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Regulars / The Graduates 2017

“You are not your BA” and other helpful advice from our 2016 Graduates

As we get ready to announce the 2017 class of It’s Nice That graduates, we caught up with three more of the talented bunch that made it into last year’s line up. Below, you can find out what they’ve been up to and gain some sound advice about that first daunting year out of university.

Peony Gent, Harry Grundy and Michael Cox were each chosen for their individual and personable takes on their studied medium. Within illustration, Edinburgh-based Peony translated sketches from observations into a poetic portfolio with her delicate sketchy style. Kingston graduate Harry Grundy added a conceptual stance to his graphic design portfolio, while still communicating a playful side. Whereas Michael Cox’s paintings of urban landscapes transcended the familiar into curious architectural pieces.

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Peony Gent

Can you describe the feeling you had when you were graduating last year?

Peony: Graduating was a great feeling at the time for me. I felt really ready to leave university and ready to try out something new after four years of studying. Having my degree show and becoming one of the It’s Nice That Graduates were obviously great building blocks to start with as well, and made me quite optimistic about the future.

Michael: I would say I felt relieved leaving art school. It can feel like everything is coming to an end. Are you going to see people again? How am I going to keep making work? were questions that were running around my head. I felt like I needed a lot of time decompress before making paintings again.

Harry: Hungover.

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Michael Cox

How has your first year post university been?

Peony: My first year post uni has easily been the quickest of my whole life, it’s come around terrifyingly soon. To be honest, most of this year has just been me trying to sort out where I want to go next. Not having a clear plan or direct goal has been much more of a struggle for a post-uni me than I thought it would, it has been difficult not to let that exciting time of open opportunities just become a bit of a looming void. I won’t lie and say it’s been an easy year, but I think it’s been a necessary one in terms of working out the next steps for me personally.

Existential crisis aside though, I’ve been working on some really fun personal projects this year, and a couple great freelance ones. I’ve also been working part time in a bookshop here in Edinburgh to pay rent.

Michael: Luckily I had things coming up in the few months after art school, including New Contemporaries, which was a good experience. I organised a small show with a friend in a space in Bethnal Green – which was a disaster – no one came, but I took it as a positive experience to learn from. I think I panicked and wanted to put on a show but maybe I should’ve been a bit more patient.

I’ve just been enjoying the time and space to make paintings with no academic baggage, it’s very quiet but I see friends occasionally. I was invited to present a solo show of work at ASC Gallery in London more recently, the gallery is located in the Aylesbury estate, so it chimes in with the body of work that I’ve been creating the last few months. A solo show is very nerve wracking because it’s just you against the wall, there’s a tendency to cram in loads of work too, but I resisted the urge and made it made it quite spacious.

Harry: My first year in the real world has been split right down the middle – six months working as a junior at N.B Studio, then the rest scrambling away on my own in the basement of Somerset House where I have a desk space with the Makerversity. Along the way I’ve been lucky to pick up some great commissions through friends, and previous clients. I also work two days a week for Will Yates-Johnson, a brilliant RCA-taught designer, working on projects for the Science Museum and his solo show. I’m trying my best to stay flexible and meet lots of new people, while carving out a bit of time for self-initiated work.

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Harry Grundy

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Harry Grundy

What advice would you give to this year’s graduates?

Peony: I’d say take any and every opportunity as it comes, but don’t get too down if nothing really comes of any of them. It can feel very overwhelming when you’re constantly comparing yourself to where you’d hoped or wanted to be straight after university, but success takes time and is more of a path made of tiny little stepping stones, not just one big door to be unlocked and then instantly achieved.

I’d also say it’s totally okay to take some time for yourself before throwing yourself into being a professional. The final years of university can be very all-consuming and a lot of hard work, and it’s okay to take some time out before going back to intense career mode. A lot of people I know got really creatively burnt out after graduation and it took a good while for some of them to get back to making art as something they loved again, instead of as a chore.

Michael: To fine art graduates I would say be patient. Don’t worry that things aren’t happening right away, don’t worry that you haven’t got a show lined up, don’t worry that you don’t have a 1000 square foot studio, don’t worry that you’re not shortlisted for whatever. The only thing that really matters is that you have a determination to make stuff, even if it’s just on the weekend or evenings, concentrate on that and then everything will fall into place I’m sure.

Harry: You are not your BA. Steve Jobs studied calligraphy. Take your time picking your ladder before you start climbing. Better yet, forget ladders all together.

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Michael Cox

If you could go back to your final year, what would you do differently?

Peony: If I was going to back to third year I’d mainly just tell myself to have more fun with the projects, and to try to stop with the self-doubt so much. Nobody cares if your work really perfectly fits with that fake brief set by your tutor, as long as you’ve made a rad piece of work you really engaged with and loved making. That energy and passion makes for such better art, and nobody expects a perfect polished portfolio out of a new graduate anyway. Enjoy the opportunity to make whatever you want with no consequences, you might not ever really get that free a chance again.

Michael: I don’t think I’d go back to art school, I’m very grateful and owe a lot to everyone at Falmouth, but its something you do and then its done; third year was especially chaotic.

Harry: I remember planning my third year, in the summer previous. I knew how crucial that year was in defining my own practice and so I roughly mapped out all the things I wanted to do; use the new workshop machines, enter D&AD, write more, focus on art direction and so on. So I guess I feel pretty satisfied. I also worked closely with a great group of friends; Jackson Iredale, Calum Ray and Ed Goodger every day so I had a lot of fun fucking around in the studio too.

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Peony Gent

What did you enjoy about being an It’s Nice That Graduate?

Peony: Being an It’s Nice That Grad was genuinely such a good part of my year. It was lovely to have that support there if I ever needed it, and I got a lot of really appreciated exposure (and a couple of illustration jobs) directly from it. The Make Book project with G . F Smith was also a personal favourite part of the year for me, and the final book I got made has been perfect for bringing along for interviews and portfolio meetings.

Michael: It’s been great to be an It’s Nice That Grad, a definite highlight was making a book with G . F Smith, seeing my work printed in such a beautiful way was fantastic! It’s been great to see the work the other grads do as well – certainly inspiring.

Harry: Besides the great press and follow up features on WeTransfer etc. I got to know some of the guys from Anyways [It’s Nice That’s sister agency]. This led to a fun commission for Uniqlo’s Oxford Street shop – a slightly surreal portrait of my mate in heattech. The response to the article was great and has put me in touch with some people interested in some writing and art directing jobs. It was also a great opportunity to describe my process out loud, and help my grandparents understand this weird job I do.

Supported by A/D/O

Founded by MINI, A/D/O is a creative space in Greenpoint, Brooklyn dedicated to exploring new boundaries in design. At its heart is the Design Academy, which offers a range of programming to professional designers, intended to provoke and invigorate their creative practice.

If you’re after more advice and insight into the creative industries, sign up to Lecture in Progress – It’s Nice That’s new sister company, which was launched to inspire, inform and empower emerging talent with information on the workings of the creative world.