Tell us about your time at ECA
I did the majority of my undergraduate degree at an art college in London but made the decision to move back to Edinburgh to complete it. Encouraged by the quality and range of facilities offered at ECA, I decided to stay on to do an MFA.
The MFA was a considerable step-up from the BA, not so much in terms of the workload, but the greater clarity with which you were expected to analyse your own and other's work. This expectation accelerated my own process of learning how to articulate myself with greater ease and confidence.
My peer group on the MFA, along with pivotal input from tutors, became a valuable resource for developing the sculptural language I had tentatively begun to construct as an undergraduate. They gave me the confidence to try out things I would not normally have done - such as bouncing on a large block of beef gelatine and taking part in a group performance out the boot of a car! The MFA allowed me another chance to take risks while benefiting from the ECA safety net and, while I took advantage of that, I did not feel pressured to abandon a way of working that I began to develop or to produce huge amounts work. Instead, it gave me space and time to pick away at the things that interested me and to come to a deeper understanding of what those were and how to expand upon them.
Tell us about your experiences since leaving ECA
Immediately after graduating, a few of us got studios in the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop and I carried on developing the practice which had become more focused during the MFA. One of the benefits of living and working in Scotland is access to arts funding and I was fortunate to be awarded modest but significant amounts from various grant-making trusts over the next few years. These grants enabled me to buy expensive materials, invest in equipment, do some research and, ultimately, develop new work which I was invited to exhibit in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and London.
After an opportunity to present a paper on my research and work at a conference held at ECA, I started to think about doing the practice-based Art PhD, which I started in 2015 at ECA. While the PhD is not a suitable route for every artist, it can throw up several opportunities including residences, studio tutoring and access to academic resources, collections and other researchers. Recently, I was able to collaborate with a group of scientists at Sheffield University carrying out research on silk, where I took part in an experiment turning a silk garment into liquid silk, a material that I was then able to take back to the studio to work with.
Take advantage of all the resources available to you, not just at ECA but also in the University as a whole. If you are interested in quantum physics you should get in touch with someone who specialises in that field. They can only say no and it's much more likely that you will gain access from within the institution than from without. Try to create a network that offers peer support when you’re on the MFA, it will hopefully stand you in good stead when you graduate.
Keeping your practice going after art school is no small task when you have to earn a living too. Everyone finds their own way of balancing those demands. I got caught up in thinking that if I wasn’t exhibiting all the time that somehow I had failed, but really so many people abandon their practice after art college that to keep making - even if there are no shows on the horizon - is pretty good going. Persistence is everything.