Hello! I’m a freelance illustrator based in Kingston-upon-Thames and I graduated from Arts University Bournemouth in June 2019.
I came to AUB in 2015 to do a year on Art Foundation, and then loved it so much I ended up staying another three years to study BA (Hons) Illustration. The four years at AUB really shaped where I am now, and I wanted to share with you a few things that I learnt along the way.
Make the most of the time, space, and resources available to you
Firstly, I think it is important to acknowledge how privileged we are to be able to come to university, and have access to all that AUB provides. It felt so rewarding being in the studio space as much as I could, making the most of using the computers and software available, using the library and booking out equipment - not to mention the knowledge provided by the tutors and lecturers. Although we may not be paying directly out of our pockets yet, student loans are no joke, so make sure you squeeze everything you can out of this time.
Give everything a try at least once
This can be daunting because we’re all stuck in our own ways of doing things, and when a tutor tells you to try something out it can be tempting to dismiss it. In second year, when we had a choice between different publishing briefs, I deliberately picked the one that was furthest from my previous work, designing infographics for a book about gardening. When else am I going to have the opportunity to try something so far outside my comfort zone in a safe space? That project was such a great learning experience for me, and it’s really informed the way I think about illustration now. You’re at AUB to experiment and learn, so try to have an open mind as much as possible, and you might just learn something new.
Find the things that excite you
A really key moment in my AUB experience was around the end of my first year on BA Illustration, when I began to discover the illustrators I really admired, and who I still follow now. It was really motivating to see what people were doing, and it also meant that I was able to start borrowing bits and pieces from other artists and applying them to my work. As long as you’re not totally ripping off other creatives, it’s okay to lean into this when you’re finding your own voice.
Reach out to the people you admire
Leading on from the previous point, reach out and say hello to the artists you admire! Be curious and ask questions about what they do. Not everyone will reply, but a few will, and the advice you get could be gold. I got so much invaluable help from professional illustrators when I was working on my dissertation that I still refer to now. And, remember to say thank you!
Get a bike
Hands down the best decision I made whilst living in Bournemouth was spending £70 on a second-hand bike, which easily paid for itself through money I saved on bus fares over 4 years. I cycled the 20-minute journey to AUB with my housemate every day, and there are some beautiful places to cycle around Bournemouth. My favourite trip was along the seafront up to Hengistbury Head, as well as getting the train up to Brockenhurst and cycling around the New Forest. When I left Bournemouth last year, I gave my bike away to another student, so hopefully it’s still out there doing all the same routes.
Back up your back-up
Do I need to explain this? Save your work on your computer, back it up on OneDrive, and put it on an external hard drive. There’s always someone who has a disaster and loses their work – don’t let it be you!
Enter creative prizes (but also be careful)
On BA Illustration, they really encouraged us to enter into student awards run by publishers and creative organisations. For me, prizes in a few of these awards helped to bridge the gap between the studio and professional world, and secured my biggest early illustration job. However, proceed with caution! Make sure the prizes you’re entering are going to be beneficial to you, and not take advantage of your skills. Sometimes, sneaky big companies try to exploit students by setting up competitions with bad terms and conditions, meaning they can effectively use your work forever for very low pay or for nothing, even if you don’t win. So, make sure you’re being careful, and entering the awards that your course advises.
Don’t be scared to ask for help
AUB is a very friendly, caring, and safe space, and everyone looks out for everyone. Whether it’s personal or work-related, don’t suffer in silence! During my 4 years, I saw everyone I know have at least one meltdown - but we all pulled each other up, and went on to achieve amazing things. There’s a couple of people in particular who I know struggled so much early on trying to find their feet, and are now absolutely flying.
Just have fun with it
Don’t take yourself or your work too seriously, make sure to create lots of things, and enjoy this precious time. You’ll miss it when it’s gone!