Since I wrote last week about my mother sitting up with me until three o’clock in the morning supporting me to get my work done, I have been thinking about all those “samples” I used to have to make for college. If any of you have been to college or any form of third level education I am sure you are aware of the pressure surrounding due dates for assignments. For art school I feel it has its own kind of unique pressure in the form of the sheer volume of work that has to be produced for any or all assignments.
When I was in college, I wasn’t an out-all-night-drinking kind of student. I took my course extremely seriously (sometimes too seriously I’ll admit) but I wanted to make art my career and I have a very strong work ethic inherited from my parents. Also I think I had just come from school were 70% of the curriculum were subjects I didn’t want to pursue and the excitement of making different kinds of art every day never really wore off, I was working with my passion.
Assignments could consist of research work, visual diary development, 10-15 samples of work to support your finished piece (A3 recommended) and then 5-10 actual finished pieces of well executed art work. In my experience, if I created work during the day in college, my tutors wanted to see something new and different in the final presentation. Everything was about the development of our ideas and the ability to produce something cohesive at the end of it.
If I had five different modules and five different assignments consisting of the aforementioned course load, the pressure to produce was immense. I feel if you followed me and my classmates around our college, all you would hear emanating from our group was “Samples, Samples Samples, Samples, Samples”.
The concept for the piece I am showing you the samples from today were taken from an assignment called “Ceremonial Passage”. Our tutors would give us a heading like this and then we would have to develop and personalise the theme into expressive pieces of art.
As I have always been an avid reader, I chose to centre my project around the journey I took from early childhood picture books, to books with pictures and words combined and then finally, to the pure written word of my late childhood and beyond. I always read at night and I wanted to communicate the warm enclosed sanctuary of being wrapped in my bed clothes and disappearing into a fictional world of characters and places I had never been before. The idea was to create a shroud that could be wrapped around me while reading with images and words from the books I loved growing up and helped me develop as a person.
I wanted the top of the piece to be very colourful with lots of illustrations and rounded characters from books like “The Bad Tempered Ladybird” by Eric Carle. I then wanted it to progress into more detailed drawings, for example, the drawings from a very special book my mam brought back from a trip to
called “ America Make Way
for the Ducklings” by Robert McCloskey. I then wanted the piece to be drained
of colour as I moved into the black and white pages of “The Secret Garden” by
Frances Hodgson Burnett. I wanted the piece to celebrate my progression as
person and reader in this large ceremonial shawl.
I still like the concept I came up with for this assignment. The samples are re-worked images and illustrations from these and other books. I used pencils, chalk & oil pastels and paint to try to communicate them in my own may. I also used mixed media techniques by preparing grounds and drawing on top of them with various materials.
With 20/20 hindsight I can see by the finished piece that I was a bit ambitious with this whole thing though. There wasn’t nearly enough time to execute the shawl with the finish I wanted and on the scale I wanted. If I could go back I would make it smaller and maybe use an existing shawl rather than make everything from scratch. I was and am a perfectionist. I do like to think I am in recovery now but other people might say I am kidding myself.
I was quite often frustrated in college by not having enough time to finish things the way I wanted to. I even resented having to make the “samples” because they took so much focus away from the finished piece, the thing I would have to exhibit. I like them now as I look at them though and they do show a process. The reason we were asked to do things in college wasn’t always clear to me when I was there. I could put it down to poor or mis-communication or even just that the “institute of college” doesn’t feel the need to explain WHY you do something- just do it! Or maybe they were trying to tell me and I just didn’t get it! Anyway it makes more sense to me now and I elect to make samples myself these days even if I do twitch a little every time I start.