Friday, 29 July 2011

Illustration 101 - Degree: Is it worth it? by Jo

This post is about the value of having an illustration degree.
So you're either a student in the middle of your degree or you're about to start in September. Or, like me, a graduate. One minute you're being constantly told what to do by the tutors, working hard on your final major project, preparing for your degree show....and the next minute you find yourself on your graduation day wondering what the heck happened to those years. But more importantly; has your course prepared you to start your career and do you even know where to begin?

Jo: After I did my A-Levels I went on to do an Art and Design Foundation course which I throughly enjoyed. It was mainly because the tutors let us do what we wanted to do and to find our own feet before we picked out the areas we were most interested in. There was a bit more freedom on the course and I felt like I could be as creative as I wanted to be. I remember thinking illustration was the course I was going to study.

With my illustration course there were some parts I enjoyed such as the dissertation. You're probably thinking what the heck going on in my brain I but enjoy writing about subjects I feel passionate about. And plus it's been absolutely ages since I wrote more than 5 A4 pages.
Overall there were a few pitfalls with my course. For instance there were rarely any lectures on the business side of illustration. Yeah it's nice to be draw pictures but in order to make a living out of it we need to know how to write an invoice and a contract. Can I point out that when I had my first commission I told my tutor how happy I was and sure enough she asked me did I register myself as self-employed.  My answer was no and do you know why? Because no one told us! I know we're not supposed to be spoon fed and we're adults, we should take responsibility for our own actions but you'd think we'd be told this rather than leaving us to figure things out for ourselves which happened most of the time.

Another point is that I never felt I could move on with any of my projects because of the many checklists you'd have to go through with your tutor. And if they didn't like your work you'd have to change it so that they can tick you off and you can carry on with your work. It got to the point where I did things I liked, turned up now and again for lectures and now I've turned these images into cards and prints and selling them on Etsy. AND when you have tutors giving you crits and they're so conflicting you're head is swimming around in confusion. Yes that was also me.

With all the hurdles out of the way when I graduated I was relieved (most of my friends felt the same way!) Since then I've learnt loads of things none of my tutors taught me. Now it's all about having the experience and being able to learn from it. All I can say is my degree allowed me to do loads of screen printing (had access to the print room most of the time) and to develop my printed goods to what it is now. Other than that did I learn much? Probably to stick up for myself and not to cry in front of clients when they give me critical feed back!


  1. i agree with this.

    as fledgling illustrators there probably are things that cannot be taught, but when paying over £3000 a year i would have hoped for a bit more guidance than was offered.

    unfortunately, anything i have learnt is through my own discovery, initiative and through my tutors' mistakes. it would have been good to have some support there!

    1. Totally the course was sold to me by my tutor so i went along and begun the course. i had to learn how to use programs like Photoshop and illustrator in my own time other than that i just carried on with the skills I learnt during my art and design diploma. there was not much support during the course and any questions seemed to be dodged instead of answered. paying £3457 a year now seems cheap as its gone up to almost £10.000 (such a rip off) i was lucky enough to start before these fees came around!!

  2. I'm thinking of enrolling into an art school once I graduate with a BA in English Lit.
    Some of the insights here serve as fine tips of some of the hurdles artists have to go through.

    Very useful, thank you.

  3. Thanks for this. It's always a bit daunting when trying to establish yourself as a professional without a degree in that specific field, even though I definitely agree that experience and self-initiated discoveries are the most valuable lessons to get. At times a piece of official paper could just give a bit more confidence in yourself, I guess. But on the other hand, it's always possible to build a network of people around you, who are more experienced and can "tutor" you like they would in art school.

  4. I am finishing my second year now and will have to apply for my 3rd year to make it into a full degree... i really don't think i will be doing this because at the end of the day i want to do this work so i can work for my self ( i am also a print maker ) not so i can illustrate book covers etc. at the end of the day I have learnt that a client will pick you because they like your style or the way you get the point across in you images not because you have a degree. i can honestly say i have not learnt any thing on this course that i couldn't of learnt reading books on it or searching online. I learnt most of my skills in college and now wish i just got a job and carried on practicing my work in ways i really want to project it and got a portfolio i was really proud of instead of what i have now... save your self the now £10.000 fee , build a good impressive portfolio and read up on it. if u need advice there are many groups that meat up to talk and network you just need to know where to look.

  5. Agree with most, although I knew that before starting uni..I purely used uni as a gateway to TIME...I was a carpenter working long days 6 days a week...I had no time to seriously get good or understand the art industry.
    I just graduated with a first class honours and landed a job in a studio full time, working on video games for consoles