Studio spaces are an important part of creative life – they provide a place to think and make immersed in our subject matter. Shared studios are the key learning space in art schools, providing not just a place to work but also to share, discuss and collaborate. As a tutor, walking into a well-used studio space, the walls covered with a student’s current work, is like walking into their mind. There’s an immediacy in seeing the project mapped out in front of you. For the student, the key benefit is the same: when returning to their work space, surrounded by their most recent developments, they are immediately absorbed back in to the project. A vibrant studio environment also naturally promotes discussion about ideas, approaches, materials and techniques
Though OCA students work independently and asynchronously, there are ways to mimic the studio experience. One aspect is the creation of a studio space, the others focus on sharing and connecting with other students to form creative communities.
Create a studio space
A dedicated space where you can immerse yourself in the ideas and imagery of your current project makes getting your mind into gear that much easier. The ideal is a space you can take ownership of, where you can leave work out to continue at a later date. If you can colonise a corner with a decent amount of wall space, you can create a mini-studio, which will make returning to work or making the most of small snatches of time much easier. Most of my OCA students have to work flexibly in and around daily life and the lives of others. If this is the case for you, consider creating a fold-away ‘studio wall’. An A1 noticeboard could be propped up on the table while you’re working and tucked away at the end of a working session. Alternatively, you could create a freestanding studio wall using sheets of foam board, hinged with tape to create a foldable structure. This could be placed on a table whilst working and folded away after use.
Whichever type of studio space you create, populate the walls with drawings, research imagery and samples to create a visually inspiring space. Renew it regularly and take down work that is no longer relevant. Having old work which looks nice but is not pushing the project forward won’t help keep you focussed. Continually update the work in front of you, so the studio wall visualises the current direction of the project. Whether you’re a student or a practitioner who can’t be in the studio every day, walking back into a space with the project communicated to you with such immediacy makes getting back into work much easier.
Share your work
Another key benefit of the shared studio environment is how it encourages students to share work and interact with each other. Sharing work can be intimidating but when everyone is in the same position of having to share, it is easier to ignore worries about the work not being good enough. If students are all working on the same brief, they’re able to see how differently they’ve all responded to the same starting point. This helps students worry less about whether their work is right or wrong because the diversity of responses highlights how many valid routes there are. The collective environment makes interaction easier, too, as an offhand compliment said in passing can easily extend into more in-depth discussion.
Technology provides OCA students with ways to share and interact to create creative communities like those which develop in shared studios. The OCA learning log is the key place to initiate such interaction, though social media platforms, such as Instagram*, provide similar opportunities. By making the learning log public, you put your work out there to be seen and commented on, much like a studio wall but with more detail for people to respond to. Just putting your work online won’t immediately elicit responses but by making comments on the blogs of others and seeking out those on the same course you start to build the connections which can grow into deeper interactions. In this sense, the learning logs create opportunities for more informal interaction like that which occurs in studios. (The OCA forums provide a more formal venue for discussion and seeking feedback, much like a student-led group critique or tutorial.)
Feedback is hugely valuable, but the more you get the more varied it is likely to be, which can be unsettling. It can be easy to be swayed by feedback, particularly if you’re feeling uncertain about the project direction. With any feedback, try to consider it objectively and unemotionally, reflecting both on what you were aiming to achieve, what the course project required and any tutor feedback you were responding too. Remember that comments from others won’t take this broader context into consideration.
In addition to gaining feedback about your work, looking at the online learning logs of other students provides inspiration for ways to use techniques, materials and approaches to developing ideas. They also provide a different perspective against which you can evaluate your own approach.
* I recommend reading textile tutor Neil Musson’s post, ‘Creative use of Instagram’.
Through interacting with others via the learning logs, forums and social media, connections are made and friendships built. If it is geographically possible, meeting up physically, whether to visit an exhibition, an OCA study visit, or group crit, is a great way to extend these relationships. If this isn’t possible, technology again provides ways to create similar experiences: group tutorials via Google Hangout or Skype allow you to discuss your work and ideas face to face with fellow students.
If you’re interested in reading more about how to engage with other students, Beth Dawson wrote a great blog post entitled “Making the most of the OCA community”.
Share tutor feedback
An additional benefit of the shared studio environment is the ability to strategically eavesdrop on other students’ tutorials. Your own tutorial and/or written feedback are tailored to the specific project you’ve submitted and to key issues arising from it, contextualised within the broader journey of the course. Overhearing other people’s feedback provides a different type of insight. It will inevitably touch on different issues and contain suggestions for other approaches, ideas and ways to solve problems. This can be enlightening, providing new ideas or stimulating new approaches. Reflecting on your tutor’s feedback regularly within the learning log is great practice to ensure you’re continually challenging yourself, and it can also facilitate eavesdropping…
Being a student at an art college is as much about engaging with peers in the studio environment – discussing, challenging, supporting and inspiring each other. Online learning logs, forums and social media enable OCA students to connect with like-minded people, but you also have the benefit of thinking and making in a quiet, reflective studio space of your own making.