at the thought of having to crawl out of bed and spend another miserable day in my hated 9-5. Scheduling, project management and budget reports are what my days now consist of. They are things I'm terrible at, and I don't enjoy them. Art, meanwhile, is what literally brings colour to my life. Twice in my adult life I have gone through periods of serious depression and both times I found myself rejecting words and turning instead to drawing as a release.

In the decade since I left university and became a 'useful' taxpaying member of society I've found myself, despite self-doubt about my abilities, coming back to art every couple of years or so and have dabbled in coloured pencil, watercolour, acrylics and now pastels. My fellow pastellists here at WC have been so encouraging ~ this is such an inspiring place!! ~ and the idea of pursuing further education in art seems to be making more and more sense to me now. I find myself sitting in local cafťs thinking, 'well, I could paint a few pictures and exhibit them here...' and since discovering pastels Iím turning the small guest room of our rented house into a Ďstudioí of sorts... Now Iím really thinking that I should take ĎAí level Art because that seems to be the best way to at least open up the possibility of an art course at higher or degree level in the future. Iíve also read, however, that for mature students with experience of and interest in art but no formal art qualifications in the subject, an Access course could be more appropriate as this will then allow you to do an HND or GNVQ in an art-related subject, and then a degree if necessary ~ but Iím not sure if thatís specifically for those who in general have few academic qualifications.

If anyone can give me any advice at all on this subject, in the forum or via PM, I'd be extremely grateful. I realise that many of you here aren't from the UK and so cannot advise on courses but I'm sure others, wherever in the world you are, must have felt similar yearnings at some point and must have experience of going back to school or of deciding to make art a bigger part of your lives. PS I'm 32. I know it's not ancient but this year has been the first time I've ever had frequent and sustained thoughts along the lines of 'Life's just too short'.

Thanks for reading.

Rose Queen
03-14-2003, 10:02 PM
I can't give you any advice on the UK system, but I will strongly encourage you to listen to the "life's too short" voice. Take me as your cautionary example. I was so strongly discouraged from art and anything else "impractical" that I became a career bureaucrat and left the art to others, figuring I'd catch up when I retired. In exchange for the "security," I got lifelong depression and retired with breast cancer.

Trust your instincts; life really is too short, particularly to spend it doing what you hate and having no time for what you love.

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03-15-2003, 07:27 AM
Thank you Rose Queen for taking the trouble to reply to my rambling post. I'm glad you are finally getting the chance to do what you love.

03-15-2003, 02:34 PM

I know the feeling about returning to school after a long absence. I myself will be going back to school this year as well. A few years ago I had thought about going to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD), but was strongly dissuaded by my girlfriend at the time. She wanted me to get a more practical education. Since we were planning on spending our lives together at the time, I listened...I figured I would try to make her happy rather than be happy with what I was doing. So, I took some courses on MCSE certification (to the tune of $15,000 for 7 months of training) to fulfill her request. Well, I lost my decent job before I even left school...schedule constraints burned me out. I was going to school from 6-10pm Monday through Friday and working 11pm - 7am on those days as well, I was out of the house from 5pm-7:30am every day...adding in study time for my classes and I slept a grand total of 4-5 hours a night. I did well in the first two months...but after that the wheels fell off and I started missing work. After I got out, I looked for jobs in my industry...it took me 6 months of being unemployed to get there, and when I did it only lasted about 4 months before the place I was working folded. I was out of work for another 3 months until I saw one of my former employers was filling a position I had vacated years ago...it wasn't much, but it was work. Taking this job prevented me from getting better jobs eventually, so I quit last Dec. after about 9 months of working there. Now I have been unemployed again for 3+ months...if you add it up, I have not worked for 1 of the past 2 years now. I was far better off before going to school...had I kept the job I was in I would probably be a supervisor now...and my pay rate would have nearly doubled. I know I would be there because I was a kind of heir apparent for the next opening and everyone there had a general consensus that I should get that spot.

Am I sore? You bet I am! Trying to fulfill the desires of someone else cost me my job, some of my health, my self confidence, and worst of all...the girl left last year after saying I had no career direction. So, what did I get for going to school for someone else? $15,000 in debt and little to show for it, save for a few months of work, some of which I didn't get paid for. Would I have been happier going to school for art? Maybe. I know I would have heard a lot of pissing and moaning about not doing something practical. But at least I could point to it and say..."doing that made me happy. I love art, I want to create to the best of my ability, this helped me on my way by teaching me things I might not have learned on my own". Even if it didn't help me "get out there", I know I would have taken away some valuable things in technique and composition. I would have felt that I had grown personally, instead I get to look at the balance on a student loan that has done me no good...and watch as the girl I did it for looks for other people that fit in more with regular society. So far I know she has pursued a pilot, a military boy, a physical therapy master's student, and now possibly one of her high school teachers. She tells me she likes them better because they have a "real" future.

That's ok though...if that's what she wants, that's what she'll get. One thing she probably won't get from most people is the honesty and respect I gave her. Most people have things they feel the need to hide, I'm not one to hide anything. I always lay it out there for her, sometimes I might need a couple days to think about it...to get the words right or just get it straight in my head. But, she always knows.

And by the way, this time I am going for me...not for art though. I am going to study Psychology with a minor in Computer Science. I figure that the CS minor, along with my certifications will open some doors so I can get a good or at least decent job after I get my B.S. That way I can continue on with my studies...I know I want to be in Psychology, I find it endlessly interesting and I find it a chance to help many. Part of this is also going to be the ability to stick my proverbial thumb in her eye, at the end...I will be a PhD. And I am even considering going to Med School after that (yes, I would be nearly geriatric when I got out and completed my residencies) to study Psychiatric Medicine. Kind of a big "F-YOU" to those who have sold me short in life...I may be a dreamer...but I am a dreamer with the ability to learn just about anything I desire to do so. She and her family lit a fire under my ass by saying so many negative things about me...now it's time to douse the flames with gasoline...and be as successful as possible! On the flip side...even though I just began painting again, I am looking more into artist associations (because of this site) to join in with...competitions to enter...and even looking in to the various Resident Artist programs that are out there. I'm going to be moving to Memphis, TN., I feel that it should be a very good place to launch a career from. It's a tourist destination...with some galleries on the main tourist drag. I think it should be a good place to get noticed over the next few years.

Maybe I am hoping for too much...I mean, could I really be so charmed as to be able to complete school, support myself, and get some sort of art career going? Oddly enough, it doesn't sound all that overwhelming...down there I will have no obligation to anyone but myself. I have time for all my studies, personal and scholarly.

P.S. Don't worry too much about going back to school. A guy I know is going to be graduation with his B.A. in Nursing by the end of the year...and I think he'll be about 33 when he is done. He said it's actually been kind of cool to be there at the age he is now. I've been lucky enough to talk to a handfull of people that go to the University of Memphis, and one of them said "You'll probably be quite popular among the young girls there." This isn't something I worry about...but it is nice to hear something like that coming from someone that is already there.

03-15-2003, 03:08 PM
artcreator ~ thanks very much for sharing your experiences.

Your talking about the expectations of your ex reminds me that what others expect of me is precisely what has always made me fearful and continues to hold me back. I love my parents but I realise how ridiculous it is, at my age, to be allowing their more traditional views on what life's important achievements should be [having a well-paid job, getting a mortgage, owning a car] to have power over what I do with my life, but wow, those worries about disapproval and failure are really ingrained in me. I'm fortunate enough to be married to a wonderful man who is enthusiastic about my love of art and says I should do whatever I believe will make me happy, though of course practical concerns [ie the cost of living!] mean I'm not about to just ditch my job ~ tho I wish I could! I guess doing the 'A' level as an evening class over the next two years would be a step in the right direction. Meanwhile, I'll work on getting some pictures together to exhibit in modest local venues. I might even feel a bit freer and more able to look for a different job when I know that I'm taking my art seriously and have got my studies of it simmering away in the background.

Good luck with the psychology. Hopefully at the end of your studies you'll have some insight to share on why those close to us so often seek to trap us in the narrow confines of their own preconceptions and expectations ~ and, of course, why we let them :)

03-16-2003, 06:06 AM
Hi E-J!

I'm in the UK too and discovered art later too (though from the opposite angel - I'd done my studying in other subjects).

Firstly, I think you should go for it if you want to! Definitely!

There are different ways of going about it. I really don't know much about the UK education system before university (I'm from the US originally). You may want to ask local art schools and colleges if you *have* to have the A levels - some may make an exception for a mature student, or you may just have to do an exam or something. Basically, I'd ask around because you may find a school is quite happy to take you without the A level background. Isn't there also an Open Art University or somethign in Cambridge? I'm sure I've seen leaflets for it but don't know what type of instruction it is. It might be home-based in which case I wouldn't do it myself. Art needs to be hand-on. But still worth checking it out...

You should also decide if you want a degree in art. You dont need it to make and sell your art. It's tricky getting on the exhibition ladder but not impossible. It took me about a year to build up some local shows and exhibitions. That's far less time than it would have taken me to do a degree.

Remember too that you can study without aiming for a degree! I don't know what's available in Cambridge but in London most of the art colleges offer classes that are open to anyone. So you can take an intro to printmaking class one term, beginner life drawing another, and so on. It's a fantastic way to try different things and get a lot of instruction. And you don't have to take the lecture/history type classes. Nothing wrong with those but I found I didn't want that type of study by the time I was painting. I just wanted to work on art, any kind of art, and learn new skills. I also took classes at about 3 different colleges at different times because they offered different kinds of classes. If you go around to colleges, museums and galleries there should be leaflets for classes too (I'd imagine Kettle's Yard has some info, and they might even do classes there.)

Hope that gives you some ideas anyway. I'm trying to think if there's anywhere you could go for advice...maybe one of the colleges has a career advise office or something?

(P.s. I'm 32 too! It must be a magic age!)

03-16-2003, 11:21 AM
Thanks so much Tina for your input :) You'd think Cambridge would be the most fabulous place for learning but in fact, most courses here are geared towards those who are already students and don't have full-time commitments in the day: there's apparently a great life drawing class which takes place on a Monday afternoon, for example... some classes take place at the university colleges and are restricted to uni students only... and I've grown weary of the lack of response to my enquiries from overworked, disorganised Enrolments desks. One college told me that my enrolment form couldn't be accepted until a certain date, but that when that date arrived, I had better submit it immediately, that very day, or I would probably not get in!! :rolleyes: A sign that there is certainly the demand for these courses, wouldn't you say?

It's funny you should mention Kettle's Yard as last year I attended two or three Saturday Drawing sessions there ~ they were enjoyable, but I'm looking for more of a structured course, in painting media [pastels and/or acrylics]. I've just found out that one of the colleges here will be running a 10-week course in 'Creative Still Life' from May, so I intend to sign up for that.

I really appreciate your suggestions, and the comments of all three of you who have responded to my post :)

03-16-2003, 03:54 PM
Does Floodlight only cover London? Not sure... it's a catalog with all the courses in it (all subject areas). It's great for finding part-time stuff. My only other thought is you could enroll somewhere central in London and have a day out once a week or something. Cit Lit is very good. North London would be more convenient for you since trains from Cambridge go to Kings X, but I'm in south London so I'm not very familiar with north of the river.

What I originally did was found an artist giving private lessons. I stayed with her for about 3 years and it was a great experience. She had posted an ad in a local shop window, but maybe you could also ask around at co-ops and galleries? We have quite a lot of printmakers co-operative galleries down here and most of the printmakers also paint. Perhaps you could find someone to give you one-on-one lessons once a week or so? The nice thing about finding a painter-printmaker is that you can explore more than one medium too. The woman who taught me worked in oils, watercolours, etching and collographs. So I got to play a lot! I paid about £10 a hour or £30 for a long afternoon - about the same cost as a college class. Many many full time artists do private lessons, even I give computer lessons as a side earner.

If I find any other leads I'll let you know. :) Actually, I'm really surprised how few came up in a Cambridge google search. :( Here's some to start:
A gallery with art classes: http://www.businessarts.co.uk/
Cambridge artists: http://www.camopenstudios.co.uk/ Maybe contact some for lessons?
These look like art & craft shops? Not sure. They might post leaflets for lessons, etc. http://www.locallife.co.uk/cambridge/artsandcrafts3.asp
Try a postcode search here: http://www.artcourses.co.uk/durn/dur26.htm


03-16-2003, 04:03 PM
Tina ~ you're very sweet, thank you for the links. Finding someone for one-to-one lessons is an excellent idea ~ when the Open Studios begin in July I'll see about meeting a few local artists. Thanks for the suggestion!

03-16-2003, 04:04 PM
Hi EJ - You can do the BTEC in Art and Design - fabulous course, and you can do it in two years if you are prepared to give up virtually all of your waking time to do it!! (The actual attendance at college time is usually 1.5 - 2 days per week for the 2 year course.)

At the end of it, you are qualified, as a mature student, to go on to do a degree - if that is what your heart craves and your situation will allow. Actually, I'm sure it is possible to get onto a Fine Art course (or even a design course) without this, but I found it was well worth doing.

Best wishes,


03-16-2003, 04:24 PM
Thanks Ann. I guess I need to make some serious decisions about whether I'm going to fit my study in part-time or rearrange my whole working life... Will investigate the BTEC. Cheers.

03-18-2003, 03:28 AM
You have all ready been given all the advice you need.....but just to give you a little heart:

I began painting in my thirties, after a career in the business world. This is what I did:
1. I first went to evening classes, and then found a private class which I went to every week.
2. After two years of this, I realised I wanted more, and approached a college of art. They told me to go and do a bit more life drawing and then apply. I ONLY HAD '0' LEVELS AT THE TIME, and was very much a "mature student".
3. I did a few more life classes, and then took a portfolio of work along to the art school, and was accepted for a 1 year foundation course, full time.

After that, I did a further three years on an illustration course, which actually, I feel was a complete waste of time, except for the instruction I had from one excellent tutor in the first year. I stuck to it, however, and have never looked back since .

Of course, if you have to work to earn a living, this is much harder - I had worked for 12 years, and had produced my kids, and so my husband was happy to support me.

Doing an A level, or a BTec or somesuch, is good for discipline and information; working with a private tutor would be good too, provided they are good.

HOWEVER I also do know quite a few successful working artists who have no qualifications or training whatsoever, but have made it entirely on their own, simply by doing it, and by doing LOTS of reading of art instruction books, books on the methods of the old masters - everything they could lay their hands on. Reading the text as well as looking at the pictures! Committment is essential.

Whatever you decide......I wish you much success.


03-18-2003, 03:33 AM
Thanks Jackie ~ I am mightily encouraged on learning that you didn't begin painting till you were in your thirties! Thank you for your input. I've had some really helpful, supportive replies here and I realise all that remains is for me to make a decision about what my path will be, and to commit to it. It will be an interesting time :) Thanks all.