Mermaid Court, 165A Borough High Street, London, SE1 1HR
2 Years (Full Time), 4 Years (Part Time)
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The Contemporary Portrait Diploma has been carefully designed to ensure students are exposed to a wide variety of approaches to portraiture and portrait painting techniques. Skills classes run over the two year cycle, following a planned curriculum designed to ensure students gradually build the necessary techniques as they progress through the programme. Taking a mix of recommended and optional classes, students choose from a vast array of different approaches to portrait and figure painting. The Academy considers drawing an essential tool for all artists, so all students undertake a series of drawing classes throughout the first level of the course, and can opt to continue these in Level Two. Taught in ten week units, all classes are carefully designed by the artist teaching the unit, in discussion with the course leader.
In Level One students are encouraged to experiment widely with techniques and approaches to portraiture. Skills classes focus on building upon essential portrait and figure painting skills, working in life classes with one or two models, whilst extending students’ vocabulary with experimental classes such as Self Portraiture, different approaches to paint application or a close examination of how to work from photographs. (A typical range of skills classes can be viewed here). A session in portrait sculpture is offered, with optional further sessions, to enable students to develop an understanding of the three-dimensionality of a portrait head. Studio practice classes at this level support the beginnings of creative and contextual research through a series of projects which encourage students to explore their personal creative motivations, how to use formal, artistic language within portraiture and the relationship between the material and conceptual exploration of a creative idea. Our programme of digital workshops in Level One introduces students to basic digital techniques, giving them the skills to manipulate photographic imagery as a tool to assist in their image making and presentation of their work. Professional development sessions begin the process of preparing students for the issues they would need to consider if they were later to go on to seek work as a portrait artist. This programme is completed in Level Two, covering issues such as marketing, working with galleries, writing an artist’s statement and building a website.
During Level Two there is a shift in emphasis towards greater self reflection and analysis. Skills components support the further refinement of each student’s technique. Students study through imitation the portrait painting skills of the old masters, with drawing sessions in the national gallery to facilitate close examination of original paintings. Other classes involve an imaginative exploration of how to paint multiple figures within a space, including consideration of perspective and composition. Towards the end of the year, students begin to focus on how to create their own composition and ideas for a painting, and the development of their own practice. Studio practice work challenges students to take on a commission, with tutor support and peer review as they negotiate the relationship with their client and balance the client’s needs with their own creative process. For the subsequent projects during this level, the focus is on each individual student’s own artistic practice as they develop their ideas and personal language, whilst undertaking a more in-depth analysis of the art historic and wider context for their work. A short essay, on a topic relevant to the individual student’s interests, is completed between Levels One and Two to support this work. The conclusion of the Professional Development programme during this level completes the preparation of students for life after the Academy.
The Contemporary Portrait Diploma is assessed by a board including members of the Royal Society of Portrait Painters, with the highest proportion of the assessment focusing on the Graduate show. This is the highlight of each year at the Art Academy, with Portrait Diploma students showing alongside Fine Art Diploma and Figurative Sculpture Diploma students, creating a varied, exciting and accomplished exhibition. The show attracts huge numbers of visitors, including representatives from the professional art world. Preparation for the show requires students to consider carefully all aspects of their practice, with a particular focus on how to present and curate their work, as well as how to promote themselves as emerging artists.
Whilst the Contemporary Portrait Painting Diploma is a two-year course full time (or four years part time), there is the option of a further year of study, aimed at enabling students better to reflect on the skills and creative insight gained during their previous two intensive years of study.
The emphasis at this level is on self directed studio practice, enabling students to explore and develop thoroughly their own interests and individual artistic voice within portraiture. Continuing support is provided in the form of regular group critiques and personal tutorials as students explore further their own practice, refine their artist’s statement and fully prepare for the life of a portrait artist after leaving the Academy. Discretionary skills classes are available to enable students fully to hone their techniques and approaches to portraiture within what is an especially technically challenging genre.