Education is about getting it right, achieving and moving on. But when did getting it right all the time make for the best outcome?
Certainly in the art classroom and in the life of many artists and designers, getting it wrong can be as much a learning experience as getting it right!
Great art is not always made by making the right decisions every time and often it’s by reflecting on some of those ‘wrong’ decisions that we can go on to be successful.
Starting a new piece of art work or on a new idea can be quite daunting – even a new page in your sketchbook! There is always the pressure that it must be a good piece, particularly if it is for an exam or for your portfolio in application for art college. This doesn’t leave much room or time for experimental art.
From experience we know very well what works and what perhaps doesn’t work, so well therefore we often stick to this set of rules.
However, if you always do only what you know is going to produce good results with your drawing for example and you don’t explore and experiment then you are missing out on so many possibilities to express yourself. You are cutting out many avenues that might take you to the very best work you have ever produced. You are denying yourself of the experience and joy of experimental art.
The reason why we are writing this blog post is on Friday last week we started the sketchbook development part of the portfolio building course in Haddington. Our students come from North Berwick High School and Dunbar Grammar on a Friday afternoon to do extra work for their art portfolios in preparation for their applications to art college.
As part of the course we are following Portfolio Oomph’s Sketchbook Development eCourse. In this eCourse, the main emphasis is casting your net really wide in terms of what you are going to study, drawing and explore. We use many different techniques to gather this research which will I assure you push you to your limits and take you out of your comfort zone. This can be a bit scary but it is good fun, takes the pressure off and really gets you engaged in experimental art. This research is gathered in your sketchbook and forms the basis for you to begin the creative process (illustration below left).
When you go for interview for art college or you send your portfolio off to be reviewed the tutors are going to be looking for evidence of this creative process – warts and all. The important thing about demonstrating the creative process is that you are able to show this experimentation, exploration, your reflection, change of path etc. and the whole process that goes towards creating the final resolved pieces. It’s important that you can show how you have selected ideas that are good and you want to pursue but also how and why you have dismissed ideas that you don’t want to pursue for whatever reason. The Colleges want to see all this process in your sketchbooks to understand your thinking process and to assess your potential as an artist or designer.
Many of the art college have built into their assessment criteria on course that students are to be recognized when they attempt something ambitious and experimental. It is important to attempt things and learn from the things that might not go right. This great quote from Carl Jung explains how as artists and designers we need play, explore, experiment to find the way forwards to a creative solution.
So next time you do a drawing or do a page in your sketchbook and tear it out for the rubbish, remember this is an important part of the creative process and that you will be credited not only for the great work that you produce but for the experimentation and decision making that goes into creating that great final piece.
Portfolio Oomph was created in 2012 by artist and lecturer Julie Read (BA Hons, PGCE) to assist individuals with their applications for art college. She has worked for 17 years in further education and art college and has exhibited her own art extensively, both nationally and internationally.

Julie Read
“I enjoyed the relaxed but proactive atmosphere, learning new techniques and the tutor support when feeling stuck. I feel quite excited to take what I’ve learnt here further and do more workshops. I would definitely recommend Portfolio Oomph.” Margaret Hume (Ideas and sketchbook development workshop participant)
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