Making Your Bones – Thoughts on breaking into the Creative Industry

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The creative industry is a tough business to get into, no matter what sector you look at, you need to stand out. Those interested are increasingly looking to their degrees to propel them forward – but is it as effective anymore or even necessary altogether? I come from a degree-less background and although I am far from accomplished, here are my thoughts on the subject.

The final years of my school education were a frenzied time for a lot of people; between applying for Universities (or colleges, for you guys across the ocean), studying for exams and deciding on what you were going to do with your life it became quite stressful. It quickly became apparent to me that a lot people were treating the decision to go to University as just the next logical step rather than considering whether they really needed to or wanted to. My reasons for eschewing my place were not fully formed at the time but looking back it was because I just felt it wasn’t right for me – how could anyone teach me how to be creative? The idea seemed counterintuitive.

I feel many students after they leave aren’t prepared for the design world and to a certain degree are quite sheltered in the realities of the work they will be asked to do. It’s kind of a bubble where they create work for themselves, I liken my unschooled time to that of ‘making my bones’ to use a Mafioso term. And by that I mean I paid my dues and learnt how the industry worked from the inside, what is valued, how to deal with clients, what is standard practice, what is expected. These are qualities that are hard to emulate accurately within a lecture or at least don’t seem to be at all. There are of course students who flourish during their time and become successes and I by no means wish to state that all degrees are worthless in the real world but rather to question whether if it is really the best way of entering this crazy world we call Design.

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It is indeed important to learn from those more experienced than you, I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t the case for me too – I’ve been fortunate to meet some incredibly helpful and insightful Art Directors, Agents and clients through my time, and Art School definitely gives you the opportunities to do this. However, it is equally important to be able to explore and discover your field without bias yourself, without well-trodden paths. It is important to form your own route there. You only need to look at projects such as Grafik BS (above and below) the brainchild of Amy West (I know, I know – a student!) an experiment explained in her words as ‘designing stylish posters with meaningless messages, and no purpose other than to see if this what people thought graphic design to be’ to see that there are a whole host of techniques and styles being mindlessly admired and replicated in the design community. A problem that I feel is plaguing many students career beginnings.

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It was during this time of free reign that I was able to explore and reposition myself within Illustration. Make all your mistakes while no one is noticing; then when people do start to notice hopefully you’ve got something to show. Take the wrong turns and tread your own path.

It’d be wrong of me to totally dismiss all the positives of Universities, Colleges and Art schools and there have been times I’ve been panged with jealousy at the resources, materials and contacts at a student’s disposal but in my case I haven’t ever considered these reason enough to think about enrolling. There’s far too much to gain outside the world of education when you treat every experience as an opportunity to learn in itself.

What do you guys think? You can read my previous interviews with creatives and their take on the subject here.

Michael Arnold

October 23, 2013 / By

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