Art Students

Class photo (tagged): http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=351986&l=2f7dde0b17&id=100000772157570

 Project work: Alistair Nimmo, Jordan Rogers, Jamie Bradford, Claire Knight

 BA (Hons) Illustration, University of Plymouth Blog

I was an art student once and, over the years, I have delivered the odd lecture, set some projects and frequently been engaged as External Assessor/Moderator at Art Schools. They have had various guises as Institutes, Colleges and Schools. Many are now part of a University, some were UK, some in New York and one was even Royal. But whatever the nom de guerrethey are all basically art schools. The home of wisdom for, and the nurturing of, students of Visual Communication.

And, expecting a minor flurry of contradictions, they are not fundamentally different from my sojourn at Brighton Polytechnic, now a University. An energetic seaside town awash at the time with such talents as Michael HodgsonJulian Powell-TuckHelen ChadwickRaymond BriggsRob O’ConnorCharlie HookerJohn Kippin, and Dick Jewell.

For this art student it was both a lifetime ago and just yesterday. Two weeks ago I stepped into University of Plymouth and half expected John Lord (my long-suffering tutor back in Brighton) to loom over me with that big red beard and chase me up for an unfinished project!

On a cold Monday morning the University’s Head of Illustration, Ashley Potter, had called me to help out with a problem. 45 First Year Illustration students were booked into a week-long project (they call it a module) to introduce them to type and layout. Unexpectedly there was no tutor and it began the next morning. “OK, I’ll help.” Eek!

I hurriedly assembled images for an introductory lecture for two key questions the students would need answers to, “What is typography?” And “Who the hell is this bloke?“. Through the door, lights out, showtime. 45 young faces, a mixture of the eager, shy, curious, sceptical, anxious and interested. And just one hour to show and tell. 60 minutes to hopefully raise their sights yet put the subject within their reach. Then a live crash course in how the institution set its modules. Ashley smoothed the path expertly and we all cracked on with it.

They had a whole heap of questions about the project. In fact it was in danger of becoming a bit of an avalanche so, after checking that it wouldn’t ruffle any feathers, I modified the inherited brief a little so they could focus on the core of the work. Meeting constantly in groups or individually over the next few days I got to know them, and where they work.

My experience was just one week with first year illustration students. Bearing that in mind, these are the impressions of the University I came away with. Campus is a few minutes walk from the railway station and very central so it felt an integral part of the city of Plymouth. Though densely populated its aspect is open and organised. It was busy. Facilities appeared very good, from what I saw, and working spaces were pleasant. The canteen pasta bake did not kill me – in fact it wasn’t bad at all! There was a steady buzz of activity. I really enjoyed the principal exhibition, in the foyer, Dominion by Angela Cockayne & Philip Hoare. 

First Year Illustration impressed me. As a large group of developing young adults they are undergoing fresh influences, change and all sorts of pressures. But, in at the deep end, with a stranger  temporarily at the helm, they were terrific. They were open and fun. A little distracted at times but they still, mostly, got the project completed. I am not one to be phased by a student earnestly attending a critique with a drawn-on curly moustache! A few had English as their second language and many were soft-spoken and shy. Yet they were comfortable in teams and work groups and became increasingly articulate as nerves subsided. Generally the attendance was good. They took software in their stride but I would like to have seen them use the Library a little more, they will find that so rewarding.

Did they have concerns about fees, accommodation, friendships, health, love and politics? Undoubtedly. Did it stop them enjoying their drawing, their designs, their lives? No. They were involved with the course and engaged with each other and the staff. They were on it.

Look at some of the project work above. And then those young faces. These great people played with the project constructively, were lively to work with and produced some surprising results. And made me feel pretty welcome. Good work.

What is, or was, your time at art school like?

9 Comments

  • James Ellis

    Very nice piece, Gary.I know this group will remember you, your visit & your inspiration. My own memories of Art School (and indeed, “normal” School) are illuminated by the [odd] flash of interest, sparked by a teacher who was passionate about the subject or a visiting lecturer who brought a fresh breeze with him/her. We may not always have appreciated, or even listened fully, to these exotic visitors, but there is no doubting the effects of their ripples on our small ponds.Nice to see the samples also – good to see pencils & paper still alive.

  • Gary Day-Ellison

    Thank you James, for your considered comment. Always thoughtful input from you.I think it is probably easier for a visitor to make an impression. I hope those good folk who are there year round are not taken for granted.Hope to see some student feedback on here too. I think we will . . .

  • Stevyn Colgan

    Nice write up Gary. As someone who never did the whole art school experience but who now makes a kind of a living from art, I’m quite insanely envious of these youngsters. So damned talented. And all soon to be my competition! Don’t teach them too well … x

  • Gary Day-Ellison

    Thanks Stevyn, it is a great opportunity for them. I was just a visitor BTW. They are in very good hands under Ashley Potter.

  • Mopshell

    This took me back to my university days as a student and it was a privilege to see, through your eyes, what it’s like to tutor tertiary students. You were wonderful with them and I know this because your commitment, enthusiasm and genuine interest in the students as artists and people really shone through not just in this blog but in the tweets you posted as that week progressed. I followed them all and, while I was delighted by those snapshots, this is even better! Thank you for sharing 🙂

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