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Gary Anderson working in the studio Image courtesy of Gary Anderson
As a mature student, Gary had to juggle his studies with the responsibilities of family life, However this did not hold him back and he followed his dream of studying at ECA, acquiring a range of skills and participating in exhibitions and field trips across the country.

Since graduating, Gary has begun working in his dream career as a full-time freelance artist including a two week residency at Marchmont House. Gary continues to use the skills he acquired through his time at ECA which prepared him for dealing with conversations on practice, commission proposals and collaborative work. 

Why I chose to study Illustration - MFA

Studying at ECA was always a desire from the moment I left school. Growing up in Edinburgh I had always seen ECA as a place I wanted to go to but I never had the opportunity. Once I had completed my BA in Painting at ECA in 2019, the decision to pursue a masters course directly after my undergrad at ECA was more to do with familiarity and the relationships with the staff and teaching methods which I’d become used to. As a mature student (and carer for my youngest daughter who has autism), personal circumstances at home also dictated geographically where I could study. But overall, I wouldn’t have selected anywhere else other than Edinburgh.

Work by Gary Anderson
Work by Gary Anderson

My time at ECA

The MFA Illustration course which I began in 2019 started with great optimism for collaborative work, events and trips. However, within six months the country was in lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, as a result, I only managed one group exhibition at the French Institute on George IV Bridge in Edinburgh in January 2020. This was an excellent opening and a great opportunity to work with the MA and fellow MFAs from that year. Directly after this exhibition, I took off to the Isle of Eigg for a week-long, individual residency at Sweeneys Bothy courtesy of Lyon and Turnbull and The Bothy Project from an ECA award I received at my undergraduate graduation in 2019. This yielded a large body of written work, paintings and sketches, with most of the larger paintings exhibited at Lyon and Turnbull in August 2020.

Unfortunately from March 2020, the opportunity for face to face meetings, studio discussions and trips was curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions. Most of late 2020 (semester 2) focused on the dissertation which was due in the December of that year. It was particularly helpful working in seminar groups for the dissertation research with other MAs/MFAs from other design courses within ECA, albeit online.

"This [exhibition] was an excellent opening and a great opportunity to work with the MA and fellow MFAs from that year."

Gary Anderson

Illustration - MFA and Painting - BA (Hons) alumnus

My experiences since graduating

When I finally graduated with an MFA this year, I was very sad to leave ECA. I felt there was so much more to do and that the year and half trying to finish a masters course under pandemic restrictions cheated us from what would have been an excellent two years getting to know more people, studying hard together and perhaps enjoying the odd away day/week long research trips.

My plans after graduation were always to focus on being a full time working artist. This, through determination but also chance meetings with other artists, brought some welcome collaborations and opportunities sooner than I was expecting. In August this year I had a two-week long residency at Marchmont House by way of a chance meeting with owner and director Hugo Burge whilst helping artist Andrew Mackenzie with a large woodland structure he had created there. After the residency, Hugo offered me a permanent space at Marchmont – I’ve been there a month now and have been painting furiously for future exhibitions and some commissions. This, for me, has been the most significant and rewarding opportunity since leaving university.

The overall approach to working professionally as an artist is different for everyone in some respects. Studying at ECA has prepared me well to deal with conversations on practice, commission proposals and working collaboratively which I would have struggled without my experiences over the years at ECA.

My advice to new and current students

I suppose my advice to someone starting this year would be to emphasise that a masters course is a very different atmosphere from the undergraduate experience. Try not to be too daunted, but plan well ahead for each brief where possible.

For those graduating, do not lose sight of your goals and get as much advice about freelance work, if that’s your direction, before leaving your studies. In terms of practice, what I find helpful from a drawing perspective, is to get involved with online projects (the 100-day project is great for drawing regularly) which help to keep you focused whilst building your professional portfolio for speculative submissions and proposals.

Associated programmes