Discover your inner artist at Harrogate College

Our Art courses are so good that established artists have been signing up with us to hone their skills.

Three local artists, Tom Ransom, Irene Vassiliou and Douglas Thompson, recently achieved their MA Creative Practice degrees at the college.

Another respected local artist, Catt van Leijen, is currently halfway through the two-year, part-time programme and is urging others to embark on the same creative journey.

A rewarding creative journey

She said: “The MA in Creative Practice will take you on an unexpected path of discovery.

“This course at Harrogate College is a great opportunity to explore your creative self on another level.”

Catt, who is a ceramic  and paper mache  tutor at local charity, Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre, hit the headlines recently through the ambitious collaborative project she did for her course.

Teaming up with the National Trust and Art Maker students at Henshaw’s Arts and Crafts Centre, Catt oversaw the creation of all kinds of nature-inspired artworks. Those were then installed in and around Fountains Abbey’s water garden and stream, to the delight of visitors.

Confidence-building support

Douglas, meanwhile, who also teaches at Henshaws and specialises in paper cutting, also thoroughly enjoyed his time with the college.

Speaking just after receiving his degree, he said: “I really loved the course. All of my tutors’ support has boosted my self-confidence so much, and created a rigour in my practice that wasn’t there before.”

While the MA Creative Practice degree caters for those who have already begun their artistic journey, and want to specialise, the college also offers a range of courses for others at different levels.

A liberating alternative to school

Those include short, part-time introductory courses like Arts, Crafts and Design along with full-time programmes for school leavers, such as Art and Design Level 2 and Creative Practice (Art & Design) level 3 Extended Diploma.

Level 3 course lead for FE Art & Design at Harrogate College, Jonathan Leng, said: “We offer an exciting learning experience here, in level 2 and level 3 art and design, for 16 to 18 year olds.

“We continue to have outstanding success, in fact amongst the highest in the country, on our Level 3 course – with more than 40% of our students gaining a distinction (three A*s at A level) last year. We are able to do this by offering each of our students individualised learning and the chance to work with practising artists and highly skilled technicians.

“Our students recognise that this approach gives them the freedom to explore and develop their skills and be the individual that school, perhaps, does not allow. As the new academic year begins we look forward to welcoming lots more aspiring artists!”

Enrolment for this year’s art classes is underway now and there is still time to apply. Click here to find out more.

Degree success for local artists

A trio of artists from Harrogate College are celebrating achieving their MA Creative Practice degrees.

For Tom Ransom, Irene Vassiliou and Douglas Thompson receiving their degree certificates in July marked the successful conclusion of a two-year creative journey.

They are now looking forward to putting their honed artistic talents to good use – and full of praise for the college and their tutors.

Pandemic support and new horizons

Not Sun Nor Swell, by Douglas Thompson
Not Sun Nor Swell, by Douglas Thompson

Douglas Thompson, who specialises in paper cutting, said: “I really loved the course. Programme manager Annabel Smith was so supportive throughout the pandemic, providing zoom sessions.

“All of my tutors’ support has boosted my self-confidence so much and created a rigour in my practice that wasn’t there before.

“I work four days a week for Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre and the degree has improved the standards of my practice with differently-able artists there. Several of the staff from the centre have now also joined the programme as a result.

“At the end of my degree I was accepted into the UK Creative Communities Fellows programme and am off to the US this year, on a retreat funded by the Arts Council.

“I have also joined the Knaresborough arts festival (FEVA) committee to help programme arts events for this summer’s festival, and have an exhibition at the Black Mulberry cafe in August.”

Douglas will also be holding a number of paper cutting workshops this year, and producing commissioned work for various arts organisations including Harrogate Theatre.

Dramatic skills improvements

Boat of Peas, by Irene Vassiliou

Irene saw her photographic skills – which she uses to shine a light on the issue of food waste – improve dramatically during the course.

She said: “Looking back, my skills as a photographer have improved so much, especially in my studio work which I had done very little of before.

“Looking forward, I have been applying for photography jobs and have been in contact with a community centre who are looking to put up some of my images on food waste.”

The Covid-19 restrictions created extra study challenges for Irene, just as she was beginning to focus on strengthening her studio and video work. 

She ended up having to build a studio at home, but says regular phone and online contact from her tutors was ‘a great help’ and enabled her to produce top-quality work.

Tom, meanwhile, is a painter who also works with printmaking, and studied Fine Art at Harrogate College before going on to do his MA.

It is one of his works, Knaresborough Viaduct from the Riverbank, that is the main image attached to this article.

He said: “The MA helped me to broaden my creative horizons and push my practice forward to the next level. I was encouraged to experiment with a range of mediums and to search for a deeper contextual understanding.

“After completing my degree I felt ready to pursue a career as a practising artist, which continues to this day.

“I am also due to start a PGCE in September which will enable me to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher.”

A showcase for fellow artists

The creations of three other artists who have completed the MA Creative Practice course, meanwhile, will go on show in Harrogate from Thursday 28 July.

Works by Claire West, Lisa Lundqvist, Clare Paul will be exhibited at St Peter’s Church, on Cambridge Road, under the title of Masters Art Exhibition.

An invite-only preview will take place from 6pm to 8pm on Thursday 28 July; after that the works will be on show at the venue, between 10am and 4pm, from Friday 29 July to Sunday 31 July.

Student’s water-based art trail delights Fountains Abbey visitors

An artist from Harrogate College has teamed up with the National Trust and Henshaws to create a stunning water-based art trail.

Catt van Leijen’s, Waterlogged, features a series of nature-inspired artworks that have been installed in and around Fountains Abbey’s Water Garden and stream.

MA Creative Practice student, Catt, is a long-established artist and a pottery and paper tutor at local charity, Henshaws, where she has worked for 12 years.

So when it came to doing her course’s ‘collaborative project’, she knew she wanted to involve the Art Maker students that she teaches at Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre.

The results, including everything from colourfully painted bird and animals, to floating Roman goddess heads, went on display on 28 May and have been enjoyed by thousands of visitors.

Inspired by nature and the need to connect

Catt said: “As the brief was very open, it gave me a great deal of scope for my own interpretation on how I would like to lead this project, from an artistic standpoint and as project manager.

“The inspiration was the nature around us, and getting people out into the fresh air to follow the trail. This focus on connecting with nature, I hoped, would be beneficial in so many ways, including physically and emotionally.

“The complete trail itself is a few miles round so it encourages people of all ages and abilities to connect with the sculptures in their natural setting.”

Catt was delighted to get lots of the people she teaches, and works with, at Henshaws involved – both in the initial discussion and then in creating the artwork.

She said: “I really believe that the students at Henshaws deserve their work to be included in projects like this. And it served as a fantastic opportunity to give our Art Makers a platform in a wonderfully open and public space.”

Artist Catt van Leijen at Fountains Abbey beside one of the Waterlogged project's displays

The trail includes boards with fun animal facts along with, in a nod to The Skell Valley Project*, information on recent flooding and the impact of global warming.

A heady experience on the water

One of the most striking features meanwhile, five porcelain floating heads, were made from a mould that was taken of Catt’s own head.

She said: “These are my take on female Roman goddesses. The Moon Pond Garden only seemed to have male statues, based on Roman figures.

“As I am interested in swimming and nature, I thought it would be quite a playful idea to incorporate five swimming heads which are also related to the goddesses Luna, Salacia, Diana, Minerva and Flora.

“The idea being that animals and humans should all be able to enjoy nature and be part of the narrative along the water.”

Displaying much of the artwork actually on the water turned out to be a challenge in itself, but gave the pieces the impact Catt wanted.

Some of the exhibits created by Art Makers, at Henshaws, for the Waterlogged project

Setting the scene

She added: “I decided they needed to be enjoyed from a distance, and what better way than actually on the water? So I sourced two boats, filled the gaps, applied resin, and sanded, painted and varnished them.

“We made two rafts from pond linings and seasoned wood, and used these as a platform for all the artwork. Then, on the second installation day, we put these in the water.

“Due to the risk of cross-contamination from footwear/equipment, the gardener at Fountains Abbey also went in, wearing his own extremely long waders, to secure the vessels.”

 *The Skell Valley Project is a multi-partner initiative, co-led by the National Trust and Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to safeguard the valley’s cultural and natural heritage.

Eye-catching artworks on show at Harrogate College

All kinds of eye-catching artistic creations have gone on display at Harrogate College.

The college launched its FE Art and Design End of Year Show, to showcase the amazing variety of work that has been produced by art students, in June. 

Lots of parents, carers and students – plus the Mayor of Harrogate, Councillor Victoria Oldham – turned out to view the drawings, paintings, ceramics and print works on display at the launch.

Many of the pieces will now adorn the college’s corridors throughout the summer, so visitors still have plenty of time to get along and enjoy them.

A celebration of creativity and hard work

Johnathan Leng, who is the Level 3 course lead for FE Art & Design at Harrogate College, said: “Our end of year show is the culmination of a year’s work across four levels, and displays the full spectrum of art practice that our students experience here.

“The show allows the students to celebrate all the hard work they have done over the course of the year and display it in a professional manner.

“Although there was a show last year, this was very much scaled down due to pandemic restrictions. So this year has been particularly important for our completing second year students. This will be great preparation for either university or the personal exhibitions they have in the future.

“Examples of drawing, painting, ceramics and printmaking – which includes etching, lino and silkscreen – can be seen. We also have a broad range of photography on display, both in black and white and colour and produced using digital and traditional cameras.

“Visitors can see films that were shot and edited by our students too, along with an animation, a 3D installation, comic books, illustrations, furniture design, garment design and more.

“It was an exciting show with something for everyone. I encourage everybody to come and see what our talented students have achieved this year.”

A work by student Sarahjane Liu, on display at Harrogate College's FE Art and Design End of Year Show

An amazing way to round off the year

Some of the artworks carry a political or social message, such as Sarahjane Liu’s collection of origami shirts sporting faces. Sarahjane, who is a Year 2 Level 3 Extended Diploma in Art and Design student, said: “My piece represents how normalised racism towards the Asian community has become.”

MA Creative Practice student Hannah Alderson’s The Joy of Clay, meanwhile, shows the results of a collaborative project that involved using clay therapeutically with a variety of specialist groups.

Johnathan added: “Many of the first-year students were unaware of the buzz that surrounds the private viewing, and could not believe the amount of people who approached them to speak about their work.

“The launch evening was a particular success for Natalie Hunter, who had numerous requests from people to print extra sets of her beautifully designed Tarot cards.

“As a tutor it was an amazing way to finish the year off, and rewarding to see the hard work all the students put into their course displayed in such a professional way.”

A film of the show’s launch night, produced by The Harrogate Informer, can be viewed on YouTube here.

The full show finishes on Friday 15 July, but many of the works will remain on display around the college over the summer.

Creative students stitch their way to success

Four Art and Design Foundation Diploma students with an aptitude for attire have taken home the trophy for an upcycled outfit competition as part of a local fashion show.

The show was organised by women’s group, the Harrogate Soroptimists in aid of Just B, a locally-based support group for bereaved children, young people and adults.

Sustainable fashion took centre stage with outfits sourced from Saint Micheal’s community stores. As part of the show, a creative competition went out to Soroptimists and local schools and colleges to create an upcycled outfit. 

Combining a passion for patchwork with their denim desires, a group of inventive Harrogate College students designed a sustainable outfit made from deconstructed second hand jeans in a bid to win the competition.

Annabel Smith, Lecturer at Harrogate College, supported students with the project.

“The Harrogate Soroptimists were keen to emphasise the waste crisis that the fashion industry contributes to every day. Held on the same day as COP26, the event was a timely reminder that we need to take care of the planet; reducing clothing waste is one small change that everyone can make.

“From concept to creation, the students carefully crafted each step of the clothing-making process. They began with a moodboard from which they designed the idea for the jumpsuit and created drawings of their desired final outcome. The group worked on the outfit every lunchtime for three weeks!

“The team got amazing feedback from the event attendees; everyone was very impressed and James got a huge round of applause on the catwalk.”

Designed by James Cape, Drew Johnson, Igor Rafinski and Zoe Moseng, the outfit won first place.

Drew Johnson added: “This competition was a fantastic opportunity for us to work innovatively. I was responsible for the original design, so once we settled on the theme of old workwear, I made multiple digital sketches of jumpsuits and overalls. From there, we cut up several pairs of jeans and eventually sewed all the patches into a larger pair.”

Group member, Igor Rafinski, has always been inspired by musicians’ attire.

“It was an incredibly proud moment for our group to win the competition, especially after seeing how much effort everyone in the competition had put in. The show promoted the various ways to upcycle simple items into contemporary fashion pieces and motivated attendees to try it out themselves – all helping to save the planet!”


Art has been a source of inspiration and support throughout Pamela Craven-Davies’ life.

Painting has helped the 51 year old through some incredibly tough times – and is now, as she approaches the completion of her Creative Practice MA at Harrogate College, offering her ‘a new beginning’.

Pamela loved art from a tender age and it threw her a lifeline when she was struggling, due to what was later found to be dyslexia.

She tasted early success at the age of 12 when she won a watercolour painting competition and, despite some discouraging career advice, she persevered and pursued art as a mature student, first at A level and then at university.

In her thirties and with a young family, she then began doing freelance stained glass work and creative activities in schools, colleges and churches in the Harrogate area.

That wasn’t to last, however, as tragedy struck when Pamela lost her second child, who had been born with a brain aneurysm, at the age of two. It was an event that completely changed her life and saw her focus her efforts on the care of her other two children for the next 17 years.

Then, as time passed and her children became more independent, she realised it was time to give her love of art another chance – and she enquired about Harrogate College’s MA.


“When my son left for university I was overwhelmed with a new grief – and a continuing grief from losing my second child.

“It was at that point I knew it was time to find a way to fill that void and deal with my grief.

“I feel very lucky to have met my tutor, Annabel Smith, and to have had a chat with her about the MA Creative Practice and my situation.


“For me lockdown has had more benefits than negatives because of my MA. My focus has been to create something every day whilst at home.

“Next to my teenage, almost grown-up children – when they are at home – painting is my safest and most precious place.

“I feel like I have had extra time with my children during lockdown and an opportunity to push everyone around me to accept that I am an artist: and this MA has inspired me to find out about other artists and where I stand in the mix.”


As part of her course Pamela exhibited her work, alongside her fellow MA students, for the first time last December – and received a brilliant response.

“I had never exhibited before and I was very nervous and apprehensive. 

“I had not done as much work as I would have liked but I still managed to put on a good display and I sold five artworks. 

“That gave me some confidence and also gave other people confidence in me. I have had offers from Weetons Food Hall, in Harrogate, to display my work during June and July and also at the Wandahome stand at The Great Yorkshire Show. And I am also exhibiting with fellow students at Henshaws Arts and Crafts Centre in Knaresborough: all running simultaneously for my final module. 

“This is now the position I am in, having confidence in myself, finalising and committing to my exhibitions and producing the work I want to show to demonstrate the type of artist I am and how I see things.

“I think this is another beginning. I am aware that life has its twists and turns and it is a journey; I am taking one day at a time.”


To celebrate adult learning, Leeds City College is participating in the Festival of Learning; a year-long recognition of mature learners and their achievements.

Pamela said: “I don’t know what I would have done without adult learning. It has seen me through judgements, disbelief, grief, divorce and voids in my life – and set me on a career path of my choice.

“I have received positive feedback and gained confidence each time I have entered adult learning. I have also taken courses in counselling and teaching at Harrogate College, made friends and found the college to be easily accessible.

“I would urge anyone to take up adult learning no matter what their age or interest. I can see myself doing another degree if I had the opportunity – learning is just amazing and addictive and takes your mind off the problems of life.”

Discover more about our adult offering here.

A selection of Pamela’s work, meanwhile, can be viewed at