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Kingston University talk: Art and Design degrees and how to choose your specialism

04 Jan, 2019
Kingston University talk: Art and Design degrees and how to choose your specialism

Kings Brighton recently welcomed Dr Jake Abrams, Admissions Tutor in the Department of Illustration Animation at Kingston School of Art, Kingston University, to speak to students who are thinking of pursuing a degree in the arts in the future. In a talk titled 'Creative Futures', Jake spoke to our students about the different ways of going forward with their creativity, and the various Art and Design degrees open to them at university and beyond.

An alumnus of Kingston himself, Jake studied Illustration and is a well-established practising editorial illustrator, designer and artist as well as university tutor.

Studying Art and Design in the UK

Jake started his talk by describing how specialised Art and Design degree courses are in the UK, particularly in comparison to the USA. He commented:

"In the UK, a lot of courses are very specialised, so they are really aimed at specific industries. If you wanted to study Interior Design, you have a course that is all about Interior Design, every day of the week. If you were studying in the US, quite often you could study Interior Design, Geography, a language… it's a very different sort of structure here."

Deciding your specialism

Students listening to Jake's talk in the Art Studio.His advice to the students in the audience was to start researching the different courses as soon as possible — also to research the artists/ designers that they admire:

"You've got to do your research, think about those artists and designers that you love, and really interrogate their practise. What do they do every day, how did they get there, what sort of education did they go through? You've got to do that research and then you can say, I can do that too."

The next part of the session focussed on the specific degree courses available at Kingston, which mirror many of those at other top arts universities.

Below is a summary of the courses covered, and Jake's insights into the various specialisms and which types of students they best suit.

BA (Hons) Graphic Design

On a BA in Graphic Design there's lots of experimenting with process, and it's about ideas and strategy. A lot of graphic designers work in teams, they like working and coming up with concepts together. They work with design groups and real clients.

Often, graphic designers go into areas such as design journalism, design writing, advertising, type design, art direction, corporate identity, service design, photography, interactive design, exhibition design, and motion graphics.

BA (Hons) Fine Art

A course in Fine Art is well suited to students who like 'doing their own thing'. In this programme, project briefs are not set for you — students set their own briefs and there are subject workshops that they follow with the help of a personal tutor.

As Jake commented:

"On a Fine Art course — and there are lots of really good ones across the UK — there is real freedom. If you are that sort of creative who thinks, 'I want to do my own stuff, have my own time and my own space' then a Fine Art course might be the right course for you."

This particular specialism definitely requires students to be self-motivated. In particular it can suit people who are entrepreneurial, and who can be pushy about their work so that they can instigate exhibitions and gain artist-in-residence positions.

At Kingston it is a very wide course, not just about painting and sculpture. It amalgamates printmaking, installation, video and sound art, performance and photographic art.

Fine Art students can also go into areas such as curation, gallery management, art administration, teaching and lecturing, and theatre design.

BA (Hons) Fashion

Students who select this route will enjoy making clothes and will be constantly looking at materials — knowing how to draw and cut clothes is very important. The course is about being experimental, but really understanding the fashion market as well.

This is a particularly intense course and therefore students who are interested in it must be very driven.

Kingston University is very well-known for its BA (Hons) Fashion course, ranked second in the world as the place to study fashion. Most graduates go on to become designers but the course can also lead to careers in fashion marketing, fashion photography, fashion buying and art direction.

BA (Hons) Product & Furniture Design

Product & Furniture Design students must be clever with ideas and making prototypes, and be thoughtful about design, materials and processes.

This practical, workshop-based course can lead to work designing for retailers such as John Lewis, Heals, Habitat; furniture and product designers; big names such as Lego, Dyson, Sony and many more.

At Kingston, there are a lot of live projects working with some really good clients, working out real strategies for development.

BA (Hons) Illustration Animation

Students on this course will cover components such as:

  • Character design
  • Drawing (a lot of)
  • Storytelling
  • Experimental design ideas
  • Responding to (a lot of) briefs, providing the opportunity to create an independent visual language

Jake's advice was that students should keep a sketchbook with them and be drawing all the time. Drawing doesn't have to be done in a very formal way. On the course they draw in different ways, such as in a life class and on location, which is encouraged — thinking about materials and how people and places interact.

One particular thing to bear in mind is that there are a lot of illustrators out there, so you have got to produce something different to stand out.

Award-winning animation by Kingston student Jennifer Zheng

BA (Hons) Architecture

BA Architecture courses can be vary greatly. It worth bearing in mind that some universities offer their BA Architecture in the Engineering faculty, but places like Kingston do BA Architecture in the Art, Design and Architecture faculty.

Zaha Hadid is a great example of a creative architect, and one important point that Jake made here was that women can make it really well to the top of creative industries and in architecture.

Creative and Cultural Industries courses

Students listening to Jake's talk in the Art Studio.At Kingston, as at other universities, there are creative business courses worth thinking about too. Students interested in working in creative and cultural industries might be more interested in the fashion business, or in Art Direction and the business of commissioning people.

Specialist degrees include:

These are all exciting areas, and are as much about leadership as being a designer. Graduates will go into areas such as marketing, design, advertising, social design, events organising, art direction, production and concept art.

BA (Hons) Interior Design

This course is ideal for students who are interested in architecture but also interested in interiors of spaces, and how they can be challenged and reinvented.

Interior designers will start with mood boards, and consider existing spaces and materials within them, reimagining those spaces.

Film & Photography

Jake's advice to students considering these specialisms was to think about whether they want to go in a commercial direction (such as fashion or graphic design photography) or more artistic direction before applying to a course, as they do differ according to the university. Kingston, for example, is more artistic therefore would suit students who prefer this approach.

Art and Design portfolio workshop

Jake returned to Kings a few months after his first talk to host an art portfolio workshop with A-level and Art and Design Foundation students from Kings Brighton, Bournemouth, London and Oxford. He was again an engaging presenter and had a lot of experience with portfolios, as both a Tutor and in Admissions.

Students heard Jake talk in detail about what makes a successful portfolio, from the physicality through to the content, as well as UCAS and writing fantastic and custom-made personal statements. It was very useful for students to see physically what makes a successful portfolio, and also learn what sort of artwork it should contain in order to wow Admissions staff at top universities.

At the end, students asked thoughtful questions and ended up having a clear idea of what they now need to do. They came away with lots of ideas and information in regards to gaining an interview and also understanding good practise whilst being interviewed.