Tips from an arts graduate

Summer is the season for graduations, which are all fun and games until the ceremony comes to an end and you realise adult life is staring you hard in the face. 

A recent graduate of Westminster University, George Clayton knows the plight of an arts graduate. Here, he offers some tips – both for during and after student life – that he’s realised since throwing in his own cap and gown…

Advice, whilst at university:

Don’t preoccupy yourself with finding a style. It’s so tempting to do so when you look at the work of your favourite illustrators and it seems their success lies solely in the perfection of a very unique way of drawing – but I don’t think this is true. A good work is good predominantly because of the idea it carries, and the message it illustrates. By concerning yourself with the perfection of style (certainly whilst at university), you run the risk of obsessing too much about finding a signature technique – rather than just producing work and practising your art.

University is the time to experiment, and I quickly learnt that the best work I made was when I didn’t have a clue what the finished piece would look like. If you spend your time wisely, and develop the idea far enough that you know exactly what it is you want to say by the end, you’ll  naturally figure out the best way to illustrate it. Your style will then  organically reveal itself because you have been honest in your work and pushed it as far as it can go.

University is also probably the only time to not play it safe. Even if you try something new and it completely fails, you don’t have the pressures and concerns of a client to deal with. There are no scary meetings with editors or chief designers where you have to explain your shortcomings. You can just reflect on what you did wrong and move on to the next project with a fresh perspective.

It’s in this experimental stage that you figure out what you  like and what you hate to do. I started university only drawing cites and landscapes, but by the time my final degree show came around I finished with a floating magnetic installation, a light-filled projection room and a newspaper about Antarctic exploration. I never thought I’d venture into design, certainly not 3D work, but because I took the risk and pushed my ideas to their full potential, I discovered new aspects and different ways of working. Design is now a massive part of what I want to do next, and I wouldn’t have necessarily known this if I hadn’t experimented. Experimentation is, I think, how you truly discover your style.

Advice, after graduation:

Everybody tries to warn you that once you graduate you’re on your own, but it never really hits you  until you actually finish. Everything you became accustomed to stops and you start to  miss everything and anything about student life. The start of new projects, the big studio spaces – even the negative comments from the tutors you didn’t really get along with. Even that. And even worse, all of the valuable time you had to work on your ideas suddenly stops.

My own biggest challenge, however, was what to do next with my work. During university, I tried out so many new things that I struggled to tie them together and see what the bigger picture was. I needed a way to figure out how to take the best bits out of everything and relate them to what I wanted to do next. For me, this was done by making my own website.

Learning to code was something I’ve always wanted to do, and after trying it out I’d recommend it to anyone. Once you get past the basics, it’s really not that hard to make something that looks quite personal and creative – I promise. There are lots of Content Management Systems out there like Cargo and Sqaure Space for those that don’t fancy it, but I found that by making my own site from the ground up and having complete control over every aspect of it, you  end up with a really personal and fulfilling site that proudly showcases your work.

It’s also a great idea to stay in contact with as many people from your course as possible. They become your best and most valuable source of honest feedback and potential collaboration. The competitiveness of the industry could persuade you that the people in your course become your rivals after you graduate, and though this probably is the case with some creative fields, with most I think it helps to not be so self-contained. Your fellow classmates were present in your tutorials and feedback talks all the way through university, and their insights on how you developed as an artist are as valuable to your progression as your own views.



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