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Work by Chen-Hao Lee
Since graduating Chen-Hao has set up a start-up company and continues to give back to the industry through teaching.

Why I chose to study Illustration - MFA

ECA was always my dream school to study at. I was initially attracted to this school by the work of Via Fang, who is an alumnus of the Illustration - MFA programme at ECA. I thought it would be a brilliant opportunity to study at the same place as she did. The more I researched into studying at ECA, the more I wanted to be a part of it.

During the application process, I compared a number of similar programmes at other colleges and universities but the course structure at ECA intrigued me the most. I knew that on this programme I would be able to explore the field of illustration freely and broadly.

Additionally, the city itself played a huge role in my decision to study here. To me, Edinburgh is not only a beautiful and creative city but also an inspiring one. It is surrounded by an abundance of natural resources, it is full of legacy and stories, and the scale of the city is perfect for me. Overall, my decision to study at ECA has been one of the best decisions that I have made in my life to date.

Work by Chen-Hao Lee
Work by Chen-Hao Lee

My time at ECA

Studying at ECA was one of the best periods of my life. The academic staff, the facilities, the library resources, the workshops and the broad range of lecture subjects all broadened my horizons and my knowledge of Illustration. Additionally, the studio was great, each student had a designated space where creative ideas could be explored freely. During my time at ECA I was even able to complete a short residency at Dumfries House.

Within the Illustration - MFA programme there are two compulsory courses. The first one was the design studio course, which let us explore our specific interests and skills in illustration. Our tutors, who had a diverse range of skill sets and experiences, ranging from picture books to digital technology, gave us regular feedback on our work where we were able to discuss and exchange our ideas and thoughts. A process which was amazing for my development and has been a useful tool throughout my career.

The second course centred around the written dissertation and was taught by lecturers from various programmes at ECA. The cross disciplinary nature of this course allowed me to meet students from other programmes and in doing so I was able to share knowledge and skills with students with skill sets greatly different to my own.

In the Illustration - MFA programme, students were encouraged to try various projects and ideas, such as woodblock printing, letterpress, bookbinding, life drawing and many more. We once discussed the art of cover design with the art director at Faber & Faber. Furthermore, as an illustrator group, we went to galleries and museums together, and each student created a piece of work in response to the visiting experience. This kind of activity allowed me to be experimental, and to learn from my talented and diverse classmates.

The Friday Talk was one of my favourite parts of the programme. Each Friday, a professional from the industry came to share their experiences with us, people who came including Paul Blow and Jill Calder. We students, therefore, got to know the insights, the challenges, and the opportunities across a number of areas within the illustration industry.

In short, my time at ECA was brilliant. But if I were to start again, I would try more experimental materials and focus more on the possibilities of picture books, as well as learning to do self-promotion.

"Additionally, the studio was great, each student had a designated space where creative ideas could be explored freely."

Chen-Hao Lee

Illustration - MFA alumnus

My experience since graduating

Upon graduating, I was excited and anxious simultaneously. I was looking forward to the potential work opportunities, yet I worried there might be none. Plus, it was hard to leave a city and school that I loved so much.

After carefully consideration, I decided to establish my own business. Before coming to ECA, I was aiming to be a full-time author and illustrator of picture books. However, after graduating, I had a bigger goal. I not only wanted to create picture books, but I also wanted to help other illustrators through teaching. Hence, upon graduating, I applied for and received the Tier 1 Graduate Entrepreneurship visa, which allowed me to develop my business idea. Over the next two years, I attended workshops about picture books, I did interviews, I researched illustration further and I planned syllabuses for future workshops. All of these different skillsets prepared me for a better career.

In 2020, with the experiences at ECA and my start-up business, I returned to Taiwan and worked as a children's book editor. Now I create picture books full-time. I also regularly deliver workshops for adults and do private tutorials on creating and illustrating picture books, as well as children's creative workshops.

Thanks to my time at ECA, especially the one-to-one tutorials with my tutors, I am able to design well-structured workshops, and I know how to give inspirational and encouraging feedback to others. They have become my role models in teaching.

Studying at ECA opened my mind to possibilities within illustration, it encouraged me to learn as much as I could, which eventually lead to me giving back to the industry through teaching. In my opinion, being able to share my stories and to inspire people is my biggest achievement since leaving ECA.

My advice to future and current students

To new students, I think it is important to remember why you chose to study at ECA, and never stop challenging yourself to find your potential. During the course be playful and have fun, use all of the facilities and resources, especially the printmaking suite and the library. Finally, walk around the city and try to get lost in the closes of Edinburgh.

To the graduates, I would say stay true to yourself, be open-minded, and keep creating. It is ok to take a longer route before arriving at your destination.

Associated programmes