Life after level one

Beginning my first Level Two course with the Open College of the Arts last year, I had confidence I would be just fine; happily settled after receiving a pleasing result at assessment for my last course at Level One. I flew through L2 Developing Creative Textiles, sure that I knew what my path and career specialisation would be. As far as I was concerned, I had developed my “style”… All I had to do was repeat it.

A stark shock came at assessment, when I got a much lower mark than expected. Why? I questioned; with my confidence in tatters.

Honestly, I didn’t understand at first; in fact it’s taken me most of the time through the second course at this level to comprehend and ascertain lessons while calming from the initial disappointment. However, reflecting back, I realise that this was actually the best thing to have happened at this stage. Let me explain why….

Especially as distance learners, we students may be dealing with many things at once….health, children, parents, maybe even pursuing a career for ourselves or already established. On a personal level, my tutor highlighted this to me, acknowledging that I was struggling: ‘You are teaching art, selling art already and then you are also a student. You need to allow yourself to become excited by textiles, become the explorer’. I was working binary lives.

This taught me a valuable lesson which I feel we can all learn from.

No, this second Level Two course – Contemporary Practice has not been easy. There were no student blogs for this course, thus nothing to compare myself to. I began one and I hope that this will become a resource for future students studying this course.

My tutor has been my biggest critic but also sugared me with hope. This has allowed me to grow and not just be content with what I already know and am “good at”. I look back as I approach assessment once again for the last course on this level; in the knowledge that it could all go wrong (at least in my perfectionist view) again. However, I have shaken my practice up and certainly taken my work down paths I would never have ventured, if I had not received that initial shock. Instead of feeling deflated, I have endeavoured to reflect and use his comments and feedback from each assignment. I notice that the WeAreOCA blog has very relevant posts. For example one weakness which has emerged from my own outcomes, is lack of scale and experimental pushing of an idea. Then surprise surprise, a post on the blog to help us use scale! This was comforting in a way, as I realised that other students must be finding this an issue too.

In line with this, I often find I can get so set into the “making” that I neglect the foundation we should all be building upon….drawing and sketching, the playing with concepts before the fruition of our sample making.

Remember at this stage, we are not directed to certain exercises as much, more must come from within us. Thus self directed learning is mandatory. At first, we may feel like we are floundering.. What path to choose? Where to take our work? Instead of this becoming a “fear point”, let’s view it as freedom… We can explore what we like, we are allowed to make mistakes and get it wrong. Instead of scrubbing them out, embrace them, they are our scars and what makes us who we are as developing artists/designers.

In summary here are a few helpful points which I have unearthed:

1. Listen to my tutor.
2. Accept criticism and actively learn from it.
3. Explore scale.
4. Take risks.
5. Take charge of own learning.
6. Keep reflecting over past mistakes and yes, learn from them. Don’t let them go to waste!
7. Convey a sense of clarity through each assignment.
8. Don’t let professional presentation of outcomes deflect from personal voice.
9. Draw, sketch, plan….dont forget to investigate styles and unusual methods!
10. As Karen Nicol (designer) told me when I interviewed her recently: Be “irreverent” with textiles, disrespect known uses for materials and use then to our whim, our way.

If you would like to visit my website or blog, here are the links:

Also published on Medium.


  1. Sarah Davis 2 August 2017 at 9:23 am

    Thank you for this very insightful and useful

  2. Rebecca Fairley 2 August 2017 at 10:25 am

    A brave insightful post Ailish. Well done and thank you for sharing your knowledge with your fellow students.

    1. Ailish 2 August 2017 at 11:12 am

      Thank you for your words and for the guidance you have given me early on!

  3. Bryan 2 August 2017 at 12:53 pm

    Loads of good stuff here and I hope that other Level Two students take time to read it with open minds. We see this sort of thing at assessment… good Level One students step up to Level Two and present a body of work that could be a solid Level One submission. Unfortunately the level of speculation and enquiry needs to be higher. At each level the bar is raised a bit and to clear it is harder. To excel at clearing it is even more difficult. It sounds like your first Level Two course re-calibrated your expectations Ailish but that you used this as a spur to achieving greater heights. Well played.

  4. Bryan 2 August 2017 at 12:58 pm

    It’s probably worth mentioning here that the percentages given at Level One for different assessment criteria are not the same as those at Level Two. They change again for Level Three (or at least they do in Drawing and Painting). The affects the way that the works is marked and it’s something of which serious students should be aware even if being obsessed with marks for their own sake probably isn’t too helpful.

  5. Caroline Wright 3 August 2017 at 8:59 am

    Thanks for writing this post Ailish. There is a step up at Level Two and your experience will be very useful to other students. As Bryan mentions in his comment, being aware of the assessment criteria is important, though ultimately good work comes from a clear, focussed and sustained enquiry with diligent research and brave exploration.

  6. Anne Broome 3 August 2017 at 10:19 am

    Such an interesting post, thank you. You comments about the standard of outcome really resonated for me. In Printmaking 2 it says that professional standard of printing is expected and I have found for me this puts limitations on being experimental. I think I need to recalibrate my approach!

  7. Julie Davis 3 August 2017 at 6:52 pm

    Thank you so much for this – it has given me heart to continue with my studies. I have passed my first Level 2 textiles course (but only just) and am trying to make sense of the feedback before signing up for another. Your post has helped clarify some issues and shown me a way forward – I will carry on and succeed!

  8. Ann-Marie Gronberg 4 August 2017 at 9:56 am

    I am just to embark upon level two textile. Thank you very much for sharing your experience. Very helpful Ailish! Bryan’s comments were also helpful. What level two course would you recommend me to start with?

    1. Joanne 4 August 2017 at 11:29 am

      Hello Ann-Marie,

      The courses at Level 2 need to be taken in the following order:

      Textiles 2: Contemporary Context

      followed by;

      Textiles 2: Contemporary Practice.

  9. Catherine Banks 4 August 2017 at 11:10 am

    A really positive post, hopeful and inspiring. Thanks Ailish.

  10. Inger Weidema 4 August 2017 at 8:47 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this with us Ailish – this is really very helpful.


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