Telling student stories through insightful portraits

Posted: May 25, 2021

Throughout art history, portraiture has widely been associated with a privileged few, with prestigious institutions, such as the National Gallery, commonly showcasing oil paintings of aristocrats in Britain. 

Well-renowned fine art specialist, Lydia Blakeley, turned her attention to using portraiture to celebrate Leeds City College students in their importance, individuality and personalities through her exhibition, Vocation

Drawing from experience 

From an early age, Lydia developed a keen aptitude for creativity and decided to pursue this interest by studying fine art in higher education.

“My studies acted as a springboard to helping me become an artist, giving me the experience to build the foundations of my practice. As an artist, it can be challenging to sustain a creative practice due to the funds needed to develop bodies of work. However, the Arts Fund was a lifeline in supporting me to create a series of work that linked to the community of students at college.

“The fund has been vital in supporting the material investment of my project, allowing me to achieve the goals I set out in my proposal. I had originally planned to complete 8 paintings, but the fund enabled me to raise my aspirations to create 19 paintings.”


Bringing student paintings to life

Contemporary project, ‘Vocation’, paints a perfect picture of the Leeds City College student community.

“This project champions students who have studied within the Creative Arts disciplines at the Quarry Hill Campus. Vocation consists of meaningful, casual and fun individual and group paintings, resulting in a show of people that the audience can relate to.

“I began planning the work at the beginning of the pandemic, which was an extremely challenging time – especially for young people in education. I hosted virtual drawing sessions with students, and in between lockdowns I had the opportunity to meet the interesting and ambitious students. They were all so enthusiastic about the project; despite the uncertainty and worry of the pandemic, their resilience and optimism really shone through.

“It has been a real honour to showcase my work in an exhibition at the Quarry Hill BLANK_  gallery, which will run until mid-July. The best part was seeing the students’ reactions; they were so excited to see the work and expressed how pleased they were to have been involved.”


Inspiring the next generation of artists

Lydia believes that more emphasis on the creative opportunities available for young people is the best way to inspire a new generation of artists.

“It can often be a struggle for young people to access the arts sector, especially if they don’t come from a creative background. Although, I do think things are changing for the better and opportunities within the sector are becoming more accessible. 

“Perseverance is vital – developing a career in the arts sector is a challenging journey, but an incredibly rewarding one. It’s important to embrace constructive criticism with your work, as this helps you to see it in a new way and consider refreshed ideas.”

Perfecting creative skills

“It’s important for artists to be constantly evolving, so I would like to take up short courses in printmaking and ceramics to expand my skill set. I also have some exciting shows lined up for next year, so I’m looking forward to seeing how this work will be developed.”

Read more about the Leeds City College Arts Fund here.

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