How to Evaluate your Art Foundation

  • SVS OG

    Art by Aaron Painter

    The path to professional illustration takes a lot of learning, a lot of hard work, and sometimes plenty of detours. This week, Jake Parker, Lee White, and Will Terry discuss the merits of the traditional four year art degree, the shortcomings of “foundations” courses at traditional colleges, and the importance of vetting your illustration professors. Can you get all the value of a four year degree in two years instead? Can you cut away the fluff from a college curriculum? There’s also a deep dive on the essential skills you need to display in your foundations portfolio.

    Click here to listen and to read the shownotes.

  • SVS OG

    @Jake-Parker wow! I never a new episode so soon. Is this a new schedule?

  • I listened to it twice and 10 min have vanished in the latest version! The (now ghost) intro was fun though!!

  • I think it depends where you see yourself in the future (if you can see yourself). I was able to have full tuition paid, all from BFA to MFA degrees, but the schools I went to were smaller, and did not have anything besides traditional media. (We didn't even have computer labs.)

    At school, we did not get any instruction in how to network, sell work, or art business in general, or how to make a living with what we learned, which led me to have to learn all that on my own.

    If you see yourself as teaching down the road, then I feel having an MFA is very helpful, because University positions require it. If not, then I think you can cut the fluff, and make your own plan. BUT, like it was said during the podcast, you might make valuable connections at live classes that you wouldn't make when just learning on your own. Since when I graduated, online learning has boomed. I learned everything about picture book illustration from SVS and from Lilla Rogers PB class. I'm now working on my second book that will be published later this year.

    I think the most important thing that everyone should learn, is composition, and then everything else is built up on it - posing people/animals in your pictures, and how expression and body language relate to the viewer. If you can get those down, then everything else is just building on those, no matter where you go from there.

    All of us learn differently, and there's no one solution. Students have have different motivation levels. Some might do great with independent study online, and some really need a live class to be accountable for. So it's important to be aware of all options, and great that we have them.

  • Moderator

    Wow. This episode brought up SO much I want to speak to...

    First, college is not a vocational degree. That's a Baby Boomer paradigm we've inherited after the GI's that came back from WWII and then went to school on the GI Bill. English doesn't prepare you to get a job. Philosophy doesn't either. Nor History, nor Political Science, nor Communication Studies, or Gender or Women's Studies, or any Foreign Language, nor Psychology or Music... Not even the Sciences or Business in most ways--they don't lead directly to jobs but internships if you're lucky. None of those fields are directly vocational prep. So, in a way, it's not surprising that Art in Higher Education doesn't deal with business, networking, or anything about the actual career of being an artist. It's not supposed to. It's supposed to expose you to concepts, facilitate practice opportunities, and teach you a way of thinking. How you apply that information MUST be left up to you, as so many things can be done with it. No one needs a degree in English to be a professional writer, nor a foreign language to work abroad, nor a background in political science to be a politician. No one needs a theatre degree to be an actor. So what's a degree for? Every student has to answer that question for themselves.

    That's why fundamentals classes are so broad. It's up to the student to make them relevant for themselves. They must ask themselves, "What am I getting out of this that is useful? How can I apply this information? I paid good money for this class--how do I make it worth it? Do I know enough about my future and what I need to learn to determine if this class is actually irrelevant to me, or do I just think it is?" Because getting an education isn't about pouring information into one's brain like tea into a teacup.

    I deal with this every day as a part-time benefits-based adjunct instructor teaching theatrical costuming, as parents want a return on investment for the opportunity to get a degree that they're paying for. Education is not a commodity. They're not paying for a degree. They're paying for an opportunity to get one within the curriculum provided. It's not a vending machine that you pop your quarters into and out comes a fancy piece of paper. It's a structure. That's it. And that structure varies from institution to institution.

    Secondly, I have to beg to differ about the quality of Adjunct instructors. My fellow adjunct colleagues are not post-professional expert volunteers, they're working at 2 or 3 different institutions simultaneously to make ends meet as well as balancing professional commitments outside of education. They're professional practitioners and professional teachers.

    But new faculty members being left to flail in the wind without any mentoring or guidance or perspective regarding how their class is relevant to the department's curriculum AND the futures of the students is more and more common. Hire a plug-and-play instructor and that's what you'll get. Faculties are obligated to help instructors learn to teach, and they're not doing it.

    Which brings up my third point: Why can't anyone remember that there are no required credentials for teaching higher education? Unlike high school, which demands certifications and continual re-education on a strict timeline, Higher Ed assumes that if you're a successful professional you should naturally be able to teach your field of choice and all the fundamentals important to achievement in that field. I'm amazed and stupefied that people don't know that. This is why I embraced SVSLearn and dropped my subscription to Schoolism. You all are teachers. Your professional success is great, but that doesn't qualify you to know how to share the information you've learned. You garnered that through actual teaching experience.

    That being said, In 1870 there were 9,400 Bachelor of Arts degrees awarded in the US, no Masters degrees, and 1 Doctorate. In 2009, there were 1,600,000 BAs awarded, 657,000 MAs awarded, and 67,000 Doctorates. (That's not even counting specific degrees like BFAs or BSEs or Associates degrees earned at community colleges.)

    In 1900, there were less than 1,000 colleges and universities in the United States. By 2015, the Washington Post counted 5300.

    Where do we think all those schools and degree programs get their teachers? Did we suddenly get a landslide of professional practitioners who are also good teachers, all within three or four generations? Of course not. So is it any wonder the quality of an education has declined?

    Lastly, I have to say that it is surprising how many students abnegate their own responsibilities in their own education. Will has talked about this before--how students complain about homework hoops they have to jump through, never understanding they're paying for the opportunity to do that very homework. We come from a no-child-left-behind culture where we learn only to answer the questions on a test, take dictation on our laptops instead of actually listening to lectures & taking notes that require mental attention and summarization, and have become inseparable in classrooms from the dopamine delivered by phone texts and social media posts. I can't be responsible for a student's lack of desire to be a diligent partner in their own education. I can only set them up to learn how to educate themselves when they finally decide they're ready.

    As Higher Ed teachers we do have a responsibility to justify our content to our students. It's those that aren't doing that very well that end up with students who wonder why they took those classes in the first place. It may not be the content that's wrong, but the capacity of teachers to teach it well and make it relevant.

  • @Jake-Parker, re: 27:14 (on YouTube) I had some excellent teachers at Sacramento City College that covered basic design principles.

    I don't know if they taught design principles on the art side, since I was taking Photography & Graphic Design classes (which are in the Technology division at SCC). I was happy these classes were in the Sciences (instead of Arts), because they had a practical application approach & teachers talked about careers a little. I also liked that the school hires teachers who've worked or are currently working in that field.

  • @Will-Terry, re: 32:02 (on YouTube)
    What if schools had a basic design class, but students could submit assignments in any format?

    For example, if you're talking about the rule of thirds, they could draw, take a photo, or create a page layout or digital image—as long as it fulfilled the assignment & demonstrated the principle being taught. It would be a little more difficult for the instructor, but if the class was just basic design principles, that should be apparent in any medium or format.

  • @Coreyartus I agree with all you said, and with your background you're more qualified to speak on this subject than I am. However, I am a baby boomer (on the young side, which in my opinion can make a difference when it comes to our ideals, just saying), and we had both vocational schools and universities when I went to college (graduated in 1984). We never expected to learn vocational skills unless we went to a vocational school. This paradigm shift started in the mid to late 90's I would say. Our society is made up of all generations, making decisions and dealing with change on-going all together, so I wouldn't necessarily pin this shift (or any other) on just baby boomers. This isn't the forum for this type of discussion, so I appolgize for that. However, I have been hearing this 'baby boomer bashing' more and more lately and felt something needed to be said.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG

    @Coreyartus Jake, Will, and I totally agree with you about adjunct artists. They are the ones who are typically working in the field and still have a grasp of what is current in the market. The snag is that they get thrown into the mix of a university system and they may have to teach a class without much notice (i was asked to teach a class with a 1 day notice at PNCA college of art!). They work their butts off and they are the ones keeping the wheels on the bus.

    It's the faculty instructors that are put in a difficult situation too. They are asked to teach between 3-5 classes a week (some which they may not have any experience in), and go to a bunch of meetings and admin stuff for the university, and then THEY ARE ASKED TO KEEP WORKING IN THEIR FIELD! That is an impossible task. There simply isn't enough hours in the day. In fact, at my university I said "I will not go to any more meetings at all if you are asking me to be a professional in my field. But if you tell me it's not important to work in the field, I'll go to meetings. But I can't do both". They didn't like that answer, but it was true. At that point I was the only full time faculty member still doing a full time amount of professional work on the side. Most of the others had quit actual professional practice and just painted or whatever on the side a little bit.

    My point in both scenarios is that it's not the teachers fault and I REALLY want to get the point across that we don't blame them. The teachers are the saviors. They put in the time and effort and I had some GREAT ones. They make it work in spite of the obstacles and they are heros to me.

  • There are a few things that students that are attending art school benefit from that systems like svslearn cant really provide. But perhaps cant provide just yet.

    1. Connections. Being able to work with instructors and students face to face builds your network and increases your opportunities for job placement when you’re done with school.

    2. Scholarships and grants. I have realized that since I am not a student, even though I’d like to pursue an illustration career, no matter the level of my drive I dont have access to the same resources. Such as scholarships, grants, internships, discounted memberships to organizations such as SCBWI and Society of Illustrators, etc, that are only available to matriculated college students.

    3. Actual career guidance. Many colleges are evaluated based on their job placement in fields related to their majors. They have career offices that have partnerships companies and studios that recruit from the schools, post job openings and internships that only students attending those schools can apply for.

    So there are advantages of going to an art school over being self taught/self directed.

    I cant go back to school at this point in my life, I cant afford to, so I’m glad that svslearn has started the 1 on 1 reviews for people willing to pay for it I think thats a great leap in the right direction. I’m hoping that in the future SVSlearn eventually has some kind programs and assistance similar to those of colleges that are not only offered to students of colleges. Like for example, internship placement or scholarship offers based on portfolios. But of course that would require the meaning of what higher education learning to change in order to include a well developed system like SVSlearn to count.

    I’ve tried schoolism, and dang a lot of those classes spend sooo much time filling their lessons with what I call fluff, and not enough talk about technique or demonstrations of the theory in practice. It’s kind of a fend for yourself thing which can be so frustrating.

  • SVS Team SVS Instructor Pro SVS OG


    I'dl ike to speak to those 3 points because a lot of people have those concerns.

    Connections: You absolutely do get connections going to a regular school. The face to face time is very valuable and I would highly recommend anyone taking online classes to take a few regular classes at a local college. Or, do immersion programs like the Illustration Academy 3 and 6 week courses. I would say working along side other artists is a biggest value of a traditional school.

    Scholarships and Grants: I had my whole tuition paid for in college and it can be a life saver getting these. In fact, I would only recommend going to a regular school if you have a good amount of scholarship and grant help. Otherwise the debt you accumulate outweighs the benefit of the school.

    Actual Career Guidance: This is where I'm going to disagree a bit. After seeing career guidance for both my undergrad and graduate program, as well as 12 years teaching at an art college, career guidance for illustrators is almost non existent or is highly inconsistent. For graphic design or concept jobs (regular staff positions), the career guidance works much better. But illustration is extremely difficult for a person in charge of career guidance to manage that it doesn't work that well. Our industry just doesn't work that way. We don't have the "help wanted" type jobs that other professions do.

  • @Lee-White ok I see that’s actually helpful to know. I have been seeing a lot of “illustration internships” that are offered by different art studios and animation studios that I cant even apply for.

    Also do you, Lee, ever put in recommendations in for your students in places that look for artists? Like animation studios or something?

    I’ve learned that I do need to push myself a bit more than someone who goes to art school not in terms of skill but in areas that are outside technical skills, like design, theory, concepts, and execution. Which isn't a complaint, I feel much more accomplished when I brainstorm new portfolio ideas I want to make and complete them. And if that doesn't achieve the goal I set for myself I’m in a better position because of the work ive done in order to reevaluate what i need to do next. A lot of the confidence in the self guidance stuff is really thanks to SVSlearn.

  • I loved this episode, and I'm trying to progress through the beginning curriculum but I was actually hoping for one thing that didn't really get fleshed out in the podcast: How do you know when you should move to the next class/course?

    I went to art school for sculpture (glass) and I did a lot of foundation drawing classes meant for the masses as you all mentioned in the podcast and I feel very similar to Will in that I feel like I have to re-learn to draw (especially for illustration). Now that I am trying to start over and fill in any gaps using SVS courses, I am just not sure when I should move on as there doesn't seem to be a way to "pass" the class as such. Should I be submitting work to the forums and asking there to know if I should move on? I was hoping there would be more time in the podcast that talked explicitly for the courses available as to how to know when to move to the next class.

    A related question I have is should I generally be working on the course content in relation to a finished piece or scene rather than a specific standalone figure/prop/thing? In sports there are many forms of practice that relate to working on targeted technique and skill, but there is generally nothing like practicing under the conditions of actual gameplay as it tends to tie everything together.

    I look forward to every new podcast and class and I truly appreciate the amazing service you are providing the art community.



  • This episode really hit home hard.
    Also, foundation credits transfer over from school to school while being far from comparable, in which case students are thrown into advanced classes and immediately sabotaged. But that would be a whole separate subject of colleges being a Business vs Educational facility.

  • Hello friends,

    Maybe this isn't the appropriate place but I was looking for the episode where Will talks about self-deception and drawing skills, do any of you know what podcast this is from?

  • SVS OG

    @Tiago-Pinto hi! Can you describe it more?

  • @Nyrryl-Cadiz Will talks about how through self deception and "his own style" prevented him from working on his sketching habilities and bettering his own draftsmanship, becoming better at drawing. I just wanted to know because I think it's pretty relevant and I'm making a podcast playlist on Spotify, so..

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