Build Blog

Q&A with Tessa O'Brien - Foundation art and design diploma

Story added 5th Mar 2018

Tessa O'Brien - ink fine-liner on watercolour paper (2018)


With this year’s Foundation art and design exhibition opening later this month, we took some time to catch up with exhibiting student Tessa O'Brien to find out more about her experiences of the course and her plans for the future. AND/then: Build Foundation Diploma Exhibition 2018 is taking place at The Menier Gallery from Thursday 22 - Saturday 24 March 2018.

What inspired you to sign up to the Build Foundation art and design diploma?

Following the 'Mixed media and drawing portfolio' course which I completed at Build, I knew I wanted to continue my practise towards higher education level. The Foundation course, on paper, worked perfectly for me as it's part time, which has allowed me to go to work a few days a week in addition to the course. In reality, the course has been better than I ever hoped or imagined.  

What was your background prior to signing up to your course at Build?

I was only 19 when signing up for the course, so prior to this I had taken a gap year post A Level, on which I did the aforementioned 'Mixed media and drawing' course at Build. My goal since school has been to develop my practice in my own way and in my own time, and the Build has been the perfect place to realise this goal. It is a very nice feeling to be able to say that "since I left school", I have been honing my practise and working at the thing  that I know I am meant to do.

Have you always had a passion for art and design, or is it something that has developed more recently?

My passion for drawing as means of storytelling is rooted in early childhood - my mum always tells the story of me getting up at the crack of dawn as a 3 or 4 year old, and  sitting at my desk to make a drawing or a "book" for her before she even got up. My love of drawing as illustration is something that has always been with me, but I think that due to the restrictive syllabus and marking methods of secondary school arts education, it took me until the last couple of years to discover that my art could be used as a way of demonstrating more complex political responses to the world around me.

Ahead of the forthcoming exhibition, can you tell us a little more about your final project and the influences behind it?

My final project is focused on the notions of gender and sexuality in the context of a contemporary world, and what it might be to live in a "Post-Gender" society. As someone who is constantly obsessed by the current state of the world, and the ways that we can improve it, I have found that I am compelled to make Art about it.  My work deals with paper cut outs, and the work that I will be displaying at the Menier Gallery is a life size drawing of a human torso of indeterminate gender/sex, which I have hand-rendered in fine ink pen. I will be getting it electronically reproduced about 10 times, and these torsos will be pegged to a "washing line", to represent the idea of identity, with all of the facets that comprise it, as something that we can put on, and take off as we do with clothing. 

How has the course transformed your approach to your work? Has it helped you with mapping out your future goals in any way?

Absolutely! This course has helped me to demystify the process of art-making - that is not to say that it's now an easy process, rather I now know the value of not seeing every piece of work I make as the piece that defines me. This was a profound realisation to come to, and when I did, I found that I saw every project as an unravelling trajectory along which stumbles and falls were necessary, and a drawing was of worth to me if only as a way of learning what to do to improve next time. In terms of going forward, the course tutors  have been immensely helpful with the process of assembling and refining my portfolio for BA interviews, offering advice on where to apply, what the different universities expect, etc.

What’s the dynamic like on the course?

That must depend on the people who enrol in a year group, but in my experience the energy and inclusiveness on the course has been extremely strong. Within a week of the course, a Whatsapp group had been created and a discourse outside of the classroom had been sparked. That's really important I think, to have open lines of communication  when you're all working hard towards an exciting result - the gallery exhibition of course.  The creative struggle is definitely something that can be embraced when you're on a course such as this. Support is never far away.

What’s the best thing about studying at Build?

It's difficult to pick one thing, but the quality of the teaching is one of the strongest ingredients that make up this course. The diversity of artistic backgrounds from which the teachers come, and the total dedication to the job is unparalleled. If you want it, and seek it out, there is a wealth of advice ready and waiting for you every week, and if you utilise this resource then your projects are destined to become more dynamic, researched, energetic, and investigative. I have also found the wide age range of students to be a wonderful thing; as someone who is still fairly fresh out of the school system, it feels so much more natural to be working with a representation of all ages than just people my own age, where the collective experience of life would be more limited. At Build, we learn from each other as students as much as tutors, and so it is invaluable to be among people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Finally, we should ask... have you got any exciting plans going forward?

I have been accepted onto BA Fine Art/Drawing courses at Camberwell, Kingston and The Cass, and I am still awaiting an interview at Goldsmiths, where it's safe to say I'd be in heaven if I were offered a place. I don't know where I'll be studying in September yet, but I know it won't be boring!

See Tessa's work at AND/then: Build Foundation Diploma Exhibition 2018 - The Menier Gallery from Thursday 22 - Saturday 24 March 2018.

Follow Tessa on Instagram; tessascarletartist

Find out more about Build's Art and design foundation diploma >