Category Archives: Birmingham


So Cat had her first University interview-cum-lets-have-a-gander-at-your-art session yesterday, at Birmingham. After she had lugged her enormous portfolio through the door, I walked into the city for my first look at Britain’s second largest city.DSC00774 Um.

Can you say “uninspiring”? On a brief two-hour jaunt, it seemed nothing more than a tedious collection of chain stores put together in a boring layout. Even the ‘special’ Frankfurt Market paled into insignificance when compared with Manchester’s mighty Christmas German Markets. However, I did find THIS!DSC00775 Ho yes. Tasty, and entertaining to eat. While getting that little lot down me gob, I came across this outside the Bullring – he looks a bit grumpy, poor soul.DSC00776I was also amused by this sign outside the shopping centre, above a gadget shop –DSC00779  And that was about it. There was a pleasant (ish) view down one shopping street of a church and blocks of flats in the distance…DSC00777 … but honestly, the best thing about Birmingham as far as I can see is the hugely entertaining accent. I’ve tried to find a playable example to link to, but Google has let me down, so you’ll have to do it yourselves.

On my way back to fetch Cat, I did see another stall, which tempted me with its offers of delights outside my sphere of experience, but by then I was full of sausage and all the stuff I’d ladled onto it.DSC00780 Look! For twenty pence you can have cheese on your Ostrich Burger! Wonder if it is yak cheese?

Cat on Tour – BIAD, Friday 9th October 2009

DSC00583The Arts and Design campus, known as BIAD ( Birmingham Institute of Art & Design) is one of several dotted around Birmingham City Centre. After ninety minutes of motorway driving, parking seemed unnecessarily difficult (no signs), until we spotted a bloke in a yellow vest way down a side street. Yep, he turned out to be the incarnation of parking signage. Once out of the car, our first impression was that the building is (in Cat’s words) HUGE! The photo up there is just the front bit – it goes back for ages. The setting is urban in the extreme, with few places where students might sit and relax on sunny days.

While we were queuing to register (see below), we amused ourselves trying to work out what courses other visitors were there for – Illustration, Architecture, Textiles, Jewellery. We were consistently correct, as is the way of things when its all in your head.

The Open Day was badly organised. It was not obvious where we were supposed to go once we got in, other than mill around aimlessly, and the place was a bit of a warren. DSC00558 However, we stumbled across the Student Union stand eventually, where two happy students were extremely friendly and helpful (if a little blurry – the drawback of using the phone camera). We also discovered the Art Shop, which was very well-stocked at reasonable prices. Cat bought a couple of sketch books.

Back in the canteen it was packed with rabbiting punters waiting for various tours, with the consequence that it was impossible to hear announcements as the “guides” all spoke softly, although they carried no big sticks. We managed, more by geographical happenstance than by judgement, to latch on to the correct crocodile of people for the Visual Communications (or VisCom, as they have it) tour. Pleasantly, we found that the walls everywhere were covered with students’ work, and impressive work it was too. In another “arty” touch, the floors, rather than being numbered (first floor, second floor etc), were referred to by colours.

Many of the rooms are open access, for the use of any student regardless of discipline. We saw a computer room full of iMacs for students to use for work, for browsing, or even for personal email. However, the bloke showing us round was at great pains to stress that in design, not everything is computer-based, and in this light we were shown a Print Room for all sorts of practical hands-on printing. DSC00570 We also inspected a well-equipped Photographic Studio where I took an Arty Photo (see left), a small Theatre (all black), and a Green Screen room (all, erm, green). In each area, a technician is always available to assist and teach students in the use of equipment. There was also a studio of desks for more traditional artistic work, given natural light through windows in the roof. Guide Bloke told us – “Good drawing skills are essential and greatly encouraged. Drawing is the basis of everything else”

Then a short lecture by George Hart, Illustration tutor, which covered the following points. Birmingham has three Universities. BCU has six faculties, including BIAD which dates back to 1843 and is the largest Art & Design educational centre outside London. DSC00561 The degree in Visual Communication has four strands – Graphic Design, Illustration, Moving Image and Photography. The course description was over-detailed for what we needed, but it boiled down to this – the course starts as a very broad-based learning experience, with much cross-discipline work. Specialisms (is that a word?) develop over the three years of the course until eventually the student is assigned a tutor appropriate for their particular field.

Students build a portfolio, making a Reflective Visual Journal (RVJ) – they keep everything: sketches, storyboards, research documents etc. In year 2, exchange visits are available to Hong Kong and Thailand. Visiting speakers appear from time to time.

He also gave advice on interviews and portfolios –

  • show a range of media, a range of ideas, a range of working sketches and/or models

  • bring sketchbooks as well as finished work

  • show passion and interest (Who do you admire in your field? What was the last exhibition you went to?)

  • it is more an informal chat than an interview – don’t be nervous.

He finished by saying that the degree is a team effort between student and tutor, not just tutors telling students what to do.

DSC00578 The accommodation we saw (reached by coach) was very plush, and included on the ground floor a gym, a jacuzzi, and a swimming pool (which are also used by members of the public). It was a tall block on a busy road in the middle of Birmingham, and I imagine it would be likely to be quite noisy. We weren’t told anything about student reps and security, unlike on other Open Days.

Cat quite liked the sound of the course, and will likely choose it as one of her five on the UCAS application. On the way out, she took a photo of a poppy in one of the few spaces where students might relax:DSC00582

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