Saturday, 17 December 2011

Hope, Fears and Opportunities (Part 1)

In September, we had a group meeting where we discussed and recorded our hopes, fears and opportunities. Four months later not a lot has changed! All of my hopes and fears are rather similar, although I do feel I am better equipped to achieve and conquer them.
I'm trying to take each day as it comes, otherwise I'd be overcome with panic! Obviously I want to get a good job and continue to do what I love, but at the moment my main hope is to do well in my degree. People have said that a grade isn't everything and that you are judged on your work not your academic success. Even though I know this is true, I would still love to get a first class degree. Over the past 5-6 years my concentration had been almost entirely on art. Even at A-level when I did two other subjects, I did double award art and since enrolling on the foundation course I've been immersed in the world of illustration. I feel I owe it to myself to work as hard as possible and aim for the best. It would be a great sense of achievement and I think I'd feel much more confident about my abilities.
In September I wrote I hoped to build a good portfolio and have three successful visits to people in the design industry. This is the one thing I feel I have fully achieved! Firstly my portfolio...I wanted the professionalism and style of the Prat Pampa portfolios but I also wanted one that would stand out a bit and reflect my work.

In the end I managed to get hold of this gorgeous pink Prat portfolio from America! It's slightly bigger than A4 and smaller than A3 which means I have to print on an A3 and cut it down, but it's worth it. When I went for a portfolio visit to Stuart from Thoughtful he said it was great to see something different and it definitely suited my work. I'm also really pleased with the actual content of my portfolio. I've got more work than I actually realised (which is always good) and I've got a few photographs of things in context, though this is something I could improve for next year.
My three portfolio visits have all gone really well. I was so nervous about them, especially at my first with Taylor O'Brien, but by the last one I felt more confident about explaining my work. They have been great practice for job interviews and I'm much more positive about meeting new people.
My other hopes are for further down the line - getting a job/commission and becoming an overall successful illustrator. I'm still not sure whether I see myself as a freelance illustrator. I'd like to work alongside other people but in-house illustration jobs are few and far between. Realistically, I think the best option would be to rent a studio with some other people. This way we could all work on our own freelance projects but still have that support network around us.

I would also really love to do another mural type project, similar to 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds'. I think my work is most successful when there's lots of different elements, which is something I have't done this academic year. This is something I definitely want to get back to for my Final Major Project. I'm not sure what the theme/idea will be - that will have to be sorted out later! I hope one day I will be able to do a paid installation somewhere, that's the one thing I can imagine myself doing well and really enjoying.

YCN agency have a lot of illustrators who create murals so it would be amazing to try and get represented by them. If possible, I hope to arrange meeting to see them when we go to London next year - that would be the dream scenario.
Like every student approaching graduation, I have quite a few fears. The main one is to not get a job...but after Stuart's lecture I realise this is not going to happen straightaway. I need to figure out exactly what it is I want to do and go from there. If I don't get a job in a studio, my other big fear is being on my own. To not have any advice from anyone else would be really difficult for me. Maybe I need to be more confident in myself but I really like just having a quick chat with someone else and seeing what they're up to. As I said before I think it would be good to share a studio with other people, even if it's just for a few months until we get accustomed to the world of freelancing.
I also fear having to 'get myself out there'. I'm not great at meeting new people but networking is crucial if you want to succeed in this business, I can't sit at home and expect work to come to me. The key to overcoming my nerves is perhaps to get an online presence first. A website, Facebook page and Twitter are all things I need to set up next year. Once this gets going I think it will be easier to establish contacts and give me confidence to speak face to face.
This brings me on to some aims I want to fulfil next year. First of all, I want to produce a good end of year show which will involve getting materials well in advance. While I'm at Uni I want to make the most of the resources they have, such as the photography and print room facilities. I will also aim to get in touch with more studios and agencies, I think these connections can be invaluable. When we go to London, I want to aim for the best so I'll need to research lots of different possibilities early on in the year and not leave it to the last minute.
To achieve all these things I need to keep working hard! After Christmas it's the final push and I don't want to look back and regret not putting enough effort in. Hopefully all the work will pay off!

Friday, 16 December 2011

Portfolio Visit 3 - Thoughtful

Yesterday I had my final portfolio visit with Stuart Price from Thoughtful. Their studio is now based in Stockport College so I merely had to walk down to the meeting! Having already met Stuart after his lecture I wasn't too worried and felt confident as I talked through my work. The only thing that had me slightly concerned was the fact he set a timer for 20 minutes, I was a bit anxious I wouldn't be able to fill the time but in actual fact it was fine and we spoke right up to the alarm!
From the start Stuart said that because he wasn't an illustrator he wouldn't comment on the actual style of the work, but he'd look at it from a commercial aspect. I think this is actually a good thing as it's designers such as Stuart who will commission illustrators, so it's great to hear their opinions.
Stuart really loved the Wellspring image on the first page saying it was a really strong design. He asked how I created it and was impressed when I said it was done on Illustrator as he said he found it quite difficult to use. He liked all the elements and said even though they were digital, you could tell I'd drawn them first - they were personal to me.
Like Helen Taylor he also liked the graphic nature of the 8x8 spot illustration. It was interesting to see that all of the designers I've seen liked similar things. He said the two images worked well side by side and were very confident. He loved the colours in the main illustration saying they were quite striking.
Like Craig, he also liked the type on the Russia and India pages from the Zine book. He was particularly impressed with the Russian type, as he said it complimented the image really well. A lot of Russian fonts can be quite harsh but he said this one was well adapted to suit the illustration.
Next up was the Music brief and he liked that I'd included a picture of it installed on the glass. He said it looked professionally done and the design was really tight and together. He liked the concept behind the image and thought it was a well thought out piece.
Stuart was also impressed with the paisley pattern, simply because it's very detailed and he looked closely at it to see how I'd done it in Illustrator.
Moving on from this, he also really liked the 'Lonely' castle and was interested how I'd converted it into an Illustrator file to fit in with the rest of my portfolio. This led on to us talking about the process of my image making. I talked through how I sketch ideas and then trace over them in Illustrator, which he said was a good way of working.
We then came to the James and the Giant Peach book cover which he really loved. This was the first visit where I've had such a positive response for this piece, so it made me very happy! He liked the type and said it fitted well into the design. One thing he mentioned was that I perhaps didn't need a photograph of the book as it wasn't showing anything different. He suggested only photographing pieces that were in a different setting (such as Music) or had type surrounding it (such as 8x8). I hadn't really thought about it like that, but hearing him say it made perfect sense!
Flicking back through the portfolio, Stuart said he really liked everything - in particular the Wellspring, 8x8, Music, Zine pages and James and the Giant Peach. He liked the layout of the portfolio and said he didn't want it to stop, which is always a good sign. He also really loved the fact that I've got a pink portfolio saying that he saw a lot of black ones and it was nice to see a bit of personality. He said it suited my work and would immediately be noticed and remembered.
Overall this was a very positive visit. I got some great feedback and advice from Stuart which I will definitely take on board. He also said to keep in touch and to show him any new work as I did it - he said I could pop in any time which was really nice of him.
These portfolio visits have been so useful and not nearly as scary as I first thought! Each one has built my confidence and I've had some great tips on how to improve my work and portfolio. In each one I think I've improved when it comes to explaining my work and they've all been good practice for next year when things start to get 'real' and I'll hopefully be looking for paid commissions.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Graphic Gurus

This year we have all been assigned 'Graphic Gurus' (graduates who will act as mentors throughout our final year) and mine is the lovely Natalie Wood. I recently sent her an email with my PDF portfolio and asked her for some advice/feedback to which she kindly responded.

Hi Philippa,

Sure that's fine, I remember meeting you at college.
Had a look at your profile, I really like your work. I love "Russia". You have a great sense of colour. I love how bold "Junctures" is too. One piece of advice that I'd probably give you would be to lose the occasional black outline that's in some of your work. Such as around the elephant and the feathers of the native american. Perhaps you could introduce some texture into your work too? Experiment with different print processes like screenprinting to get different effects and make your work look less like it was produced on screen. Other than that it all looks great. I like the layout of your portfolio too.

Hope this helps!

Natalie was really nice and was quite positive about my work. I agree with the comment about the outlines - I've already gone back and taken some away. I'm also in the process of experimenting with textures so we'll see how that goes!
I'll definitely keep in touch with Natalie, I think it will be so useful to have someone to talk to whose been through the whole degree process before - especially when it comes to the Final Major Project.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Creative Review

Our class has had two Creative Reviews this year which have been a way sharing things we find interesting or inspiring. For these sessions we each had to bring a recommendation for a book, an article, a film and an exhibition. At the end of the meeting we could pin up our suggestions for other people to look at. They've been a useful way of finding out about new things and it's been nice to see everyone's individual interests. These are the things I recommended at the two reviews:

The first book I chose was Print & Pattern, a bible of all things colourful, cute and patterned. It's created by Marie Perkins aka Bowie Style who is the author of the wonderful Print & Pattern blog. It's such a great reference book for inspiration on colour, ideas or technique. It's also just a really nice book to flick through, there's something detailed and interesting on every page. To anyone who loves a bit of pattern, I can readily recommend you look at this book.

The book I brought to the second review was ABC Is For Circus by the wonderful Patrick Hruby. This chunky book demonstrates exemplifies Patrick's love of geometrical shapes and bright colours. Technically it's a children's book, but adults will probably appreciate it more! Again, it's a great book for inspiration and it's all the more impressive when you realise Patrick only graduated in 2010.

One of the films I recommended during the reviews was Black Swan. I watched it because I'm doing it for the Little White Lies competition and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a clever film which was full of suspense and plenty of unexpected twists. Some of the scenes were very freaky, especially the ones where she 'turns' into the swan. Having seen the Swan Lake ballet I really liked the fact all the characters in the film mirrored the story exactly. It was skillfully shot, I don't know how they did all the mirror scenes, and Natalie Portman was surprisingly good as the black swan alter ego.
I didn't actually mention this film during the meetings but having watched it recently reminded me how much I love it. Up is, in my opinion, one of the best Pixar films (though they're all brilliant). The stand out character has to be Russell, an overly enthusiastic wilderness explorer.

Apart from the great characters it's also a beautiful film to look at. The South American scenery is so different and vibrant and the colourful house is picture perfect. I was so excited when the house is first lifted off the ground by thousands of balloons! It's a great little film and everyone should watch it at least once!

The article I brought to the first Creative Review was Illustration: The Art of Ornament from Computer Arts. It's actually quite an old article being from 2007, but it still made for an interesting read. It examines the history of decoration and how when modernism came along, ornamentation in art was in danger of being lost. Various illustrators also talk about how they use decorative qualities in their work and what processes they go through to achieve it.

The second article I chose was Make Digital Projects Seem Handmade from Digital Arts. In this current Little White Lies project I'm experimenting with adding texture to a part of the image, so I thought this was quite a relevant article. It talks about the new trend of trying to make digital work appear to be hand crafted. Illustrators such as Ben Newman talk about their opinions on the matter and also discuss their individual working methods. It's a really interesting debate and well worth a read.

The first exhibition I talked about was the V&A Illustration Awards that I visited over the summer. Although the work on display was really good the actual exhibition space was so difficult to find! It was tucked away at the back of the gallery and was nothing more than a narrow walkway around a room. Anyway, there was some great work by Laura Carlin who illustrated 'The Iron Man' by Ted Hughes - I liked the simple shapes she used and all her work was displayed really nicely.

The second exhibition I chose is one I haven't actually been to, but would if I got the chance. The Indiscipline of Painting is on at Tate St Ives until 3rd January and it explores post-war modernist abstract painting. Artists such as Andy Warhol, Bridget Riley and Frank Stella are featured in the exhibition, which looks at how abstract art has continued to develop over the last 50 years despite the modernist movement decline. It looks like it would be great show and I would love to go, but with the combination of Christmas and the dissertation, it looks unlikely :(

Sunday, 11 December 2011

A Thoughtful Presentation

On Thursday 8th there was a talk by Stuart Price who is from Thoughtful design studio - which is now based in Stockport College and works with Graphic Design students. The lecture was all about how to break into the industry e.g portfolio tips, how to contact people etc. It was a really interesting talk as Stuart had contacted studios and asked them lots of specific questions, which he then complied into all these charts! He also had lots of examples of good portfolios and there were videos of individual design 'people' being asked what they look for in a graduate.
Stuart started off by talking about problem solving. Convergent thinking is where there is one straight answer and divergent thinking is coming up with lots of answers/ideas. According to Dr Peter Lovatt, dancing improves the thinking process! If you do 15 minutes of structured dancing, you should become better at convergent thinking. Whereas 15 minutes of improvised dancing helps divergent thinking. We then did a series of little dancing moves which I thought would be a bit embarrassing but it was actually really funny!
Greg Quinton from The Partners says persistence is the key to success. People are very busy, so what's going to keep you in their mind? Once you establish contact with someone keep sending them new work to show how you are developing as a designer.
The first survey question asked 'what is the preferred method for first contact?' The majority of studios, with 78%, said an email is best. 18% said post letter/piece of work and 4% said just show up. When composing an initial email Stuart said it's good when people say something about the studio and the work as it shows they've taken the time to do some background research. Also, exclamation marks are a no-no(!), if you don't know someone it just looks unprofessional. A potential employer can see a generic email from a mile off, make sure you make it personal to the person you're sending it to. When attaching a file to an email make sure it's not too big, otherwise yours will be sent to the bottom of the queue - 5mb is ideal.
'What do you do if you don't get a response?' 46% of studios suggested a follow up email 3-4 days after the initial one. 20% said a phone call is acceptable. Adrian Shaughnessy said to stay open minded - you have to start all over again and you never stop learning in the design industry.
In regards to what should be in your opening email; a link to your website and a PDF of your work is recommended. The latter is perhaps the more important, so even if you don't have a website never send an empty email. The PDF should show about 5-7 projects and as said before should be around 5mb. Michael Johnson said you have to be prepared to do placements, you can't expect to go straight to the top.
Spelling errors are amongst the most common mistakes in portfolios, make sure someone else proof reads it first. When having an interview, another mistake people often make is to place their portfolio on front of themselves rather than the potential employer. You should be able to talk about your work even if it's upside down! Patrick Baglee says it's always better to be interested than interesting. You have to think of yourself as a brand; present yourself - sit up straight etc.
When asked 'what is the preferred portfolio layout?', most of the studios said they had no preference. A book with bound pages came second, but the fact that most had no preference shows that a portfolio can be individual to you - the more the better. The preferred amount of projects in a portfolio is 10 - but leave something out if you don't like it, only take work you are really confident in talking about.
Jonathan Baldwin says that talking to students from other courses in your Uni can be really useful, you can find inspiration in unexpected places. Similarly, Tony Davidson says it is important to visit different galleries and venues - be influenced by your surroundings.
The next survey question asked 'how much information should accompany each project?'. 45% of studios say some basic information is enough, but give credit where credit is due. If someone has helped you produce your work you must record it, it will be obvious and look selfish if you don't. Also, including sketches can be a nice touch as it shows employers how you arrived at a finished outcome.
When looking for a job, Pentagram's Paula Scher says it's vital not to just focus on money, you have to find somewhere that will give you the best opportunities. You won't necessarily be doing what you do in the first twelve months for the rest of your life; it's ok to make mistakes. You have to learn from these mistakes, pick yourself up and move on.
'How long should an interview last?' 50% of studios said 30 minutes, so prepare for that time but bear in mind it could be less. Before you start, it's always a good idea to ask how long you're going to have so you can manage your time appropriately. Michael Wolff says it's good to be inquisitive - it shows you take an interest in the company your trying to get a job at.
The final question was 'what do you look for in portfolios?' Great ideas and a good personality are equally important - you could have the best work in the world but no-one will employ you if they don't think you'll fit into their company.
At the end of the lecture Stuart said don't expect to land a job within the first 18 months of graduating, it might happen but be prepared that it won't. The most important thing is to never give up - if you have self belief it will happen for you.
This was an extremely useful lecture, I feel much more confident about approaching studios and Stuart provided some excellent tips on email/portfolio etiquette. All the facts and survey questions were really interesting, it's always good to hear thoughts from those in the industry. Great job Stuart, thanks!