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NSCAD University: Where Left and Right Brain Co-Exist 

When dreaming about the arts turned into John Aspin becoming an artist

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John Aspin had always been interested in the arts. But because he was passionate about a career in medicine, his interest in art became more of an external affair: buying art, visiting galleries and exhibitions. He enjoyed his experience in junior high in the UK, sculpting and painting in the school's art department, but still he ended up choosing the safer option and became a physician.

But then, 10 years ago, Aspin started doing paint therapy on himself. He would paint dreams and symbolic forms that would express his dream experiences. By the end, he had a collection of about 100 dreams in watercolour. Creating this body of work motivated him to go online to look at NSCAD University, to see if any courses could fit within his schedule.

After looking at the wide range of offerings, Aspin saw that two, offered through NSCAD's School of Extended Studies, took his interest. The first was Introductory Digital Photography, and the second was the Portfolio Preparation (ONLINE) course. Aspin completed them last winter. "I do work as a physician three days a week, so I could fit both into my time. Although there was a bit of conferencing in portfolio, a lot of the work was being done by email and obviously in-between time. But there were periods that were quite busy, where you have to go outside and take photos in the city," he says.

The Introductory Digital Photography course, run by Kristine Richer, proved to be the more challenging for Aspin. Using Photoshop and a computer to process photos was difficult to navigate. However, he learned a lot about how to use the camera manually and ended up with a collection of images that could be reviewed later in Portfolio Prep.

That Portfolio Preparation course came naturally, as Aspin had already been doing watercolour painting, and had lots of spare time. The courses kept him busy, and helped him to work outside the box.

"It was exceptionally useful, and it helped me to be a lot more selective with my images and cut them down. I developed a sketchbook, which I'd never done before, and put together varied forms. The nice thing about it was it broke me out of the use of regular materials and forms," says Aspin.

The Portfolio Preparation class is a 10-week online course designed for students who have a passion for art, but need assistance in creating a portfolio for university or college acceptance. The online program provides guidelines for students to develop a wide variety of artwork that helps show their diverse skills, and ultimately helps them to get accepted into the art school of their choice.

"The program really gave me a great deal of confidence. I just think of the unfolding creativity and the excitement of just breaking free of linear—a lot of my work is structured. Now I'm using my right brain, looking around, and using everyday materials in a new way," says Aspin about the affirmation he received from Portfolio Preparation.

He had constant feedback on his artwork from his professors, Charley Young and Anna Sprague, who could give him useful guidelines. By the time he was finished, he had a nice variety of images for submission when he applied for his BFA at NSCAD.

"It really nailed it in, in terms of being accepted," he says of his mixed-media portfolio. He had completed unique pieces using spices for colouring, as well as creating various 3D forms and objects. At one point he even took an electric hand drill and tied twigs to it, then used the drill's spiral motions to make a painting.

Along with keeping Aspin creative, the program kept him organized and on track with his artwork. "It took a great deal of self-control, but I'm used to that. Even now, I know I have a drawing to do tonight for my class, and it will take me the rest of the day. Since I've been at NSCAD, it has kept me busy."

Aspin is now registered as a part-time BFA student at NSCAD and taking the general foundation course. It's early days into his current program, and eventually Aspin sees himself stopping medical work completely to pursue art.

"I'm at that stage in my life, I'm not a young student and I have a pension. I'm not doing it for monetary gain but for recognition. If I develop well enough, I would like to have an exhibition. But I'm thinking of it much more as a continued self-expression and self-enjoyment, and not about making money," he says.

Aspin is looking forward to exploring constructed forms as he is interested in sculpting with big metals. He has always been fascinated by 3D forms and the space within the solid form—lingering effects of being brought up in the UK on Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.

Aspin says the program at NSCAD is incredibly encouraging, and the teacher/student relationship is warm and has done nothing but increase his self-esteem and confidence in his own art capability. In fact, he says his whole connection with NSCAD has been like this.

"I would recommend anyone who wants to be accepted at NSCAD to do the portfolio preparation course. If you haven't had experience in maintaining a portfolio, it's a great way to boost confidence and feed understanding."

Aspin says Portfolio Prep is a lot of information, but he wouldn't have been ready for his BFA without it.

The next online Portfolio Preparation class runs October 21 to January 13. For more information or to register for it, call 902-494-8224 or visit nscad.ca.

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