After a couple years in graduate school in a completely unrelated field of study, I have decided to make a "career change" and pursue the study of art with hopes of an eventual career in a field that allows me to use my abilities in art. I have always dreamed about one day being an art student, but have pushed aside and buried those dreams under goals related to seeking a career in the aforementioned graduate study. Well, I'm going to seek an art education, for better or worse, and I'm going for it 100%.
I'm specifically asking for advice on how I should approach my full-fledged "dive" into an art education. I've combed other threads and have done lots of reading/research but would appreciate any wisdom from members here. I live in southern California and aim to study art somewhere in this general area (LA, Pasadena, etc). I had initial interest in applying to the dedicated BFA programs at say, the Art Center in Pasadena, or the Otis College, but I know that the current state of my portfolio is woefully inadequate to gain admission into those schools. It's difficult for me to gauge my own talent but I would say my strengths lie in illustration, drawing (pencil, ink), painting.
1) Should I jump into some art classes at the community college level (or another program) to develop my skills and increase portfolio work? What CC's or programs in the LA/southern cal area would you recommend?
Is it viable to commit my creative energies to independently building my portfolio and then refining/supplementing it with the aid of a Portfolio development course such as the 10-week course offered by Laguna College of Art & Design?
2) How do the big art schools (like the Art Center and Otis) react to "career-changers" who apply to their schools? I'm 26, not too old (right?!) but I fear that since I've spent time pursuing another career outside of the arts that my "value" has somehow diminished compared to students who have always been on the art school path.
3) Undergraduate program vs. dedicated art school? I keep reading about the big savings and potential value in studying art within a department/school at a university or college. For someone who is ready to throw everything they have into learning and creating art along the lines of illustration and drawing (with a possible future interest in animation?), would I be compromising any part of my education (staff, resources, industry connections) by going this route instead of attending a dedicated art school? What are the more well-known/recommended art programs at universities and colleges in the southern california region? Is admission into these programs friendlier than the dedicated art schools?
I know there are some big questions here but I really appreciate any advice you guys have to offer! I feel completely clueless and lost despite all my research to this point. In fact, I feel like the more info I gobble up, the more questions I have, ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!