Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Thinking Ahead - Choosing Your Specialist Area

As a directed study activity this month you should spend some time to research your options for specialising in the second year of the course, this is an important decision and the more you can find out about the potential choices the better, here is a brief introduction to some of the main possibilities:
Specialist Areas

Fine Art



Three Dimensional Design




Film and Photography

Each of the above areas is an umbrella term for a variety of sub-specialisations that can be found within these disciplines.

Fine Art

Fine Art course cover painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography and film.  Most courses are modular and follow a fairly diagnostic first year, where differing areas are experienced with the intentions of specialising within the second year.  There are still a few which require you to opt beforehand. 

If you intend to follow Fine Art you need to be very self motivated, have good drawing skills, and be a person that is interested in ideas.  All courses will expect you to have your own visual language and body of work that is more or less self motivated.  Don’t consider Fine Art if you thrive upon other people’s starting points.  Colleges will expect you to work unaided for a lot of the time.  Good Fine Art courses are competitive.  Some like Goldsmiths and Central St Martin’s like particular sorts of students.  Goldsmiths for instance prefer mature, highly intellectual, independent and conceptual workers.  If you like painting landscapes in a fairly traditional way don’t consider the above course.  Make sure you view the college to check your suitability.


This field covers designing, making, technical and business aspects.  It essentially trains you to design a collection for industry, however it does have many spin off career paths such as a buyer and image consultant, and numerous fashion management positions.  You may become an in house designer where you work with a team of designers under a particular label such as Gucci or freelance designer who sets up their own label. 

Many courses cover pattern cutting, fashion drawing, all manner of fabric production and technique.  They deal with business management and preparing you for employment.  This can be a large or small part depending upon the College.  Some courses require you to learn a language and want Maths, Language and English GCSE as part of the entry requirements.

Fashion is competitive.  To work within it you need to be a person who keeps abreast of current design changes both contemporary and historical and who enjoys designing for the body.  You will need good like drawing skills, the ability to draw quickly and must be able to work under pressure with a range of differing personalities.


This area covers a broad subject area which breaks down into numerous sub-headings.  There are a diverse range of courses such as those that specialise in print, knitwear and weave, surface.  To do textiles you need to love ‘change’ trends and keeping abreast of design and art styles.  You need to be good at working with colour and a range of materials but also need an excellent drawing base and be a versatile worker.  You need to love surface manipulation.

 To do this subject area you need to be a person who loves experimenting with colour, fabrics, texture and manipulation of colour. You may be producing sample designs, liaising with clients, interpreting clients ideas, assessing production standards,  be an in house-designer or working freelance.

Career pathways may be postgraduate study, buyer and merchandising, retail sales and markets, fashion journalist, management. etc there are courses that combine fashion and textiles and those that let you work diagnostically during the first year and then choose within the second to specialise.

Three Dimensional Design

This covers a wide range of design specialisations:

Furniture                       Theatre and Costume Design

Product Design             Ceramics

Jewellery                      Industrial

Interior                         Glass

Architecture                  Automotive


 This area is extremely far ranging and can only be mentioned in fairly general terms here.  In most courses students learn about the design process as well as studying design history.  Many courses have good links with industry although they vary considerably in what they offer and how courses are structured.  Some courses endorse working in expressive sculptural ways, others put more emphasis upon function and commercial usage.  Manufacturing Technology, ergonomics and material use are all areas that courses cover.  Look carefully at the costs of some courses as these may be expensive according to specialisms.  metals and jewellery, for instance, incur a fairly expensive sub. 

 To work within three dimensional design you need to have a good aptitude for constructing and perceiving in three dimensions.  You should have the ability to work with a variety of materials and be able to communicate your ideas well.  Good problem solving skills, accuracy and attention to detail area all desirable.  

Graphic Design

This is essentially coming up with ideas, big ideas which lead to ‘concepts’ and ultimately can head a campaign to advertise a product, event or idea.  It isn’t just about working with text and image and liking layout in fact this is a minor part of this discipline the important part of this subject area is ‘lateral thinking’ and the number of ideas that it is possible to generate.    Courses will cover branding and logos, animation, photography, typography, concept development.

You need to be a dynamic thinker, versatile worker and enjoy working to deadlines. You will also need a  knowledge of trends, fashion, and contemporary design. it is useful although not essential to have some skills within CAD.  Courses will train you when you arrive.  Some  Graphic courses will encourage links with industry or give you opportunities to enter competitions then it is a good sign.

Career pathways may be:

Web design



Video Gaming

Exhibition design

Magazine design

Film and video design


Illustration is drawing with a purpose. This means it is a design field that always works to a brief.  Illustration isn’t just drawing and painting for children’s books.  It may cover this but also considers packaging, advertising, narrative, sequential, concept art, gaming design, information leaflets and editorial works.  Courses will tend to want good skills within drawing and painting and people that can explore and develop their own style.  Some courses will cover CAD and digital imaging.  You need to be a person that loves drawing,  can come up with loads of ideas and interpret others’ text or idea inventively.  You also need to be able to solve/ produce imagery to deadline. Illustration falls into 3 main headings:

Narrative – books, fiction, non fiction, magazines, lyrics,

Promotional- any product, event, person to be promoted from trainers - breakfast cereals - live music.

Informational – anything that passes on information to others about a place, cause, conditions, tourism to a guide to making cup-cakes.

Drawing skills need to be good; you need to willing to work to others’ starting points and ideas.  Related fields are animation and graphics.  You should expect to be able to work quickly. A few graphic and illustration courses are combined.  Look for more expressive courses if you want to broaden your approach.


Animation can be drawn, imaginative three dimensional models, storyboarding and film.  It covers cinematography, traditional and contemporary methods of working as well as the latest innovations in electronic animation.

To follow animation you need to have good drawing skills, an ability to think sequentially and to convert your thoughts to the camera.  It is a very specialised area which is very competitive.  To go into this field you need to have a strong interest and knowledge of contemporary animation.  Good storyboarding skills and preferably evidence within your folio that you have an aptitude to work within this industry.

Photography and Film

Courses within these areas vary enormously. Some are directed towards graphics, advertising or journalism and concentrate upon the commercial side.  Photography courses break down into the following:

Fashion and Advertising

Commercial Photography

Journalism and Editorial

Others are Fine Art based and are much more expressive.  Some courses combine practical skill with Art and Design history and professional practice.

You need a good eye for composition, experience of SLR cameras and darkroom processes and for film, and an ability to think sequentially.  An interest in photographers and film makers is a must and a flair for leadership and organisational skills is desirable.

Some courses have a mixture of the two areas, others are completely separate.  Most students choose one or the other as in themselves they are diverse areas.

Film courses are often based on television studies, media and film making.  Students are required to have excellent storyboarding skills, ability to think about time, soundtracks and sequential imaging.   You will learn about digital and technical working and be trained in the use of editing.  You will be expected to work in a team and lead others within the direction of your vision and ideas.  You need to be an excellent communicator.

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