Textiles for Mixed Media: What is involved?

The Open College of Arts (OCA) is based Barnsley in the UK. It is the UK’s only education charity. The basic aims of the Textiles for (Hons) degree course is to:

  • Widen access to education in textiles at undergraduate level through Open and Flexible Learning.
  • Ensure you gain the traditional skills in textiles to form a solid foundation for further development.
  • Provide an intellectually stimulating programme of study based on high quality study material and tutor support.
  • Develop your creative capacities and your ability in interpretation and application.
  • Develop your critical understanding of the theoretical and conceptual issues central to the practice of textiles and the social, historical and cultural context in which it is practiced.
  • Provide an environment in which you have has the possibility of changing your view of the world and your interaction with it both visually and intellectually.
  • Foster high-level ethical and professional standards and an awareness of the possibilities offered by existing and new developments in textiles to expand your application areas.
  • To develop autonomous learners capable of applying intellectual and practical skills in a chosen area of visual communications appropriate to employment, further study, or life-long learning.

My latest course,  Textiles for Mixed Media reminds students that there are a total of 400 hours of work, study and research to get through on this level one course. If my previous work with The Open College of Arts  is anything to go by, then I would double that figure.  It depends a lot on the individuals background in the arts, knowledge base and skill level as well as proficiency with photography. It is also useful to have knowledge of HTML code for keeping an online blog. Personally, I also factor in visiting exhibitions, trade and student shows and learning new skills that can’t be taught by book or YouTube videos. It helps a lot, if students have a grasp of photo editing techniques. Sometimes, because I live in The Canary Islands, I have to take a structured course or workshop abroad, which can entail an expensive trip away from home. On the other hand if I visit the UK I also spend time in UK libraries and museums doing research. It is rare if I have the opportunity to meet other OCA students and tutors at the UK based study days.

It is not, as some people assume, an 0n-line study program. Each student receives a manual of projects and is assigned a tutor. After each series of projects, these are parceled off the the tutor for comment. When all projects are complete, all the projects are mounted and displayed and parcelled as a whole and sent to an assessment centre (in the UK), for an external examiner, to give the student an overall grading in keeping with university level education.

There are no research facilities in English where I live, in Spain.  So I often wait until I visit the UK and factor in study-time and order books in advance from local libraries. Normally they are very accommodating, wherever I happened to stay, they will send them ahead to a local branch.

One problem that arises due to my location outside of the UK, is that, despite having a reading list, (at least with the study for the coursework  for A Creative Approach To Textiles), there were times when a book was either restricted by the publishing house for posting to certain countries, or the book was out of print. The OCA administrators, tutors, organisers should consider this when publishing a reading list that covers  globally located students.

The internet is a huge help for research, in fact I couldn’t have done the course work without it. The OCA’s student webs pages have been criticized by many students for being difficult to access and interact with. Enclosed with the course material that I received is an A4 page about how to log on and share information! I brace myself each time I have to upload notes. I have in the past tried uploading my work to the site for tutor feedback, and spent two hours navigating the site, it used to be incredibly slow and cumbersome to work with. There have been a number of recent modifications which have helped a little. I don’t know of any student that uploads their coursework to the OCA website.  That is one reason most students keep a blog of their work. WordPress and Blogger are extremely easy to navigate and keep track of and can hold a lot of images without difficulty. I can not fathom why OCA have such a cumbersome system.

Fortunately the Textiles students also have a Facebook page to ‘chat’ and share information. If they have queries about their work and blogs, usually there is a student who has been down that route and can offer advice. If a student can’t attend  study days, which are arranged at various locations  (always in the UK)  then the social aspect of the course is lacking. I can see that UK study days  can be a chance to meet other students and tutors and exchange ideas.  Tutor support relies mostly on feedback from the work you have already done, I have never met or spoken to my tutor, Rebecca Fairely.  I’m aware that some students and tutors can chat on SKYPE. I would find that a huge advance for distance learning students to be able to interact with their tutors regularly, I like the idea of a face to face conversation where you can discuss project work,  research or queries.

Mixed Media for Textiles is broken down into five sections, each section has a number of projects to be completed.

Part One: Surface Distortion

Project 1 Folding and crumpling

Project 2 Tearing and cutting

Project 3 Heating and fusing

Project 4 Scratching and embossing

Project 5 Puncturing and stitching

Part Two: Joining and Wrapping

Project 1 Joining

Project 2 Wrapping

Part Three: Molding and casting

Project 1 Molding from a surface

Project 2 Casting the internal space of a vessel

Part Four: Mono and collatype printing

Project 1 Monoprinting

Project 2 Collotype printing

Part 5: A final piece

This final sample is to bring all the learning, research and work from this course, to a conclusion. To have the freedom to combine methods or choose materials we particularly enjoyed working with, and perhaps extend them further. A time to show off the skills learned and methods you employed. The format is as with the other projects, that is showing your research, sample making, recording outcomes and sorting.

One of the facets of home study is a feeling of isolation and occasionally lack of motivation. There is no one to ask if  you are not sure of the suggestions in the course manual or whether the standard of your work is heading in the right direction. I don’t find it helpful when a tutor suggests that you go your own way, and that there is no right or wrong way to interpret the manual. Then when students send in their assignments for assessment, some have said the criticism can be keen and brutal. I know of 3 students who left have courses  due to their frustrations with interpretation and feeling they were not having adequate support. The dilemma with the OCA distance learning programs, and which one has to adjust,  is that tutors are not available full time, they are only paid for a certain number of hours and only work on particular days.

Happily the Mixed Media for Textiles is a new course. From my initial reading, it seems very strategic and well planned and it has been written by Rebecca Fairley, my current tutor.

When it comes to referencing and working from internet information,  students have to be wary and careful of their sources and be rigorous about quoting references about information, other peoples work and methodology. Also it is really important that if you use another artists photograph or discuss their work, to seek their agreement to using information or imagery before publishing it on the internet in a blog.