What's the next step after graduating?

by Crafts alumni from UCA Farnham

What Next?
What’s the next step after graduating?
Are you passionate about having your own creative business?
Where might it all lead?

We’ve been talking to some of the crafts alumni from UCA Farnham about their career paths; their stories are inspirational, their advice is invaluable, and their work is stunning! 

Adam Mclaren

BA (Hons) Silversmithing, Goldsmithing & Jewellery, Rochester, 2013
Since graduating in 2013 Adam has set up  AJM Jewellery, a business offering a bespoke   design service, as well as repairs and remodelling. He also works for a jeweller in Canterbury.       Adam uses his knowledge of CAD design to create complex tactile forms that replicate repetitive patterns and geometric shapes. The inspiration for Adam’s work is taken from a variety of forms ranging from honeycomb structures, lattice architectures and faceted gemstones. Although the effective use of technology is evident in Adam’s pieces, he maintains the important connection to traditional techniques by using stone-setting in much of his work.
He says,“Establishing a unique body of work can be challenging. I tried very hard to create an image for my jewellery that would be instantly recognisable.”
Adam’s Top Tips for going freelance:
1. Experience is everything. If you can get a work placement, take it and learn as much as you can.
At the very least you will be guaranteed to make important contacts within the industry.
2. Never be afraid of doing something difficult. If you stick to what you know, you will struggle to grasp new techniques.
3. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Everyone makes them, and they are the best way to learn.
4. Enter competitions. It gets your work out there and gives you goals to aim for.
5. Invest some time in sorting out a good website. 6. Make sure your images are a professional standard as they will talk volumes.

Clare Robertson
BA(Hons) Degree in 3-Dimentional Design: Metalwork and Jewellery, Farnham, 2004
Within the Clearwell Cave’s ancient iron mine in the Forest of Dean is a workshop where MissFire spends her days creating unique items in metal using traditional forging methods alongside more modern techniques.
MissFire is the creative brand of Clare Robertson, who says: “I was always more curious about metalwork than glass or ceramics when looking through art and craft books. I was intrigued to know how these things were made and was interested in the potential of the metal which could be structural, practical and ornamental. It seemed so versatile, resilient and enduring. I was excited to think about making things bigger than me and that would survive longer.”
Clare continues, “Visits to Spain exposed me to the architectural work of Antoni Gaudi and Frank Gehry and I just loved the impressive scale of sculptures by Anthony Gormley and Louise Bourgeois. It was soon clear that metal was the direction that I wanted to take my life in.”
In 2004, whilst she was studying at UCA Farnham, Clare found her imagination was opened up to the possibilities of manipulating metal. She dedicated her time to “reading every book on blacksmithing in the library.”
Clare says: “A highlight of my time at University was when The Worshipful Company of Pewterers ran their Pewter Live competition. It was an opportunity to change the perceived image of pewter from dull tarnished tankards to bright, versatile and beautiful objects. I designed a therapeutic oil burner and was spotted by one of  the judges, Geoff Kayson, owner of Alchemy Gothic; a company I had idolised since an early teen. Geoff liked my design so much that he invited me up to his workshop in Leicester to design a Gothic version which his company would manufacture and sell. This was such a huge boost to my confidence and   a chance to experience the real world!”
Clare found herself at a major turning point in her professional career when she designed and created a centrepiece for a show garden at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2007. She subsequently decided to break away from steady employment with an architectural metalwork company on the outskirts  of London and took a leap of faith creating her own brand and her own business. Clare says: “It was so important to me to be working under my own name and pursuing the artistic and sculptural side of the craft, so I just decided to take the plunge while still young and enthusiastic and passionate about what I do.”
Six years later, with 10 years blacksmithing experience under her belt, MissFire has developed an impressive portfolio that consists of work that she has made for clients on commission and also more speculative art pieces that reflect her own style and taste; a mixture of art nouveau with a Gothic twist.
Clare’s inspiration for her work is found in the rural part of the country that she lives in. She says, “Mother Nature is an inexhaustible source of inspiration and I try to make my work organic and full of life.” Recent sculptures include an underwater scene of an otter chasing a school of fish through reeds entitled ‘School Dinners’, and also her largest piece to date which required working alongside a local primary school. The project involved creating a tree featuring leaves, birds, spiders, frogs, butterflies and flowers. Clare labels this as her proudest and most exciting achievement to date and describes how she was invited back to the school after the tree had been completed, where the pupils sang her a song about the tree.
The ancient craft of blacksmithing is one which many find both completely unfamiliar yet fascinating. Clare comments, “The idea for a piece is born from rough drawings, which then develop into chalk designs and the selection of metal bars. I then begin the process of cutting the metal to length, forging and forming it to the required shapes and assembling it to create a final piece before being either polished, painted or galvanized. My preference is always to retain the beautiful subtle textures of the bare metal wherever possible. I try  to introduce colour to my work and have been using specialist paints to finish flower-themed sculptures to great effect.”
Being a female blacksmith has led to some mixed responses.“You have to be thick-skinned and have a sense of humour about it. I find it much easier now that I have an impressive portfolio behind me and can therefore prove my ability. Blacksmithing is difficult whether you are male or female; we all have our own limitations and tailor our work to suit our strengths and weaknesses. As an art form blacksmithing is a level playing field, we are hard-working, open-minded and determined, and these qualities are not gender specific.”
Looking to the future, Clare aspires to have her own independent workshop with space for a MissFire gallery.

Mary-Jane Evans

For alumna Mary-Jane Evans, starting a Three Dimensional Design – Ceramics BA (Hons) degree at UCA Farnham transformed her life. In her late forties she made the brave decision to leave her home, job and life behind in order to pursue her dream of becoming a professional ceramic artist. This decision proved to be far more life changing than she could have ever anticipated. Having established a successful career in the ceramics industry, Mary-Jane reflects on her inspirational journey.
”I struggled throughout my early academic life and thought I had seen the last of textbooks and exams after leaving college. Given this, I initially reacted with resistance when it was suggested to me, when I was approaching my fifties, that I should seriously consider doing an arts degree. Despite art having played a significant and much-loved role in my life and even winning numerous awards for my work through City and Guilds courses, I had two children about to head off to University and a full time job,  so at that stage in my life it seemed like a crazy idea. However, putting my concerns aside, I decided to make some enquiries and three weeks before the start of term I was accepted onto the Three Dimensional Design - CeramicsBA course at UCA Farnham.
“On my first day at UCA, I remember anxiously questioning myself, wondering whether I’d made the right decision by turning my whole life upside down. Thankfully, this feeling was short lived. Going to UCA Farnham genuinely changed my life and I soon became thoroughly absorbed in the learning culture. My tutors at UCA were all fantastic and their invaluable advice, care and concern consistently extended far beyond the classroom. For example, my diagnosis of severe dyslexia, which was initially noticed by one of my tutors, was quite life-changing and with the full support of the UCA staff, enabled me to develop more effective learning techniques which allowed me to really excel academically.
“After graduating from UCA, I took up a residency in Bath where I then set up a studio and have worked hard to forge a career in the ceramics industry. I regularly run workshops and enjoy exhibiting all over the country. I have received some great recognition for my work, including my ‘Ruins’ ceramics collection, influenced by media portrayals of war and destruction, which was selected for the exclusive Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in 2012 and then short listed in 2013. Whilst the imagery that underpins ‘Ruins’ is often horrific and shocking in nature, I feel that it possesses a strange beauty and I wanted to capture this in my work. I use a range of materials including porcelain and copper, which are multi-fired and corroded, a process which pushes the materials to the limits of their fragility. Aside from my sculpture work, some of my canvas sketches and other porcelain works have also recently been selected for the Royal West of England Academy Exhibition (2012, 2013).
“I still feel star-struck when attending prestigious exhibitions. To be in the company of such distinguished industry figures as Damien Hirst, David Hockney and Cornelia Parker, whose work has been significantly inspirational to my artistic development, really brings to light how far I’ve come.
“Although I’m very proud of what I’ve achieved so far, there are many more things I aspire to do. I am continuously inspired by things that I learn, see and discover. I would love to do an MA to further broaden my artistic horizons and influences. I would also like to get my work into some reputable London galleries and, having already run a very successful workshop for disabled children, I am keen to devote more time to helping children with difficulties to discover expression through art.
Advice to others? For those wishing to build a career in the creative world, the best advice I could give is to commit unreservedly to doing what you love. If you’re in it for the money, it’s probably not the right career for you. Although it’s very possible to make a living from art, it’s not easy, especially because the galleries take such high commission rates and the competition is so high. If you are passionate about what you do, it will be reflected in your work and this is the greatest reward you could ask for. Also, being creative with your career as well as your art can really help. Think of other ways to generate income aside from selling your work. For example, offering workshops and tutorials is a great way to supplement your income. Most importantly don’t let anything or anyone get in the way of what you want to achieve. Every time I step into the studio, I get an amazing feeling and that’s exactly how it should be.

Oliver Russell
BA (Hons) Three-Dimensional Design: Metalwork & Jewellery, Farnham, 2003
MA Contemporary Crafts, Farnham, 2005
Since completing both his BA and his MA at UCA, Oliver has created a business in the specialised field of architectural metalwork, through which he has built up an impressive portfolio of a broad range of commissions and projects.
Oliver describes elements of his work as being derived from natural forms using traditional blacksmithing techniques to achieve strength and beauty through proportion and line quality. He works closely with architects and other related professionals to ensure his finished pieces reflect  the design and feel of the existing architecture.
In 2006 Oliver was admitted as a member of the esteemed Worshipful Company of Ironmongers and was elected onto the Iron Committee in 2012.
He specialises in unique large-scale metalwork, such as gates, staircases, balconies, and balustrades, and was commissioned to make the Crafts Study Centre gates at UCA Farnham.  Examples of his work can be seen across the UK from the Scottish Highlands to the south coast.
Oliver says, “It’s been a long and arduous process to get to where I am today, but it’s been worth it.  The business elements of my MA prepared me well for the world of running my own company.  I started small, and as my reputation grew, I was able to buy more specialist equipment and provide a more integrated service to my clients.”
Oliver’s Top Tips for going freelance:
1. Maintain high standards for your clients and commissioners.
2. Make sure you meet or exceed the expectations of the brief.
3. Stay in touch with your client and let them know how the commission is progressing.
4. Be good at problem solving and adapt to situations as they arise.
5. Work hard and stick with it, as long as you  are passionate about your work, clients will appreciate and value this.

These editorials are based on articles which first appeared in the UCA Farnham alumni magazine.

Image: Oliver Russell (Image courtesy of Philip Traill)

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