I was recently invited to spend the day at The Sheffield College to give the Art and Design students an insight into what it is like to have a creative career and also to give them some advice, should they want to go down a similar route. It only feels like yesterday that I too was sat in a lecture hall as a student, listening to a freelance illustrator give a talk on her work. I remember thinking, if only; if only it were possible to have a creative career like hers, and not only that but to skip out all the hard bits in-between and to just jump straight in to doing something I loved. How do I go about having a creative career? What's the first step?
In truth the journey is vital, hard bits an' all. You cannot discount yourself due to lack of experience or knowledge, you just have to start making small steps and inroads towards your vision. It's really important that young creatives are given more of an insight into just what it's like to work in the creative industry and the process involved in getting there. For me I still feel very much on a journey with my work, but it's also been an encouragement to find myself in the very place I wanted to be those years ago in that lecture hall. The reality is that a creative career doesn't necessarily follow a set path, which is what makes it difficult when handing out advice. I am, however, entirely honest about my journey of how I got to be illustrating things full time and it is great that my personal story has been one of encouragement to others. It was a real honour to be able to have an input into some of the students at Sheffield College and hear about their journeys too.
I spent the morning giving two presentations to groups of Art and Design students, showing some of my work and also telling them my story. I called my talk 'Get a Proper Job', which is something I got told repeatedly when I first wanted to pursue a creative career, as though a creative career involves nothing more than simply colouring in. In 2014 the creative industries contributed £84 billion pounds to the UK which is a huge encouragement that creativity is not simply about making nice pictures, but that it has a huge benefit to our economy. Creativity is a means of problem solving, inventing and entertaining; It is a means of persuasion, advertising and challenging ideas. And, yes, it is a way of making money and doing something 'proper' with your life.
"I get told that all the time," said one student. "People just don't get that there's nothing else I see myself doing."
"My dad made himself ill doing a stressful job he hates," said another student. "I don't want to end up in a similar situation. I am passionate about having a creative career but my dad wants me to have a proper job."
It's interesting the notion that a creative career isn't a proper one. While people may encourage subjects such as Maths because 'it's always useful', what of the accountant who learnt how to run his business differently and get more clients because creative thinking was encouraged from an early age? And what of the art director who has benefitted from learning about maths and finance and is running a successful, profitable design agency? Business is business, no matter what subject you study. It's important that we realise no one subject is really any better than another - we need them all in order to have a successful economy. An economy without creative thinkers would fall flat on its face. Similarly, learning about how to run a business is not simply about sitting in a business studies lesson, students need to have hands on experience about actually working in industries in order to fully understand how business is applied. Maths was not my strongpoint at school but rest assured I'm pretty damn good at totting up my figures at the end of the month. Subjects need to be applied to be fully useful, which is why the combination of learning and experience is important.
So, I am an encourager of creativity (no matter what career) and I am passionate that Art and Design students are equipped to have successful ones. For me there have been tough times along the journey, but I think I am a better artist and person for it (and, if all else, my sketchbook drawings of my hardships, working in crappy jobs along the way, made the students laugh).
After a morning of talks, questions and answers and showing my portfolio (and my old portfolio to compare, much to my discomfort!), I then spent the afternoon reviewing some of the Visual Communications students' final projects. I was so impressed with their amazing ideas and their passion for learning and developing their work. A lot of the students had plenty of vision for the future too in terms of where they saw their work fitting in to the creative industry, whether that be in graphic design, textiles, animation or running a clothing brand.
The Sheffield College offers a range of great creative courses and is very keen to support the Art and Design students in finding industry experience. The age old problem when entering into a lot of careers is that students don't have enough experience, but how can students get any if no one gives them a chance? If you're reading this and you own a creative business, I would encourage you to give a small amount of time to invest into the future generations; the next generation of designers, animators, illustrators and product designers. If we don't start to see the value in these young people before they have stepped foot into a creative career, our economy may miss out on some great creators. Everyone needs a leg up, a chance, a lucky break, albeit on the foundation of a lot of hard graft and persistence. If you are able to offer any work experience to one or more of the creative students you can contact Ruth Taylor at The Sheffield College at: Ruth.Taylor@sheffcol.ac.uk you can find out more about Sheffield College at http://www.sheffcol.ac.uk/
Thanks so much to the staff and students at The Sheffield College for having me for the day! I look forward to hearing about how the final projects turned out! I shall be writing the key elements of my talk up in a blog post with some tips for pursuing a career in the creative industry so keep your eyes peeled!
"Thank you for such a great day from all the staff and students. The talk was spot on and the students got so much out of the 1:1 sessions."
Ruth Taylor, The Sheffield College