I recently graduated from Hereford College of Arts and I wanted to give you some tips on how to make the most of university; art school in particular. I just want to add, I didn’t live in student accommodation so can’t really advise on anything like that, but good luck if you are!
1. Be weary of buying too much stuff before you start.
For starters, if they give you a list of books to read over the summer, borrow them if you can. I still have a copy of Sagmeister’s Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far that I haven’t done more than flick through. Animal Farm and the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy are always good for adult you’s bookshelf though.
If they give you a list of materials – you probably don’t need to waste money on a drawing board you’ll end up leaving at your parent’s house and won’t touch, but things like pencils, inks and paints are probably a good shout. In fact, it was thanks to the list I got from uni that I discovered gouache – now I’m in love. More on that here.
2. Go on trips.
Yes, they may seem expensive, but that £400 trip to Berlin is going to be so worth it. They act as inspiration, but also a break from the studio/desk environment and get you exploring somewhere new. I don’t regret going on any trips as part of the course, I feel like they all helped me stay inspired and develop my skills throughout the three years I was studying. It may take some budgeting, but go if you can! Which leads us onto the next tip…
This may seem the most obvious tip but it’s SO important. Over the three years I was at uni I managed to afford trips to Paris, Berlin, Amsterdam, Sweden (three times), London (three times), Glasgow, Totnes and Edinburgh. I lived in a flat that was more expensive than student accommodation. I ate well, socialised and had everything I needed. And now Max and I have enough savings to rent a two-bedroom house straight out of uni instead of having to move back in with our parents until we’ve paid off our overdrafts like most students have to. Now, I know the amount of money people get and have to spend is totally different around the country, and around the world, but I will be writing more posts on how I budget in the future, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
4. Don’t forget your student discount!
Nowadays you don’t need to spend money on an NUS card to get discounts, sign up with Unidays and Student Beans with your Student ID and you’ll get plenty of discounts! Also, don’t be shy to ask if a shop does student discount – might save you money!
I miss mine already…
5. Be at uni even when you don’t have to be.
I cannot stress the importance of this one enough. You are going to develop so much more and have a much more enriching and worthwhile experience if you physically go to uni every day, or as often as you can. For starters, it’s good to get into the habit of having a working schedule, but also the tutors, equipment and studio space that you’re paying ALOT of money for are all there.
6. Make your space inviting.
The worst thing about our studios was that they were so white. Like yeah, you get better lighting, it offsets things nicely but you need to make your space yours. Stick up all the postcards you’ve ever found, make a bunting, stick stickers everywhere, just make it a space you want to be in. We even got a load of spider plants in our last studio because plants are the best things ever. If it’s not against health and safety, I would even recommend getting a communal kettle so you can make your own tea/coffee throughout the day. Make it like a second home.
7. Go outside every now and then.
It’s so important to remember to get some fresh air every now and again. A short walk can do amazing things for your creativity and productivity. Take a sketchbook if you want.
8. Use workshops/facilities.
I definitely needed to listen to my own advice with this one. HCA has amazing workshops for ceramics, metalwork, woodwork, 3D-printing, screen printing and so much more, and I feel I didn’t make the most of them. You should. Remember you’re paying a lot of money to be able to access these things, learn some new skills! Expand your practice.
9. Your tutors know their stuff.
Now I know HCA is different to a lot of art schools because it’s so small and there is a lot of tutor contact. My tip is to talk to your tutors if you’re feeling a bit lost or need some specific advice – you don’t have to wait for them to arrange tutorials.
10. Your peers might also know their stuff.
I definitely feel having contact with peers helped improve my work, it gets especially interesting when people find their niches and you get someone who loves AR teaching photoshop to a computer-averse children’s book illustrator. It’s great. Make friends. And then talk about your work to each other, often.
11. Don’t be afraid to talk to visiting lecturers.
We were very lucky and had loads of visiting lecturers over our time at uni, from illustrators to event hosts to portfolio experts. Do not be afraid to talk to them if you’re interested in what they do, or think they might be interested in what you do. Just be friendly and make contacts, but don’t put too much pressure on yourself! They’re just people.
12. Find your own projects, or at least tailor set projects to you.
Your biggest asset is that there is no-one else on this planet who is identical to you. Your life, the way you see things, the way you think, the way you draw is totally unique. Embrace that and make sure you find a way to enjoy your projects and make them personal. Some, especially in first year, may seem restricting and uninteresting but you’ve got to find your angle. If you enjoy it, you will create better work.
13. Set yourself false deadlines.
This one is easy, but so effective. Tell yourself your deadline is, for example, a week before the actual deadline and be strict with it. Then if something happens that takes you longer, you’ve got an extra week buffer room. Try it, it takes so much stress away.
14. Take a sketchbook with you everywhere (and use it).
Again, this is something I needed to take my own advice for, especially in first and second year. Make it somewhere you can doodle, write notes, sketch, paint. Make it a scrapbook. Make it personal. Now, this is the important bit, you do not have to show it to anyone. It doesn’t matter if you do a crap drawing or get coffee all over it. It is your place to record your life, and if you’re happy with it then great, show the world. If not, it doesn’t matter, you will get so much better just by using it regularly.
15. Don’t expect everything you make to be perfect.
I’ve put this one last because I feel it’s the most important. It took me far too long to realise this, but you can’t worry about creating something that’s not perfect because you’ll never create anything. That’s why I think having a sketchbook that’s just for you is great for getting into the habit of just drawing, painting, collaging, writing without the pressure of making something that’s worthy of being shown. You will make something great. Just don’t be afraid to make something crap first.
Hope these tips help! Let me know what you think.
ps. you can find my work at my website, or on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.