Learning to make

Leonardo da Vinci was apprenticed aged 14 as a ‘studio boy’ to the sculptor and painter Andrea del Verrocchio in Florence. In the workshop, he would have had practical experience of drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal work, plaster-casting, leather work, mechanics, and carpentry, as well as the chance to improve his creative skills in drawing, painting, sculpting, and modelling. At the age of 26 he became an independent master – he had all the skills he needed to set up on his own.

Today, this type of ‘education’ is unavailable – and probably, at the time, it was only available to a very few. So what should you do if you want to be a maker today? Do you need qualifications?

When I started thinking about this, I had clumped ‘qualification’ and ‘licence’ together in my head. However, a qualification shows that something has been studied to a certain level, and is awarded forever. For example, ‘A’ Levels, a Higher National Certificate (HNC), or a vocational City and Guilds (cityandguilds.com) are all qualifications. A licence is usually a permit from a relevant body that allows you to do something, is often temporary and can be revoked. For example, in the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) can issue a licence for the manufacture of explosives, and Ofcom can issue a ‘spectrum innovation licence’ in order to use cellular bands in research and development. Surprisingly, you don’t need a licence to operate a high-powered laser in the UK. Some licences require you to pass a test first. Probably the most common licence is a driving licence.

For some professions, such as in medicine, aviation, and civil engineering, qualifications are very important – and you can’t get a licence to perform those jobs without them. However, for the majority of making, the piece of paper is not as important as the skill.

I have some vocational qualifications, such as the City and Guilds in Wood Turning. So why did I do the course? At the time, it was the cheapest and easiest way for me to become proficient at that skill. I much prefer to be taught than to try to teach myself – and YouTube wasn’t invented back then!

There are many opportunities to learn in unofficial environments such as meetups, workshops, and clubs, as well as the many things you can find on the internet – from courses and videos, to forums, and even Twitter.

Some skills require specialist equipment though – and formal training establishments are great for this. I am envious of the students on the BA (Hons) in Model Making (hsmag.cc/TiPlCv) course at the Arts University Bournemouth, and those studying at the School of Jewellery at Birmingham City University (hsmag.cc/ysZULC).

Qualifications are often a stepping-stone that give you opportunities, such as working for others. But in many cases for many makers, formal qualifications are not actually required. There’s only so much you can learn from studying. However, practical experience and regular practice are essential.

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