Portfolio reviews gain top marks

This is a post from the weareoca.com archive. Information contained within it may now be out of date.


Linda Khatir, course leader for OCA’s Painting degree pathway reports back from OCA’s first Fine Art Portfolio Review Day in which she joined OCA tutor Michele Whiting and OCA students studying on the Painting degree pathway, in a studio in Bath.

Linda Khatir: Polkatown

‘The first half of the morning was spent observing other artists work in the 44AD Artists Group Show.  Students were sent information sheets beforehand to help them prepare, and as a warm up we kicked off with basic descriptions; looking closely and describing a work’s material and formal properties: is it two or three dimensional – image, object or both? – What is it made of and how was it made? We also discussed whether you should read the descriptive label before or after – as a viewer, do you want to find your own meaning or do you want it spelled out?

There was also the question of whether a painting in exhibition should be viewed as a standalone piece and/or in relation to its neighbour.  This led to further discussion about the artists’ and curators’ intentions – of how works might be read differently depending on the space between them and their positioning within architecture. We also discussed the issue of space within the image and how this varied from work to work; some paintings exhibiting ‘physical’ space through multiple layers of overlapping material and marks, while other (physically flatter) works seeming to imply a deeper sense of space through composition, colour, tone, line and hints of perspective – illusory, rather than ‘real’ space.

We adopted the same approach for the rest of the morning, but this time looked at work the students brought with them.  The discussion flowed as before, everyone joining in, offering and accepting critique.  We made a rule to avoid saying whether we liked the work and simply pointed out (as previously) its material and formal qualities, questioning the work (rather than the person) raising issues and offering suggestions.  The student whose work was being discussed would take notes while we talked and then join in at the end, responding to comments, answering questions and considering how they might change the work in light of this experience.

Installation by Michele Whiting

The afternoon involved individual portfolio reviews, where Michele and I sat quietly with one student at a time going through questions about the course, discussing works in progress as well as completed pieces, with the aim of helping the student work more confidently towards completion.

At the end of the afternoon we all sat together again over coffee and reflected on the day.  Everyone (including the tutors) found it a positive experience and we felt it to be the start of something important, something that can make us feel more of a creative community.  With this in mind, the students decided to keep in touch, sharing ideas, supporting each other, and perhaps linking with other students via the OCA site.

One student commented afterwards:  ‘Linda & Michele ensured that the time was used to best effect; considering the contemporary work in the gallery space to start enabled me to focus on how to approach a work in an objective way and to focus on what is happening in contemporary painting. We then moved to the group review which was conducted in a very supportive atmosphere – so different from when I was briefly at another art school and would cringe during my turn in the crits, hoping the ground would swallow me’.

In terms of tutor experience, Michele said ‘the students as a group and individually were engaged, willing and articulate; the day was fast paced and intensive but utterly focused. My main impression from the event was that there was a positive feeling that this type of day was important to the students’ learning and went a long way to resolve some of the feeling of remoteness and working in isolation that they all experience. This was along with the more obvious benefits of experiencing others’ work, group ‘crits’ and individual time with another tutor. Really ‘unpacking’ the exhibition in the gallery as a group was a great way to get students to talk objectively rather than subjectively about their own and others works’.

We had a fantastic day experiencing discussion at a high level, certainly on a par with degree students in other art colleges.  At the end of the day everyone seemed ready to get back into their studies with fresh ideas and enthusiasm. It is unfortunate though that we didn’t take any photos, we were so busy we simply forgot …’

Such workshops are optional and supplementary to normal tutorial support. On the basis of this success, we will certainly be panning more of these, in different parts of the country.



  1. stevepigman 29 January 2013 at 12:24 pm

    I was very interested in this at the time when it was posted as a forthcoming event. It was difficult for me to travel to Bath but I am very interested in other venues. It sounds like very valuable experience. Steve

  2. Sue G 29 January 2013 at 8:23 pm

    I can confirm it was a very worthwhile and constructive day, I really enjoyed the whole day and would like to thank Linda and Michelle

    1. Colin Adey 31 January 2013 at 3:25 pm

      I was invited but was unable to make it….how many students were there?

  3. Josie Thomas 30 January 2013 at 9:15 am

    The portfolio review day was clearly a very positive experience for all concerned. I’m glad to hear that OCA will be arranging more events like this around the country. It makes sense to start them off with students who have stood the test of time and committment, and are more advanced in their studies. I look forward to getting there, from my just-getting-started position of Drawing 1!

  4. olivia irvine 31 January 2013 at 8:05 pm

    It sounds like a most useful and productive day and very well organised. Let’s have one in Scotland.

  5. Jane 4 February 2013 at 4:06 pm

    Hi Colin there were five students and two tutors, so a lot of attention for each one!

  6. Shirley Haysom 24 July 2014 at 12:04 pm

    This sounds a very useful exercise. and one I would very much like to experience, as I am struggling at the moment to finish my part 3 Art- my ideas are so much from within myself and I have no outside assistance to broaden what I am doing


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