5 Things I didn’t learn at art school

It’s been a fair while now since I graduated from Art school, it was my childhood dream to attend I had studied art for as long as I had been at an education institution so I kinda know a thing or two about Art and being an Artist. 

Art school is a place of artistic experimentation, freedom and creativity but I walked away with my degree pretty deflated in one hand I gained an ok grade but in the other no real sense I had learned anything new. I often receive emails from students who are currently studying asking me for hints and tips about freelance life and how I got to where I am. I make no bones about my work, style and life, I’m an open book often when it comes to these things. I did study fine art at Falmouth University and did my foundation at Camberwell and as much as these are institutions that produce some of the top artist I did find myself questioning my life choice. Now looking back If I had the choice now I don’t think I would of studied fine art, I loved it, loved the friendships I made, adored the fact I could have my own studio space and work but in the end I never felt like I learnt much from doing the 3 year course. Fear not there were some positives and I believe we do things in life for a reason if I hadn’t gone I wouldn’t of met my ex and I wouldn’t of started this blog but I may have discovered something just as rewarding on my other path but who knows hey?!

I wanted to share my thoughts on the things I didn’t learn at art school, this is from my experience and I can only speak for myself 

1. How Market yourself well

Studying for my fine art degree especially at Falmouth was very insular we were never directed on how to Market what we were doing, I understand with fine art it’s very old school and being a tortured artist is great an all but when I leave I want to keep working, making and earning a living from my art. We were never truly advised on this.

2. How to draw 

Now don’t get me wrong I turned up with a knowledge on how to draw but my idea of learning about art was how to learn more about techniques my naive self thought I would be shown these wonderful ways to use watercolours, oils but alas nope. 

3. To have confidence your my work

When I turned up to do my degree I had no idea what I was doing, if I was good enough. My lectures never really instilled in us a sort of confidence with our studio work. Now I am never the confident type and but my confidence in the art work was at an all time low when I was at uni because you’re surrounded by super talented people and just expected to keep producing top notch work with no really boost to what you’re doing. 

4. Creating a professional portfolio

During my time at uni I created over 150 sketchbook, large canvases and other mix media items, did I had any idea what to put in my portfolio? no not really, and if I’m honest I didn’t use a single piece of art work created at uni in my professional portfolio I came away feeling like a failure and wanted to start a fresh. 

5. How to make a living from your art work 

This for me was my biggest disgruntle maybe it was just my uni course, but we were never directed in the way of exhibitions, contacting galleries and negotiating the art world. It was just never talked about, there were not functional style skills with the course I joined, I spoke to my illustration and graphic design house mates who had been given the low down and were offered work placements on their course. 

Look back now to a decade ago when I first started my degree, I was naive I wanted to live by the sea, as far from London as I could get, I wasn’t looking to my future as an artist and in that respect it was my fault but often we don’t figure out our path until a lot later on through sheer hard work, determination, stubbornness and failure do we really know how to make being an artist work for us. 

Now people will look at that list and go Ella really you should of just discovered those things yourself, should I of? if I am paying an institution who has told me I am good enough to gain a place on their course not give me something back? maybe things have changed and other peoples courses were better but I can only speak from my experience when at 16-18 we are told to make a choice that could effect the rest of our lives its tough to make an informed and right choice. But I have learned all these 5 things off the back of going to art school. I learned them in spite of my degree and even though I loved studying I was left with a very bitter sweet taste when I finally graduated with no support network when I came back to London three years of art school under my belt and this wide expanse facing me, you have to learn to navigate yourself. 

Art school is what you make of it, it gave me three wonderful years of working alongside my best friend in a studio, it taught me what I didn’t want to be as an artist and it also taught me that the art world can be very cut throat but everything in life has its pros and cons. Just make sure that no matter what you do in life you work hard –  thats really all that art school taught me. 



  1. November 5, 2017 / 10:45 am

    Great post Ella, I really related to a lot of what you said in this..
    I admire you for being stubborn and working hard to make a living out of your creativity.
    I left uni with a real sense of 'what now?' and unfortunately I ended up with an office job. I wish i could go back to uni now as i think id be more focused and work harder to achieve my goals.
    I love reading your blog posts and following your career

    • November 5, 2017 / 11:46 am

      thank you so much for the kind words lovely, I ended up working in retail for a bit and teaching, just because you're working in an office doesn't mean you can't do what you want on the side keep that creativity going.
      thank you for the support xx

  2. November 5, 2017 / 7:32 pm

    I feel as though university is just text book stuff and the lectuerers have to go buy the curiculum. The best fine art teacher was at college and luckily she went through this and made it with her paintings, but gave me a false illusion of 'freedom' when she was talking about university to me.

    Once I go to uni I was always told what to do and had to go by what people wanted, where as I was the complete opposite.

    Spent three years there, changed courses twice, hated most my lecturers and caused me to have sevre depression. I only had two lecturers (both of which had made it in life), they gave me an honest opinion of the whole situation and by the last couple of months finally got a clear mind about it all.

    Now I'm a Freelance calligrapher, not making huge amounts of money but in the long run my sucesses will grow and so will I.

  3. November 5, 2017 / 7:51 pm

    I agree with so much of this! Although the course I was on did do a lot about professional practice, the guidance in actually creating the work wasn't really there and I wish I could do it all over again and just do what I wanted to do and not what they felt it should be to be more "shocking" and "contemporary" (because who even wants that on their walls anyway!?)
    Now I'm an art teacher and I love helping my students find out what they really love about art and helping them find a uni course that really suits them. I even go back to my uni to do extra courses sometimes to learn more skills – nothing like a bit of nostalgia to make you REALLY wish you could go back and do it all again with the benefit of hindsight hey x

  4. November 6, 2017 / 8:35 am

    Interesting Ella, especially to see that Art courses haven't changed a single jot from when I was in Art College in the late 60s. After flailing around for a year or so thinking I was going to be the next great artist I threw in the towel and took a short break (only 35 years!!) had another life, a family and returned to painting 9 years ago. Even though this last year has been challenging – illness and death in the family – I am having a blast, painting like there is no tomorrow. Long may it continue. I wish you well with your career and a happy 'other' life.

    • November 6, 2017 / 12:51 pm

      I had a similar experience, I'm not in my thirties and want to pick up where I very sadly left!

  5. November 6, 2017 / 12:01 pm

    Much agreed with and linked to on my blog too! I had the same experience at Birmingham Uni and felt it was much more about tutors telling you your art is wrong and that you must change it and not about the good you are doing. The assumption that the "rich kids" will be fine and have great art careers was very open too… shame. LOVE YOUR WORK! xxx (annabelwyattart.com)

  6. November 6, 2017 / 12:51 pm

    I really relate to this post. Good on your for sticking it out. I got an unconditional offer to art college and thought all my dreams had come true! 6 months later I was depresses, lacking in confidence and ended up dropping out. I felt like such a failure and actually became an archaeologist! Not, 10 (ahem) years later, a baby on my side, I am picking up the paint brushes and deciding to use YouTube and other courses to teach myself what I want to know. I always had a talent, but no one ever 'taught' me the techniques that I need. And certainly I had no idea that I could make a career out of art. I sold a painting last month and am so motivated!

  7. November 6, 2017 / 11:22 pm

    Yep and so it continues, the closest I got to advice was a tutor commenting that she could see me in a cottage doing crafty stuff. Helpful huh?Especially as it was a graphic design course! As it happens I now live in a cottage in Devon and make a bit of jewellery on the side.

  8. November 7, 2017 / 12:55 pm

    What you said seems be universally true no matter the country, really! I hope other people had better experiences but for all the years I studied art only one teacher ever taught me a technique. And the sad thing is, it helped me so much to improve my paintings, that I can't for the life of me understand why no else actually taught anything.

  9. November 8, 2017 / 11:32 am

    Thanks for this, im in my thirties and trying to make a go of my art and sometimes I wonder if I should go to art school but im thinking that i get the best education through reading blogs, watching youtube tuturials and listening to podcasts on how to grow a business. I think the best advice is from those who do it already so thank you for being so honest and open about the realities of it all! x

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