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Work by Daniel Turner
Daniel's decision to study at ECA was fuelled by an immense passion for painting but the opportunities he encountered once enrolled on the course are what have shaped his interests in the field today. Culminating in his nomination for the Freelands painting prize, the Purchase Prize from the university’s Art Collection and an opportunity to show at the Royal Scottish Academy New Contemporaries Exhibition in 2023.

Since graduating Daniel has been involved in a number of projects including the Dear Lothian programme and as a mentor for young people on the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Arts Award programme. While in his current role working in a library, Daniel has been developing a project with fellow ECA graduate Isobel Leonard.

Why I chose to study Painting - BA (Hons)

I chose to study at ECA for all the facilities on offer and the chance to share space and access with students from several different programmes. I also liked the idea of being able to engage with the wider university in a very unusual city that has its own unique creative community.

My time at ECA

I came to ECA from a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design and was absolutely obsessed with painting and wanted to talk to other like-minded people. Engaging with some wonderful tutors, lots of new ideas, and students doing things very different to what I was doing laid down a desire to enjoy other ways of working and presenting on top of intensifying my enthusiasm for painting. Ultimately establishing and building my confidence and skills in a range of mediums including printmaking and working in three dimensions.

Something else that I didn’t expect from my time at ECA was to get caught up in learning as a focus for study - an itch that grew with the researching and writing of each Visual Culture assessment and particularly in conversation with Research Fellow Jake Watts. The encouragement to engage in different forms of research within and outwith ‘artistic’ areas spawned new bridges between what I was excited about and what I was making in the studio. It led me to design various workshops and activities, the instructions for one of which has since been acquired by the university.

Along this line, one course I took at ECA went beyond my usual realms of comfort by involving primary school students from Dunbar. Edinburgh itself held plenty of scope for volunteering in a range of museums and institutions like the Scottish Poetry Library and National Museum of Scotland which added fuel to my interest in collections and how people engage with them. These opportunities to have interesting encounters and experiences, as well as the collective feeling and energy present within the physical bounds of ECA and its facilities were the parts of my degree that had the strongest impact on me.

The pandemic was an obvious low point that took its toll and cancelled out most of the merits of art school. However, It wasn’t without some positive impact and made me change my approach to how I worked artistically, encouraging me to become more inventive, take initiative and approach materials and projects heads on. I don’t know how much of this I can attribute to anything other than the dialogue I had with my (fantastic, fantastic!) tutors and peers, and to my own personal circumstances. I was lucky with regard to my home and financial situation.

"The encouragement to engage in different forms of research within and outwith ‘artistic’ areas spawned new bridges between what I was excited about and what I was making in the studio."

Daniel Turner

Painting - BA (Hons) alumnus

My experiences since graduating

In some ways spending a large stretch of the degree in lockdown with my parents eased the transition when graduating but it also lessened the feeling of a high point or any celebratory bounce-back with peers and friends when it was all done.

I had never been clear on exactly what I wanted to do post-graduation and struggled with the effects of this pressure on my mental health during the final year of my degree. However, through some lectures on my course and a university career service event, I talked to staff from Edinburgh University Museums and was advised to get in touch with Laura Beattie, their Community Outreach Officer - who was (and has been) very good to me. I managed to get up to Edinburgh for a couple of months after graduating and became involved with designing and delivering an activity for young people on the Dear Lothian programme. Since September 2021 I have also volunteered remotely and created some paid content as a mentor for young people on the University of Edinburgh Museum’s Arts Award programme, which has been a wonderful experience.

I was also nominated for the Freelands painting prize and awarded a few other prizes resulting from our Graduate Show, including a Purchase Prize from the university’s Art Collection and an opportunity to show at the RSA New Contemporaries exhibition in 2023. The conversations I have had with Liv Laumenech and Julie-Ann Delaney from the Art Collection whilst having my work accessioned have proved to be real confidence boosters and provided me with so much inspiration for future projects.

I currently work in a library and have been doing (and dreaming about) lots of woodwork while developing a project with Isobel Leonard, a fellow student from ECA, which we will hopefully steer into a series of art pieces and workshops. What I encountered at ECA was a set-up that encouraged the development of communication skills and a penchant for self-organisation, either as something encouraged or reactive. I don’t think I’d have the same criticality or receptivity to go searching for interest in all sorts of likely and unlikely places without it.

I’m looking forward to recovering some energy and excitement to put into my own work and - mainly - into reaching out to old and new friends for some talks and collaboration.

My advice to new and current students 

Coming from a small town, it can be a rare thing to identify so many new opportunities around you. Try to keep making the most of it - learn new hand skills and meet people in new settings. That said, it can all be very overwhelming. Sometimes slow progress through your degree might just be what builds the confidence you can use upon graduating.

You don’t have to subscribe to the entrepreneurial model of a professional creative that is very visible in art schools and the art world. It is good to learn about it and practice application and presentation skills but also be questioning. There are other ways of operating. You can make your own opportunities. It can all be tiring and I know unpaid experience, even volunteering, is out of reach for lots of people.

Try to identify what is central to your attraction to the arts and build a healthy existence around it, and in anticipation of things changing.

Related people

Associated programmes