So, from my last post on the matter, we've all gathered that I haven't done too well in the real world since flying the education nest. By "not too well" I pretty much mean that all that bambi-eyed optimism I felt at my degree show has been slowly chiselled away. For anyone who's been through it, you'll know how hard it is. The competition is huge, the jobs are few and the pay is low. And I simply wasn't equipped with the tools I needed to survive.
Before I go any further I'd like to say a few positive things about my time at University, because it certainly wasn't all bad. In fact, I absolutely loved my course, my BA Illustration degree at Middlesex University. My tutors were inspiring, the briefs were challenging and the studios we worked in were lovely. Middlesex University had great facilities, a huge print room full of wonderful equipment and the library wasn't half bad either.
But, before I start sounding like a brochure for the place, there are a few things, on reflection, that I'm unhappy about. My final year felt rushed. We were working hard on portfolio-building projects, our dissertations and worrying about grades. I don't think any of us could see past our busy desk spaces to even consider the future after these projects were finished. But we really should have been shown it. It was our tutors responsibility to make us aware of it. Looking back it seems strange that we were building these portfolios, but had little to no knowledge of how to use them in the future. We'd all developed our own individual style and, whilst I'm grateful to my University for allowing the time and place to develop it, a visual language is worthless if you have no clue what to do with it.
I remember that we did have a series of workshops about the business side of illustration with a practising illustrator, but there can't have been more than three, and I for one felt completely overwhelmed upon hearing this information for the first time - I could have done with many more sessions. I realise now that those workshops were an introduction at best, and there were so many more things we needed from them.
When I think back, I find it absurd that our uni happily waved goodbye to us, a group of unprepared, ill-equipped illustration graduates. (Especially as we were walking into a recession. But I suppose that is another matter. ) I know that we were ill-equipped, because it has taken me exactly a year to realise what I should have been told a year ago. It seems that my uni was unaware of the key factors that make up the modern illustration world. I have listed below what I feel are the most pressing and sadly neglected issues that need to be tackled by universities.
1) The importance of a strong online presence. A website, a blog, and a strong grasp on social media networking. At my uni the focus was on a printed portfolio, but often this isn't practical.
2) That print is diminishing. Illustration is adapting to this change, but universities need to address this, as their graduates are walking head on into it.
3) That a career in illustration is rarely instantaneous. Unis must advise their students how to cope until they make it.
4) How to make money from illustration. How to be a freelancer, how to gain clients, how to liaise with clients, how to manage money.
Just writing that short list of issues has angered me more. Why is it I feel we need to educate the educators?
As I consider this problem, it is occurring to me that currently higher education is under great scrutiny, and not just from disgruntled illustration graduates! Almost all universities are now pushing enormous fees on anyone wishing to gain a degree. It baffles me how young people are supposed to fight this recession, when the doors to education and employment are shut in their faces. Luckily, I missed this increase in fees. But I am still in a whole load of debt, which I haven't even begun to pay back.
It seems to me that this problem might all come down to money. Consider these two possibilities :
- Illustration courses encourage students to create the very best work they can. This, of course, is crucial if you ever wish to become an illustrator but, as I've discussed, there needs to be the right guidance to coincide with this if you ever wish to make a living. The work students produce showcases an Illustration course; top students' work is often paraded on uni websites, in brochures and at shows. If there is a high quality of work on a particular course, it is assumed it is the best illustration course to take. Unis use their students' work to secure their next batch of students and, of course, their next batch of money, without much further consideration for the previous ones.
- The ratio of illustration courses to actual illustration jobs is appalling and unrealistic. Yes, an illustration career is an appealing prospect, but it's kept very hush hush by universities as to how impossibly competitive and difficult the journey to get there will be. It's almost as if students are being lured into course by the pretty pictures and the romantic ideals that universities are presenting.
I've learnt the hard way that surviving in the real world on pretty pictures alone, is just never going to work. Luckily for me, I was ( and am still ) dating a graphic designer, who was able to teach me how to use Photoshop and Indesign. Computer skills are SO very important for any young creative and this fact was just not stressed by my course. Secondly, I also learnt, through my man, the importance of work experience. His course allowed him to intern whilst still at uni, which gave him and many of his course mates the skills to walk straight into work after graduation. I , on the other hand, am still interning to this day.
I might even go so far as to suggest illustration might not be a valid course anymore. You only have to look at the illustration 'celebrities' such as Jessica Hische and Kate Moross, to realise you have to have a whole load of other skills under your belt to make money from it, such as graphic and web design, typography and printmaking. For the very few it is enough to create beautiful images, but for many, its just not realistic. Especially in this current climate. Perhaps illustration needs to go hand in hand with graphic design? And perhaps illustration students need to be educated, as fine art students are, that you can become a fine-artist/illustrator OR you can work within the arts sector, as I am now striving to.
And that, patient readers, is where I'll leave this argument. I feel like I could go on, but I'm worried I'll bore you! It would be lovely to hear your experiences, and if you disagree with this please don't hesitate to tell me. Lets get a discussion going.