Saturday, 28 April 2012

Final Reflection and Critical Analysis

Semester 2 – Final Major Project
Reflection and critical analysis

I started my artistic journey with a BTEC foundation course in the academic year 2008/2009, prior to this I had no experience of the illustration world or anything remotely arty related for that matter. Indeed I partook in mandatory art lessons from the beginning of secondary school until year 9 (or third year for you old ‘uns!) by which time I had it drilled into my head from other members of teaching staff and my parents that art wasn’t a truly ‘academic’ subject and the thought never occurred to me to pursue it further, hence I didn’t choose to study it at GCSE even or higher. During my GCSE studies though I did choose to study Graphic Design as my Technology module instead of other options including textiles, woodwork or food technology. I achieved an ‘A’ in August of 2004. Again my rationale was to drop anything art related including the Graphic Design and proceeded with English Language, English Literature and Sociology to A-level (even though the likes of Graphic Design saw me perform to my best). When I finished school I progressed to study European Politics at The University of Nottingham which lasted for a full three months. I soon realised that I wasn’t happy with my ‘academic’ study choice. This saw me drop out of university and start full-time employment for a few years before taking the plunge to go back to university. Going back to university wasn’t initially on the cards, only after tasting full-time employment in a call centre did I know that I wanted more for myself. I returned after these few years out to Stockport College on the Foundation BTEC and the rest is history.

When I eventually started on my BTEC I didn’t really have a clue where to begin, as I say I had no experience of art. I could draw but that was about the extent of it. Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and other software was alien to me, I’d never even heard of such packages let alone opened one. When Pat, Gary and Tim asked me what my style was I didn’t know how to reply, as far as I saw it I didn’t have one. My BTEC however wasn’t the in-depth, see what-you-can-do course I was hoping it would be; I managed a pass. Though I don’t remember what my final mark was, seemingly it was a disappointment. I did however manage to secure a place on the BA Hons degree with an illustration specialism which was probably owed to me doing the Foundation BTEC at the same college.

Although I eventually quit my employment I owe it a lot. By being in full-time employment I learned how to communicate on a variety of different levels, how to compromise and how to handle stressful and heated situations, diffusing them in an efficient and effective manner. This I think will stand me in good stead when it comes to applying for positions in my illustration career as I have the ability to adapt to said situations. It has meant that I’ve been able to transfer these skills and apply them to my university course making me a much more organised and flexible character. It did take a while for me to understand that although full-time employment paid my rent, it was my university studies that would eventually get me out of the work that I didn’t enjoy and into to work that I will… as I say, I learned heavily about compromise.

During my first year of my undergraduate illustration degree I did remarkably well and that even surprised me somewhat. Critical studies was my weakest and least interested area, even though I studied both English Language and English Literature at A-level, it seemed my passion for writing and the patience I needed to hold down a decent assignment had fled. Yet, I still managed to achieve 70+ in every single module, it seemed I was unstoppable. Unfortunately, I was soon to be informed that the first year of an undergrad degree doesn’t count towards the final mark or degree classification. The first few modules helped me understand the different techniques and methods available and I was eager to learn how other people worked. I was hungry to learn and immersed myself in everything around me, I started to visit galleries, something which was considered boring and stuffy beforehand and researched sources in-depth. Although others on the course found the first few modules almost insulting as they felt they were going backwards rather than moving forwards with their studies I found it a massive help and am positive that there are others like me out there who will feel the same in future years. These vast achievements were set to change during the second year however. I was forewarned that the second year workload increased somewhat and I took this on board, I was also forewarned that some people can adjust to the new wave of work and some people struggle with it at first. I was prepared for this. I had been informed, armed with this knowledge I was ready. Only in late September 2010 I was hospitalised with a serious kidney injection and put on an IV drip for ten days. Naturally, this affected my work output and had a knock on effect on my mark for that initial module of year two. Although we were made aware of the mitigated circumstances process at the beginning of the course, my ‘it won’t happen to me’ attitude made me ignorant to the process and thus rushed work to get it handed in for the deadline. The rest of year two seemed to follow that first module’s footsteps with high 50’s to early 60’s marks. To say I was disappointed was an understatement, after the high I experienced in year one, year two was soon turning into a complete disaster. Strangely, in critical studies my work continued on a par with year one, achieving low 70’s in all my assignments and presentations.

On to year three, there have only been two modules in comparison to a few more in the previous years plus my dissertation. To show my commitment and dedication to my degree I made a special trip to Madrid in June 2011 to visit Guernica which I was later to write my dissertation on. I was insistent that my mark and work improve. Thankfully, the first semester module was a definite improvement on year two achieving 61, a firm 2:1, although not the 1st I was originally aiming for in year 1. I have now adjusted to the prospect of graduating with only a 2:1 and am finally happy with this outcome. I am aiming for a 2:1 again this semester in hope to achieve a 2:1 overall. During the first semester of year three I realised that utilising tools like the PDP module, I can up my overall mark. By achieving 70 in my PDP and 56 in the actual work side, I achieved 61 overall. Although the weighting in semester one was 60/40 against 80/20 this semester, I still think that doing significantly well in the PDP work could increase my mark by those all important few marks. I think that I do work well in the PDP arena showcasing my development and improvement through constant critical analysis and reflection. I engage well with industry and contact creative professionals from all creative backgrounds not just illustration and learned a lot from the compulsory residential trip to London in late March.

During this semester, from my previous blog posts, you can see I have spoken about how I used, what industry call, the dreaded red button on my own work. I think on reflection that this was a good move and it shows my understanding of when a project is not working. The Grimm’s brief was taking more time than it should have, it overran by an initial three weeks and at that point the design problem was still no where near to being resolved. It is frustrating that I was unable to interact with this live brief which would have given me an additional opportunity to promote both myself as an illustrator and my creative work. Sometimes it can be a positive quality to be able to stand back and look at the work critically and say ‘right, this clearly isn’t working’. This is the first time that I had not managed to resolve a brief, in particular a live brief and thus it felt completely overwhelming to turn my back on it knowing that this semester holds such a large percentage of the overall marks. In has made me work considerably harder since though to develop a body of work that would justify those first weeks of disappointment.

Over the course of this semester I have managed to secure seven portfolio visits with creative professionals already working within the industry. This surprised me more than anything – the fact that people out there actually wanted to see me and my work! There was no negative feedback just constructive criticism which I can take forward and utilise in my future work. It opened my eyes to just how accommodating the majority of people are, if they think that they can help you, then nine times out of ten they will. There were only three portfolio visits specified on the PDP brief but I went above and beyond this as I think that it is beneficial to my professional practice and work as I can continue working on the weaker areas identified by much more experienced people than I. Each visit has boosted my confidence in different areas and has taught me something new about both myself and my portfolio of work. I am hugely proud of my portfolio of work having come from nothing artistically. I remember my interview for a place on the BA Hons degree course whereby I showed my original portfolio to the potential first year tutors. I started off with a PVC leather effect Daler Rowney A1 portfolio which was hugely unpractical and is quite garish to look at now, looking back I have definitely come so far on this journey.

The visit to London in March confirmed for me that London is not the place I want to be. I knew before I arrived that I wasn’t much of a city girl but actually being there in that environment only confirmed my initial thoughts, though I am glad for experiencing it. The hustle and bustle of city life and everybody seemingly being a nobody merely just a passing face is not the type of environment I wish to live or indeed work in. For me, although the visit to London broadened my knowledge of the illustration industry and the types of businesses it can lend itself to, it reiterated the fact that I’m a home bird and would much prefer to stay north. It also showed me how my leather A4 portfolio is much more effective, efficient and practical in comparison to my old one! After graduation my plans are now set with the aid of this trip; I will be applying for Primary PGCE courses to hopefully start in September 2012.

This semester has seen me play with more techniques such as screen printing, utilising Adobe Illustrator, vinyl cutting, animating and collaging with the odd hint of stitch. Unlike last semester whereby I skimmed the surface of many different techniques, I feel that this semester has seen me discover my true style. I have experimented in-depth with collage and stitch till the cows came home; I truly have applied myself with a relentless attitude and as a result have now secured some fantastic outcomes. Alongside this I have produced some additional products outside of my sketchbooks such as the unique hand made sketchbooks I hand made and hand bound myself, printed cushions, printed babygro’s and my final children’s board books. Working outside of my sketchbook has taught me that there are no constraints to my art work really and it is only the sketchbook that actually provides these. I can now work to whatever scale I feel comfortable with and I can manipulate different materials to work in a more three dimensional way. I have built up professional relationships with other artistic people, such as Rick and other undergrad students working on the moving image course who helped me no end with the production of my animation and of course Kieran in the print room. When I leave the college I will also leave all of this support and of course the facilities that the institution has to offer which will mean I will need to source them externally.

I think it’s true to say that I have always been a fairly organised person, but I have also learned that planning is a great way to gain the best results from my work. Since the failure of my Grimm’s project, I have made a weekly plan for the week in advance and made sure that I stuck to it, mainly to get through the vast workload on time but also to show that I do have some free time to experiment more which I probably won’t have time for once I graduate. It seems that after 23 years I have finally learned the meaning of the phrase ‘if you fail to plan, you plan to fail’.

There are many opportunities lined up with the help of illustration tutors, particularly Jo, for over the summer months which could, hopefully, lead to more work coming my way, maybe even a commission. There will be the Spellbound Forest activity weekend in Dellamere, near Chester a few weeks after university life officially ends, Mr Thomas’ Chop House auction in July, if my work makes it that far and the actual Just So Festival in August. I intend to keep up to date with creative events that I can get involved in, even if no work comes from it, it will keep me busy and in that creative environment.

Finally, I have learned more than anything this semester that for great results you need to have a relentless attitude to your work. Sure, there have been days where I wish my alarm hadn’t gone off at 6:30, especially when I’m not in university on that day, but by pushing myself to get out of bed and get started I think that I have made the most of my time and the opportunity that studying on an illustration course offers, Gary, I truly am exhausted! Over the Easter break I put in many 12 hour days, and have seen many go by since then till the deadline, but you can only get out of things what you put in. I know myself that I have truly worked hard, dedicated as much time as I could possibly have and tried my best at everything I have undertaken, let me hope that it has been recognised and pays off on July 12th and I can finally make my Mum and Dad as proud as they should be. 

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