Well, what a strange year it’s been! We started this school year like any other, looking towards our futures, but now there’s been a radical reframing, and, for me at least, the future seems a lot closer than it ever has before. We all have to think about what we want to do in life, and how to go about entering the world of work.
I’m Jessie, an illustration student at Plymouth College of Art (PCA), and I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I wanted to share some advice with any young artists who might be thinking about higher education.
The idea of a traditional career path doesn’t really exist for an illustrator. There is no set formula in terms of what you should do next. It’s important to be good at your trade, but also to be constantly self-motivating and thinking of new ways to work. This way you have a better chance of creating opportunities, and taking those that come your way. This is what I’ve been focussing on for the last few months.
PCA has been an amazing source of fun and creativity for the last two years of my life. It has everything you could possibly want in terms of creative spaces, and the creative people to fill them. It’s been the place I’ve turned to when afraid and worried about my career. The careers department (Big thanks to Louise) has helped me plan and take manageable steps towards my goals, and encouraged me to find my own way into opportunities through the job wall. By the way, the job wall is a pinboard where companies pitch projects to students within PCA, both paid and unpaid. It also hosts all sorts of competitions.
PCA’s illustration department has not only helped in terms of learning, but with how illustrators deal with the nitty gritty of invoices, portfolios and contracts as we have to take part in these practices ourselves.
My portfolio website ( jessiehill.co.uk ) was something I didn’t know I needed until I had it, and the optional workshop on how to email art directors gave me a huge confidence boost. I received a couple of replies that made me realise that a lot of the way we get work in the arts truly is just by asking for it.
Something that is equally as important as confidence when looking for a job in the arts community is the ability to market yourself, and that’s where social media comes in! (Hear me out!) Social media is important – there, I said it!
In a world of fast connections, and simple and easy advertising, an Instagram account is your best friend as an artist. I’ve spent several years cultivating my Instagram ( @417illustrations ) and it’s grown to be something that I can point people to so they can interact with my work on a daily basis. It makes networking so much easier to be able to show someone what you’re about, and then have them able to make the decision to keep an eye on that by following you. However, there’s got to be something to follow, which is where personal projects come in.
One thing I have learned from every illustrator I have spoken at PCA (visiting lecturers included) is that all great artists have one thing in common: they work for themselves. I don’t mean they are all self-employed, but they are always working on something for themselves. They have side projects as well as their main projects. They have things on the go that aren’t directly related to art, but become aligned with them and their practice over time. This informs their work and enriches it. I think this is great practice to take into any sector. We work best when we are working hard, when we love what we do, and when we have diverse and broad subject areas to draw from.
Art, while being a particularly difficult subject to think about in terms of jobs, is actually incredibly important and ingrained in everything we do. Creatives design, illustrate, and create so much of what you actively engage with on a daily basis, and often you don’t even realise it. So before you write off your aspirations of working in the art industry, make sure to look into creative jobs and see what’s really out there.
At the end of the day, the career of an artist is an uncertain one. There’s a lot to do and not a lot of clear ways to tell you how to do it. There are no guarantees, and higher education isn’t the same door opener for art students as it is for those who study subjects such as law.
You can be an artist and never set foot in an arts school. So why did I choose to go to PCA? Why did I bother? It’s because the experience is worth so much more than the money. The experiences given to me by higher education have been life changing. I have engaged in processes and projects I’d never have had the chance to without it. I’ve been given time and space to work. My education has been so important to me, not only as a way to improve, but because I have truly enjoyed every second of it.
It’s impossible to know what the future will hold, and that’s never been clearer then right now. University has taught me how to be adaptable, to enjoy myself, and to develop the skills I need to find my way into the job I want.