I am an educator at heart. I love to share stuff and I get a bit high on the exchange that occurs between student and tutor. A genuine learning experience is where both parties learn something new as the tutor shares their specialist knowledge and the student responds enthusiastically and gives feedback to the tutor.
For five years I was involved with education and during that time I taught adults life drawing, graphic design and tried to give them ways to see art and design with fresh eyes. I was responsible for the design and running of a diploma in graphic design, which meant that I had to decide what would be useful material to cover on the syllabus; giving students relevant and useful information and skills. I saw these students as potential professionals and as the course progressed, I treated the classroom as a professional design studio and the students as people who were serious about a career in a creative field.
Following a four year period running this course, I left full time education and opened my own graphic design business. This became illustration and from my initial sketchbooks came a body of work that professionals thought good enough to pay me for. I went back to some part time lecturing on a degree in Illustration and during that time reflected on my own professional experience as an illustrator in relation to what colleges were saying they could offer potential students interested in the field of commercial visual art.
The more I got to know the students I worked with the more I wondered about the question of being “qualified” and whether colleges really had anything to offer aspiring illustrators and designers. I was aware of a fast growing online culture of young illustrators and designers who were making their mark with fresh, raw and exciting work that came out of largely self-taught effort. The ease with which one can get hold of industrial strength image editing software makes it possible for anyone with a bit of ambition to quickly start honing design skills. They can develop their natural talents through Photoshop or Flash. The labels of “illustrator” or “designer” were becoming less concrete as a whole new generation of creators were uploading new work by the bucketload. Online tutorials in Flash, Photoshop, HTML, Dreamweaver were everywhere. I used them myself when I first went into teaching! It is because of my responsibility to teach students Photoshop that I can now call myself an entirely self-taught, intuitive expert in the programme!
This was a few years ago now and things have only gotten more exciting! Twitter, Facebook, Bebo and Myspace make connecting with talent and knowledge easy and quick. The proliferation of online training enterprises, creative and technical forums and specialist magazines mean that people can design their own learning experiences; picking and choosing what they want to learn and how fast they want to learn it. And all of this – for the most part – without teachers and classrooms and college fees……
So the question is this: Do I need college to become a professional image-maker?
Below are some thoughts you may find interesting.
But before I go any further, let me say that my answer is a resounding NO. Today, you don’t need a degree, a certificate, a pass or merit, to become a highly respected and talented commercial artist. You don’t need any of these things. You need GREAT ORIGINAL WORK and the ABILITY TO BE A PROFESSIONAL.
But for each of us, the way to get there will be different, so college may be the right choice for some. Let’s see what college can offer:
A stimulating, group environment, where you learn to work with others and share ideas. Where you can have fun and take risks with projects.
Access to tutors who have experience and skills within your chosen field.
Access to learning materials both online and off to complement and enrich your learning.
Access to professional-level computer equipment and software to equip yourself with up-to-date skills.
A structured learning package with planned assessment and feedback to help you chart your progress and help you stay motivated.
Yes, all these things sound great. A college environment like the one described above would be perfect for a lot of people. All those points sound great don’t they? But there is a caveat to that. A hitch. The college curriculum that provides all these things to its students is a RARE THING. Bear this in mind if you are debating whether a college course in design or illustration will help you. If you are the kind of person who would thrive in a college environment, then by all means, go for it. Just DO YOUR RESEARCH and don’t be afraid to ask questions. In my experience, if you are looking at a college that claims to run courses to any professional level, you should ask the following as standard:
How many lecturers are on the teaching team? What is the student:tutor ratio?
How many of the staff have their own professional practices or are allowed enough time to develop their own creative work?
How many computer workstations are available to students at any time?
How long are the studios open for students each day?
What links does the course have with relevant industry?
Are the skills taught on the course current with industry?
Is there a business component to the course syllabus?
How often will I have access to personal tutorials and advice from a mentor?
If the answer to any of these questions is in the negative, then you need to re-evaluate whether you are going to give your money to these people. Alot of colleges offer the world in a brochure, but give you nothing in reality. I know. I worked in a college as lecturer in “degree level” illustration. The course had so little equipment available for use that I honestly could not have come close to producing a professional job for one of my clients. There was no space. There was only one person in charge of the whole course. It was very difficult to teach groups of students anything other than visualising on paper because there were not enough workstations and copies of the relevant software. The college was receiving money for each of these students and some of them were paying hundreds of pounds out of their own pocket. Motivation was low.
So there is a horror story. But there are also many good colleges, who will charge you for being there but will deliver on your investment. My advice? RESEARCH. Go to colleges, make visits, talk to the students about their experiences, ask the staff questions, look around at the space and the equipment. College may be for you. If it is, it could be a wonderful, productive and exciting place that helps you on the way to your dreams. On the other hand, if it is hiding its true face in a brochure, it is a huge money sink and a waste of your valuable time.
If you go the college route and it works out for you as a result of careful research, choice and then hard application, what will you have?
A certificate, yes. But more than that. You will have proof that you stood your course and excelled in a programme of learning that involved turning up regularly for work with others. If the college has good industry contacts, then your qualification will be respected as a symbol of achievement and learning by the professionals aware of the syllabus. They may be interviewing you for work in the future.
You will have shown potential employers that you are serious about your career and have enough belief in your talents to invest a considerable amount of money towards developing them.
If your course was a good one, you will have substantial skills that are a great foundation for beginning the new learning curve of working in industry (more on that in another article).
So, going to college can be the right choice for some. It can yield great fruit if your choice of college was an informed one. Be serious, do your research. Don’t be conned by a second-rate institution whose main priority is bums-on-seats-for -cash.
But what if college is not for you? It could well be that you simply can’t afford it and don’t want a huge loan debt. It could be that you don’t want to or can’t leave your area. You may feel you are self-motivated and talented enough to develop your career without college. GREAT. IT IS ENTIRELY POSSIBLE. There are so many avenues and a great deal of freedom in embarking on your own learning and development as a creative professional. The next part of this article will be a look at what is available to you in your quest to become a professional artist, designer or illustrator. EAVB_SKVCPUHUCA