Why should you apply to The Graduates 2019? Three grads tell us how it helped their career

20 June 2019
Reading Time
6 minute read

Over the past few weeks, our focus has been fully on the graduating class of 2019. With just a few short days to submit your portfolio for the chance to be one of The Graduates this year (you can apply here until midnight on 24 June), we’re really keen to hear from any creatives finishing their course this year!

The Graduates is a passion project for us here at It’s Nice That, a chance for our team to scout out some of the most exciting creative talent as they take their very first steps out of university and into the industry. Running the programme for over a decade, those chosen for The Graduates have become good friends of ours, often working with us in job roles and through commissioning. While we’re in firm belief our graduates would have grown to successful heights without our backing, having a connection with young creatives will forever be key to It’s Nice That as a platform.

In case you’re slightly on the fence about submitting your portfolio, in these last few days we really encourage you to have the confidence to back yourself and send it to us as we begin working our way through projects submitted. Don’t just take it from us though, below we catch up with three graduates from our 2018 class on why they submitted to The Graduates and the positive effects it has had on their practice so far.


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Illustrator Alva Skog

Thankfully for us the incredible illustrator Alva Skog, who we are now pretty sure you all know well, had been reading It’s Nice That as a source of inspiration while at studying at Central Saint Martins. Deciding to apply for The Graduates was a natural step “because I really wanted to be part of that world, to be next to all these amazing creatives on the site,” she recalls, thinking that “if I made it as one of the graduates,” she continues, “I’d make it in the industry.”

Admitting of course that “it is never that simple,” what The Graduates offered Alva was a boost in confidence, the ability to back herself “and put my name out there,” she says. “It really showed me that I was ready to go freelance.”

And ready she was. Since graduating and becoming part of our graduating class of creatives in 2018, she’s worked for_G2, The Guardian, Weapons of Reason_ and The New York Times editorially (although we’re not taking the credit for any of this). She’s also worked with Apple, creating illustrations to be used worldwide and with WeTransfer. We even got her back to work with us on a regular of our own, illustrating the personality of our chosen Ones to Watch creatives for 2019. On top of all this she signed with illustration agency Jelly, “and I’m so happy for their support” she adds.

The creative audience is also getting to know Alva personally, considering she’s run workshops at the Design Museum on International Women’s Day as well as another workshop at Apple’s store in Covent Garden.

“I could not have wished for this year to be any better,” she concludes, “and there are still exciting things to come.”


James Aspey: Structures of Experience

Graphic Designer James Aspey

As one of our graphic design graduates of 2018, the research-focused, typographic fiend that is the brilliant James Aspey was a designer we wanted to see flourish. As a student at Winchester School of Art James kept an eye on The Graduates year-on-year, looking to “the breadth and high level of work” as a place for him to creatively aim towards.

Similarly to Alva, being selected as one of our graduates “gave me a lot more confidence in my work,” he tells us. “I think other creatives can relate to questioning if their work is good enough, and I think sometimes during university this was something I struggled with at times,” he recalls. “I was very self-critical over what I was producing (I believe this can be good and bad) but being selected for The Graduates made me realise that I had something good going with my work, and that people were interested in it.”

In turn, this made James “a little less protective over what I create now, which is something which I feel has benefitted me over the last year.” Being part of The Graduates also gave the designer exposure as part of our global class, providing “a big bonus and the connections that you make because of it are amazing,” he says. “Being amongst some fantastic creatives from all over the world is something that I cherish the most as it was a bit of a shock to be selected for it.”

Since leaving Winchester, James has moved up to London, first working with Marina Willer’s team at Pentagram, working on projects including Marina’s direction for the Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the Design Museum: “It was amazing to see something that I had worked on for a while at Pentagram finally in the flesh – this was a big highlight!”

Following this experience, James freelanced for a few months “at one of my favourite studios A Practice for Everyday Life,” before taking a job with a previous graduate of ours, Bruce Usher. James and Bruce originally met back in 2017, following a talk Bruce gave at the university, forming a friendship and working together on projects. “I’ve found his advice over the past year since graduating to be very useful and luckily the right opportunity came around at the start of this year,” he says. “We’ve recently moved into a new studio and we’ve got a bunch of projects going on at the moment which is all very exciting!”

Alongside his studio work, James has also begun giving talks at art schools and workshops on typography, leading him to realise that “one of the biggest highlights of the past year has definitely been meeting so many new people through studios I’ve worked with and at the places where I’ve given talks,” he explains. “Learning valuable advice from practitioners who have been in the industry for a long time has taught me a lot and actually being able to give advice (helpful I hope) to students who are close to graduating is something which has made me feel really good!"


Natalia Poniatowska: Moments I Never Showed You

Photographer Natalia Poniatowska

Up in Glasgow, Polish-born photographer Natalia Poniatowska applied for The Graduates while in a little bit of a panic. “You’re figuring out that you’re losing all facilities, tutor help, contacts, free exhibition space, cheap printing… Yeah, it was a panic for me,” she recalls. “Like there was nothing after graduation, no exact plan, I thought ‘ahh if I studied business or some other normal subject I would get a job straight away and life would be so easy’.”

However, never one to give up on herself, Natalia took a moment to realise that, really, she loves the creative industry “and feel great being an artist and a freelance photographer”. She began to look for opportunities where this could be a reality applying for awards, exhibitions and residencies. Unfortunately, “so many of them are a scam that want to take your money,” and so Natalia spent time researching, visiting It’s Nice That and when “’Calling all graduates’ popped up on my screen, I was so excited,” she remembers. “When I went to the application I got even more excited – there is no entry fee, and the application is nice and easy. A few weeks later I got a call that I was one of the It’s Nice That Graduates!”

While figuring out post-graduate life, being one of our graduates “made me believe in my work and gave me more confidence to show my work outside of the art school bubble,” the photographer tells us. “And you know what’s the best in the award? The people behind it! Contact with It’s Nice That was amazing.”

Since becoming one of our Graduates, some of Natalia’s many highlights include presenting her project Twelve Dying Palm Trees at the New Contemporaries exhibition at the Royal Scottish Academy, where she received the Adam Bruce Thomson award “and even sold some work!” This year she also presented her piece Southend at the National Museum in Kraków, her degree show work travelled to Pingyao International Photography Festival. Most importantly, the photographer hasn’t stopped creating work. “Even without project deadlines and tutors, all you actually need to make new work is inspiration and energy.”

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.


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