For Prospective Students

Qualification Test 23th May Review

The qualification test for the upcoming winter semester took place during the past two days (given topic was “sitting”). Nosy as I am I couldn’t resist to sneak in the portfolio rating rooms, the place where the candidates leave their portfolios for further evaluation by three professors and three to four students in each room. IF your portfolio catches their attention you get an invitation for the second test on the next day (the topic this time was “point”). You then have four hours to complete a few different assignments on the given topic challenging your creativity and putting you under great pressure šŸ™‚

But let’s talk about my journey to portfolio hell šŸ˜€

I went to three different rooms (from four or five) and here’s what I found out:

  • first of all the professors read your personal data and really take your favored specification in consideration (specifications: illustration, media design, communication design, product design) so don’t write “illustration” if youĀ have no drawing skills whatever!
  • more possibly important facts about you: your age (if your work has a few flaws but you’re still very young the professors tend to occasionally ignore your mistakes BUT sometimes too young candidates can get sorted out so “they can use some 1-2 semesters to further develope their skills before applying again”), your current occupation (school, uni, work etc.), design knowledge (if you’re 28 and never heard of any designers or went to any exhibitions etc., that’s bad!)
  • every portfolio gets only 1-7 minutes so it’s gotta be striking!
  • mind maps, sketches and descriptions to your work (very important) are a bonus!
  • don’t save money on the portfolio folder itself! if it is handmade then you MUST make it look and work good (there were some portfolios that made it really hard to turn the pages because of the way they were crafted…)
  • a whole bunch of portfolios didn’t make it to the final round because there was no common theme -it seems some prospective students were afraid to concentrate on one theme only

On the day of the second test the candidates who weren’t invited got the chance to go to a portfolio consultation with some of the university’s students. You can bring your own artwork or just listen to the critique given to the others, it’s up to you!

Oh, and one more thing: All of the information I’m giving you is just my subjective view šŸ˜‰ No refunds!


Composition Game

As I promised in an earlier post here’s a simple game in order to train your eye to see if your composition is right:

  1. First of all you need a piece of cardboard (21 x 15 cm / 8 x 6 inch).
  2. Divide it into 4 equal parts.
  3. Additionally cut out at least 4 different shapes in various sizes and if possible colors.
  4. Try placing them on the cardboard in any order you can think of (you can also change the number) and try to portion the empty space the way I showed you to do.
  5. As a variation you can make many more papers, divide each in 4 different parts, lay the figures down and draw only their outlines. Now you can lift them up and get a better overview of the overall arrangement between empty space and occupied space as the different shapes now appear as one single shape vs. the background.

In my opinion it’s a more fun way to start dealing with the topic and it really can help you get an eye for this sort of things. You should definitely try it out and see for yourself šŸ™‚

Oh, and here’s a quick pic on how my first “compo-game” looked like:

my composition game

Preparations for Qualification Test-Composition

The more knowledge you have about art the better your chances are to pass the qualifications. Sounds logical, doesn’t it? It’s not necessary to read tons of books about art history and visit museums every day, but there are some VERY basic things you ought to know.

One of which is composition. Many beginners don’t really pay attention to it and prefer concentrating on sole figure or object drawing. That’s a big mistake! The first thing an artist has to consider when planning his work is the composition of his idea on the format. Only after that does the actual sketching begin. In order to find out which composition works best for your image you should scribble quite a lot and try out different things.

I’ve prepared some very useful information for the readers who’ve never dealt with the topic. There are three basic steps you should follow when preparing the composition:

  1. Divide your format in 4 equal parts.
  2. Place the objects (imagine them or scribble first) and try to keep the empty space equal on the left and right side.
  3. Push objects to the left if right object is bigger and the other way round.

Here are some images which will help you understand what I’m trying to say:

This is the easiest and fundamental knowledge on composition, but it should be enough for the qualification test. Next time I’ll introduce to you a small game in order to train what you just learned and get familiar with it really quickly.

Please do not forget that it couldn’t hurt to know more on any of the preparation topics! I’m giving you the information you really should know in order to raise your success chances šŸ™‚

10 things NOT to do in Qualification Tests

There are many things you shouldn’t do in your qualification test! Especially your portfolio harbors many dangers…Try to avoid the following:

  1. DO NOT deal with a given topic literally! If your topic is “kittens” do not simply draw sweet little kittens squabbling on a fluffy pillow. Try thinking of everything connected to the word. What’s typical for cats, what do different cultures associate with cats, metaphorical use of the word, what could be the opposite of cats and their traits, play with the word itself. My best advice is to make a huge mind map and write down everything that comes up your mind and don’t be afraid to deviate from the subject.
  2. DO NOT lose too much time looking for the perfect (sub-) topic if you’re free to choose! Find something you have enough background knowledge about and you’re enthusiastic about. You could do a little test and try thinking of as many ideas as you can within 5-10 minutes. If you get stuck with only one or two ideas you should test some other topics first.
  3. DO NOT stick to the first idea you get! Even if you’re sure it’s THE idea. Examine the matter from different viewpoints and share your findings with others. How do they perceive your work? What’s their interpretation?
  4. DO NOT use the same materials, techniques and formats throughout the entire portfolio! Show the professors you’re keen on making new experiences and try different things out.
  5. DO NOT sacrifice quality for quantity! If you’re given a minimal number of works to be handed in it’s better to complete a few creations less but make them as powerful as possible.Ā  Your portfolio has to stick out of the average.
  6. DO NOT force your art to be exactly the way the professors would probably want it to be! Perhaps you attended an info event at the university/college you’re applying to and the advisor showed clearly his/her preferences. But every professor has his/her own likings and you can’t know who will be checking your portfolio.
  7. DO NOT forget to take some rest while working on the portfolio! Don’t get obsessed with it. Concentrate on something entirely different. Take a stroll in the park, do some exercises, play video games…This will boost your creativity and help you take a step back to get a better overview of your artwork.
  8. DO NOT forget to involve your immediate surroundings! This way you can show the professors you’re observing the real world around you. The worst thing you can do (in the eyes of the Profs) is to draw from pictures! This can’t be emphasized enough. Of course you’re allowed to use reference material but taking reference is not equal to copying. You should try to understand the object and transform it the way you need it on paper.
  9. DO NOT copy artwork! This is very important and has to be stated clearly! Especially when looking for images on the Internet you should be very careful. There were cases where candidates copied artwork made by actual students on the target university they’ve googled. You can imagine how that turned out…
  10. DO NOT forget to have fun šŸ™‚ Also a very important advice!

Qualification Tests

Qualification tests for any kind of art related study fields are of utter importance! Quite logical, since you won’t be accepted at the university/college unless you pass one. ThereforeĀ many prospective students feel intimidated and some even give up without even trying. Sure, preparations can be really money- and time-consuming depending on one’s interests, and perhaps the people surrounding you try to discourage you or you do so yourself out of fear to see yourself failing…But you should at least give it a shot, because nothing is worse than living a life full of regrets! That was my biggest obstacle, the fear that I might not be good enough, that everyone would be disappointed. I started studying something else until I realized I couldn’t watch animated movies nor could I look at nice paintings without feeling pity for myself and hating myself for not even trying! That’s when I pulled myself together and tackled the test…And I passed!

Don’t ever give up before even trying! As corny as it sounds, itā€™s true.

But let’s return to the main topic: Qualification tests. Right now I’m going to give you some examples of how those tests could look like. You can find tips on the tests themselves here.

First of all you should start a major research on the Internet! Visit the universitiesā€™ Internet-pages, look for hints in forums or blogs (O_O). Precore for example is a real good forum for German (prospective) design students. Most universities will be announcing coming up counselings, of which some require a registration a few weeks ahead. You should also check out the modules (topics) each university is offering.

Eventually you should decide on a few but not too many universities and register for a counseling if offered. Make sure to prepare yourself correctly and write down the most vital questions for you and DO NOT forget to bring as much of your own artwork as possible! The advisers want to see how experienced and how imaginative you are in order to give you tips for the qualis. Do not leave sketches out! In most cases that’s exactly what advisers want to see. Sketches show how much effort you really put in observing your surroundings and developing your skills. The unis aren’t looking for the next Picasso! They need students who are open-mindedĀ and willing to try new things out.

At the counseling make sure to check out what the others have to show and listen to the comments given. Advisers will be in most cases VERY direct and they won’t spare you, believe me, they will criticize you whenever possible and that’s how your whole studies will look like. You have to be aware of this! No criticizing, no improvement! Don’t be shy to ask any question that comes up your mind, no matter how stupid it may sound. Every little bit of information is extremely valuable at this stage!

After the counseling you shouldn’t miss to find some students lurking around and ask them some questions, too. Most of them will give you as much advice as you wish.

Now comes the second part of your application: Your work on the actual qualification test. But how do such tests look like? Although most tests differ in details one thing is always demanded, and that’s a portfolio. This is the heart of every qualification test. The specific requirements on the other hand can vary immensely. While some universities give you a certain topic and a period of time, during which you have to finish your portfolio, other only want images without giving you a topic or time-limits. To make it easier to understand how these things vary I’ll give you three examples of real university requirements:

1. Given topic “movement”, a time-period of 6 weeks, no material (chalk, oil, pencils etc.) or technique (photographs, vector, movie, painting, sketch, sculpture etc.) limitations, biggest format not bigger than 70 x 100 cm/27 x 40 inch, maximum of 20 artworks, only originals accepted (too big objects have to be documented), an index with descriptions of all works

2.No given topic, no time-period (of course portfolio must be ready until the date of hand over), no material or technique limitations, biggest format not bigger than 70 x 100 cm/27 x 40 inch, minimum of 20 artworks, only originals accepted (too big objects have to be documented), index not required

3. No given topic, no time-period (of course portfolio must be ready until the date of hand over), no material or technique limitations, no fixed format limitation but has to be within the realm of possibility, no fixed artwork number limitations, only originals accepted(too big objects have to be documented),Ā  index not required

Additionally some universities may demand further tests:

1. If portfolio passes one has to complete a 4-hour practical test at the university itself AND present the results at an interview with some professors and students. If everything has been passed one gets a grade and has to apply with it, so you’re not 100% accepted.

2.If portfolio gets a grade of 1,4 (about A-) the student is 100% accepted, if portfolio gets a grade between 1,5 and 4,0 (B+ to D) student can complete a homework with 2 given assignments during a time-span of one month. If passed student is 100% accepted.

3. If portfolio passes you are accepted for one year on probation. If not showing pleasing results you could get kicked out…

Well that’s how three different qualification tests actually looked like for me. Number one and two were universities of applied science (design) and number three was an art academy (free art). Another possibility for you would be to apply at a private academy, which in most cases should accept you without big qualification tests but aĀ portfolio could be of need in order to advise you. Why, you ask? Because private academies cost a lot (for example 1200 Euros/1600 US-dollars per MONTH, a university would cost 18-60 Euros/24-80 US-dollars per month in Germany) and if you can’t even draw a straight line it would be a big waste of money. I’m well aware that US college fees are a lot higher than most European fees, but nevertheless you see the huge difference!

Oh, and one last thing. Every university has its own application deadlines. You have to apply for the qualification test separately a few MONTHS before the regular university application deadlines.

So now that I gave you some examples and some useful hints get to work and start applying!

Art vs. Design

Perhaps some of you already took a look at my About me page, where I felt the necessity to specify my art-studies as design-studies. Well I didn’t do this for the sake of precision but because there is a clear difference between those terms! If you should apply at an university/college for design please make sure not to mix up the terminology! You can’t imagine how touchy some professors are…

At the time I started applying for the qualification tests I wasn’t sure whether to choose the Art Academy or Design University. I noticed how little my knowledge on the difference was. So I decided to attend some informative events at the different institutions, as far as they offered any. Sadly but true, most Art Academies didn’t offer any, so I investigated their Internet pages. I didn’t find much difference to design concerning the topics (modules) to be taught, but the qualification tests were a whole different thing…

Left with no big choice I went to a few design-counselings. The very first question the guiding professor asked us was what design meant to us…Silence. The prof wasn’t surprised at all. Some tried to describe design as the process to invent how something should look, like in fashion or product design. We gave many examples but no clear definitions. After hearing enough the prof gave us a clear (and in my eyes somehow antagonistic) answer: “They (the artists) hang out in their studios trying to change people’s viewpoint of the world and we (the designers) show people the world in different ways. In no way does that mean we’re not creative, ’cause that’s what they think of us, a bunch of artisans producing images, not creating!” Everyone was startled by his harsh choice of words, I guess they’re some issues between designers and free artists…

But the prof’s answer didn’t satisfy me. I thought about the question for a long time. And it turned out to be a good thing since I needed to answer it once more, on my own, in writing in the last phase of the application. So here’s what emerged:

Free Art >> uses the artist’s personal ideals/points of view in the process of creating work of art + meant to put the viewer in a state of questioning their own points of view about certain topics

Design >> the designer (in most cases) works for someone else and is assigned with the challenge to visualize and actualize his employer’s ideas, not his own BUT sometimes this distinction is not as clear

So, what happens when I try to describe a fashion designer and a concept artist with the desriptions I just came up with? Prominent fashion designers usually do not have employers. And concept artists do have employers. The latter problem can be solved fairly quick by looking the term up on the Internet. It turns out “concept art” is a misleading term for visual design. The fashion problem is a bit trickier, I think. Clearly there are many “free” fashion designers out there, but what distinguishes them from free artists is the fact that their works of art do not really make you thoughtful about something other than fashion… It’sĀ  all about creating creative new styles for the pleasure of the audience and not about spreading deep and intense ideas, which are meant to shake the audience’s foundations of thinking. And freelancers are a species on their own, individually changing their roles as an artist or designer.

The bottomline is that various distinctions between art and design do exist, sometimes clear and other times not that obvious, but altogether everyone who is dedicated to either oneĀ  is an ARTIST!