The Foundation Year: Experiences from application to exhibition

July 2, 2020

The Foundation Year is an important journey of creative growth, three of our graduating students reflect on their motivations for starting that journey, how the School helped them along that path, the inspirations that feed their artistic practice and what it means to them to be an artist.

Daisy Berry, The Foundation Year 2019-20

Daisy Berry Blog

The one question I remember being asked, during my interview, was: “What do you want out of the Foundation Year?”. At the time, I was holding up a painting, and said, “I want to learn how to paint”. 

Now, there’s this thing that I was quickly introduced to: ‘The A-Level Mindset’. It is only natural to make everything appear perfectly painted and presented, when you have been taught, for two years, to compare your paintings to, and imitate, those who were highly-experienced in the realm of realism (the pinnacle of art, as some may say). Of course, we can learn lessons from those before us, but the sooner we realise that art is ever-changing, expansive, and the boundaries are so vague that it, really, doesn’t exist, the better. 

It is not that I didn’t know how to paint, it was more that I was too afraid of displeasing others, to produce work that I wanted to make. I arrived at the Foundation Year anxiety-ridden, with a narrative that had been thrust upon me; create elaborate paintings, with an abundance of meaning, go to the Slade, to be the next best thing. Looking at my work that followed this narrative, I felt empty, unenthusiastic, and unfulfilled. My personal tutor, Sam, was my sanctuary throughout my journey of the Foundation Year, and it would be a disservice to not talk about her, and the pivotal questions she asked me, in this blog post: 

“But what do you want to do?”

“I want to create stories.”

Being an artist is built on pure, gut-wrenching passion. It boils in the pit of your stomach and forms excitement in your throat; as all things should be in life, it is made from the love that you have for your craft, and if you don’t feel this love when producing work, you shouldn’t be doing it. You should not produce work that seeks other’s approval, and you absolutely should be producing work that makes you happy; this is the most important lesson that I have been taught during the Foundation Year. 

In response, I embraced my love for storytelling and character design. During the Foundation Year, you are introduced to a variety of different practices, to help you find a pathway; I adored the animation, sequential imagery, print-making, and book-making workshops, which led me on to pick Illustration, as a university course, at Norwich University of the Arts.

Being at the Foundation Year not only allowed me to embrace my painting ability, but pushed me to open up to people about myself, anxieties and grief; and as all of those who have come out of a conformist institution, (school), will agree, this is the most difficult lesson to learn as a young adult. Nothing in life is easy and these lessons won’t be handed to you on a platter. Your abilities, as an artist, are being restricted by your fear and unwillingness to look at yourself from within, not by your so-called ‘inability’ to paint. 

The Foundation Year at the Royal Drawing School doesn’t teach you to be ‘the next best thing’, but, more importantly, teaches you how to be the best version of yourself, both in your life and your artistic practice, through a strong emphasis on community and artistic growth.

Further study - BA Illustration, Norwich University of the Arts

Passing Pleasures
Interactive installation and video, 2.33 minutes

Chinda Smith, The Foundation Year 2019-20

Chinda Smith Blog

Prior to attending the foundation course I had a misconstrued notion that I wouldn’t be able to find people like me. This thought was quickly put to rest when I discovered this very powerful connection between creatives. My peers on the course became like family to me, as is the case when you embark on your own, moving away from a small town in the middle of nowhere. I have endless appreciation for the efforts that the tutors put into their classes, as well as the people in admin and the technicians who don’t get enough credit for maintaining the smooth operation of the school. It’s the individuals that make the place the way it is. 

The classes throughout the year were rigorous, designed to develop your skill set, drawing from observation whilst exploring the use of one’s imagination. For instance, I can now confidently draw a figure directly from my mind, whereas before starting the course I relied heavily on source material. Comments from tutors were often insightful and revelatory, unlocking knowledge to further your practice, and understanding of the artistic world. Equally, that fact that it is the Royal 'Drawing' School did not inhibit the exploration of a wider range of mediums. Elements of drawing within sculpture, painting, printmaking, and photography were strongly emphasised throughout. 

Our community at Trinity Buoy Wharf was drastically turned upside down with the rest of the world following the outbreak of COVID19. Although, in the grand scale of people affected, it would be foolish to compare our struggles as art students to that of a key worker. 

After dispersing to our own private worlds; whether that’s in the Scottish highlands; rural countryside; or tucked away in a borough of London; you learn to adapt because you have no other option! Artists are resourceful. You end up using cereal boxes, wooden stumps, and just about anything. The school handled this transition very well, adopting a digital platform for the continuation of workshops, tutor sessions, and lectures for the remainder of the course. 

Honestly, I found It difficult to stay motivated. There were indeed multitudes of existential crises - which is to be expected when considering the state of the world. This is where your friends intervene. We lifted each other up, reigniting an urgency to work, receiving help as often as you gave it. Whilst the school was ready to answer our emails with lightning speed, regular tutor sessions prompted us to stop procrastinating. However, like always, you miraculously manage to complete everything on time. 

Further study - BA Fine Art: Painting, Camberwell College of Arts, UAL

The Forgotten
The Forgotten 
Acrylic on primed canvas, 200 x 500cm

Paul Majek-oduyoye

Paul Majek-oduyoye Blog

Attending the foundation course at The Royal Drawing School has taught me so much about my personal creative process. And how fear can sometimes interrupt this process. What I’ve learned is to be fearless and believe in myself when creating. And to understand there’s no such thing as mistakes in art, all experimentation or ‘failures’ are just part of the masterpiece. This understanding alone has created anticipation of thoughts and ideas, manifesting in life. This has been the platform to force me out of my comfort zone, learn what inspires me and identify my weaknesses and strengths.  

Humanity captivates me, it is the source of all my inspiration and passion. How people exist in the same reality on a global scale and how different cultures and communities evolve from people existing in a space. I've been obsessed with the term ‘diaspora’ as it resonates intensely with my own experience. The plethora of artists who have migrated from one part of the world to another (or whose families have) comforts me, it helps me realise I am not alone. I hope to express alternative narratives in my work and challenge the ideas and structures of the established world. 

Community is the soul of my artwork, the experiences I have gained from living within my communities drives my creativity. I love to explore people in different spaces, particularly people in my local community, which is South east London, Peckham. 

Art for me, is hard to put into words. To me art is a manifestation of life, it’s a projection of my inner consciousness. It allows me to express myself in ways I couldn’t with words or any other form of expression. It allows me to understand myself more, and look into who I am as a person, my culture and spirituality. It forces me to look at myself and the world around me and reflect deeply and appreciate all my experiences in life. 

Equal representation is one of the biggest influencing factors in my creative process. Being British Nigerian living in today’s world. I’m always searching for people I see myself within. Representation in the art world is needed. I hope to be an example of a young British Nigerian man in the art world, for someone from a similar background to me. To see whatever I’m capable of doing is very possible for them too. 

Artists like Lynette Biayode are the most important painters of her generation. I find the blending of historic European portraiture and darker skinned subject matter with her focus on the depiction of imagined black characters, captivating.  Personally, I like that her work questions identity and representation. These inspire me, perhaps because of living with a single mother myself and seeing the strength within her. It motivated me to strive to become an artist.  

Further study - BA Fine Art, Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford

Mother and Child (Diptych)
Mother and Child (Diptych)
Oil, acrylic and charcoal on canvas, 84 x 60cm