What did you enjoy most about studying illustration at MDX?
Every student is guaranteed their own desk. Not many universities can offer this, and knowing you’ve got your own personal space to work in really makes a difference. The course intake is relatively small, so all three years share the same studio. That, combined with it being a full-time course, results in this fantastically friendly, busy, creative atmosphere that’s a total pleasure to be a part of.
How did the course help you to develop your illustration style?
The course is very much about helping you develop your own unique illustrative voice. There is no ‘house style’ – something that’s always easy to see when it comes to the third year degree show. The work on display is always incredibly diverse, with everything from pencil drawing, digital art, print making, ink and watercolours, animation, collage, textiles and much, much more. All of the tutors come from very different areas of the industry, so there’s a great range of input that comes from them and there’s always someone who can help with your chosen way of working.
Something that really helped this was the portfolio review that happens right at the beginning of third year. The aim of the session is to really get down to what it is you’re good at rather than just what you like to do. Personally, this was a real learning curve and really helped me develop my work over the final year.
How did the course prepare you for life as a working illustrator?
Over the course of the BA you slowly build up to working on multiple projects at once; this is great preparation for what it’s like in the real world, since good time management skills are a key part of being a freelance illustrator. As well as having to manage your own work schedule, you’ll also most likely need to balance illustration with a part or full-time job on top of other life commitments.
As well as talks from creatives and commissioners, there are also professional practice and website building workshops in the third year. These are both great preparation for managing the business and admin aspects of a career in illustration, plus it means you’ve got an online portfolio up and running in time for the degree show. Lastly, there are lots of opportunities for students to take part in exhibitions and live projects which are both great opportunities for exposure and getting a taste for what it’s like working with clients.
What types of projects have you been working on since graduating?
I’ve been producing artwork for Rumpus, a bi-monthly all-night festival. As well as doing promotional illustrations, I also regularly take part in live draws at the event. Illustration is usually a very solitary affair, but to be able do a drawing with a whole bunch of other artists in front of an audience is totally invigorating.
I’ve worked on a number of projects with Middlesex, including a graphic novel anthology and motion comic for the Bishop’s Stortford Museum as part of their commemoration of the First World War Centenary. There’s also a new project we’re developing for BBC iWonder which I’ve had the chance to produce artwork for, as well as help design the outcome. I’ve had the good fortune to illustrate for Wired Magazine and The Ride Journal as well as a number of other sports magazines and bands.
Alongside freelancing I’ve also helped organise a number of exhibitions and projects for the Drawn Chorus Collective. We’re mostly graduates from the Illustration course and it’s been fantastic to be able to carry on working together after university. Since 2013 we’ve staged four exhibitions as well as published a number of books. We’ve just set out an outline for our next couple of projects and there’s some really exciting stuff in the pipeline.
What does your work as a Graduate Academic Assistant involve?
I perform a wide variety of jobs; there’s always admin work and we’re very much a liaison between the students and staff. The course is always involved in lots of extra projects and there’s the annual exhibition at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden. Ben [Hendy, a fellow illustration graduate] and I play a big part in helping to manage these and ensuring everything’s sailing smoothly behind the scenes.
I also run the course blog and Twitter account, which has been a great way to showcase what the students and graduates are up to. This year I’ve also been running drawing workshops with the first years. These have covered principles such as perspective and measured drawing, and we’re seeing out the year with a series of location drawing sessions. Most recently we were able to sit in on the third year Dance rehearsals, which resulted in some really exciting work.
What do you find most enjoyable about working with students?
The students really are one of the best parts about the job- It’s been so exciting to see their work develop over the two years I’ve been working on the course and it’s really invigorating to see what they’re up to. It’s also incredibly gratifying to be in a position in which I can offer advice and technical support. I genuinely can’t wait to see what they get up to after they graduate and can only wish them every success for the future.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about studying illustration?
If you love it, go for it! Granted, you need to be prepared to put in the hours and it’s incredibly hard work, but I can’t imagine doing anything else. If it’s your thing, the creative fulfilment that comes from working out the best way to tell a narrative or solving a problem visually is quite unlike anything else.
Working in a studio environment at Middlesex was an invaluable experience and really helped me develop. As well as getting advice from tutors, you learn so much from the other students. Being in the thick of so much creativity was incredibly inspiring, and if people are bringing their a-game it really makes you push yourself that bit further.
Doing an illustration degree is also a good way to build up a future network. One thing that was great about studying illustration at Middlesex is that over the three years I built some incredibly solid relationships with the people who shared the studio, and even outside the Collective many of us have stayed in touch. As well as being an amazing group of people, there’s always someone you can turn to for help, be it creative critique or professional advice.
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