hl art

IB Courses - Art

Alright, so. IB Art. This is going to be a loooong one.Let’s take a look at the criteria–

“Fletcher, Fletcher! What level did you take and what did you get?”

I took HL and got a 6, so sit yoself down, Fletch is gonna teach you how to pass this course.

Seriously though, the first thing to do for any IB course is to look carefully at the criteria they give for the different levels. They’re telling you exactly what they want. For the sake of saving space, I’m just going to copy the most important criteria for the highest grade here:

Studio Pieces

-Exhibits excellent understanding of the ideas and technique that underpin artistic expression

-Consistently demonstrates the production of personally relevant artworks that show excellent exploration of ideas reflecting cultural and historical awareness and artistic qualities

-Shows thoughtful development of ideas and strategies for expression

-Shows an informed, reflective judgment that challenges and extends personal boundaries

Investigation Workbook

-Analyses and thoughtfully compares art from different cultures and times, and considers it carefully for its function and significance

-Demonstrates very good breadth and depth through a successful development and synthesis of ideas and well-explained connections between the work and that of others

-Uses an appropriate range of sources and acknowledges them properly

-Demonstrates mostly effective and accurate use of the specialist vocabulary of visual arts 

-Presents a clear relationship between investigation and studio


Let’s break it down to the most important ideas.


First and foremost IB Art is all about connections. See connections between subject matters, contexts, cultures, artists, pieces, and stories. Most importantly, have connections between your pieces and personal connections to them!

Breadth and Depth

It’s a tall order, but IB really wants you to have both breadth and depth, so explore a lot and when you find something that you love, stick with it and get really deep into it. Try different mediums, styles, sizes, perspectives with a single subject matter. There was a fantastic painter in my IB Art class who didn’t get a good grade because he never tried anything new. He could make the most realistic portraits you’ve ever seen, but that’s all they were– portraits. He had no connection to them and never tried other styles or mediums.


You will never get a good grade in IB Art without putting a lot of work into your research. Our teacher had us put down at least 10 pages of research for every piece. If you can’t find enough things to think about to get 10 pages of research out of an idea for a piece, then the piece is not portfolio-worthy. In your research for every piece, think about all of the following: connections to art history, connections to other cultures, personal connections, connections to other IB courses, and connections to your other pieces. Your portfolio pieces should tell a story of your artistic journey, cheesy as that may sound.

When you are writing about your pieces and your research, make sure you use lots and lots of rich artistic vocabulary– think of the terms you learned in your first art classes, like hue, value, contrast, positive/negative space, color schemes, etc. This shows that you know what you’re doing technically as well as in application.


You do not have to be a fantastic artist to get a good grade in IB art. That being said, don’t think that you can just turn out crap pieces and do well. Even if they don’t demonstrate a lot of artistic experience, your pieces should show carefully thought-out ideas and process. Consider making a few thumbnails or drafts, looking at composition (oh so important) before you dive into your larger piece. Do your research first. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. After every piece, be sure to include a photo and a thought-out analysis in your workbook. Mistakes can be a wonderful opportunity to write about what you think you can do better. If you recognize your mistakes, all the better, IB loves mistakes.

The technicalities

1. Workbook: Make your handwriting legible. Date and number every page. CITE EVERY SOURCE. Get clear scans in .pdf form for your final assessment.

2. Pieces: Get nice photos. It’s okay to play with the settings in Photoshop a little bit so they look nice, but don’t go crazy. They’ll be able to see in your interview what your pieces really look like. Try to make lots of pieces so that you can pick your best ones for your portfolio.

3. Interview: Don’t be scared of it! It’s long. But if you did your research right, you should have more than enough to talk about. Make sure you use that gorgeous artistic vocabulary you have!

Alright, alright, stop rambling. How did you get that 6?

I’m definitely not saying that I did everything right, so don’t take me as a standard to work towards. But I must have done something right to get a 6, so I’m including my own story in here to help myself explain the process which worked for me.

I followed the criteria. The reason I didn’t get a 7 was because I only had the bare minimum of pieces, and my first few didn’t have the thoughtful research you need– I learned how to do that later on. 

Let me tell you about the things I studied:

The history of chess, blood spatter (forensics), acrylic paint, charcoal, 3-point perspective, poetry, colored pencils, ink, fish skeletons, Japanese mythology, Greek mythology, ancient Greek perspectives on beauty, architecture, pastels, the western zodiac, crabs, jellyfish, octopi, starfish, modelling, Leonardo da Vinci, aged paper, mermaid anatomy, kelp, realism, dragon anatomy, horse anatomy, fashion (couture)

This list isn’t really exhaustive. I experimented. I found out what happens when you paint over charcoal with water, I drew my first fully-illustrated piece, I made the largest pencil drawing I’ve ever made (36x36 in), I tried mediums I’d never worked with, color schemes I hadn’t liked before, and subject matter I’d never dealt with. If you couldn’t tell, I eventually caught onto the theme of the ocean and its creatures. My last three pieces were a series based on the three wise monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil). My final piece, which for everyone should be the best piece because it shows the product of your development through your other pieces and research, was centered around my biggest fear. Drawing it was a triumph for me because it showed me that I was conquering that fear as well as showing the skills I had acquired through all of my research and experimentation.

So as my final note I’m going to quote Ms. Frizzle: “Take chances! Make mistakes! Get messy!”

(but do lots of research and planning too.)