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Zara Wood: Illustrator, Art Director & Module Leader, MA Illustration Online
Photography by The Brighton Studio

Sponsored / Graphic Design

Online courses for the physical world: Falmouth University launches two new creative masters

We don’t know about you but here at It’s Nice That, the month of September feels like an opportunity to start afresh, to set new goals for the rest of the year (or give those failed January resolutions another bash) and to make the most of the galvanising “back to school” feeling that we still can’t shake all these years later. It’s a month of renewed energy, optimism and productivity whilst the weather is still half-decent and before Christmas insanity begins to loom large in early October. Earth, Wind and Fire had it spot on when they classed September a month of “golden dreams”, but it’s also an incredibly busy one. From Fashion Weeks to London Design Festival to the end of the fiscal year in the US, even the Romans had their hands full marking it their Harvest month.

This September sees the launch of two new part-time MA courses from Falmouth University and the Cambridge Education Group, but what sets them apart from existing offerings is their total flexibility and innovative global approach. Existing purely online (with optional in-person events and lectures), the courses in Graphic Design and Illustration will provide students with the academic rigour and industry reputation Falmouth is known for, whilst still being able to work, attend fashion shows and tend to their harvest.

Falmouth’s ethos of “doing it for real” is also integral to the new courses; by drawing on a pool of successful alumni and commissioners, and with industry-written briefs integrated into the modules, students graduate with authentic experience within their chosen industry. Live group discussions with classmates based around the world mean they walk away with a global network of contacts and future collaborators to boot.

We spoke to lecturers from each of the courses to find out more.

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Professor Alan Male: Illustrator, Author & Guest Practictioner, MA Illustration Online
Photography by The Brighton Studio

Zara Wood, MA Illustration (Online), module leader

Originally from a fine art background, Zara turned her hand to illustration over fifteen years ago and has been fascinated by the scope of the field ever since. “Illustrators have an access-all-areas pass in terms of topics to research and visually communicate about,” she tells It’s Nice That, and being inquisitive about processes, techniques, technology and contexts means there’s always something new to try within the discipline. With that in mind, students on the course can expect teaching that incorporates and encourages research outside of the field.

The Course Coordinator is Barnaby Lickens-Richards who, like all of the other tutors and guest practitioners, is not only an educator but also a practising illustrator – so when they say the course was designed to be flexible around work, they really mean it. Barnaby has twenty years of experience working in the field. His comics and children’s books have been published in the UK, the US and France, and as an editorial illustrator his clients include The Guardian, The Financial Times, The Independent and Reader’s Digest. He has been an active self-publisher and this, in turn, has led to working with clients such as Paul Smith and Playstation.

Zara’s professional successes lend themselves equally well to Falmouth’s hands-on approach to bringing practice into a sustainable career. Star Gaze, her range of illustrated t-shirts for Topshop, became the brand’s highest selling artist range, and her collection Little Treasures (miniature character-led originals framed within vintage jewellery) was sought after by Hollywood A-listers. Along with a solo show at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Zara lists a public art commission for St George’s Hospital in London as a personal highlight. “When medical staff feedback that the work had made an immeasurable difference to the patients they treat, you realise the fundamental potential of illustration – illustrators can create characters and images that actually improve people’s daily experiences,” she explains.

Whilst the teaching will be entirely online, there are in-person events on offer too. “These will be a mix of practical workshops, talks and collaborative projects” and in keeping with the global reach of the MA, they won’t just take place on campus; “Falmouth University has always had strong ties in the US, particularly New York, and this new course has the opportunity to utilise networks in Europe, Asia and Australia too.”

When asked to list one highlight of the course, Zara clearly struggles – “there’s so much that students will walk away with”. Something she’s quick to note, however, is that the modules have been designed specifically so that students visibly progress, hone new skills and add to their portfolio every single week. This momentum, Zara explains, “is key for a part-time online course, but specifically in terms of illustration, that is how you forge your own visual language and understand how to effectively communicate with it. It is that momentum that students can take with them as they craft their careers.” Above all, students on the course “will not only achieve an MA, they will create their own visual language, an extensive portfolio, plus a business model with a self-promotional campaign.”

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Susanna Edwards, MA Graphic Design (Online), course coordinator and senior lecturer

What Susanna Edwards found most exciting about her own studies was the “chance to explore, to be curious, to test my thinking and intuition and to take risks” and it’s exactly that which excites her most about the new online Graphic Design MA at Falmouth. Studying at Central Saint Martins, Susanna “tried everything, there were no boundaries”; she played with “craft processes such as letterpress; photographic printing, processing and printmaking” and explored everything from illustrative approaches to design to experimental typography and image making. She became particularly interested in using “visual tools to tell stories and to translate narrative from one world to another. For example, literature into moving image, poetry into artists books, archives into photographic and typographic translations”, she tells It’s Nice That, something she only discovered by being pushed to explore “science, literature, philosophy and history” alongside her practice.

It’s a similar approach at Falmouth, “we want to get students out of their comfort zone, take risks and be inspired by the contemporary issues, needs and stories facing them and the wider world”, Susanna tells us. “Graphic design is an essential facet of our contemporary world and the course’s role is to remove barriers to great thinking, to shape, disrupt and help form the definition of what graphic design is and can do today; we want to see brave, purposeful and innovative new ideas!”

To do this, Falmouth’s head of graphic design, Bryan Clark, has put together a unique curriculum and group of teaching staff who – along with building on the core pillars of academic teaching that already exist at the institution – work independently across a variety of disciplines as lauded artists, designers and practitioners. Susanna, for instance, has worked on personal projects and commercial collaborations with brands and bodies such as Paul Smith, the ICA and Tate Britain, all of which have fed back into her teaching. Susanna is joined by Stuart Tolley, a practising art director, graphic designer and author of MIN: The New Simplicity in Graphic Design and Collector’s Edition: Innovative Packaging and Graphics, which are both published by Thames & Hudson. Stuart will divide his time between his on-going creative work with clients in the arts, culture and publishing industries and his role as module leader.

Susanna is adamant that “it is the use of online platforms for communication, collaboration, community and the creative process” that will really unlock teaching, through examining similarities and differences of practice around the world and innovative global collaboration. However, whilst the course itself is made up of “online talks, seminars, events and panel discussions”, it will be embedded in real-world contexts, “using the physical world around us to foster debate”. Students will therefore have the opportunity to meet up through the year at global design events physically but also participate in online studio visits as part of their postgraduate journey – “you could travel around the world in a day on this course!”.

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