After finishing his year on our Extended Diploma in Creative Media Production, student Bertram Jayarajah reflects on his experience at college so far with Foundation Diploma in Art & Design lecturer Laura Edmunds, and discusses how the supportive atmosphere has enabled him to flourish creatively.
Laura: What were you doing before you came to Plymouth College of Art?
Bertram: I was looking to study A-level at my secondary school, but they didn’t offer what I wanted. That’s when I came across the Extended Diploma department here. What about you?
Laura: I was living in Australia studying for my Masters degree, after which I came back to the UK and studied to be a lecturer and I’ve been at the college ever since. What made you decide to come here?
Bertram: For me, it was because I knew the college offered courses in very specialised subject areas and I thought what’s the point in doing History A-level when I know I want to go into film.
The facilities here also played a part in my decision – they are so extensive and the access to equipment is amazing. I think the college is a lot more independent than a school and they encourage you to build up your work yourself, which I really loved.
"Mixing with lots of different people and friendship groups creates an atmosphere where you can actually be yourself." — Bertram Jayarajah
Laura: What sort of things did you do when you started?
Bertram: On my first day we were put into groups and given a soundtrack and a camera and told to make a film. That’s how we got to know each other. For the first two terms we made a film at least twice a week with different people each time, and now we are one big group and we all know each other’s strengths and skills. What do you start students doing on the Foundation Diploma?
Laura: Well, I think from my perspective as a member of staff we set up activities like the ones you’ve done. We organise group induction activities where people can get to know the positive aspects of a person and what they bring to a team.
Learning about all the students and how they work on a personal level is really important to us. The only way you can see that is to start off in a situation that hits the ground running, like you making a film on your first day, on Foundation I think students are a bit shocked by how we start the course as we want to challenge their creativity straight away. One student actually put her foot through her canvas. which was brilliant.
"As soon as you walk in you feel that the entire building and everyone in it, and all the resources and spaces are devoted to creativity in some form." — Laura Edmunds
Bertram: I love that the college really welcomes and embraces that kind of culture. And also the really open community is so inspiring. I’m able to meet people from different walks of life and go to tutors I’ve never met before and ask them questions and get advice.
Laura: Yes, absolutely. I encourage all of our students to mix with the various areas of the college, whether that is with students from other courses or just from an observer standpoint to open up the possibilities for creative dialogue. Most of the staff here are artists and have their own practice going on, which is really important in this creative environment, so knowing my students are able to pull from that well of knowledge is one of the highlights of being here.
Bertram: For me, it’s a creative hub with lots of people working together. For example, I’m currently working with fashion students on my final major project, and I don’t think you get that cross-collaboration at a normal college.
Laura: Definitely. I think the fact that it’s an independent art college is the reason for that. As soon as you walk in you feel that the entire building and everyone in it and all the resources and spaces are devoted to creativity in some form.
I don’t think you get that in many colleges because art subjects are so often confined to a tiny department in a huge building where a lot of other subjects are a priority. So what is the main focus in Creative Media Production?
"I think my film skills have drastically improved, not only that but my social skills as well." — Bertram Jayarajah
Bertram: For the first term or two the focus is very general, so you’re writing, filming, editing, and then when the tutors know you better and where you want to go then it becomes very individual. Having the choice to learn all these different specialisms is really great; they tailor the course to individuals as you learn more of what you want to go on to do. What about on the Foundation Diploma?
Laura: It’s a similar dynamic – different courses have different needs and the lecturers work with that, so we are quite bespoke in that way. The main focus is active learning, so students learn through doing and making.
In terms of the Foundation Diploma, it covers various elements of art and design because it is a very broad course, but we try to make it bespoke by responding to students’ needs. Do you think there is anything you have specifically improved upon since studying on the course?
Bertram: Definitely. I think my film skills have drastically improved, not only that but my social skills as well. Mixing with lots of different people and friendship groups creates an atmosphere where you can actually be yourself.
Before this course, I thought my path had to be GCSEs, A-levels and then a degree, whereas now it’s GCSEs, Extended Diploma and then anything I want.
There are so many different pathways to choose from and I’ve been taught about each one of them, the positives and the negatives. You can only get that from industry professionals like Billy and Neil – it’s invaluable. Do you ever learn anything from your students?
Laura: All the time. Observing their playfulness with materials and seeing them creating is really exciting for me, watching the way they approach their projects, looking through their sketchbooks and seeing what they write about. They come up to me and say things like “I’m going to add concrete to my textiles,” and I love that experimental nature and fearlessness.
I think getting up and doing the work you believe in and linking your research to that is really inspiring to me, so seeing that happen every day is pretty amazing and affects me in my own practice as well. I go back into the studio quite refreshed.
Bertram: So what are your plans for your current practice then?
Laura: Well, I’ve currently got a studio space at KARST, so I’m looking to advance my practice there. I am also taking on more residencies – I have one in France this August with a drawing research centre. Do you have any plans after you finish here?
Bertram: Yes, after exhibiting my film at the college Graduate Shows I will be moving to London for my job as a runner in a big post-production company in Soho. It was offered to me about two months ago because I did some work experience there for a week. The company contacted me and gave me first choice on a job they had on offer, so that feels amazing!
Laura: Congratulations! That’s such a great opportunity. So what advice would you give students looking to head down a similar path and study an Extended Diploma?
Bertram: Be prepared. It’s very different to school, you’re not spoon-fed, you’re left to do your own work so you have to be independent. I think that’s a really good thing and an important life skill and that’s what they teach you here, life skills.
I think picking the right course is really important as well, so research the subject you want to study because I think you need to know what you want to do, and Plymouth College of Art offers so much that you have that option.