When Andrew Covington reached out to me about speaking on my experiences at LCAD, it made me put myself back in the shoes of senior-in-high-school Shannon and the things that I was considering when I was choosing an art school. Spoiler alert, I ended up going with the Laguna College of Art & Design (LCAD) in Southern California. LCAD is a 4-year university that offers an undergraduate program in all different fields of art: from Game Art to Fine Art. Here are some of the reasons why I chose to go there, and my experiences thereafter.
What I was wanting as a high school student serious about pursuing a career in the arts was a program that was representational, focused on strong fundamentals, and ultimately something that was going to kick my ass. The first thing that came to mind was an atelier. For me, I didn’t feel the need for a program that was going to fuel my creative side so-to-speak. I had ideas, I wanted the ability to execute them; I wanted to learn how to draw and paint like no one’s business.
That being said, my mom had to beg me to apply to LCAD. I was so sure that an atelier experience would be the best thing for me to do that I wasn’t entertaining the possibility of anything else. It was only until I visited LCAD’s campus that I made a 360-degree turn around, and eventually ended up going there. That is a lesson in and of itself: if you can, ALWAYS visit the schools that you are thinking of attending before making any kind of decision.
I visited LCAD and I did a tour of the campus. I wasn’t going there with high expectations, because as far as I was concerned I was already set on going to an atelier. I was surprised to find that when I got there, it still had the rigor that I was craving. For every hour of class that you are enrolled in, you are expected to have the same amount of time in homework. To give some more perspective on that, almost every studio class is 6 hours long. That’s 6 hours of homework, and if you take 3-4 studio classes a semester, that’s 18-24 hours of homework every week. What I would find out later is that it often takes a lot more than 6 hours to do your homework well.
That amount of work can be a turn off to some people, but for me, it was exactly what I wanted. Not only was the workload appealing to me, the student work backed it up. This was probably one of the best pieces of advice that my high school mentor gave to me when looking at schools. Look at the teacher work, but more importantly, look at the student work. Their education is going to be what you are receiving. I got to LCAD and I was completely impressed by the level of student work. Their work made me believe that I could learn a lot at LCAD.
As I would find out, I could learn a lot more than I thought. LCAD offers students the opportunity to continue their education, even after graduation. Graduates are able to audit one course each semester. This was one of the ultimate selling points to me. Art is a life-long pursuit, and to be an artist is to be the perpetual student. This is a great way to stay sharp and brush up on old material, as well as to learn new things.
Last and least: looks. How a campus looks should be one of the last things on your list, but for me it was another selling point. The campus is beautiful and it is located in the heart of Laguna Beach, California. It hurts your wallet but is easy on the eyes. It was and is a really inspiring place to be as an aspiring artist. The campus itself is covered with all kinds of sculpture, student work and plant life. When creating beautiful things, it helps to be in a beautiful place.
In the end, I decided to go to LCAD because I realized that I would have the rigor of an atelier, with the flexibility and benefits of a larger university. I would get a degree, I would learn to be an awesome painter, and I would be 10 minutes from the beach. Sounds good right?
About The Program
LCAD’s Fine Art program is rooted in fundamental academic principles with an emphasis on figurative work. The program is very dedicated to making sure that you have strong drawing and painting skills. Although LCAD is very rooted in classical training, they have recently taken steps to allow more freedom into the program.
During my last year at the school, the chair introduced several new courses into the curriculum: Quick Studies, Experimental Drawing, Making Art in the Internet Age, etc. Classes like Quick Studies and Experimental Drawing, among others, allow you to develop your ideas and not just your ability to draw and paint. Looking back, I feel that this is really important, and also something I may not have gotten if I had chosen to go to an atelier.
Generally, for most of your time at LCAD you will be focused on building your skills. During your first year you will be taking a lot of fundamental classes- fundamentals of figure drawing, fundamentals of painting, etc. In your freshman and sophomore year, you will start with direct painting. As you progress, you will move into indirect methods of painting, with longer and more extensive projects. When you reach your senior year, you will choose the method in which your work after having studied both.
At the end of your sophomore year, there is what is called an “advancement review”. It means exactly as it sounds. You will submit a portfolio for the Chair and faculty to review, and upon their review they will determine whether or not you are ready to move on to the next level of study. It may sound really scary but as long as you are on track, you should have no trouble passing the review.
You will continue to take higher-level courses, until you reach your senior year. Then you will develop your own body of work and write your senior thesis. As a senior you are eligible to your own studio on campus. The studio is a private little cubicle where you can work on your portfolio and other coursework. You have access to the studios anytime during school hours and LCAD usually extends those hours during midterms and finals.
There are a lot of classes that you need to take in order to graduate within 4 years. As mentioned before, the workload for studio classes is very heavy. You want to take no more than 3 studio classes and 2 liberal art classes a semester, but oftentimes you have to take more in order to graduate on time. Depending on your situation, I encourage you to try not to take more than 3-4 studio classes a semester unless you really, really have no choice. My freshman year I had two 18-credit semesters and 0/10 would not recommend. Eventually you find your own balance of what workload suits you best, but my advice is to not bite off more than you can chew, because ultimately it will bite you.
The LCAD Community
The LCAD Fine Art Program is a small program within an already small school. Everyone pretty much knows everyone, and this makes the program a very close-knit community. The size of the program and the environment it fosters allows people to feel a part of a family. Students and staff are very generous with their information and aren’t afraid to give away their “secrets”. There is a genuine desire for you to get better, and there is no shortage of people willing to help. At times, some of my greatest teachers were fellow students.
At LCAD, there is a nurturing but honest environment. Although everyone is very kind, they still want you to grow. At every midterm and final, your studio class will have a group critique. It is very important that you get honest feedback, not only from your teachers but also from your peers, and that is something that LCAD recognizes. LCAD provides an environment where you feel safe to be critical, and also to be criticized. At the end of the day you know that whatever criticisms you receive, are only to better you.
Before you think I was hired by LCAD to write this, here are some things you should know. It IS very expensive to go to LCAD and they do not offer a lot of student resources that are available at larger colleges. There isn’t a cafeteria or a meal plan. They do have a food truck that comes at noon every day, but it still costs. You do have the opportunity to dorm your first year there, however, you can only dorm for the first year and that year only. Afterwards you will have to find your own housing off campus. That may sound scary, but LCAD does offer help in finding housing.
There is also an apartment complex that is about 10 minutes away from the school that most students go to after their first year called the Artisan. LCAD has a shuttle that travels to all of the campuses, the dorms and to that particular apartment complex. If you don’t have a car (I didn’t for my entire 4 years there), the shuttle is a great way to save money and get around.
Despite how expensive it may be to attend, it is manageable and LCAD is pretty generous about giving out scholarships and working with your financial situation. Financial Services does notify you of outside scholarship opportunities as well, but it is on you to go out and pursue them. The same applies to job opportunities. The Career Services department uploads potential job opportunities almost DAILY on the online job board, but it is up to you to seek and follow up on them.
I know that I threw a lot of information at you but here is the TL;DR version:
- Visit the school before you go
- Look at the student work; if you aren’t impressed by it, you probably shouldn’t go
- LCAD offers strong training based on academic principles, with the freedom and flexibility of a larger institution
- LCAD has a strong, close-knit community that is nurturing, yet honest
- 1 free class every semester after you graduate
- Heavy workload
- It is expensive $$$
- Not a lot of student resources
Ultimately, I decided to go to LCAD because the teachers, student work, and environment outweighed the cost of going. If I could rewind back to fall of 2013, I would still choose to go to LCAD. My experience there has made me a confident painter, lots of lasting friendships, and maybe a little tan. I hope that my review makes the decision easier for you, wherever you decide to go.