Tag Archive for: Art student advice


How to get good at Photoshop quickly


If you wish to become a good designer, skills in Adobe Photoshop are essential. Here are this designer of many years tips for how to learn Photoshop quickly. You don’t become a successful designer by Photoshop alone, but you need to be on very good terms with this tool.

If I were to go back and start again, how would I go about gaining those Photoshop skills?

There is no cheat way, there is no easy way, it’s an enormous piece of software that can do an awful lot of things, but you can do your best to not waste time along the way.

There are two specific things I would consider doing every day. One is through learning, the other through practice. The first is to do a tutorial on Photoshop on Youtube every day, and the one for practicing your skills as you learn is to post something you make with Photoshop on social media several times per week.

Learn Photoshop through tutorials on Youtube

I would start with looking for something you want to learn. A specific thing you want to know about, based on a piece of design you have seen, or something you wish to express yourself with, and search for it on YouTube.

This roughly splits into two types of video. By tool, or by specific effect. For example, ‘How to use the pen tool in Photoshop’, ‘How to use the patch tool in Photoshop’ or by style ‘How to make a pop art portrait’? ‘How to make a soviet style poster in Photoshop’? etc. This will build up over time to give you a very broad understanding of Photoshop, and in getting used to using Youtube to solve problems as you meet them.

A social media platform for your art to get you fast and comfortable

For social media, consider starting an Instagram or Facebook page on a subject you are passionate about. Niche works well on social media. A football team, a sport or athlete, a band, a film franchise, an author, a game, a celeb, or maybe reimagine film posters. Something you love, something you have a good knowledge of, or wish to know more about. Ideally something unique, but doesn’t have to be.

What the social media page does for you is get you in the habit of publishing your work regularly and quickly. When working on a design job for a client, or student project, we as designers can get very precious. With our own output, we can speed up the process, experiment, and gain valuable experience quickly. You can always delete something you don’t like later. It can be #workinprogress or #justlearning.

You will pick up another skill, a clear understanding of managing a social media business page. Always something to add to a CV, an extra bonus for a potential employer.

This will get you fast in setting up a document. Not being too precious, and saving your work for the web. It becomes second nature.

Find yourself some inspiration to follow on Instagram. www.creativebloq.com/photography/graphic-designers-follow-instagram, www.delightfull.eu/graphic-designers-to-follow-on-instagram.

I think these to actions together will help you to learn Photoshop quickly. It won’t be easy, but will build up over time. As the ancient Chinese proverb says ‘To become at one with Photoshop, one must at first have worked your ass off’.

Here is my article on whether Graphic design is worth studying. www.iaincameron.dk/is-graphic-design-worth-studying.

Iain Cameron is a freelance graphic designer and web designer based in Copenhagen. Here is my portfolio. www.iaincameron.dk/design-portfolio.



Graphic Design trends for 2020 and why you should ignore them


A new year just started, and a time for bored hacks to predict/blind guess the graphic design trends for 2020. After a quick Google it appears random adjectives and talking bollocks will be big in 2020.

Much like graphic design trends for 2019 then.

So why in the graphic design world do we have articles on design trends for a coming year? The concept is lifted from the fashion industry, who have clearly defined seasons, and for whom short-termism is a big part of their industry model. If clothes are very quickly out of fashion, then the need for new purchases is ensured. As long as you’ve a timeless Chanel number for funerals and stuff. I know my fashion.*gently closes drawer containing 28 identical black t-shirts*

As graphic designers we of course need to know what is going on around us, and always be aware of style developments. But as designers we should also be creating unique solutions for our clients that have longevity and won’t go out of fashion inside six months. Or else we end up with stupid fads and designs that can be time dated to the month.

Generation Lucky

Designers in 2020 are the luckiest generation of designers there has ever been. Thanks to software advancement we have the creative tools to create anything. We can self publish getting our designs out to the world in seconds. We don’t lose our original artwork in the post, like previous generations did. The internet grants us access to inspiration from all over the world. We are so privileged as designers to have these resources. If anything we have too many resources/distractions at our disposal.

Why on earth would creative people be restricting creative possibilities by acting like sheep and working ‘on trend’. Does your client want to stand out from the crowd, or look like a bland cliched copy cat company?

My predictions for 2020

Hard work, research, and originality are on trend for 2020. And if we can just jam Baby Yoda somewhere in there…


Design students and graduates – finding a job


It is particularly tough for those finishing their design education coming out into the workforce to find the first step on the career ladder. So here is my advice.

Ignore the negativity and rejection

There is a lot of negativity and bad experiences when starting out. Whether it be tutors saying how tough the ‘real world’ is, or hearing of the unemployment situation in the branch, or being unable to get even a reply to a job application. This bad experience can lead to you losing your motivation and belief in yourself. It’s very important to not allow this to happen.

Job searching basics

There is lots of advice on the internet for job searching for designers, use it. Don’t send anyone an email that is not personal. Do everything to find a contact name, compliment them on something in their portfolio website, something that shows you haven’t just copy pasted this email, along with hundreds of others.  A very busy person is far more likely to send you a personal message rather than a ‘thanks but no thanks’ copy paste reply, or just not reply.

If you get a reply, you can delicately ask for advice. Very apologetically ask if there was anything in your CV, application email or portfolio that could be improved. You won’t always get an answer, but good people hate turning applicants away. If they can give a bit of advice that may help someone, they often will.

Remember you just need one job. It is like finding a needle in a haystack, but if you don’t look for the needle, you definitely won’t find it. As a positive thought, if you haven’t been turned down by 200 applications, then you haven’t begun looking. Use that number as a positive target. Something to aim for. Five a day, every day, it will soon mount, and you will become better at it.

Worst case scenario

So what do you do if you still can’t get in. There comes a point where you have to work. Perhaps it is in a coffee shop, perhaps as an entry level trainee in a different area completely. You may well have the best time of your life and make friends for life. An odd thing is, you will be surprised how random opportunities can come your way in life. You may find there is a creative position within this company you never knew existed. There are creative jobs you would never have heard of until you are working for that chain of convenience stores, or bars. You are networking by accident.

I worked as a barman in London. I went on to start my own business as a blackboard artist, as a full time job. Something I would never have seen as a possibility. But I had the contacts and knowledge just from working in the branch to know how to do it. And what I didn’t know I learned on the hoof.

Be prepared

Another issue regarding the random nature of things, is after sending hundreds of CVs out, and working yourself into the ground trying to find a job in the design industry with no success, you could find yourself sitting at a dinner or in some other social situation, when during small talk someone says ‘oh we are looking for a designer, can you Photoshop?’. And before you know it, you have a job, without applying or being interviewed.

Now here is the important aspect of that scenario. Make sure the last design work you did, wasn’t what you did in college. Make sure you are still active. Have a website portfolio, or a blog that is active. Make sure you can show your enthusiasm for your area of expertise. Because you will be kicking yourself if an opportunity like that comes up unexpectedly and you blow it because you were not prepared.

Working for free

It’s a tough one. You need experience to get a job, how do you get experience. How do you build a portfolio that shows what you can do, without working for free? From my experience, the sort of people who would accept free work, are the worst people to work for. They are like sharks. They will never pay you at a later date when you are experienced. Their shark brain will go, ‘find another idiot to work for free’. They will not respect you, will not respect your work, and will almost certainly insist on doing something to the design which is so bad it means you can’t use it in your portfolio. There is also the argument that working for free for people demeans the industry you wish to work in.

Stay positive and keep learning

If you still can’t get a job in the design industry there are further options. Start up freelance is one of them. Another is to look at the different aspects of your work and work at it in your free time. Illustration or animation for example, or typography design, or motion graphics. Something that would have been hard to get to, and possibly too exhausting to work on in your free time as a designer as it is too similar to the day job. Working in a different field you are completely fresh to work on this in your free time. This can be incredibly rewarding and go on to you being able to work in your niche area later. Helps if you think of yourself as being like an out of work actor. Ignore anyone who uses the word ‘hobby’ to describe what you do.

Keep taking online courses to extend your skills. If you work in the web, get javascript, get php skills. In design, add typography design or motion graphics, take figure drawing classes, there’s always more to learn. Keep adding to your portfolio and good luck!


Iain Cameron is a web designer, graphic designer and illustrator based in Copenhagen.




Is graphic design worth studying?


A question and answer guide to deciding on whether to study graphic design, or are interested in teaching yourself graphic design.

Is graphic design worth studying? Here are the pros and cons of a graphic designer of some decades. In the interests of letting you judge my opinions I studied graphic design but was kicked off my course before I finished it. Many years later, I taught myself via working alone and the internet. We are all different, I try and give as balanced an answer as possible. But it’s just my opinion, make sure you seek others’ opinions too.

Is graphic design worth studying? Yes, education can only be good. You will always learn, meet good people, and see and experience things that you wouldn’t alone.

Is studying graphic design at college essential? Absolutely not. Unlike a lot of jobs, graphic design (and all the surrounding disciplines – illustration, web design, motion graphics) are measurable by your portfolio or showreel. It is easy to see what you can or can’t do.

Is the financial outlay as a graphic design student worth it? This question is related to whichever country you live in. If you are coming out with 40000 pounds/dollars plus worth of debt at the end of a graphic design course and your parents aren’t rich, my opinion is, no that’s not worth it. (Just my opinion, again seek other opinions)


But every job advert I see requires a degree from a top design college? Yes that’s a slightly strange one. My guess is HR (Human Resources) departments write the job adverts. They don’t know anything about design, but they’ve got a degree, so degrees must be special.

I am in my fifties now. Probably over 35 no one is asked for their qualifications (?). It is all about your portfolio in my experience. We are lucky as designers, we can show people what we can do. So work at that portfolio!


The ideal graphic designer job advert

Can graphic design be learned? Absolutely. There are clear rules, and best practices with typography, colours, imagery, creativity, problem solving and the use of the industry standard software (Adobe for short). There are vastly differing elements to being a graphic designer or graphic artist. From an all rounder who can fit into any discipline between logo design, illustration, web design and motion graphics, to an absolute specialists in their niche, a font designer, packaging specialist, character designer. At least one part of it, you need to get a buzz off of the creative process that drives you forward to want to learn more, and make the mundane tasks worth it.

What skills are essential to know if graphic design is for you? You are visually oriented. Like aesthetically pleasing things. Like typography, the shape, and feel of the letters, a colour combination interests you, you like and admire nice design, are excited by being creative. You are maybe not happy with what you create, you are always striving to get better.  You don’t need to be the finished article to start learning. (This is a particular bugbear of mine regarding art school applications. They will accept the people with the best work in their portfolio, who typically have the most experience. These same people have often reached full potential, so are at art school for a qualification. Whereby more talented people who have less experience are turned down, despite the potential they have to get much better. Art tutors are often very bad at every aspect of their jobs – yes I have some issues with art schools, but it doesn’t mean I am wrong). Somewhere in you there is a spark of passion for creativity. That spark of passion is your calling. It’s all about the creative process, and the desire to get better. Other aspects that would be good, but not essential, a sense of, or an interest in business/commerce, an enjoyment of problem solving. An interest in people from a behavioural science viewpoint. Also graphic design is a service industry, you need to be, or learn to be service minded. The client IS always right, if you want to pay your rent.

Is graphic design boring? Absolutely. And it’s the most exciting job in the world. No job is exciting and brilliant all day every day. There are lots of mundane tasks, there can be problems with clients, problems with bosses thinking they are designers and design by committee to deal with. You’ll learn to deal with it. Learn to love the clients you get along with, the bosses who respect your knowledge. You’ll love the buzz when it all comes together. When a client sends you a gift, for no reason other than gratitude. When you can see you have made an improvement. When there are sometimes enormous measurable improvements, that you are responsible for. There are a lot of great highs to go with the lows. And you’ll learn to set aside time for your own projects, where you are in charge… My not entirely serious article on graphic design being a boring subject for non designers.

How do I learn graphic design without going to college or university? I did it with a computer, the internet, Adobe software, mainly learning Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and to a lesser extent InDesign, and Lynda.com the education website. Also Google is your friend, and Youtube has an enormous amount of videos explaining design, software, and business practices. Spooner graphics has some great videos on his Youtube channel. I also learned web design at the same time. A bit of basic HTML, and CSS, and now I would recommend learning WordPress through using it. The web design aspect gives you the power of self publishing, and publishing others, which in turn builds a portfolio, which leads to employment. In addition to this I was also studying design around me, looking and learning to see what works and doesn’t and what are the latest design trends and developments. That part took me fully two years to get to grips with, and is a permanent ongoing process. The learning never stops for a good designer.

How long does it take to learn to become a graphic designer? In my opinion it takes a minimum of two years of study (whether in college or working alone) to train your eye to design to a professional level. I had an odd journey to becoming a graphic designer. Studied for two years, kicked out of art college and began learning again almost twenty years later. When I began learning again, one of the odd sensations I had was realising I had been better at it when I was a design student previously. I couldn’t explain how I knew this, ‘what had I known I now didn’t know’, was a very strange experience. Eventually I became aware I was as good as I had been, and better. The exact point of that was at the two year mark. I had presumed I still had some design training. Without practice it was all gone. A designer must keep working at their skills to maintain that ability.

I have a degree in marketing but wish I’d learned graphic design, have I messed up? An oddly precise question but one I have met a couple of times. You can learn graphic design, see the question on learning without going to college, and not only will you succeed, you will be a brilliant graphic designer. Any sort of business qualification together with graphic design will make you superb in the profession. Graphic design ought to be taught in the same colleges that teach business and marketing.

Do I need to be a salesperson to work as a graphic designer? Yes and no. More for freelance designers, but still relevant. Depending on your personality type, this part may fill you with dread. What you don’t need to be is the stereotypical used-car salesperson. In a client meeting, you need to listen, ask a few questions which will be easy to you, as you’ll know design, and do what you say you’ll do in the meeting. Generally if you are invited to a client meeting you already have the job. You can only mess it up. They are looking for someone reliable they can trust. Turn up on time, be smartly dressed. Ridiculously obvious advice, but surprising how many don’t.

Does graphic design have a future? Yes. Business will always need branding.

What should graphic designers do for the future?  Keep learning. And love to learn (it keeps you young) There are other disciplines closely related to graphic design, that a graphic designer’s brain is best suited for. From user experience, to analytics, to social media marketing, to motion graphics, writing a narrative for a brand, the whole marketing shebang. Eventually the name graphic design will go (it’s an awful name anyway) we are marketing creatives, or commercial artists (the old name was far better).

Whatever you choose to do, the very best of luck. Life is short. Enjoy it, do what you want to do. Also, all going well, there is room for more than one career in a life. Two or three career changes are possible. You are not nailed down forever in any area.

Iain Cameron is a graphic designer, web designer and illustrator based in Copenhagen.

Portfolio here.


boring graphic design

Graphic design is boring

graphic design is boring conference

‘Graphic design is boring’ is an emotive phrase. Having written principly on the subject of graphic design on this blog, this realisation struck me very late. Actually a comment in a graphic designer’s Facebook group really brought it home to me.

To the question someone had posted, ‘What blogs do you read on graphic design?’.  Someone answered ‘None. As graphic design is boring’.

Absolutely horrified that someone, a graphic designer, could say something so bad about a subject I passionately love, it slowly dawned on me, she was absolutely right.

Graphic design is boring.

munch the scream

Design for life, quietly

I don’t read other graphic designers blogs anymore, I don’t have graphic designer conversations with other designers. Stuff will come up now and again, but largely it would be a work conversation. Talking with a colleague on a shared project or with a client.

Clients are not interested in graphic design outside of their own job needs, for quite understandable reasons. Albeit some of them would like a play at becoming a designer for a bit. A quick look at my Google Analytics on this website, articles on non graphic design subjects are read by far more readers than the graphic design or web design ones.

The unspeakable truth about graphic design. It’s a boring subject to read about, or talk about. But wonderful to create and work in and solve problems.

being boring pet shop boys

Being boring

I have been writing this blog for a few years now. It has been a very enjoyable process, and I have learned a great deal from it. I’ve become far better with the written word (plenty still to work on) but my emails, contracts and content creation have all improved significantly. I quite enjoy sitting down to write now. Emptying my head.

But in future I need to write about other subjects than graphic design or being freelance, or work. Because no-one cares, and nor should they.

Although it could possibly be said that is the case for anyone’s profession.

Boring, boring graphic design

boring graphic design


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. 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.

Update 2022: I did a bit of research to see if this scam was still going on. And it appears in the digital age it has stopped! Hallelujah! While I was researching how they judge applicants I downloaded Gray’s School of Art portfolio advice PDF. Ouch. And you have a course in graphic design?! No design staff with real world design and branding experience feel like that public  document might be worth designing properly? And students upload their portfolio to Flickr!? Flickr still exists!? In the Google information box on Flickr, they use the past tense. And the written content of the PDF is just word salad.

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 short time 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 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 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, waited a few seconds in an idiotic act of politeness to be sure they had finished talking, 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. My self confidence shot to pieces.

Update: I have since been informed by a former student of that era, the head of textiles was Malcolm McCoig at the time. Despite the very traumatic experience feeling like it was just yesterday for me, I can’t be sure whether I got the name or the job title wrong. Perhaps the particular person would like to get in touch to take the credit.

The aftermath

I’m still not sure why I didn’t take my own life afterwards. I certainly thought about it, little else for over a year. Graphic design was my thing. It was all I had, and it had been taken away. Knowing more now I should have seen a doctor. It would be two decades later before I began work as a graphic designer. Self taught in my late thirties thanks to the internet, Apple and Adobe. Shocked at how easy design was for someone with my skills, my natural talent. Two decades of working as a barman, postman, dishwasher (no disrespect to anyone working in those jobs) I wasn’t even good at the jobs, the wasted decades. Go and study somewhere else? And meet another Ian Cargill? Or how about explaining what happened at Gray’s School of Art as a 20 year old? Who would believe a 20 year old? It would come over as bitter, or damaged, or difficult. Even now there will be people reading this…’what did you do?’

I wondered why Ian Cargill did it. I joined the class late, having been initially turned down by Cargill on first applying for the over subscribed class. Another tutor on learning I was to leave art college as I was unhappy in the Painting department (whoever became a successful painter on the back of being turned down by graphic design, and how on earth was my South Bank Show special going to start with Melvyn Bragg asking me about that?!) got me a place in his class. In about 10 minutes. You can see how he may have borne a grudge. While the class had many talented people, on arrival in the class, I was shocked at how poor they were as graphic designers. I had presumed I was turned down due to the talent of the preferred students. I didn’t know then, why I knew that. I know now, as well as graphic design, one of my skills is spotting talent in others. Oh the irony.

On top of that, we were four days on our main subject graphic design, one day on our second subject. It was a choice of ceramics or textiles. For graphic designers. Graphic design is a 2D discipline, textiles and ceramics 3d, and bear no relationship whatsoever to the discipline we were studying and the jobs we wished to get after studying.  In a school that had a painting department and a print making department (graphic designers often work in illustration), but they were in the fine art side of the school. We were not allowed to choose those subjects. Just a complete waste of our time.

When I began teaching myself graphic design in my late thirties I began getting flashbacks to being in the class. All sorts of stuff came back to me very vividly. It was so distressing at one point, I almost stopped trying to learn graphic design. Something in me felt it would eventually stop if I pushed through. But this is why I now remember so much detail so vividly.

Cargill had taken an instant dislike to me, and was in no way trying to hide it. During my time in his class he walked away from me while I was talking to him twice, missed me out of a teaching round once, out of a crit once, never once said a positive word to me on anything. This is not how he was behaving towards other students. The last couple of months having realised trying with him, was making it worse, I stopped talking if he was around. Trying to disappear into the background. Not sulking, trying to be invisible. I was nineteen years old.

No advice was given to me on being thrown out. Not even letting me know I had a right to appeal. To make a complaint. There was no internet back then, to find out about these things. At the time, I just remember amongst the sheer awfulness of it all, an enormous sense of relief to be out. I’d say out of an abusive relationship.

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 ingrained 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 its own cupboard, with a desk and chair. And the fabulous book collection…

The best of times, the worst of times.

Update: I am now aware I am neurodiverse. I have ADHD. That was my ‘far from perfect’.


Iain Cameron is a graphic designer, web designer, illustrator and motion designer based in Copenhagen. Here is my portfolio.