Congrats! You made it through Art School (relatively) unscathed. You spent a minimum of 3 years working up to this point, maybe even more if you took Foundation or Sandwich years, and now you’re free to float around here in the Real World, wondering what to do next. Graduation is supposed to be one of those euphoric, transitional moments where you finally become a grown-up but it can also be a terrifying, in-the-deep-end, confidence crushing experience. After focussing on one goal for so long, it can be hard to figure out what’s supposed to happen next. You no longer have briefs to follow, dissertations to write, or modules to pass - and it can be scary to realize that all of your choices, good and bad, are now entirely in your hands.
Once the caps have been thrown, the bubbly has been drank and the inevitable night out is over, here are my tips - the metaphorical diving board to your deep-end - for how to cope when you’re swimming out here in the post-graduation world.
Don’t Lose Momentum
Of course everyone needs some time to relax and unwind after racing to finish projects, set up degree shows and put together portfolios. By all means take some time out to sit in the grass and sip a cider, party a little, and - most likely - haul all of your belongings back home to your parents house whilst you figure out what to do.
Art graduates who are offered a job the moment that mortarboard touches their head are few and far between, so there will most likely be a period where you are stuck at home job hunting, or approaching agencies, or trying to set up a business, or whatever it is that you’re hoping to do post-graduating.
It can be easy to slip into a mindset of “I have finished my work, now I just need to go out and get a job with it” and while, yes, that is kind of the aim, it’s important to stay creative. Start new projects, work on things you didn’t have time for during uni, explore new styles or avenues outside of your field. Whatever it is, make sure you are still learning and not just leaning on that uni portfolio. Otherwise, how will you answer “what are you working on at the moment?” in your interview?
Save What You Can
Everyone is in different financial situations, but one thing I know is that pretty much every student that has just graduated is super skint. If you are lucky enough to have a bit of cash to spare, I strongly advise saving whatever you can of it, especially if you don’t live within the M25. After 6 months of gruelling internships and living at home after we graduated, Martin landed a job in London and we suddenly found ourselves having to pack up our things all over again and move closer to the captial. Unfortunately for a lot of creative fields, it is all happening in London, and moving there is expensive - having a bit of spare money for a deposit and agency fees (and buying things like a travel card for your commute) can really help take the stress off.
Intern the Crap out of Everything
It’s a shame, but in creative fields, most jobs are looking for some *experience* out of thin air before they’ll employ you, so for most of us that means working unpaid or very poorly paid internships before you’ll qualify for most jobs. By all means, still apply without that years experience (we’ve all heard those stats about how women won’t apply for jobs they are 99% qualified for, where as men will apply when they are 50% qualified) but if you have the means, interning wherever you can can really help you get a step-up. I took a two week internship at Hallmark straight out of Uni - they offered free accommodation but not travel or other living expenses - and it was actually really helpful in understanding how the greetings industry works.
It sucks that we are expected to work for free or nearly free, but until society changes, it might be the best shot we have. My advice is to intern wherever you can, and whenever you can afford to. I know that trcommuting to London, particularly, is expensive AF, and you have my sympathies. I can relate. It sucks. I hear ya. Just do your best.
Give Yourself Structure & Purpose
Once you leave the “9-5” atmosphere of uni, lectures and those lovely weekly tutorials to keep you accountable, it’s easy to get home to the warm, comforting embrace of your childhood home and spend your time sitting on the sofa, eating crisps, watching How I Met Your Mother re-runs and waiting for a job to materialise infront of you. But, the best thing for me was to give myself structure, a routine, and a reason to get up. For me it was reopening my shop, getting up every morning (with an alarm!), packing orders and spending my afternoons planning how I was going to make my millions. It hasn’t quite happened yet, but if I had let myself slip out of my productive “working towards something” mindset, I wouldn’t be much closer at all, would I?
Update that Portfolio. And again. And again.
Much in line with the last point - update your portfolio often. This doesn’t mean you need to get new pages printed every 2 weeks, but make sure you are regularly adding to some kind of digital portfolio. I used to use a website for it, but you don’t need one - now I just make a PDF and update it regularly so I can easily attach it to an email and whiz it off into the ether. Usually I just add my latest collections each time, but if you don’t have a shop like me, you can add your own self-directed projects. Just try and pull stuff together into interesting projects, rather than reams of sketchbook doodles.
Look for Freelance Work
If you’re out of uni and not having much luck jobhunting yet (or like me, your business has not yet begun to rake in the dolla), you can always try your hand at looking for freelance work. I was lucky enough to snag some work with Hallmark pretty much straight out of uni. Be prepared to work for a graduate fee when you’re just starting, but it’s priceless to get that contact and be able to say “I have done ‘x’ work for you before’ in the future. Personally, I don’t think there’s any harm in sending an email asking if they are looking for freelance work along with a (small, concise 1-page) PDF of your work. If ya don’t ask, ya don’t get.
New Designers/D&AD New Blood/Pinewood/etc
Do whatever you can to wriggle your way into a space at New Designers/ D&AD/ Whatever graduate show your uni participates in. For me, it was showing up to tutorials all the time, booking tutorial slots with the tutors I knew would help me create the good work, and pretty much just making sure they all knew who I was. In a sea of 150 students on my course (and only about 30 places at the show) it’s easy to get lost in a sea of portfolios, so I knew I wanted to be at the forefront of their minds when they picked people to attend.
These events are great because industry professionals are there looking for you - looking for people to give opportunities to. So make the most of it. Afterwards I had 3 or 4 internship offers, emails from illustration agencies and flyers/business cards left in my portfolio. It’s worth it.