Programme: Illustration - MA; Painting - BA

Year: 2019; 2014

Sarah returned to ECA to continue her artistic education after being awarded the Andrew Grant Scholarship to study on the Illustration - MA programme

After graduating Sarah has continued to pursue work in the illustration industry amid the challenges of the global pandemic. Additionally, a copy of the book Sarah wrote and illustrated during her time at ECA is now housed in the British Library.

Why I chose to study Illustration - MA

I studied Painting at ECA and graduated in 2014, before coming back as an Artist in Residence with the Illustration department a couple of years later. This time I really understood how lucky I was to have all that space, all that time, all those facilities and all those people. I knew that I would love to do a masters one day, and my only option was to try and secure funding. I was not sure that I would get it, but it turns out that my ‘if I don’t apply then I definitely won’t get it’ philosophy came in handy, and I was lucky enough to be awarded an Andrew Grant Scholarship to study on the MA Illustration programme. From the time I had already spent there, I knew there was so much more to learn from the tutors and the technicians, and from being part of a studio again. I did not just choose to go to ECA once when I was 19, I chose to do it all again, and again.

Sarah Sheard
Image courtesy of Sarah Sheard

"My time at ECA prepared me to have a go at things. Just keep slogging away until you find something worth holding onto."

Sarah Sheard, Illustration - MA alumna

My time at ECA 

Coming back to study for an MA, I knew two things:

  1. You might never get to have this much sustained time to experiment with your work again.
  2. Learn as much as you can, from anyone about anything.

I knew that after I graduated, I put a lot of pressure on myself to make sure everything I made was ‘worth it’, and spent less time just exploring. The exploring time is always when I make my best stuff, but it is hard to remember that when you are working two jobs and it feels as though every second counts.

I took part in as many projects as possible, dived headfirst into the contextual studies courses and took a Business of Craft elective. Sometimes the most seemingly unrelated paths you can be led down influence your work the most. Not everything is going to be exactly what you want to do in your own work, but I am pretty sure you can find a nugget of something valuable in whatever you do if you look hard enough.

I felt that it was important to work as a group, rather than just as individuals, organising an MA Illustrator stall for the Bookmarks Festival, as well as the installation of our degree show and creation of a shop and show catalogue.

If I could start again, I would have not been intimidated about asking for a placement at Whitespace. A couple of their creative team gave a Friday Talk, and I felt like it was way out of my league. It turns out that quite a few people on the course undertook placements here and came away having learnt something. I wish I would have followed my own advice and just gone for it – fake it until you make it!

Sarah Sheard's Degree Show space in 2019
Image courtesy of Sarah Sheard
Sarah Sheard's Degree Show space in 2019
Copies of "Ah Cannae Believe This" by Sarah Sheard
Image courtesy of Sarah Sheard
Copies of "Ah Cannae Believe This" by Sarah Sheard

My experiences since graduating

During my time studying illustration, I realised that I was as much a writer as I was a drawer.

I had planned to get more painting commissions from restaurants, maybe some editorials. I wanted to write more and see if anyone would publish what I had already written. Well, unfortunately, restaurants closed so they certainly did not need any art, and I felt uninspired for a lot of the lockdown. I am sure this is not what anyone wants to hear, but even though I was not in work (schools had closed), and really, I had all that time, it was probably one of the least creative periods of my life. My friend put it well: ‘your work is about overhearing things and being out in the world, and that’s just not happening’.

My time at ECA prepared me to have a go at things. Just keep slogging away until you find something worth holding onto. Oh, also – if you do not ask, you will not get.

My biggest achievement since leaving ECA was when the British Library asked for a copy of the book I wrote and illustrated. That one is pretty exciting.

My advice to new and current students

If you are starting in September, my advice would be this:

  • go to everything, even things you think you will not like, even if it is only once.
  • learn as much as you can – it does not matter what you learn or who you learn it from, everyone knows something that you do not know yet.
  • do not take this for granted.
  • give yourself a break. Work hard, but do not forget that work is not everything.

If you are graduating, my advice is this:

  • Graduating is not a full stop on your practice. It is a good time to breathe, but it is a good time to hit the ground running, too.
  • You are still learning. It is ok if the way you work changes, if it gets worse or stops, or if you have a breakthrough.
  • You probably still do not know what you want to do. The only way you can work it out is by trying things out until you find the answer.

Are you interested in studying Illustration - MA at Edinburgh College of Art?

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