Last updated 09/04/2015

A2 Art Personal Study: A Beautiful Illustrated Essay

This Personal Study was completed by the talented Mary Faber, while studying A Level Art (CIE 9704) at ACG Strathallan College in 2004. A simple, yet elegant ‘book’ presentation, Mary’s Personal Study focuses upon the painting techniques, processes and compositions of New Zealand artist Russell Hollings, gaining an overall grade of 91%.

Mary began her study by completing an Outline Proposal Form. This was submitted to CIE for feedback at the end of April, once her A2 Coursework project was well underway. This meant Mary was able to clearly establish how her Personal Study might assist and link to her Coursework before she began. (It is no longer a requirement that the Personal Study relates to the Coursework project – although it can be advantageous if it does).

NOTE: Outline Proposal Forms are available through the CIE Teacher Support site, which is password protected (teachers have access to this) and can be submitted to the examiners electronically; alternatively, forms can be photocopied from the back of the 9704 syllabus booklet).

Within the Outline Proposal Form, Mary describes her intentions as:

To thoroughly analyse the painting processes and techniques of Russell Hollings, from initial preparation of a painting surface, through to final application of paint. I will discuss the effect of various marks and brushstrokes and how such a painting style conveys mood and meaning. Links will be made to well known international artists who use similar painting techniques. Finally I will discuss how these painting processes and techniques can be used in my own painting.

personal study art and design
The cover of Mary’s Personal Study: 297 x 297mm

Presentation is a crucial aspect of the Personal Study and must be given considerable thought. Mary created a square ‘book’, bound along the left-hand edge with a black spiral bind. Pages are cut from lightweight A3 sheets of reddish-brown card. This colour was selected as it echoes the hues used throughout Russell Hollings’ paintings and thus visually links the presentation together.

Text has been printed onto high quality cream paper, which is also used as the backing mount for illustrations. This allows Mary to combine hand-crafted illustrations with computer generated text in a tidy, cohesive way.

It is not necessary to fill a Personal Study with slavish copies of paintings (this wastes time and does not always generate the rewards that more investigative or analytical illustrations can provide), however, the cover can be an ideal place to wow the examiner with a carefully imitated reproduction. Here, Mary has copied one of Russell Hollings’ works, proving immediately that she has an outstanding level of artistic skill.
A2 art personal study introduction
The introduction to Mary’s Personal Study contains historical and biographical information about Hollings, allowing his artwork to be understood in context. This information is gleaned from a studio visit as well as books and other sources. As a reminder, factual information should never be regurgitated directly from another source – nor should pages of irrelevant information be submitted. This sort of material should always be presented – as Mary has done – in the student’s own words, integrated with original commentary and discussion, in a way that is relevant to the topic at hand.
personal study of an artist
Beautiful photographs are used through Mary’s Personal Study. These photographs are well-composed artworks in their own right. They demonstrate that Mary acted with independence and initiative on her artist visit – composing excellent images that help illustrate her written analysis. Rather than simply photographing final works, she has recorded Hollings talking about his work in progress, still life arrangements, a series of works in progress, painting palettes and so on. These all serve to inform and support her discussion which focuses primarily upon the techniques and processes used in Hollings’ work. It is important to note that all of the images have a small caption beneath them, so that it is clear how these relate to the discussion (it is always surprising to hear how many students leave images entirely without identification or comment – something that is not recommended).
a level art personal study example A*
On this page, the selection of visual and written material is carefully structured so as to support the focus of her Personal Study.
art personal study example A*
Here, we see clear evidence of learning and involvement in the Personal Study. Here the illustrations on the left are a combination of original photographs and selective imitations of parts of Hollings’ work in progress – a practical examination of the way Hollings layers paint upon a canvas.
art personal study example - process and technique
In this page of her Personal Study, Mary briefly compares Hollings’ painting technique to that of Impressionist artist Cezanne. There can be advantages to referencing historical or ‘world famous’ artists: this provides an opportunity for the local artist’s work to be understood in context and also for the student to analyse well-known pieces of art which can teach them a great deal.
personal study art A Level
An important aspect of the Personal Study is the detailed analysis of art or design work. At an A2 Level, students are expected to have a good grasp of art-related terminology and to be able to analyse composition in terms of the visual elements (colour, line, texture, space, tone and so on) with comments related back to the original intention of the study.
A2 Art personal Study A*
In this page of her A2 Art Personal Study, Mary demonstrates again her excellent practical skill replicating an image by Hollings, alongside further analysis of the work.
A2 Art personal study essay
Several years ago, the A2 Art Personal Study essay had to relate to the candidates own coursework experiences (as noted above, this is no longer necessary). As such, Mary has included a short section explaining how Russell Hollings provided inspiration for her A2 Coursework project (alongside a photograph of one of her Coursework paintings). It is important to note here that many students seem confused about the role of their own artwork within the Personal Study, believing it is necessary to create their own individual works specifically for the study. This is not the case at all. The emphasis should be upon the work of the artist/s studied.
A2 Art personal study ideas
As with any formal essay-based project, the A2 Art Personal Study should have a conclusion – summarising the findings of the project (Mary’s conclusion is not shown). It is refreshing to note that even in the bibliography (where sources of information and well as the artist himself are acknowledged), Mary has not lapsed in her attention to detail. Text and image have been composed on the page with the same beautiful aesthetic quality with which the project began.

A skilful, creative and articulate A Level Art student, Mary is now an exceptional typography designer

If you would like more information about this topic, please read the Student Art Guide introduction to the A Level Art Personal Study.


This article was written by Amiria Robinson. Amiria has been a teacher of Art & Design and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of Art and Design work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. Amiria has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. She is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor. Follow Amiria on Google+