We ask some established creatives what they wish they'd learned at art school

30 July 2015

We’ve helped you put together a portfolio; held your hand as you navigate the “agent or no agent” debate and made you see what you and your work are worth. Now that you’re free to think about all the fun things like invoicing, tax and paper stock, it’s time to reflect. For the final article in our series of advice for graduates, we asked some established creatives to look back on their time at art school and tell us what they wish they’d been taught. Hopefully it’ll help assuage some of your concerns as you emerge into the big, brilliant world of a career in the creative industries.


Spin founder Tony Brook, who graduated in 1982, bemoans the lack of history that was included on his course. “My subject has a rich and exciting history,” he says, “and I was told nothing about it.” Tom Moloney on the other hand, a Kingston graduate of 2011, would like to have learned more about the breadth of positions available as part of career in design. “I studied graphic design and have gone on to become an account manager, but I want to end up in brand strategy (at the moment),” he says. “So I think more awareness around the variety of roles in the creative industry would have been helpful.”

Professional Practice

Others have more fundamental concerns with the way art school prepares you for the outside world. Photographer Francesca Jane Allen graduated from London College of Communication last summer, but still doesn’t feel like she has found her feet in the industry. “Maybe I missed the part where everybody was taught how to get a proper job,” she says. “I came out of university with such a small understanding of how to be a ‘real person,’ and I still don’t feel like I am!”

But according to Ryan Hopkinson, the only way to learn how to make your way in a volatile creative industry is to pick it up as you go along. “Professional practice is always a difficult subject to grasp at university, as your true knowledge of the industry won’t start until you begin assisting, interning, etc.” he says. “This was something I always struggled with, as I knew moving to London was my main priority after graduation. The industry is difficult to teach at a professional level as it’s constantly changing due to the economy, technology, advertising politics and the ever-growing need to satisfy the multiple channels of social media.”

"So many students come bursting out of uni full of artistic energy and well versed in creative skills – and that’s great, but it’s not just about a brilliant creative mind. You also need a sharp business mind.”

Shaz Madani

Business Know-How

While some skills are best learned as you go, a little business know-how is absolutely vital if you’re looking to start a career as a freelance creative. “So many students come bursting out of uni full of artistic energy and well versed in creative skills – and that’s great, but it’s not just about a brilliant creative mind. You also need a sharp business mind,” designer Shaz Madani says. Artist Oliver Jeffers highlights taxes as number one on this list. “I wish I’d been taught how to run a small business,” he says, “which is essentially what you are doing if you become an artist or illustrator.”

So how do you navigate the labyrinth that is HM Revenue and Taxes? We advise asking questions – a lot of questions – to anybody who might have an answer for you, whether that’s a colleague or a self-employed family friend. If you’ve got a hundred quid to spare on hiring an accountant to lend you a hand come the end of the tax year, experience has taught us it will pay for itself twice over, not least in teaching you how to do your own taxes in the years to follow.

If all else fails though, illustrator Chrissie Mcdonald adds, have mates. “Ultimately if you focus on making good work and have a support network of peers around you when you graduate, you can figure it out together.”


Business know-how is all well and good, but it won’t get you far without an acute understanding of the materials you’re working with. When starting out as a professional artist, Oliver Jeffers found his course had been a little too focused on the concept. “My course was lacking plenty of practical lessons, so I wasn’t really taught how to use any materials,” he says. “I figured it all out on my own, which is OK, but a few tips here and there wouldn’t have gone amiss.” Similarly, Oscar Bolton Green’s only regret was in not doing more practical work. “My only real regret from art school is the lack of drawing classes,” he says. “There was enough talking, maybe too much, and not enough making.”

As a graphic designer, Leif Podhajsky’s qualms with his studies are similarly practical. He would have appreciated being taught to set up real world print jobs above all else, he says. “Learning about different ink weights, paper stock and templates for print would have helped me a lot early on.”

Self Belief

Meanwhile, according to artist Ian Wright, the most important thing you can learn at art school is positivity. “Keeping the faith is so important,” he says. “Sometimes self belief is difficult to find when you realise others around you are busy and you are not – but things come around. A positive attitude helps.”

It’s Nice That has created a special Grad Pack for new Graduates, which features a collection of tailored advice on how to land on your feet after leaving uni. We had a chat with It’s Nice That Graduates of years gone by, listened to words of wisdom from established creatives, and put together a studio-wide list of references and resources. Download it now!


We are very pleased that The It’s Nice That Graduates 2015 will once again be supported by Represent Recruitment. The graphic and digital design recruitment specialists have developed a peerless reputation working with designers of all levels and matching them up with the right positions in some of the top agencies around. Represent’s support has helped us grow the Graduate scheme over recent years and we are thrilled they have partnered with us again in 2015.

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About the Author

Maisie Skidmore

Maisie joined It’s Nice That fresh out of university in the summer of 2013 as an intern before joining full time as an Assistant Editor. Maisie left It’s Nice That in July 2015.

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