Graduating university is a big transition. You go from hanging out with your friends all day creating cool work to wondering how you’re going to make any money from the skills and experience you’ve picked up over the last three years.
Our Graduates programme is now in its ninth year, and for the Grads that have come and gone, their journeys have been varied. Some were lucky enough to get an internship or job straightaway, meaning they instantly regained their independence – for others the ride was a little slower, with some moving back home or working in an unrelated job for a few months. Whatever way they got there, the running thread between them all is the hard work and dedication they’ve repeatedly demonstrated.
Right now we’re in the thick of going through this year’s entries and we’re excited to uncover the next roster of talent. In the meantime, here we speak to a handful of the It’s Nice That Grads alumni to see what they’ve learnt, what they’ve been up to and what advice they have for graduating students this year.
Jack Hudson, illustrator (The Graduates 2010)
I remember being fearful of not having any job security as a new grad and wondered where/what I would end up doing, as any third year student would. But I also remember having a lot of determination to not stop working as an illustrator, even if the jobs weren’t highly paid, as it was important for me to get a professional portfolio together.
I was working from my parents’ conservatory for three months after graduating, it enabled me the time to work while eliminating the pressure of paying rent and provided me with a focus. Around a similar time I was chosen as an It’s Nice That Graduate and then a week or so after the article about my work I received an email with the subject “Google Chrome Commission”. I initially thought it was spam, I couldn’t believe it but later found out that they wanted to commission me to produce a poster to celebrate their second year anniversary! This meant I got paid decent money and I could move out of that conservatory (I called my studio) and move to Bristol, start renting and start my freelancing full time, the only downside is that I didn’t have my mum’s home cooking to get me through the day.
Two personal (giant) stepping stones were published last year which were the most challenging projects to date but also the most fulfilling! First off I illustrated a modern science book titled The Earth and I in collaboration with James Lovelock and published by Taschen and secondly I co-directed an animated TV advertisement for Rowntrees collaborating with Major Briggs at BlinkInk.
My advice for students is to make sure you are happy with your portfolio before putting it out in the world, be cohesive but don’t be scared to try new things and challenge yourself, work from your parents’ conservatory or even their shed if you have to, just to get things off the ground!
Bruce Usher, designer (The Graduates 2011)
Being selected as one of It’s Nice That’s Graduates was really exciting, it felt like a validation of all the work that I’d been doing outside of my degree course. Graphic design isn’t usually something that’s as immediate or engaging as other things, particularly photography or image-making, so I was really happy that my work had clicked somehow. Being chosen as having potential by a platform that I’d checked almost every day since I was 17 or 18 made me really proud, and in some ways felt more important than my degree to me.
It’s been the relationships that started there at the beginning that have been most helpful for me, particularly with Will and Alex that led to working together much further down the line. That included working at Anyways (formerly INT works) and later the branding for the company. Some of the friendships with the team, particularly Liv Siddall (who I met at the Graduates exhibition) and Jamie McIntyre (who I met a bit further down the line) perhaps wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
After graduating I went almost immediately into an internship with Rob Boon and Dave Lane at Inventory, diverting the possibility of moving back in with my parents. The internship quickly ended up being a job – which I loved, and lasted for three years. The time with Rob and Dave informed a lot of how I think about design still and I’m forever grateful for their help.
Since then I’ve been fortunate enough to work on quite a broad range of projects, including a re-brand for British Journal of Photography, Sentimental Magazine, a new identity for Anyways and of course Rough Trade Magazine, to name a few.
My advice to graduating students this year is: work hard and have your own perspective. Do something differently. It’s so easy to look at every design studio’s work now, even more than it was when I graduated, so having a perspective or an approach that sets you apart seems to be the best way to be noticed.
Lorna Scobie, illustrator (The Graduates 2012)
When I was a graduate I remember being nervous about leaving the comfort of Kingston Uni and being released into the big bad world. It was intimidating to not know if and how I was going to earn money from my illustration. I knew that nobody in the industry knew who I was, and that work wouldn’t just come to me if I just sat around waiting.
I kept busy making promotional material to send out, and new artwork, and tried to keep up the energy and productivity levels that I had to have while at university. The main thing I remember from the first year after graduating is working a lot of odd-jobs! I was creating illustration alongside working in cafes, washing up in kitchens, working in shops and museums, and teaching workshops. Doing all this gradually started to pay off and I was able to leave the washing up and move entirely into creative fields.
Being an It’s Nice That Graduate was a great stepping-stone, especially for meeting people. Lots of people in the design industry read It’s Nice That, and other design websites, and so people got in touch after I was featured online as one of the Grads. Some just wanted to reach out and say hello, some wanted to meet, but all were lovely and it really helped me realise that illustration was the direction I wanted to go in. The absolute best thing that came out of being a Grad was meeting one of my best friends, Juliette. She happened to see the article on It’s Nice That (we didn’t know each other at the time) and got in touch for a meet up and to see my work, as she often commissions illustrators in her job. We’ve been close friends ever since! So – thanks It’s Nice That!!
My first big break was I really fortunate to be commissioned by Stella McCartney Kids to create a range of animal masks and face paint designs for their upcoming campaign. At that point, I was just starting to realise that my real passion was for drawing the natural world – animals in particular – so this was an absolutely perfect project.
I’ve had the opportunity to work with one of my all time heroes, Nicola Davies. Nicola is not only a complete genius when it comes to all things nature, but she’s also incredibly lovely. We were paired together by Hodder for a non-fiction children’s book called The Variety of Life and it’s my dream project – lots of animals and lots of interesting info!
Sometimes at university it feels like everything is building up to and culminating in the final show, and so there is so much pressure for your work to be “final”. But this really isn’t the case as you will develop your style and work continuously in your life. It’s so easy to lose track of this and stress too much about it when you graduate. So don’t worry!
Alice Tye, illustrator (The Graduates 2013)
I mainly remember how terrifying it was leaving the structure of university and the label of being a student, suddenly just being an adult in the world. It was exciting too though; as soon as I graduated I started doing up a studio in Peckham with some friends and it seemed like everything was new and exciting.
Being an It’s Nice That Graduate helped me so much. Every time I’ve had work featured on the site it’s been really good exposure and it’s led to new commissions and also painting and print sales – it really helped get my name out there in the first year after graduating.
Just after graduating I sent out postcards of my work, each with a personalised cover letter on, to different companies, magazines and agencies that I wanted to work with and from that I ended up meeting with David Lane who runs The Gourmand with Marina Tweed. That meeting then led to me creating five illustrations for their Lost Shops of Soho article which was really good exposure, really fun to work on and also pushed me to try painting portraits which I’d previously been quite scared of working on.
I’d say my biggest career highlight has definitely been travelling in the USA two years ago and then having the freedom to create a whole series of paintings based on my experiences while travelling. However my biggest commissioned career highlight is actually something I’m still working on and can’t talk about yet – so watch this space!
I’d advise students to get your work out there as soon as you graduate and don’t be scared to approach people and companies you’d like to work with! The worst that can happen is they don’t reply or they say no this time.
Sophie Mayanne, photographer (The Graduates 2015)
After graduating, more than anything I actually remember being really unsure about what to do next. I knew I wanted to carry on doing photography, but when you graduate a large part of what your structure has been for three years is gone. I remember being really worried about money too and being really broke, and sleeping on a close friend’s floor countless times!
Being an It’s Nice That Graduate really opened a lot of doors for me. I met an artist called Joe Cruz through the party, and we have done several collaborations since, including some large-scale street art, and we’re still working together on projects. I also got advice on different things, like portfolios, invoicing and recently worked with It’s Nice That on creating my first book called Twenty-Two which was a great learning experience.
Just after graduating I was also lucky enough to shoot the album cover for Rosie Lowe. And I made sure to continue with as much editorial work as I possibly could. I worked hard while I was at Uni to build up rapport with a few magazines, so was able to continue contributing to them afterwards.
I got my first front cover this year, for L’Officiel ES, so that’s definitely a highlight. As well as working on the album covers for Rosie Lowe and Jones – and creating Twenty-Two is definitely a highlight as well!
My advice is to keep at it. It doesn’t happen straight away, so don’t get disillusioned if it feels like nothing is happening, because as cliche as it sounds, it will eventually. Persevere, and don’t lose sight of who you are.