Throughout my teenage years, art has always been a form of outlet and personal enjoyment. I started my secondary school education at Kennet School in Berkshire back in 2008, where my older sister Rebecca had already been attending for three years. As I come from a creative family, Rebecca had just started her GCSE Art & Design – and I was in awe! Seeing the work produced in sketchbooks using different media seemed such an exciting concept for me. Desperate to start practicing different art skills, I created a Youtube channel and published a range of art videos, which has now been running for six years – almost the entire length of my school career. This gave me the determination to refine fine art skills outside of school, which I really recommend for anyone looking to improve the quality of their work. My school also held an annual ‘House Art Competition’ where students from across the school could contribute work from their studies – GCSE and A Level students from my younger years at Kennet became a massive inspiration and motivation to create stunning art.
Soon, five years had passed and I had completed my GCSE Art & Design qualification – amazingly achieving full marks (A*) in both my coursework and exam work for both years! I then continued into Sixth Form at Kennet School to study Art & Design for two years, along with three other subjects. In the first year, this was separated into four separate units in the coursework – ceramics, fine art, graphics and textiles. This really gave me the opportunity to explore different mediums, techniques and textures and to really find what I liked. Any student that is potentially looking for a career in art or something creative begins to find their voice at this level. When you truly love something, whether it’s a particular style of art or artist, you feel a gravitational pull towards it. My advice is run with it! I truly believe this is one of the key ingredients in creating a successful sketchbook.
After my first successful year of A Level Art & Design with another 100% achieved, I moved into my final year of school in the autumn of 2014. The beginning of A2 Art & Design involved a Coursework project and, due to it being the last level of the qualification, we were given complete independence when selecting the ‘theme’. The outcome of this Coursework project was not only a sketchbook and final piece, but also an essay going into more academic detail of the different artists I researched in the project.
For this project I decided to select the theme of ‘The Human Form’. I felt that this was broad enough to include a wide variety of different styles of artists as well as being an area of art that really interested me. To give the project more depth, I also wanted to look at a more historical approach to the human form – enabling me to contrast not only the styles of art but also looking at how art has developed over the past few centuries. This is valuable knowledge to gain an understanding the origins of art, which I also found enhanced my appreciation of the subject.
I began by visiting the National Portrait Gallery in London. This has a key link to my project and shows commitment – something that exam boards love to see! If you are currently studying Art and have museums near you, it is worth a visit. You will be surprised how much you will actually enjoy it.
I completed a range of observational studies in relation to my theme of the ‘Human Form’ early on in the project, demonstrating an understanding of different mediums. I selected to do many observational drawings, as I felt this was one of my strengths. If there is a area of Art & Design that you are particularly good at, at this stage of the A Levels Art project, it is such a great opportunity to show off what you’re good at!
I then moved on to research my first artist Leonardo da Vinci – my historical section of the project. As da Vinci is such an icon in both the art and science world, I felt it was essential to include this research, as it has such a clear link the theme of the human form. He had such an influential role in portraying the human form as ‘realistic’ and ‘anatomically’ correct, which changed the style of art in the Renaissance period. When presenting my artist research, I painted one of da Vinci’s pieces – not only did this give me the opportunity to understand the process behind his paintings, but it helped me to think about how I could interpret the style within my own work.
To show that I was aware of the more technical side of art I also did some extended research into different Renaissance painting techniques – again allowing me to understand the process behind older paintings and then being able to transfer this into my responses.
Once I had thoroughly researched da Vinci and the techniques and composition styles he used in his work, I then conducted my own photo-shoot of a human model. Having your own photographs to work from makes your life easier when designing a composition and shows independence and understanding of the direction you wish to take. It also teaches you how to take photographs. After experimenting with different compositions, I created a large scale version – challenging myself to work in a variety of different formats.
The next artist that I researched was contrastingly very modern – Marc Quinn. I thought it would be interesting to look into someone that provided a more controversial take on the human form – his famous sculpture of Alison Lapper was displayed in Trafalgar square and created some uproar. It challenged the social ideals of beauty and what should be involved in art. The fact that his work was almost always three-dimensional also meant I would have to make a three-dimensional response, which I was really excited about. Earlier in the year, before I started this A Level project, I started to look at courses that involved prosthetics for film and television – therefore as a part of my portfolio I needed to have some three-dimensional elements. I particularly loved Quinn’s unusual approach to sculpture and was excited to experiment with different materials.
I followed the same process as my da Vinci research, looking into technical processes that related to Marc Quinn’s art and then producing observational studies linking to him. As Marc Quinn is also known for his experimental use of textures, I produced some pieces of work playing around with different textures. As I hadn’t really found a particular style of two-dimensional texture that interested me enough to create a response to Marc Quinn, I then added in an extra small artist research of Ron Mueck (who creates hyperrealist sculptures of humans). I think this is a completely acceptable and almost encouraged in your sketchbook – if you have chosen an artist that you are struggling to interpret within your own work then why not add other artists in? This gave me the inspiration to create a realistic ‘head’ sculpture made out of plasticine and coloured with paints.
As many A Level Art students will know, many projects are very fast paced and the amount of work expected means you don’t have a lot of time to get ‘stuck’. My advice is – if you don’t like the direction you are going in, change it! As long as you explain why you don’t think it is working, you can then move in a direction that you like. It will actually give you more an edge, as you are expressing your honest opinions about the process you are going through.
As I wanted to cover many different art styles in this project, to show versatility, I then did an artist research of Cristiano Siqueira, known as CRISVECTOR, a digital graphic artist. I did a few studies of his work as two-dimensional drawn pieces to explore the types of patterns and colours that he used in his work. As colour was a major part of CRISVECTOR’s work, I decided to look at the human form around the world that had colour as a major part of their culture. I did an original acrylic painting of a portrait and then experimented with digital painting. I really enjoyed experimenting with this area of art and decided to take this particular portrait further, moving into more textile territory by beginning to stitch into the image to show the patterns that CRISVECTOR would also use in his work. This is another clear example to the examiner that I was willing to experiment and try new things. I also tried printing processes and dry-point etching onto patterned backgrounds – a style that I fell in love with!
It was during the time that I was researching and responding to the work of CRISVECTOR that I found a passion for portraits of people from across the globe, particularly India. I loved the colours often involved in their everyday life which differs so much from British society. I also particularly loved being able to explore the texture of the skin especially through acrylic paints. I honestly feel that it was during this particular project that I started to find my voice/passion for a particular area of art, which I have carried through into my current university life.
As culture suddenly started to play a larger role in my project, I again conducted my own photo-shoot to use for reference images. I went through the same process of experimenting with different compositions before again creating a large scale piece in response to Vector.
I then moved onto one final artist, Cristina Troufa. I loved her minimalist style of painting and representation of the incomplete human body, almost suggesting that we are still growing and developing. Again, I was particularly drawn in with her choice of colours – I found the bright mix of the skin contrasted heavily against the grey background very aesthetically pleasing. I went through the same process of conducting a photo-shoot, before beginning to look at different composition designs.
As I had already looked at the previous artists in such depth and I was reaching the end of the project, I started to think of experimental ways to incorporate Troufa’s work into my final piece, as well as some of the skills that I had learnt throughout the project. I challenged myself to come up with different ways of presenting the composition and looked at spreading it over two canvases whilst being interconnected with string. I thought it was a clear representation of the human form and a successful resolution to my entire project. I felt that it really expressed my passion of more hyperrealist art, as well as connecting to the cultural aspect that I began to discover.
My advice for creating a successful sketchbook is honestly to just choose areas of art that really intrigue you. You will be surprised how easy it is to find your voice as an individual artist and how much you will enjoy doing your Coursework project. I often get questions about time management and how I managed to complete so much work in a short space of time – the secret is to find something that interests you enough that you are actually excited to work on your sketchbook and it no longer feels like a chore!
Emily’s full A Level Art Coursework sketchbook can be viewed below. Please note that this contains life drawing (human form), so discretion for younger viewers may be advised:
Some of Emily’s sketchbook pages are featured in our upcoming publication – read more about this here!
This article was written by Emily Fielding. Emily gained 100% (full marks) in GCSE Art & Design, A Level Art & Design and A Level Photography. She currently studies make-up and prosthetics for film/television at the University of Arts London (UAL) and has over 22,000 subscribers on Youtube.