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The question of development - The Open College of the Arts
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The question of development

The OCA course material and the assessment criteria ask and are looking for developed student work. But what does this mean? Frequently in student feedback I am drawing students attention to the concept of development. As a textiles tutor I find that often students mistake development for planning or design. So in this blog post I will attempt to shine a light on what development is and why it is important in the study of textiles.
So what is meant when you are asked to develop your work?

  • Firstly development is not planning or designing. These aspects of creativity are where you know or have a good idea of where the work is going so make small steps to reach the final goal. In development you may have no idea or very little idea of where the work is going but follow a course of action to create something unexpected.
  • This makes development scary but also exciting. You will say things to yourself like “I don’t know if this will work but I will start like this and see what happens.” Think of it as an adventure into place unknown or that you scientist testing theories. You may find nothing but you may also find something you couldn’t predict.
  • When you sit down to develop your work think about responding to what is there. This will be your collection of drawings, a body of sample making and gathered purposeful research material. At this stage try not to think of or imagine a fully formed outcome that then requires planning and design.
  • Look, reflect, consider and analyse the information before you in a clear way with some distance allowing ideas and thoughts to reveal themselves. Giving yourself space to think is so important. Aim to reflect on your work and critically assess your research material in a deliberate and considered way. Record these thoughts in your learning log, then read them over looking for characteristics that resonate with you or feel truthful in some way.


  • The more initial drawings and samples you have the better. These need to be playful and varied in style, media and technique giving you a range of options and ideas to follow.
  • Don’t over do the collecting of research material. Aim to be both focused and broadminded. Look at what you collect for more than a few tenths of a second. Places like Pinterest tempt us into glancing at dozens of images rather than studying a few. However do look at a wide range of material; look beyond what you like and the discipline of textiles. Consider what you can learn from looking at architecture, film, haute couture, natural history, sculpture, etc.
  • Who you are, your cultural background, the times you have lived through and the experiences you have had will affect the development path your work takes. This may seem obvious but it is important to be conscious of how your ideas and creativity will be filtered through the person you are, shaping what you make and how you respond to the work of others. Recognising this will help you be more informed about the work you create.
  • So as you can see development is strongly linked to reflective thinking and critical awareness. In other words judging your work and the work of others in a meaningful way. Looking for aspects that engage and stimulate your creative thinking, giving you ideas to follow up.
  • Development is about possibilities. Aim to be playful, brave and innovative in the development of your work. Drawing together what you know about your work and the work of others to create fresh and original textile outcomes.

To summarise then, the form the development of your work takes will change from project to project as you gain skills and become more experienced. It may feel awkward and difficult to start with as you try to open your mind to a wider range of possibilities but as with most things the more you practice and consider this process the more natural it will feel.
The development of your work not only helps you get good marks at assessment but it also has the wider impact of pushing textiles forward. It helps the whole discipline to grow and be meaningful to a contemporary audience. It can also be rewarding, fun and very exciting!

Posted by author: Rebecca Fairley

7 thoughts on “The question of development

  • This is excellent, thank you Rebecca. Really useful guidelines, and reassuring clarification of how to develop working methods.

  • Thank you Rebecca- development is often associated with the polishing process, not the source of ideas (I think of a real estate “development” for example- they have a plan, and move in a very determined way to that outcome).
    To consider it more along exploration for me speaks to “personal development”. Not in the sense of self improvement, but the growth of one’s artistic voice and skill in communications.
    Your description makes a great deal of sense, and I will have to remind myself of your explanations along my journey.

  • This is great, since it gives me an insight for continuing a new work with confidence, which needs lots of thinking and reviewing after finishing every minor steps. I think this might be often referred whenever I have to proceed a long journey to complete a final work.

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