Skip to main content

Sister Emerson: Foundation Diploma in Art and Design

Fabric embellishment
Fabric embellishment

Written by
Ali Neilly
Published date
07 July 2020

Sister was studying Biology in her native South Carolina before deciding to enrol on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Camberwell College of Arts. Passionate about the arts but unsure of where to specialise, she spent a year on the diagnostic route — due to progress onto BA (Hons) Fashion Jewellery at London College of Fashion later this year. Sister shares with us why she would thoroughly recommend a Foundation year, her favourite aspects of University of the Arts London (UAL) and London living as a US Student.

crown of flowers
Sister Emerson Work

What made you want to study in London and at UAL specifically?

I am from South Carolina, and actually attended university there for a year. I was studying biology but I knew art and design was where I really belonged so I started researching universities all over the world. I found UAL which is currently ranked number 2 in the world for art and design and decided to look further into it. I found out that many artists and designers I had admired all my life were UAL alumni!

London couldn’t be a more perfect location for UAL. With its museums, galleries, architecture, tons of other creatives living there, and its ties to the art and design industries there is really no better place to study.

You just finished studying on the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Camberwell College of Arts. Foundation is a big part of creative education in the UK but isn’t as commonly heard of in the US. How would you describe it to someone who had no knowledge of it?

Foundation year is really about finding out what specialty within art and design is for you. You go through about 6-8 weeks where you are doing short projects within every subject area. You get to try textiles, painting, sculpture, 3D Design, theatre, everything! Once you’ve tried everything out, you choose which specialty you want to pursue. Then you spend the rest of the year working in that specific area and building your portfolio.

Building your portfolio is so important and foundation year was extremely helpful. Your tutors assign you various projects (normally 2 weeks long) and they guide you through the projects – from research to construction, all the way through creating your design sheets that make up your portfolio.

head fascinator
Sister Emerson Work

Foundation can be taken via a Diagnostic or Specialist route. Which did you choose and why?

I chose to take the diagnostic route because I was completely unsure of what specialty I was most interested in. Coming from studying biology, I really didn’t know much about the different specialties within art and design and diagnostic mode did a great job of introducing me to these. Because of diagnostic mode I was able to confidently choose my speciality, knowing I had truly given everything a try!

Did you enjoy your time on Foundation and would you recommend it to others?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time on Foundation. It was a great introduction into an education and toward a career in the arts.

I know a few people who were initially upset that they were having to do a Foundation year, but by the end of the year they were so glad they had done it. I would completely recommend it to anyone who wants to pursue an art and design education.

Tell us a bit about studying at Camberwell College of Arts. What’s it like to be based there?

The area around Camberwell College of Arts is one of the most colourful and vibrant parts of London, making it perfect for creatives. The main Camberwell campus is on Peckham Road, and the Foundation building is only a 5 minute walk away. The main campus has a large library, an art shop, and a canteen, all of which I used frequently. The Foundation building has a 3D workshop with lots of machinery and tools, which all Foundation students have access to along with a wonderful print room.

You’re progressing onto Undergraduate study at UAL. Can you tell us a bit about what’s next for you and the internal application process?

In October I will be starting BA (Hons) Fashion Jewellery at London College of Fashion. I'm excited about this course because it seems to incorporate all of my favourite aspects of my Foundation year workshops plus access to advanced machinery and tools, tutors that are invested in their students’ educations, and a friendly, collaborative environment which prepares us for a career in the arts.

The application process is much simpler as a Foundation student. Your personal tutor writes your recommendation letter and you are guaranteed an interview for each UAL course you apply to. Another advantage is that the UAL courses look at Foundation students' applications before the general public.

Can you tell us a bit about your work? Do you think London has a positive impact on your creativity and inspiration?

My work has progressed in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I were not in London. One of my favourite things is when I am just beginning a project and I go to all the different museums around London to start my research. Even just sitting somewhere in the city and people watching is inspiring.

I focus on jewellery design but being exposed to so many interesting designers in London has inspired me to think more outside of the box within the context of jewellery. For example, this past year I experimented with the idea of creating jewellery for the home, via ornate light fixtures and other decorative structures.

Sister Emerson Work

How has it been making friends and connections so far? Do you think it’s a positive community to be a part of?

This year I became very close with the students I worked alongside in the studio. We all used each other to bounce ideas off of and get inspiration. I also joined the UAL Christian Union which helps foster relationships between students from different UAL Colleges. There are many other groups you can join and I strongly encourage Foundation students to look into these!

Finally, what are some of your favourite things about studying at UAL and living in London?

My favourite thing about UAL is the sense of community. For instance, all UAL students have access to certain areas of the other UAL Colleges. As a Foundation student I would often visit the enormous Central Saint Martins library and check out books.

Walking around Oxford Circus I see other students with UAL lanyards around their necks, we usually smile at each other or strike up a conversation about our courses. With this sense of community comes great advantages in terms of ties to the creative industries