Pupil's Success Story

My Experience of Applying for an Art Scholarship




"When I was 13, in year 8, I won an Art Scholarship to a boarding school. An Art Scholarship is a time consuming but very rewarding experience. I had had art lessons at school as part of the syllabus and was picked out as a potential scholar in year 7. Therefore I had sufficient time to prepare for the assessments from the start of year 8, which gave me about 8 months."


I was fortunate that my art teacher invested a lot of time in me and another student who was preparing for an Art Scholarship. It really helps having a teacher or mentor who is experienced and can oversee your preparation. Over the next few months we came in during break times, skipped choir to do art and were assigned extra art homework, especially in the holidays. For this reason, it will make everybody’s life easier if the candidate has a good work ethic and enjoys art, because preparing for an Art Scholarship requires commitment.


I prepared a number of sketch books, I visited galleries and wrote up the experience, I made sketches of things that I had seen, and I created a portfolio of paintings etc. It is vital to evidence your work: this means showing every stage of a project from the initial ideas all the way through to an evaluation. The assessors of Art Scholarships are interested in your method of work and how you got to a final piece, rather than just the final piece in isolation.


Critical analysis of your work and others’ work is a key aspect of what they are looking for. This means researching other artists, techniques and styles as well as evaluating your own work. An artist or an art movement can be a good place to start a project.


An Art Scholarship can be an opportunity to experiment with a variety of techniques and mediums that are not usually available at school. For example, you may wish to explore photography, film, oil painting, printing, mixed media, intaglio dry etching, textiles, life drawing, etc.


Your sketchbooks should be as interactive and detailed as possible. With each new page, think about the style of font, the colour, the materials and the texture with which to reinforce what is on the page. I personally make a lot of flaps within a double spread because this makes it interactive and multi layered for the person viewing your sketchbook. Always justify why you have done something, give a reason for a decision. If you want to change your mind or admit that a certain medium or idea did not work, give reasons for it because the assessor will be interested in your ongoing self-evaluation.


When you go to a gallery, take a small sketchbook, which you can name your gallery sketchbook. Make notes on your response towards the various works of art; try sketching the pieces or certain aspects of it that you like. Also buy postcards and add them to your sketchbook. Visiting a gallery can also be a great starting point for a new project.


An assessor will be particularly impressed if you find inspiration from an eclectic range of sources. For example, you do not need to go to an art gallery to see something inspirational: you could look at nature, or architecture, or fashion or machinery or theatre. For example, I looked at the architect Gaudi, and did a section on photography inspired by the make-up in the film Sweeny Todd. Researching around a subject can also demonstrate an in depth knowledge, for example, I looked at the golden ratio, which is a mathematical proportion found across anatomy, architecture and paintings.


In the assessment you will be asked to bring your collected work that you have been preparing. Different schools do it differently. They will often look at your portfolio and then interview you about it. Therefore it is a good idea to be familiar with the work you have done and be confident articulating your creative ideas. Sketchbooks and portfolios may be required to be sent in advance or brought with you on the day. Some schools may ask for specific pieces before the time of the assessment, for example, one school asked specifically for a still life of some kitchen utensils.


On the day of the assessment, they usually set you a task to do on the day. They usually leave it pretty open with just a theme and a range of materials from which to choose. At one school the theme was lines and I chose to do a sculpture despite the fact I had done minimal sculpture up to that point. You may have between three and six hours to do the task, so come up with something doable within that time. In my opinion they are not looking for something to be finished or perfect, they are looking for creativity and someone who is original. I had done many still life sketches of nautilus shells and I decided to make a spherical multi-layered sculpture inspired by a nautilus shell using wire and tissue and then drawing on top of this. It was not a polished and finished project at the end of the session but it did show imagination and an ability to develop ideas past what is tangible. Other candidates made ballerinas, portraits and abstract pieces. We showed our work from that day in our interview and got the chance to explain the ideas behind it.


I was rejected from a number of schools but I got an Art Scholarship in the end, at a school which was particularly impressed by my portfolio. Therefore it is very true that different schools look for and value different aspects of art.


You may well be able to use and borrow equipment from school, however there will be art tools or materials which you may wish to own or need to buy yourself. Specialist art shops have the better quality products. Good quality things can be expensive and therefore asking for specific things for birthday or Christmas presents would be a good idea. Investing in a good pack of pencils, with a range of hardness e.g. from 2H all the way up to 6B would be a good start. A putty rubber is also a good companion, along with a clutch pencil or two, which are great to take on gallery trips. I personally used oil pastels and watercolour pencils a lot in my sketchbook work. A scalpel can also be a useful tool for cutting things in your sketchbook. When buying a sketchbook, it is important to get a book with reasonably thick paper because it will survive all the painting, cutting, sticking etc that you will go on to do.


Experimentation is a key aspect of each project you do. It does not matter if a sketch is unfinished or a bit rough because it will document the development of your thoughts.


Preparing for the Art Scholarship gave me the experience and skills required to ace my Art GCSE. It is also formed the foundations of my critical analysis skills which were particularly useful when it came to English literature. School aside, preparing an Art Scholarship gives you an appreciation, from a young age, of what it feels like to create a large body of work which is satisfying to look back on and draw inspiration from and to build upon in future work.


It is really important to get regular feedback about your sketchbook and projects, particularly from an art teacher or artist. They might offer a suggestion of how to take your work further, or suggest any improvements that may be required.


Last but not least, make yourself a good playlist because listening to music whilst you are working on your sketchbook is the best.


From my experience, there can be between six and twenty people in a room for an Art Scholarship. It is important not to be phased by the competition; especially as you will probably glimpse their portfolio and see how they approach the tasks set. With art, it is so broad and subjective; therefore do not compare yourself and your work to that of others. As well as an interview from the assessors, who will be art teachers at the school, you may also get interviewed by the Head teacher. Obviously emphasise your passion and enthusiasm for art.

Once you receive an Art Scholarship, different schools have different conditions of acceptance. There will almost certainly be a small fee discount, and of course the kudos of being a scholar. However some schools stipulate that an Art Scholar must choose Art GCSE as one of their choices, and some even state that you must also do A level art. There may also be opportunities to display work at a Scholar’s Exhibition, go on extra gallery trips, receive extension work, etc.


In my case, my Art Scholarship enabled me to apply for a bursary and together these enabled me to attend a school which my parents would otherwise have found it impossible to afford.


The key to an Art Scholarship is preparation. If you present one small unfinished sketchbook it does not show much commitment or enthusiasm. At the same time, year 8 is the year of Scholarship or Common Entrance and the later on in the year, the more exam pressure there is. Therefore do as much as you can earlier in the year, rather than later. The summer holidays before year 8 starts are a great time to start. Working on your sketchbook can also be a nice creative outlet in between revision sessions.