Posts

ian-cargill-grays

Art college – the best time of your life, or a complete nightmare

Art college is for many a great experience, however it doesn’t always go to plan. So I’m going to look at the less positive aspects of art college, including my own time at Robert Gordon University’s Gray’s School of Art in Aberdeen.

The great portfolio swindle

No disrespect to art colleges but they are almost all thieves. At portfolio submission time to cover the cost of handling your portfolio, plus for sending to your second and third choice art institution, they require a fee of, what is it now, 50, 60, 100 quid? They receive how many applicants? 2000 x £50 = £100 000.

Art college portfolio

In return for a cursory glance at your work, you will be accepted or turned down. No feedback or advice. Any passing to second or third choice institutions does not happen. The vast majority of colleges are not interested in second or third choice students. They can argue they are underfunded, but it is immoral to take money from the pockets of the people you are rejecting to pay for the tiny minority you are accepting.

Those who can’t do… often teach art very badly

Art teachers. They know their stuff. Well maybe some of them do. Communication skills? Empathy? An ability to spot different students are at different places on their artistic journey? An understanding of which students need a kick up the backside, and which need some kind words of encouragement? An interest in teaching the whole class, not just their favourites – the ones that remind them of their younger, beautiful selves. An ability to hit on 19 year old students, despite being well into their forties, fifties, sixties, hello Operation Yewtree, how can I help you… Let’s put it this way, it’s not that hard to become an art tutor at an art college, but I suspect it is very, very hard to get kicked out.

Gray's School of Art cartoon

Bitter moi?

So you may have picked up a little bitterness in this article. I was ‘asked to leave’ Gray’s School of Art in 1988. The head of graphic design Ian Cargill (the only graphic design tutor)  had taken an instant dislike to me, and seemed determined to remind me whenever he got the opportunity that he hadn’t changed his opinion throughout my seven months in his class. I was far from perfect, but I was then, as I am now, a graphic designer.

I received a letter at my home informing me to meet at the Head of School’s office at an allotted time. On arriving for the meeting I was immediately informed by Head of School, Professor Eric Spiller ‘we have no option but to ask you to leave’. That was my first communication on the subject. In the corner looking at the floor was Ian Cargill. Next to me was Malcolm Brown, head of Textile Design at Gray’s School of Art.

Ian Cargill Gray's School of Art

Malcolm Brown leaned into me, face to face, about 15 centimetres nose to nose and growled/sneered, ‘So are there any mitigating circumstances to take into account, Iain?!’. Safe to say Malcolm Brown was enjoying the ending of a twenty year old’s education. Despite the fact he had never taught me, didn’t know me at all, had never previously been in the same room as me.

I just looked at him, speechless. Looked over at Ian Cargill, still looking at the floor, looked up at Professor Eric Spiller, stood up and left. I didn’t utter a single word the entire meeting. And that was me done with Gray’s School of Art, and full time education. 

Not all bad…

But it would be wrong to end it there. George Craigie had taught for a few months in Graphic Design and was a great teacher.  The artist Joyce Cairns taught me during a brief spell in the Fine Art department. She was excellent at her job, is a great artist and a kind and decent human being. Gordon Hamilton’s art history lectures engrained in me a love of the history of art I will never lose. And the library, oh the library, like a sweet shop for the creative brain. The lovely helpful librarian. The shiny new Creative Review magazine that arrived every third Thursday in the month, about 10.30am. The collection of back issues of assorted design magazines, which had it’s own cupboard, with a desk and chair. And the fabulous book collection…

The best of times, the worst of times.

copenhagen-airport

The time I got on a plane and I didn’t know where it was going

It had begun with a series of delays on my journey from my flat to Copenhagen Airport. Followed by a series of delays in the airport from queuing for, well it’s Copenhagen Airport, so everything then.

the-dandy-dons-website

Re-launching my side project The Dandy Dons

the-dandy-dons-website

Some people think football is a matter of life and death…

My side project the Dandy Dons got it’s website re-designed over the last couple of weeks.

Although living in Copenhagen I am from Aberdeen, and support the football team Aberdeen F.C who play in the Scottish Premiership in Scotland. The side project allows me the freedom to experiment and develop my design and illustration skills. The freedom of total control of the design process and the chance to learn about social media communication (the Facebook page has around 4000 likes) as well as an opportunity to bask in the love of my football club and home city.

A Facebook community to connect with

The immediacy of reaction from social media is stimulating, revealing, occasionally humbling. There is also the immediacy of being able to react to events, and a removal of the preciousness or over thinking or over working that can come about if developing or experimenting with work with a view to a portfolio piece.

The sense of total control of the website design for The Dandy Dons is important for me as with my other side projects www.iain.dk and the forthcoming thenew.one. A weakness I have when dealing with clients is sometimes caring a little too much about the design of my client’s sites, and not allowing the client enough creative control. I can be a bit of a control freak, and I do not wish this to be the case. So the side projects, amongst other things, is a chance for me to play ‘design dictator’, without upsetting anyone….

 

grays-school-art-aberdeen-fe

Advice for new students at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen

Grays School of Art Aberdeen

This image is copyright Grays School of Art , Aberdeen

If you are about to attend Gray’s School of Art for the first time, you probably ought to know, Gray’s School of Art is the best art college in the world – if you want it to be.  Look at the building, look at the surroundings, look at the library, really what else do you need? On top of that, the most important reason it is the best art college in the world, is YOU are there.

Having been a student at Gray’s School of Art, Aberdeen in the late eighties, here is my advice for new students. I am well aware there will have been significant changes, but some elements will be similar to my time.

Enjoy the city of Aberdeen

The city of Aberdeen is a magnificent place. The granite buildings are beautiful, the people are nice, there’s mock chop suppers, and a wonderful football team. At Gray’s School of Art the building is a fantastic piece of architecture. The area of Garthdee is close to the centre of the city, and you are a couple of minutes from the beautiful Deeside countryside.

What to watch out for

Avoid at all costs any students with a whiny Central Belt accent constantly whinging about how much better everything in Glasgow is – in particular Glasgow School of Art. They are almost certainly just homesick, missing their Mum, and using a front of superiority to cover this up. Ideally there should be a toll at the Tay Bridge that stops these people getting that far North.

Ignore your tutors

Or listen to them, it’s up to you. Being a tutor at an art college is really not that hard a job. You take talent, you point them in the right direction, off they fly. The idea that at Edinburgh, St Martins, or anywhere else there are better art tutors with better qualifications, or better people skills is just academic elitism. Your perfect tutor maybe doesn’t exist. Your art comes from within. Listen, evaluate, go with your instincts.

And finally

Try not get chucked out at the end of second year. Like I did. It’s a long hard struggle without a degree to make it in design, but it’s not impossible. And if ever you come across former Gray’s School of Art head of Graphic Design Ian Cargill, say hi from me. You can read more about the supremely talented and gifted trio of Ian Cargill, Malcolm Brown and Professor Eric Spiller here.

P.S

You are welcome. I suppose an honorary degree is out of the question?

mcinnes-fergie

McInnes and Sir Alex, with thanks to Michelangelo – free download

The Renaissance of Aberdeen F.C.

michelangelo-mcinnes-sir-alex-ferguson

To be fair to McInnes it is pretty cold at the moment

Aberdeen F.Cs manager Derek McInnes is fingered by Sir Alex Ferguson. This bit of Photoshopping was done for www.thedandydons.com at the beginning of season 2013 – 2014- Sir Alex Ferguson had just retired from Manchester United, and things were starting to go well with Derek McInnes at Aberdeen F.C. Eighteen months later and Aberdeen F.C are top of the league.

Some have said this image is a little bit homoerotic. I don’t see it myself…

Click the link below to download an A4 print ready PDF.
Download an A4 pdf here

derek-mcinness-yes-he-can-sm

Derek McInnes, Yes he can! Free download

Aberdeen F.C. manager Derek McInnes given the Obama treatment. Below the image is a free download for an A3 print ready PDF (297 mm x 420 mm). A chance to waste a lot of ink on your work photocopier, or take it to a printers. Not to be used or re-used for any financial gain. No you can’t. Unless your name is Derek McInnes or you are Aberdeen Football Club.

Vistaprint poster template

There is also a version for a 42.6 cm by 60.1 cm poster, that has been added on a Vistaprint template, so you could get it printed online. I have no affiliation with Vistaprint, and gain nothing from you using this. If you go to this link here you can see where to upload http://www.vistaprint.co.uk. It should take you to their poster page. You then choose ‘Medium’ as the size, and then ‘Upload’. And it should work, costs about 10 quid. Enjoy.

Future updates on free artwork will appear here. www.facebook.com/thedandydons

Derek McInness yes he can


mcinness-A3


mcinness-vistaprint-poster


Patronising advice for students – The art of selling for designers and illustrators

advice-for-designers

In another in my series “patronising advice for students” I explain what I know about selling. For some the art of selling is natural and easy, and for others the concept is a complete mystery. Here is what I know and how I came to learn it.

Avoid wannabe childrens’ book authors

A few years ago I met someone who was an aspiring childrens’ book author. Would I be interested in illustrating his book with a view to sending it to a publisher to try and get a deal.

I read the book, it seemed alright, so I went for it. After quite a few weeks of work he sent the book off, with my illustrations. Then I got on with other work, knowing well how hard the children’s book market is to get into.

Around a year later I met the aspiring author again. He told me what happened. He got a reply from the publishing house rejecting the book.

I was furious. As I told him, JK Rowling was turned down at least half a dozen times for Harry Potter. I asked him if he was sure anyone from the publishers had even read his manuscript. Was there anything specific in the reply that showed it was read. This was a concept beyond this person’s realm of thought.

Selling myself door to door – the cold sell

I was working in bars and hotels in London. Living-in gave a nice disposable income, and it was fun for a bit. Until I just couldn’t fill the ice bucket up any more or empty the glass machine. I had been doing the artwork on the blackboards for the various places I’d worked, and was aware a few others did it for a living. So to save me from ever having to pour another pint, I started up as a full time blackboard artist.

This would involve me going into pubs, asking if they were interested in having their blackboards painted… I had an A4 portfolio with examples of boards I’d done, and a business card to leave behind. As a shy person that was a living hell. The first day I did this, I was almost physically sick. It was a horrific experience. I probably did it two days in a row, and didn’t get any work. Two weeks went by then my ‘mobile phone like a house brick’ rang. First customer. Ten minutes later I got my second customer. I was off and running.

I did this job for about two years. What I came to learn was for every twenty pubs I went into, I always got a minimum of one new customer. On being ‘rejected’ by a pub I then saw this as positive. I was one closer to twenty, which would always get me a customer, and therefor I was positively motivated to keep trying more pubs or restaurants.

The big lesson – don’t sell

What I also learned was I wasn’t selling, or persuading people to use my skills. They needed their blackboards painting or they didn’t, end of. As the business became more successful, the pubs, restaurants and hotels came to me.

When I first arrived at a pub, the manager  would  ask where I wanted to work in the pub. This shy awkward young man wanted to be as far away as possible from the public. Even working in a refrigerated cellar on occasion, rather than be in the public gaze. One day I had to work on a large outside board that was fixed to a wall. Had to do it there on the street. While working I picked up about three new customers. From then on I worked in public, always! It became like a street art performance, and I would amuse myself counting the number of times people said ‘you spelt that wrong mate…’.

Don’t meet your heroes – or work for children or animals

I am from Aberdeen. I support Aberdeen Football Club. When I lived in the city I was a season ticket holder. I’d contributed cartoons to the AFC fanzine The Northern Light and the Aberdeen Press and Journal newspaper. But what I really wanted to do was work for the club.

So I got together some illustrations of the stadium, and the players. This is pre-digital. I worked for months on it. Sent it away. And waited.

I don’t think they even replied. Between other work, a couple of years later I tried again. Nothing. I think I tried one more time, and gave up.

A good few years later, my work now digital, a friend asked for one of the illustrations of a player to be turned into a birthday card for his 11 year old nephew. A career high! Reluctantly I did it. I also decided to print off another copy of the illustration, and send it to Aberdeen F.C.

I sent it in such a relaxed, disinterested way, when the club’s marketing manager phoned me up a couple of days later, and requested more like that, I genuinely couldn’t remember what I’d sent him… I went on to work for them for some time.

Learning from experience

Why had they rejected me previously? Why did they then decide to use my work? They accepted my work because my work landed on the correct person’s desk on the correct day. The times I was rejected, it didn’t.

So how do you get your work to land on the correct person’s desk, on the correct day? You send out a lot of work, regularly to increase the chances of this happening, and ignore any rejections. Exactly what the author in the first story did not do.

Selling as a freelance designer

When I go to a client’s for an initial meeting, I am not selling, I never sell. They will have got in touch with me as they are interested in my services. All I need to do is listen to their needs, explain the concept, explain how it could work, give any advice on any specifics they are interested in, irrespective of whether they have agreed to work with me or not. And most importantly of all, be honest. If I don’t know the answer to something, I tell them I don’t know, and also say if I can find out for them I will.

Generally all my client meetings have a positive result.

 

Press and Journal

Working as a cartoonist for the Press and Journal newspaper

Willie Miller Aberdeen F.C.

Cartoon for The Press and Journal. A wee hint of Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes) in the brush work.

In the early nineties I worked for Aberdeen Journals’ Press and Journal newspaper as a layouter at their Lang Stracht headquarters in Aberdeen.

I was contributing cartoons to the Aberdeen f.c. fanzine The Northern Light at the same time. I eventually plucked up the courage to submit a couple of cartoons to The Press and Journal. It was a paper that sold 110,000 copies per day, six days a week back then. Covering the area from the Shetlands down to Dundee, and over to the Western Isles. The highest selling newspaper in the area, with an estimated readership of 220,000. The subs, the chief sub, the Assistant Editors, were nice but intimidating people – you wouldn’t want to mess with them.

Four hours after nervously offering two cartoons to the Chief Sub, I was holding a still warm from the presses copy of the P&J in my hand with one of my cartoons on the front page, and another on the all important back page (the football page).

The cartoons were topical and needed to fit in with that day’s news. A sharp learning curve in, coming up with material under pressure, drawing quickly, and accepting the random nature of what others considered funny (editors and sub-editors).

The Press and Journal doesn’t sell as many copies now as when my cartoons appeared. This may or may not be a coincidence.