Learn the technical and creative skills needed to become a portrait painter in this one-of-a-kind specialist Contemporary Portraiture FD (Foundation Degree).

FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture)

Embrace the diversity of contemporary art practices while learning the technical and creative skills needed to become a portrait painter in this one-of-a-kind specialist programme.

Our teaching approach is unique: we keep our class sizes small, and you’ll benefit from the highest tutor contact hours of any higher education art course in the UK. You’ll learn both traditional and contemporary skills from expert tutors, including some of Britain’s top practising portrait artists; from members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters and winners of the BP Portrait Award to those with work in national collections including the National Portrait Gallery.

You’ll explore a diverse range of techniques, including painting the figure from both life and photographs, large-scale compositions, and self-portraiture. You’ll also be challenged to explore your place within contemporary portraiture and define your own creative approach.

And to further enrich your study, you’ll have access to lectures and talks by eminent visiting artists, open access to our print studio and wood & metal workshop, and can drop in to Open Life sessions on weekend mornings. You can also take advantage of free places on our other evening, weekend and short courses (subject to availability).

By the end of the programme, you’ll have exhibited your work, entered competitions and have experience with taking on commissions.

Our FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) pathway is validated by The Open University. For more information about our FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture), please see the Student HandbookProgramme Handbook and the Open University Regulations for Validated Awards. Please also read the OU’s Student’s Guide.

Please read our COVID-19 FAQs about how the Academy has made changes to help keep you safe.

Programme Outline

Our FD has two stages and runs for two years (full-time) or four years (part-time). You’ll need to successfully complete each stage in order to progress to the next, including meeting attendance requirements (as detailed in our Attendance Policy).

You will mainly be based at Mermaid Court (London Bridge).

There are four main components to the FD, detailed below.

Studio Practice modules: these are where you develop personal projects in response to a series of briefs. These modules are taught through one-to-one tutorials, group critiques, workshops, lectures and practical work in a studio. As part of Studio Practice, you’ll also undertake contextual research to support each of your personal projects, which includes preparatory work, research, and pieces of reflective and discursive writing.

Contextual Studies module: you’ll attend a series lectures exploring historic and contemporary approaches to portraiture, and research an area of portrait painting relevant to your practice in Stage 2.

Elective Skills Workshop courses: these courses provide you with intensive training in the technical skills you’ll need to develop your creative vision and directly support your Studio Practice modules. Each course runs for one full day per week per term.

Professional Development modules: these focus specifically on the skills and knowledge needed for future employment in the arts and creative industries.

You can find detailed information in the ‘Programme yearly structure’ section below.

Term Dates 2021/22

Autumn term: Monday 20th September – Friday 3rd December 2021

Spring term: Monday 10th January – Friday 25th March 2022

Summer term: Monday 11th April – Tuesday 21st June 2022

Programme Yearly Structure

Stage 1 (Level 4)

One year full time, two years part time
Studio Practice modules

Experiment with processes, materials and techniques as you build the foundation for your developing portraiture practice. You’ll undertake three studio practice modules (both through taught sessions and independent study), where you’ll identify areas of interest, take risks and experiment. At the end of this stage, you’ll work with your peers, the FD Fine Art (Sculpture) students and an external curator to create work for a public exhibition.

You’ll attend Studio Practice one day a week across all three terms (full time) or one day per week across three of the six terms available (part time). You’ll also work independently on your project for at least one day a week.

During Stage 1, these modules are taught in studios throughout our buildings. Stage 1 students aren’t given personal studio space.

Elective Skills Workshop courses

You’ll also complete Elective Skills Workshops to build essential portrait and figure-painting skills, as well as a portrait sculpture session to develop your understanding of the portrait head in 3D and lectures looking at historic and contemporary portraiture.

You’ll attend two to three Elective Skills Workshop courses each term (or one to two for part time students), including a compulsory drawing elective in each term (or across three of the six terms available for part time). You’ll also have to complete the Digital Development course to prepare you for the Professional Development module in Stage 2.

You can choose a maximum of five other Elective Skills Workshop courses in any discipline to study across Stage 1.

Professional Development module

Throughout the year, you’ll complete a professional development module exploring the vocational opportunities available to you in creative industries. You’ll attend a series of workshops and lectures from relevant professionals and practising artists, and complete a report on an area of professional practice that is of interest to you. To complete this module you’ll also have to study independently.

Stage 2 (Level 5)

One year full time, two years part time
Studio Practice and Contextual Studies modules

In Stage 2, you’ll be given your own studio space to work on your Studio Practice modules independently outside of taught sessions.

Your fourth Studio Practice module is a live commission. Supported by your tutor and peers, you’ll learn to balance the client’s needs with your own creative process from conception to final piece.

The final Studio Practice module runs over the last two terms of the stage, where you’ll create a major body of work for exhibition at the annual Graduate Show, supported by Elective Skills Workshop courses. You’ll work on your final project both in taught sessions and independently from your own personal studio space. This module is assessed at the Graduate show. You’ll also produce a supporting portfolio and take part in a viva voce with tutors and an external assessor.

Alongside your final Studio Practice module, you’ll complete a contextual studies module, exploring aspects of art history and theory relevant to your practice.

Professional Development module

To help prepare you for life as a practising artist, you’ll also complete a professional development module, which looks at everything from PR & branding, to completing residencies, and taxation for a self employed artist.

You’ll create a portfolio of evidence for assessment, which includes creating a website, marketing plans and evidence of the use of marketing and business tools. You’ll also need to study independently in addition to your taught sessions.

Tutor Contact Time

Our FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) offers some of the highest contact hours of any higher education art course in the UK. As a full time student, you’ll receive three to four days per week of tutored time (two days a week part time) throughout the programme.


The lead tutors for the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) are:

Roxana Halls is our Contemporary Portraiture Pathway Leader. Tom Morgan Evans is our Art History & Theory Department Leader. Briony Marshall is our Professional Development Leader and Alison Branagan the Professional Development tutor for stage 1 (level 4).

Our Studio Practice tutors include Roxana Halls, Sadie Lee, Robin-Lee Hall and Sue Spaull.

The tutors you are taught by within the Elective Skills Workshop courses will depend on the courses you choose. You can view all our tutors here.

Student Support

We provide high levels of support and guidance for every step of your journey – from first enquiry to your graduation. We pride ourselves on our close community, where students feel safe and able to seek advice and guidance from our staff. For more information detailing the main areas of support, please see our Student Support page.

Student Story

“It rapidly became a second home and the Academy has something particularly precious in the way it connects people from very varied backgrounds.”

My first time painting from life and using oils was at the Academy in January 2017, through a wonderful 10-week Portrait Painting evening class. And believe me, there was no way back! I fell in love with the medium, with how supportive everyone was and – I have to confess – with the building itself: the following September I became a full-time student on the Contemporary Portrait programme.

It rapidly became a second home and the Academy has something particularly precious in the way it connects people from very varied backgrounds. In many ways you learn as much from your peers as you do your tutors…READ MORE

Suzon Lagarde, FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) student

Fees, Bursaries & Funding

Fees 2021/22

Our 2021/22 fees are set out below:

Programme (UK/EU students) Per year Per term (incl 5% surcharge)
Full time FD – 2 years PER YEAR £7,500 PER TERM £2,625
Part time FD – 4 years PER YEAR £3,900 PER TERM £1,365

We review our fees annually; they are likely to increase due to inflation in the following academic years (this is capped at 5% p.a.).

Fees must be paid in advance, and you can pay them yearly or by term (incurring a 5% surcharge). We will consider payment options to help you split the cost, so please get in touch to discuss this with us.


Students at Art Academy London are currently ineligible for a Student Loan for undergraduate degrees or for Education and Skills Funding Agency (ESFA) funding for our Foundation course. 

We want to make sure as many students as possible can access the high-quality fine art education we provide. As part of this, we offer bursaries to help with tuition fees for our BA (Hons) Fine Art, which you can apply for once you’ve been offered a place to study with us by completing the bursary application form. We offer two types of bursaries, and you can apply for one or the other:

If you have a low annual household income, or any other exceptional circumstances, you may be eligible for a bursary, for an amount up to the value of 50% of the annual tuition fees. Bursaries are assessed on an individual basis, based on need as well as merit, and are awarded at the discretion of the Principal and Director of Academic Quality, Standards and Student Experience. Please note, you’ll need to provide evidence of income to support your application for an Academic Bursary. The Bursary is awarded as a reduction in tuition fees, rather than a monetary award.

Any financial support is awarded subject to students complying with our Terms and Conditions and the Student Handbook. For further information about bursaries, including how to apply, please contact our academic team at admissions@artacademy.org.uk.

Please see our Bursaries page for more infomation.


As a small independent art school we are unable to hold places offered indefinitely. If your application is successful you’ll need to pay a deposit of £100 (which will be deducted from your first term’s tuition fee) and return your signed contract to secure your place.


Once you’ve returned the signed contract and paid your deposit, you have a 14-day cooling off period to change your mind. If you choose to cancel during this time, we’ll refund your full deposit. After this period, the Academy reserves the right to retain this deposit if you fail to enrol.

You’ll need to pay your tuition fees before the start of the programme. Beyond the statutory cooling off period, you must inform the Academy of your intention to withdraw. If you wish to withdraw from your course after its official start date, you will be liable for a fee. Full details of the liability can be found in our Terms and Conditions. Should you need to, you can suspend study for up to 12 months. Please see our withdrawal and interruption of study policy for more information.

Please see our Terms and Conditions for more information on Fees.


While some basic materials are provided for certain Elective Skills Workshop courses, you’ll need to provide most of the materials required to complete the course successfully and cover other costs such as those associated with the final year Graduate Show.

Based on a survey from our previous students, we estimate that these costs will be between £500 and £1,500 per year, although this will vary depending on the materials, chosen disciplines and stage of the programme.

We have a small shop onsite, where you can purchase some materials at a heavily discounted price. You can find guidance on where to buy other specialist materials in the Student Handbook and from your tutors.

Trips and visits 

You’ll be expected to visit galleries and exhibitions independently, to help develop your contextual knowledge and practice. Some parts of the programme will also suggest you visit specific exhibitions; many of these are free.

We understand that where there is an entry fee, you may not always be able to attend; while we encourage you to take these trips, they’re not compulsory or essential, and your tutor will prepare an alternative itinerary of free museum and gallery visits that you can follow.

Additional costs

At the start of your final year, you’ll need to pay a Graduate Exhibition deposit of £100 in addition to your tuition fees. This deposit is refundable upon the satisfactory removal of your graduate exhibition installation at the end of the academic year. Students in receipt of a bursary are not required to pay the deposit and those who are unable to pay this deposit due to financial difficulties may be eligible for assistance. In all cases, the Academy reserves the right to seek redress for any financial losses incurred by a student’s failure to dispose of materials and/or repair work to the exhibition space (building) after the exhibition (by retaining the deposit and/ or invoicing the student).

Entry Requirements

We consider each application on an individual basis and welcome candidates from a variety of backgrounds.

You’ll attend a 30-45 minute interview with one or two tutors to discuss your application and review your portfolio. This can be done via Skype if needed – please get in touch to find out more. Remember, this discussion is also an opportunity for you to ask us questions!

As part of this, we’ll assess your key artistic skills, level of ability, and enthusiasm to explore new ways of working and develop your ideas. We’ll also evaluate your awareness of artistic concepts, and the cultural, historical and professional contexts of fine art. We’ll review your personal statement and any academic references provided (if applicable).

Although no formal qualifications are required, you’ll need to demonstrate work at least of Level 3 (A-Level) equivalent. In some cases, we may ask to see additional supplementary work.

Intake is only in term one (September). Entry is typically at Stage 1, but we may allow direct entry to Stage 2 if we think you have appropriate prior qualifications and experience – please get in touch to find out more.


You’ll need to bring along a portfolio to your interview, containing:

  • 10 to 15 pieces of original finished work, which show your technical ability in a range of media. Please bring photographs of 3D installation work. If some of your work is digital, please bring this on a device to show it.
  • One or two sketchbooks showing your own areas of interest, individual thought process or development process of finished work.
  • One example of writing, critical study work or exploration of other artists.

If you don’t have all of the above, get in touch to talk to us about alternatives.

English language requirements

All applicants are required to demonstrate an appropriate level of English language competence to study with us. This can be through previous study in English (evidencing an approved English language qualification at Level 2, GCSE or equivalent). If you are unable to provide evidence of a relevant, formal English qualification, we will require specific performance in written English tests at interview. Appropriate level of spoken English is assessed at interview.

Admission policy 

We do not sponsor international students through the Tier 4 visa system and therefore cannot accept international students unless they are able to prove right of residency in the UK.

We operate a fair and transparent admissions process to ensure that the widest range of people can benefit from the fine art education we provide; find out more in our Admissions policy and Criminal Convictions Policy and Procedure.

Academic regulations and policies

When studying with us, it’s important that you are aware of our Academic Regulations and Policies. These outline the agreed procedures and protocols to ensure you understand both the expectations and support available to you. To find out more information please see our Academic Regulations and Policies page.

Open Days

Our open days offer an invaluable opportunity to find out more about our facilities, courses and tutors, and to meet members of our vibrant and welcoming community. If you’d like to attend an open day, please complete the booking form here.

Application Process & Apply

We welcome all enthusiastic candidates to apply. If you are interested in studying with us, please register to attend an open day or email academiccourses@artacademy.org.uk or call +44 (0) 20 7407 6969 to discuss our courses further or arrange a visit.

Application deadline

We will accept applications on a rolling basis. You should note that applications are subject to availability and will not be accepted if the programme has reached capacity.

More information can be found in the Admissions Policy.

How to apply

To apply, please fill out the online application form here.

If you wish to apply by post, please email admissions@artacademy.org.uk to request an application form.

Remember, the application form is your first opportunity to tell us about yourself, as well as being a vital source of the information we need to make a decision. Please take your time to complete the form accurately and remember to check you have provided all the information required, including the link to your digital portfolio. We only accept applications on the form provided and reserve the right to reject incomplete or alternative applications.

Should you have any questions about the application process or completing the form, please speak to a member of the Admissions team.

The result

We’ll normally tell you our decision within three weeks. There are three possible outcomes, detailed below.

Conditional offer: this means we will offer you a place providing certain conditions are met before registration on the programme e.g. the completion of outstanding qualifications. Each offer is specific to individual circumstances.

Unconditional offer: this means you’ve met the academic and non-academic entry requirements and have been accepted onto your chosen programme.

Unsuccessful application: this means we have decided not to offer you a place on the programme. Applicants can be unsuccessful for many reasons and should be aware that many of the programmes at the Academy receive far more applications than number of places available.

Feedback on the decision will be given to any applicant who requests it. We will always ensure that the interviews and portfolio reviews are carried out fairly and equally. All those conducting interviews are trained to do so and fully conversant in our Admissions Policy. Although decisions to admit or reject applicants are academic judgments and therefore cannot be appealed, if an applicant feels that the interview and selection process was not conducted fairly and equitably or as described in our Admissions Policy, the process for making a complaint in this regard can be found within the policy document.

Next steps

You will be notified of the outcome by email. If successful, you’ll also receive: an offer letter, the Terms and Conditions (contract) which you will need to sign and return along with your deposit, and copies of the Student Handbook, Programme Handbook and Academic Regulations. By accepting an offer you agree to abide by the Academy’s Regulations.

You’ll also be invited to our Graduate shows, to get a sense of the community and see what you can achieve by studying with us.

Prior to starting you will be sent the course documents for the Elective Skills Workshop courses and have a meeting or phone conversation with a member of the Academic Team to discuss and agree your choices for the first term. Part-time students will also need to decide on individual routes through the first stage of the programme.

Applicants with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Application process

We are committed to supporting accessible learning and welcome students with disabilities and special educational needs.


We encourage you to disclose any disabilities or special needs when you apply, so we can plan any support that we may need to provide at the earliest opportunity, including during the admissions process. Admissions decisions are always made on the basis of a candidate’s ability and/or potential to complete the programme.

Accessibility and reasonable adjustments 

Provided that a candidate is suitable for the programme applied for, we will make reasonable adjustments for applicants with a physical or mobility impairment in accordance with the Equality Act 2010.

Our premises are old buildings, which means that access to some areas can be problematic for people with a physical disability. This will continue to be an issue for the immediate future and all our premises are currently inaccessible to wheelchair users.

Therefore, where possible, we make appropriate arrangements to hold interviews, classes, workshops, tutorials, exhibitions and other events in accessible spaces in our Mermaid Court and Newington buildings, and can provide alternative storage spaces where these may normally be in inaccessible areas. We are also currently completing a number of works to our main building in Mermaid Court, London Bridge, to improve access and facilities for wheelchair users, including a wheelchair-accessible toilet.

This means that from September 2019 we will be able to accommodate most students with physical disabilities on our academic programmes.

Some of our buildings will remain inaccessible for the foreseeable future (our second building at Mermaid Court and the second floor of our Newington building). We are committed to improving access to all our buildings and are working towards making all areas of our campus fully accessible to all.

Hearing technology for hard of hearing/deaf applicants 

Portable induction loops can be provided during open days, interview and in teaching spaces if required.

Other disabilities and conditions

If you have any other disability, specific learning difficulty, health, or mental health difficulty, please contact us to talk about options for support.

Student support

SEN students

We welcome students with Special Educational Needs. A bespoke programme of Elective Skills Workshop courses will be mapped if necessary, and alternative assessment models employed where appropriate to provide a parity of opportunity with non-SEN students. Our Head of SEN will act as a personal tutor and first point of contact for all SEN students, and will also ensure that all other tutors working with SEN students understand that student’s needs and how to support them. In the final year of study, SEN students may be given additional support as necessary as they work towards their Graduate Show.

The Head of SEN, and other staff members as relevant, will keep in regular contact with the parents of SEN students if appropriate, including meeting with them to discuss the progress of the student and any issues arising in their course of study.

Disabled students

Students or applicants who declare a disability, specific learning difficulty (such as dyslexia), long term health condition or mental health disability are asked to complete a ‘Student Declaration and Identification of Support Needs’ form. This is in addition to the declaration requested at application and is intended to ensure we capture the information we need to ensure a safe and successful educational career at the Academy. A member of the Academic team will then contact the student to discuss their individual support requirements and agree actions, which are made available to relevant tutors and support staff, informing them of any services and adjustments required.


If you don’t find the answer to your question here please contact the Academic team on +44 (0) 20 7407 6969 or email academiccourses@artacademy.org.uk.

Can I study the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) part-time?

Yes, part-time students attend two days a week over four years.

Are bursaries or student loans available for the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture)?

The FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) is superseding our successful Contemporary Portraiture Diploma, but because it’s a new course those studying on it are not currently eligible for student loans. We can offer advice on possible sources of funding for students. See the ‘Fees and Funding’ section above for more details or contact us to discuss your options.

Do you take mature students for the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture)?

Yes, applications from mature students are welcomed. Mature students make up a large part of our community.

Do I need to have done any formal training before applying for the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture)?

No, but the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) is for those intending to make art their full-time occupation. During interview, we will consider your level of ability and commitment through discussion and portfolio review.

Is the FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) recognised or accredited?

Art Academy London is approved by The Open University as an appropriate organisation to offer higher education programmes leading to Open University validated awards. The FD Fine Art (Contemporary Portraiture) is validated by The Open University.

Do I need to supply my own materials?

Yes, materials are not included in your tuition fee costs. For more information on material costs see the ‘Fees & Funding’ section above.

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