[Art Schooled] 10 things I have learnt during my first semester
For the final instalment of my Art Schooled column in 2017, I thought I would round-up some of the many things I have learnt during my first semester.
A year ago, I was yet to decide whether I would even apply to art school. Already having a few unsuccessful applications under my belt, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through the lengthy and overly complicated process again. In the end I did apply and was accepted to DJCAD in Dundee. I know that art school is not for everyone and this is something I would like to explore in future editions of this column. However, over the last few months I have become more and more convinced that it was the right choice for me.
If I hadn’t applied and gone to art school then there are lots of things I probably would never have learnt. Here are 10 of them…
1. How to screen print
Let’s start with the practical skills I have learnt. Screen printing was something I thought I knew how to do before I started, but apparently not. As it turns out, it’s way more complicated than I thought. I had done a kiddy version of screen printing (where you are just given a squeegee and a pre-exposed screen and told to go for it) but I’ve now been introduced to the proper grown up version and I love it.
The bigger a part you play in the complicated process behind any creative process, the more you can appreciate the end results.
We did a 4 day printing workshop which included an entire day of listening to someone talk us through how to screen print. Learning about screen thread counts and types of ink all day isn’t my favourite thing to do but it was worth it. I’ve also learnt why people love it so much. Screen printing had always intrigued me but attempting to master all the fiddly details of the process has made me appreciate the final prints even more.
2. How to laser cut
I have also been inducted into the art of lasercutting. In DJCAD, there is a room filled with lasercutters, 3D printers and a ping pong table, all of which are free to use. This creative hub is always filled with students and staff conjuring up new creations in a host of modern, technological ways.
I am yet to actually use the laser cutters for a proper project but I did use one to make some adorable wobbly horse tree decorations. Is using the laser cutters to make Christmas decorations an abuse of university facilities? Maybe. But is this little horse adorable enough to make it worth it? Definitely.
3. How to embroider
The third and final new skill on my list is embroidery. Despite never having sewn before, and not even understanding how a sewing machine work, I based a whole project on embroidery. We were given a book project brief and I decided to look at how clothes hold memories. Turning an old shirt into a book, I stitched memories into each page. Fiddly things are really not for and I am not sure how soon I will be rushing back to embroidery but the end result made it worth the weeks of frustration.
4. It is okay to borrow ideas
As well as practical skills, there are also more conceptual lessons to be learnt while studying. For example, the idea that it is okay to borrow ideas. I’ve previously written about this, in a post a few weeks ago, when the main message was ‘it’s about balance’. You may never be able to conjure up completely new techniques so there is nothing wrong with putting your own twist on other people’s. I borrowed the technique of Xerox art from Kevin Bergquist and I am so glad I did because it resulted in my favourite project of the semester.
You can read more about how I learnt to borrow ideas here.
5. Creatives get on
This lesson is something I learnt on the very first day of my course. One of the biggest anxieties I had about going to art school was meeting new people. One thing I forgot was that creatives get on. This is one thing I wish I could go back and reassure my past self about. Obviously it is not guaranteed that I will get on with every creative person I meet, but a shared love of illustration (not to mention a shared liberal attitude, and an obsession with stationery) is a solid foundation to build a new friendship.
I’ve learnt a lot from my new creative friends too. From new photoshop techniques to the fact that vegan cake is actually really good, there has been lots of wisdom – and sweet treats – shared among the class.
You can read more about my first day at art school here.
6. I have bad creative habits
As much as it has been good to discover the things I am good at, learning what I need to improve on has been just as helpful. Everyone can pick up bad creative habits and I definitely have a few. It was during my very first brief that I discovered one of my worst. When I get unsure of a concept, I have a terrible habit of slapping another one on top. In this case I took a “ciao” inspired logo and added a wolf. There was a link but it was tenuous to say the least. I think this habit comes from a lack of creative confidence sometimes. I need to remember to be bold, trust in my original ideas and see them through.
You can read more about my first art school brief here.
There are other more basic things I want to work on too. My development work is always done entirely in black and white. I’d like to throw a little colour into the mix and see what happens. Plus, for an illustrator I definitely don’t draw enough. I am now part way through a long Christmas break, during which I want to get in to the habit of drawing every day, so we will see how that goes.
7. There is no quick fix to mental health
The fact that there is no easy or quick fix to mental health isn’t news to me. During a good patch of mental health though, it is easy to convince yourself that your brain is fixed and you will never have another anxious day. Before starting at art school I had overcome a lot of my anxieties. That said, I still have the odd day when my brain decides to get up to its old tricks for no apparent reason. Acknowledging that it’s a thing which is happening, but that will pass has been extremely helpful. Talking, writing and laughing about my silly anxious brain has also worked as free forms of casual therapy.
You can read more about my experience with mental health here.
8. I am best when busy
This point relates to the last one in a certain way. I am happiest and far less anxious when I am busy. I had always thought of myself as someone who needed the odd day of doing nothing in the house; but I was wrong. In fact, I think I might be the opposite. Left to my own devices for too long the anxious side of my brain goes into overdrive and starts playing odd little games.
Keeping myself occupied all the time keeps the mischievous, anxious brain out of trouble.
9. Collaboration is fun
My first semester at art school has included quite a lot of collaborating. Early in the year, there was a collaborative drawing workshop with illustrator Marcus Oakley. Working together on a series of fast-paced drawing tasks, we were challenged to open up the fantasy part of our imaginations and the results were both weird and wonderful.
You can read about our day or creativity with Marcus here.
For our final brief of the year, my class was set the challenge of designing a collaborative zine. We were each given a different scene from Hansel and Gretel to illustrate and collate into a book. The project was the perfect collaboration for a group of control freak illustrators. We could all get excited about the same end product but have complete control over our own little part of it.
10. I am actually alright at illustration
My final lesson has probably been the most beneficial to me. It turns out, I am actually alright at illustration. It might seem like this would have dawned on me when I was accepted onto the course. However, I had always felt like a bit of an impostor. Like they had made some kind of mistake and were going to realise at any moment. Now though, I am starting to feel like – with a lot of hard work – I could actually make this a career.
Each challenging brief and unexpected lesson has helped me build my creative confidence.
I have been lucky enough to learn lots of amazing lessons during my first semester at art school. And I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to document them in this column each week. We have only heard snippets of what is to come next term but I am sure it will be just as exciting and educational as the first one. I will see you next year for another term of Art Schooled!