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Work by Katherine Cassidy Image courtesy of Katherine Cassidy
While studying at ECA, Katherine has been able to explore her interest in using visual language as a tool for educating, empowering and eradicating stigma. Primarily digital, her work focuses on changing cultural perceptions of menstruation in the UK through a range of projects from prints to a graphic novel. 

Since graduating, Katherine has been working as both a teacher and a freelance artist and has been able to complete and self-publish a 44-page comic, created in collaboration with her sister. The comic explored themes of menstruation and body image through rich and symbolic graphic imagery.

Why I chose to study Illustration - BA (Hons)

Being a London local, my post-offer day was the first time I ever visited Edinburgh. Not only did I fall in love with the city, but I was also really impressed with the work I had seen from alumni illustrators and current students. The real clincher, however, was visiting the Illustration studio on the fourth floor of Evolution House and seeing the beautiful communal space with large windows looking out towards the iconic castle - I thought, "Who wouldn’t be inspired by that!?" Admittedly, I was very homesick for the first few months but after settling in and now having left Edinburgh, I can’t recommend the city as a place for artists enough!

My time at ECA

Despite finding my first year very difficult due to personal circumstances, and unfortunately had to leave the studio three months early due to the pandemic, I enjoyed much of my time at ECA enormously.

There were a range of both short and long projects throughout the course which covered narrative, editorial and printmaking. Though I work predominantly digitally, I really enjoyed having access to a risograph printer in the print studios as well as exploring a range of other print-based media. Occasionally we would do collaborative projects with other subject areas such as Graphic Design and Textiles. I was able to learn a lot about observation and form through our life drawing classes once a week and every Friday, visiting practitioners would come and tell us about their professional experiences, which gave us insight into their journeys toward success.

Most of all, I enjoyed the tight-knit studio culture we were able to form as a cohort. There were less than 20 students in my year and the studio space was shared between all four year groups. Having people and artists of all kinds nearby to discuss, inspire, critique and chitchat really helped create an environment of camaraderie and motivation. I have been blessed with many talented and wonderful friends from the department!

My personal practice evolved a lot through my time at ECA and I enjoyed fourth year the most as I was able to explore my own ideas and values. My primary goal was to explore how I could use visual language as a tool to educate, empower and eradicate stigma, with a particular focus on changing cultural perceptions of menstruation in the UK. This manifested through a range of prints, editorial illustrations and zines, as well as a larger graphic novel project.

My time at ECA has given me a great insight into life as a working illustrator, including approaching briefs, time management and the ability to present and discuss my work with confidence. If I could start again, however, I would put less pressure on myself for the first couple of years. I should have been having fun and experimenting with my work - not doing all-nighters in the studio.

My experiences since graduating

Leaving ECA was a daunting experience, especially as we were in the middle of a pandemic. Nevertheless, I have been determined to continue with my freelance work whilst also working full-time as a Teaching Assistant in London. This was a difficult and tiring balance to strike at first, however having worked part-time throughout university, I personally found this easy to adjust to and I have loved getting involved in the school’s Art Department and working with children.

Excitingly, I won an award from Creative Edinburgh for my project ‘Menstrual Products’. I also opened an online store and have completed a variety of commissioned work, including a campaign for Bloody Good Period, album artwork, logos, and posters. I have continued to explore visual narratives in my spare time and improve my skills in Animation too.

I am still interested in exploring menstruation and issues concerning body image and social change in my work but most of all I love creating intriguing visual compositions and telling stories through drawing. My biggest accomplishment has been completing and self-publishing a 44-page comic, created in collaboration with my sister (the writer). The book - MARMALADE- is a psychological drama about love, obsession, doubt and... jam.

Somewhat abstract in both words and visuals, I aimed to highlight rich and symbolic imagery throughout my spreads (pun absolutely intended) to create a story full of page-turning intensity. I had lots of fun playing with the composition too, using dynamic and unusual structures to frame the tale. The first run of the book was very successful, selling out within two months with favourable reviews. I have also enjoyed networking with other creators and publishers and getting more involved with the comics community.

I hope to start working on my next visual narrative project soon and to pursue freelance work full-time!

"My primary goal was to explore how I could use visual language as a tool to educate, empower and eradicate stigma... changing cultural perceptions of menstruation."

Katherine Cassidy

Illustration - BA (Hons) alumna

My advice to new and current students

For those starting their first year, I would encourage you to throw yourself into your practice, have fun and enjoy yourself. Be playful in your practice and take criticism from your peers or tutors to your head, not your heart. You are still learning, explore the city, get involved in university life, make friends from all walks of life and subject areas. Whilst it is important to utilise your time in the studio, I would also suggest getting a part time job as this really helped me adjust to post-university life and motivated me to manage my time better whilst also raising funds to go on drawing trips further afield and buy better equipment.

For those graduating - celebrate and remember to take a rest. You have just finished a massively important period in your life. It’s totally okay to take a break, let your mind rest and allow yourself to breathe and find inspiration without the pressure to create. It might take a while to find your feet and that’s completely normal and fine. Patience and determination are key!

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