For the past 5 years I’ve been reviewing portfolios for RISD in Boston and now New York City every fall during National Portfolio Days, giving students tips, and digging a bit deep into who, what, and why they are. Every year thousands of students throughout the world wait in mile long lines in the frigid air seeking reviews and tips from schools in all corners. RISD tends to get several tables being one of the largest schools in the nation and many individuals wait for hours just to get a few minutes with us. I went through this experience throughout high school, so I know how disgruntling it can be.
I try to talk to each individual as much as possible, but with hundreds waiting in line it’s tough to dive deep into students personal passions, directions, and experiences without going straight to the basic tips. Many don’t get to see us, hence I thought I’d post some basic points from my experience in what design/art schools seek for incoming students. The tips after the jump!
Lines wrapped around 3+ corners of the block! Lots of students flew in internationally for the nyc risd review. Personally I reviewed 5 from Korea, a few from europe, and several from out of state.
01. Don’t draw using pictures: You don’t learn much this way. Draw not only what you see, but with emotion, what you feel and sense. Observation is key in any discipline and drawing from life is a basic means in learning this. I consider observation as key to adaptation. You can use pictures later down the road for reasons, but when learning, stay away. Also, most people can call out if drawings were made via observations or pictures when you submit.
02. Mix it up: Use different mediums; a pen, marker, crayon, paint, water, charcoal, paper, wood, plastic, newspaper, a book, metal, clay, etc. Draw something in 15 minutes, 1 minute, 1 hour, 10 seconds, use your left hand, use your right, listen to different music, draw inside, outside, and explore what is possible. One technique that I mastered was using sandpaper. Take a piece of white paper, throw ink on it and let it dry. Then use different sand paper grades to draw, or subtract. It’ll teach ya to be patient and gives you this really nice blurry fuzzy vibe. You can also do this using an eraser. Explore, have fun, be adventuresome.
03. Carry a sketchbook around: A must do! No complaints, just do it! Trust me, sometimes those 5 minutes doodle turn out better than those classroom projects that took 2 weeks. This doesn’t mean buy those crazy expensive art sketchbooks out there. Use a plain notebook, some paper and a binder clip, a old book, a calendar, a roll of receipts, etc.
04. Do work outside of class: Schools receive thousands of portfolios, and classroom projects tend to be repetitive. If your piece is a bit more unique, it shows dedication and commitment to learn. It’ll also prep you for the insomnia bootcamp that art schools take ya through.
05. Life Drawings: If you get the chance to do nude figure drawings great, but if not, grab your parents, a friend, yourself, or someone sleeping on the sofa, and draw them. Draw your hands, your feet, a self-portrait, or even people moving in the park. Try drawing from memory.
06. Nature Drawings: Draw some leaves, rocks, trees, environments, get that perspective down. Get a microscope and draw what you see down deep. Try to draw what you can’t see, wind, air, sound, scent, etc. How do you see all theses non-tangible elements in the world, how can you communicate what you experience through theses mediums.
07. Still Life’s: Grab a bunch of random objects, through them in the corner, and draw! This might seem odd, but once you do this, you’ll find yourself creating a narrative between the objects visually. Certain objects will become more important, some will fade into the background, and things interact with each other in fun odd ways.
08. Diversify: Drawings, paintings, sculptures, electronics, poetry, music, jewelry, brochures, photography, ceramics, clothing, etc. Give it a try, cause otherwise you wont know. I’ve seen several students thinking they know they want to do this or that coming into RISD, but the truth is, for all schools that you should be open to other opportunities, cause a majority of disciplines you never get to experience or even know about until your in college. Hence the point in being “adaptable” again.
09. Be yourself: Don’t necessarily submit work that you think will make schools like you. Submit who you are. Represent yourself over what you think we want you to be. Schools bring in people that fit. If you submit yourself as something you are not, you just might not like your experience later on.
10. Composition: We like to see thinking, process, visual thinking….show tons of thumbnails, composition studies, storyboard possibilities…all the stuff you tossed. Going to art school is not only acquiring a skill, but becoming an adaptive thinker.. so show us how you think through images, a story, a composition, a visual narrative.
I’ve had several students come with parents concerned about “art schools” starving artist mentality. I’ve been to both RISD and a University(GSD) and the main difference that I always see is that in “art/design” schools, the structure is to discover and realllly understand yourself. You might not come out as prepared for the real world, but that’s why most grads start their own business. In other colleges, they prep you for what the real world wants/needs, and maybe not what yourself wants. I’m not saying this is true of all schools, but in art school there is a reason you stick out amongst your university friends. Art schools structure you to self structure yourself, hence you have to do everything yourself. And if you think art school is fun, it is, but be prepared for the bootcamp that it is…rarely sleeping or partying as much as your university friends for the good 😉
RISD has individuals across many disciplines give student crits, but generally each person spends 10-20+ minutes with each person going through work and advice when applying.
Lots of students rarely get to fully understand the full RISD experience before applying. For many sophomores and Jr’s, we highly recommend taking the RISD summer pre-college course which last 6 weeks. It’s fun, intense, and a great insight to whats to come in the RISD experience.
I started giving students on the spot tests. I’d have them draw for me. I’d take a drawing they drew in 5 hours and ask them to redraw it for me in 10- 20 seconds. What did this do: It let me see their thinking process, it allowed me to see how they simplified drawings, it allowed them to see how fast drawings are almost more exciting than long drawings, it let them see how quick thumbnails help setup for longer drawings, it made them think, and it made them smile. You can tell a great deal from watching a person draw. Perhaps I’ll have them draw me next time. I also asked them to draw the same drawing, but asked them to make it as if classical music was playing in the scene. I’d ask, how do you draw sound when you can’t see it…I want to visually feel it. Yes, its a (simple)challenge, but thats what RISD is about.