Aerial photograph from a plane of the Brook Street campus
01 June 2018

Foundation Diploma Students Inspired by Visit from BP Portrait Award Exhibitor Liesel Thomas ​

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On Friday 11th May, we were delighted to welcome back artist and former West Kent College Foundation Diploma student, Liesel Thomas, who came in to speak to the current cohort of students and share her experience as a practising artist.

Liesel recently received the rare accolade of being selected to exhibit in this year’s BP Portrait Award at the National Portrait Gallery. Her self-portrait was one of just 48 finalists selected from 2,667 entries from 88 countries for the competition, widely regarded as one of the most prestigious in the world. Each year, a panel of judges including revered art critics and artists judge the submitted portraits anonymously, and many artists who have had their work selected have gained high-profile commissions as a result of the considerable interest in the Award and resulting exhibition. 

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Self Portrait, 30cm x 40cm, oil on panel, Liesel Thomas © 2017

Having grown up in Tonbridge and attended Hugh Christie School, Liesel enrolled at West Kent College to study her A-levels, progressing onto the Foundation Diploma in Art. She left the College in 2000 to attend the world-renowned Slade School of Fine Art, graduating in 2004.

She joined the current students at work in the studio, speaking to the whole group, then chatting to them individually about their work and their future plans.

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Liesel said: “It was lovely to come back and speak to the students, as it brought back a lot of memories of my time here. I started the Foundation Diploma course here thinking that I wanted to be a painter and I ended it knowing that I wanted to be one. The course was invaluable, I learnt to paint figures here and was able to really hone my technical skills, which was critical preparation for degree-level study.

“It was a hugely nurturing environment, with a variety of different disciplines covered throughout the year - which was exciting, as it could either affirm your passion for a certain medium or technique, as it did for me, or take you down a different artistic path altogether.”

Following a residency with Takt Gallery in Berlin after graduating, Liesel has gone on to exhibit internationally within group shows in Edinburgh, London and Berlin, and now lives and works in London.

Her portrait will be on display at the following venues as part of The BP Portrait Award Exhibition:

  • National Portrait Gallery, London - 14 June to 23 September 2018
  • Wolverhampton Art Gallery - 13 October – 2 December 2018
  • Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh - 15 Dec 2018 - 10 March 2019
  • Winchester Discovery Centre: Mid-March and Mid-June (dates TBC), 2019 

For more information, visit

For more information on Liesel Thomas, visit:

Liesel is available for commissions. Enquiries can be directed to 

About the Foundation Diploma in Art & Design

The College’s Foundation Diploma in Art & Design course has been running for 22 years. Last year saw the highest number of Distinctions awarded in the history of the course: 42.9% – significantly higher than the national average. The wide spectrum of courses that these students then go on to study at university – including Graphic Design, Illustration, Games Design and Product Design - demonstrates the scope for progression offered by the Foundation Diploma course.

All West Kent College’s Creative Studies qualifications are underwritten by the University of the Arts London, a specialist examining body. UAL is one of the world’s top universities for the Arts, ranked 6th in the 2017 QS World University rankings by subject.