Work by Alison O'Reilly

Why should I do a Foundation year? Q&A with City Lit Foundation Art and Design graduates

23 September 2022
Posted in: Courses, Art & Design

By Raz Barfield - Head of City Lit's Centre for Advanced Practice

  • Many artists and designers describe their Foundation Course as the most exciting period of growth and development in their creative lives, because it opens up new worlds of possibilities and potential.
  • Raz Barfield caught up with three students who graduated from our UAL-validated Foundation in the summer of 2022, to find out more about their practice, and their experience on the course. This small selection showcases the wealth and diversity of practices that Foundation can support learners to develop.

Katherine Brown 

“Foundation was really useful on so many levels. I had been an artist for several years already, but had had no academic training since school. Foundation offered me the opportunity to explore working with new materials and processes, things which would have been more difficult to investigate working on my own. It’s also been really enriching to work alongside others, I've learnt so much from shared explorations and journeys. It's incredibly valuable to be part of a community of practitioners.”

Katherine has found that the focus on creative process has allowed her to unlock new ideas and avenues of work and in particular given her the confidence to pursue lines of inquiry, without a clear idea of particular outcomes. This has been incredibly liberating and has led to a new body of work - sculptural forms that respond to the body and that she uses to interrupt environments, including public settings such as the supermarket! She is interested in introducing something “unexpected, joyful and organic" into settings that we think we know, interrupting for a moment our rational perception of these worlds. 

Katherine Brown

Developing Art Practice

Katherine is staying on City Lit’s Centre for Advanced Practice for the 22/23 academic year, to study on our Developing Art Practice course: she has plenty of ideas and work in development, and really values the forum that this course provides for critical conversations about work, and all the associated opportunities for peer group learning and the development of creative communities and networks that come with this. 

Since Foundation, new ideas have continued to come quite naturally. Katherine’s current work builds on breakthroughs in practice made in her recent Foundation Final Major project and her new found confidence with working with more sculptural materials. She is excited to continue to investigate new materials and develop her work. She is also keen to build on her experience showing her work and has been actively pursuing opportunities to participate in group shows.

Alison O'Reilly

Alison’s career path is quite unusual. She is an emerging fine artist, but is more than 15 years into a career as a creative practitioner. Prior to Foundation Diploma, she had already completed a Master’s degree: the joint MA/MSc in Global Innovation Design at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

Motivated by what she calls “fine art FOMO”, she subsequently took the unusual step of going ‘back to basics’. Alison says that she enrolled on the Foundation course for the content; that it was genuinely about exposure to the widest possible range of materials and processes, to get in on the development of a personal fine art practice “on the ground floor”, and because it offered an established structure that she could plug into for her first year working as a full-time artist.

Alison O'Reilly

FAD moved my practice forward much faster

“I knew I wanted to pursue a career in fine art but I wasn’t sure in what medium. City Lit’s Foundation offered a comprehensive selection of classes. I was interested in fine art, sculpture, print, ceramics, visual communication, film and textiles – all of them! Foundation meant I could explore each pathway before choosing where to focus. The course offers exposure to a comprehensive range of process, then forces you to consolidate the areas of greatest interest.

Despite having this rationale for pursuing a Foundation course, and a specific focus, Alison was still surprised by her experience at City Lit. “I came to study for the practical experience, for the range of materials and processes, but actually the lectures and seminars impressed me the most in terms of the critical aspects. FAD moved my practice forward much faster.”

She is remaining with City Lit this year to study Contemporary Practice: Personal Project, as this is a course which offers direction and structure, in pursuing a personally-motivated project and continues to provide support, guidance and continued opportunities for networking and developing sustainable communities.

I would say foundation is a lot of fun, and is a great chance to explore/advance your practice. “So many people say Foundation changed their direction, or that they want to do it again. If you are serious about advancing your career or studies as an artist or designer, I couldn’t recommend the art and design Foundation Diploma at City Lit enough.”

Anil Sharma

Anil chose printmaking and moving Image for his specialisms on Foundation. His Final Major Project consisted of an investigation of an archive of slide photos taken by his father in the 1960s and 70s.

Although it is an unavoidable part of any accredited course, leading to a formal qualification, Anil says that he personally didn’t always enjoy the process of creating his digital presentation for assessment. However he does feels it is "a useful tool to communicate ways of working, explaining research methods and ideas development”. He preferred to use time in the studio, making work: “As an artist who likes learning though process, through doing and reflecting, I would have appreciated more time in the printmaking studio, in particular, to explore and investigate the potential within print processes.”

In the moving image specialism, by contrast, he felt more readily able to focus, due to the digital nature of production and the speed of assembling, compiling and exploring ideas.

Anil’s Final Major Project was produced through experimentation, with the final form achieved through engagement with materials and process. “I experimented with re-framing the existing slides in order to create new images. I became interested in focusing on the neglected and peripheral areas of an image. In this way the work began for me to be about the process of looking at and re-imagining images, and the re-evaluation of an archive.”

Anil Sharma


Technical and formal processes also determined the development and form of Anil’s work as it was being made, “sometimes through simple questions and considerations, such as whether one shot worked with the previous one, or the next, or whether it was too long, or too short.” At times throughout the process of creative development, it is not always entirely clear what one is actually doing, or why, but the work coheres through the process of production and achieves a kind of internal logic, making sense retrospectively, as it were.

To work with the 35mm slide photos, Anil hired a projector, and shot video footage of the projections, which captured slight movements and shifting focus resulting from the use of analogue technology, and created a painterly effect that would not have been naturally present if he had produced the video entirely through digital processes.

Having graduated from Foundation this summer, Anil is staying on at City Lit, in the Centre for Advanced Practice, to develop his work on our Contemporary Practice: Personal Project course.

Join us

Centre for Advanced Practice at City Lit

School of Visual Arts

Foundation Diploma Art & Design

The UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design at City Lit is an exciting and challenging multi-disciplinary art, design, craft and media programme. It is designed to give you the best possible introduction to a wide range of materials, techniques and processes, and to support you in identifying and developing your creative interests and thinking. Validated by the University of the Arts London Awarding Body, it is an internationally recognised qualification with a UCAS tariff that enables you to apply directly to University.

About the Author


Itai currently works as a UX consultant with Mazaru. He was recently part of Google's conversation design advocacy and education team where he developed training materials, acted as a keynote speaker, delivered design sprints, and facilitated workshops. He holds an MSc in HCI. He previously led a successful Web Development degree programme and played an integral role, both in the UK and Europe, in the development and validation of multiple undergraduate degree programmes. This included chairing an international academic committee, managing academic departments, coordinating outreach, and overseeing students’ personal and professional development.