Basic Training goes artistic

Anyone who has ever assumed that art school must be fun, easy or both has probably never encountered any militaristic verbiage associated with it — unlike high school students who just finished “boot camp” at Tyler School of Art.

Just ask Meg Baumgartner. As a rising senior at Hopkins High School in New Haven, Connecticut, Baumgartner was looking for a way to expand upon her art skills and generate more pieces that would hopefully allow her entrance into a respectable art school.

“I’ve been taking studio art classes the past four years, but I have never really done anything outside of high school,” Baumgartner said. “Up until now, I have never been fully immersed in art all day long.”

Fortunately, her school’s art coordinator recommended a program through Tyler called ‘Portfolio Bootcamp’. Baumgartner attended one of three sessions available this summer. She saw this as the perfect opportunity to improve her work and make the transition from high school to college level courses.

Summer Boot Camps have three separate  sessions throughout the summer that occupy students Monday through Friday, two of which have already finished, and the last session having begun on July 22nd. It is an all day course that spans from 9:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. They also offer Weekend Boot Camps that meet from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm for three consecutive Saturdays.

Participants are able to enroll in multiple courses that allow them to work with different mediums and expand their portfolios.

“Like most students, I [took] two classes,” Baumgartner said. “My morning class [was] oil painting. Then in the afternoon I [had] my figure drawing class, where we [worked] from real-life models. It’s something I have never been able to do before, and getting to have that taste of a college class is really great.”

By exploring different techniques, students like Baumgartner are creating work that will help them be more confident when they apply to art schools in the near future.

Portfolio Bootcamp students at work, courtesy of instructor Karen Reynolds
Portfolio Bootcamp students at work, courtesy of instructor Karen Reynolds

Many top art schools require a variety of work in the portfolios that they review for admission, which often is expected to be on par with what is expected from college students. Tyler requires at least five drawings from observations, along with another 10 pieces in each student’s portfolio.

“While this is not true of all high schools, most are unsuccessful in preparing students the way they should for college-level work,” Portfolio Bootcamp instructor Karen Reynolds said.  “Our boot camp is really teaching skills in between a high school and college level.”

Reynolds, a professor at Tyler, teaches about portfolio development.

Having this instruction on a college campus enriches the experience even further. For the high school seniors, it is a chance to prepare themselves and get familiar with life away from home.

“I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, but being a rising senior I am trying to think about what I want to do in life,” Baumgartner said. “This is giving me a taste of being an art student in college and a feeling that it could be a real possibility for me.”

While the boot camp is the most popular class for seniors, there are plenty of other seasonal courses that Tyler offers to high school students like Baumgartner. Weekend Workshops meet on Saturdays in the fall and spring to explore every alley of art and design, Junior Art Workshops are open for rising eighth and ninth grade artists, and Art Start and DigiStart are both four-week, full scholarship programs that cater to talented and underprivileged youth in Philadelphia High Schools.

The opportunity to prepare for time at college and the first-hand experience of childhood home separation is really what sets the programs at Tyler apart from other pre-college institutions.

Jared Freschman, a rising high school senior from Delaware, also attended the recent Portfolio Bootcamp at Tyler. He said that his favorite part of the experience was the private art show held by the students for their family and friends at the end of the two week program, where they displayed all of their completed work.

“I learned a lot,” Freschman said. “It was an awesome program. It made me know that I want to go to art school, but also go to a university that has other options to get involved in other than art.”

Freschman found it incredibly beneficial to learn about practical applications of art majors and career paths for professional artists, he said. Creating art may have been the focus of the camp, but career advice and life experience, including a taste of independence, were perks that students appreciated.

“As part of my program, a large group of us are staying in dorms at the University of Pennsylvania while we are here in Philadelphia,” Baumgartner said. “Most of the kids in my group are from the Philadelphia area so getting to meet and become friends with people from outside where I live has been so cool.”

However, for Baumgartner and her fellow group members, the experience has not been restricted within the borders of The City of Brotherly Love.

“We don’t have classes on the weekend, so as part of my program we have the opportunity to take trips outside Philly,” Baumgartner said. “[The first weekend] we went to Washington D.C. and [then it was] New York City!”

While the Tyler summer classes are designed to instill a sense of security about leaving the confines of high school and entering the world of art school, they also provide students the invaluable opportunity to step out of their comfort zones and grow as individuals. This is something that Reynolds considers to be so vital to the success of the program.

“It gives kids an opportunity to get more depth into everything,” Reynolds said. “Getting the chance to meet kids from all over the country with a common interest is so fantastic, especially because many of these kids are from the suburbs. For a lot of these kids, it is their first real taste of independence.”

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