Connect. Create. Engage. Enjoy: My talk at Manchester School of Art
On Tuesday I went back to my old university, The Manchester School of Art, where I graduated in 2010 to give a talk as part of Unit X Inspirer series. Unit X brings students from different disciplines together across various briefs, events and projects. It enables them to swap skills and share experiences that offer a different point of view or way of working.
I was invited by my tutor Sue Platt to share my path from university to industry to organising events like the Manchester Print Fair. That path was not always a straightforward one, and I wanted to highlight how important being true to your practice as well as your grades. Grades should not be more important than producing the work that you enjoy making. The grade doesn't define you. Your work and the network you build does.
CONNECT. CREATE. ENGAGE. ENJOY
I moved up North from London to in 2007 to study Design & Art Direction at Manchester School of Art.
For my final major project I collaborated on a publication with my sister, The Mill Press which explored the theme of 'spaces'; what made space public or private, the legacy of window tax and the secret history of abandoned underground stations.
It was through creating this that I discovered the realm of print and zine fairs and began selling our publication at various events across the UK. To begin with, I could barely speak a word when perspective customers approached me but the more I attended the more my confidence grew.
I loved the atmosphere of a room full of (very different) creative people which I greatly missed after graduating. The fall out of that environment and the sense of the loss of that comradery I enjoyed at university manifested itself into the Manchester Print Fair...and looking back to our first event in 2011 I am proud to say it has gone from strength to strength.
Rewinding back to my 2nd year at university, I was struggling with my coursework and understanding what my practice would be. I was still finding my way and getting obsessed with my grades. I wanted to be told exactly how I could achieve the numbers I wanted. I was losing touch with what I wanted to create and what made my work special to me.
I was told by tutors that if I carried on with this type of focus, I wouldn't get what I wanted. I had to make work true to myself and work hard to deliver it, not just because of a certain grade I wanted to achieve. Then, the grades would match up...I had to 'let go' and 'enjoy it'...and in the end I did. And it paid off.
The connections we make through life, whether it be socially or through work, give us a map that can help us navigate through problem-solving and potential projects. This map is constantly evolving as we meet new people and is something to be maintained and edited.
Leaving university, my map was made up of friends and tutors. My first freelance job and first junior designer role were from recommendations from uni tutors - the interview for the latter was even on the day of my graduation!
Future jobs would come from friends putting forwarding to freelance opportunities like Manchester International Festival and ex-colleagues recommending me to their friends at different agencies across the city. Creatively my work has had it's ups and downs but the print fair has always my happy place; my space to create what I wanted.
It's important to find your happy place; it may not be at your workplace right now day-to-day but it's possible to create something however big or small that's just yours! Something you can be really proud of, a constant reminder of your achievements.
My network map now has now been shaped by the print fair; creating firm friendships, freelance opportunities and long-term collaborations (with G.F Smith paper, Fred Aldous and Design Manchester). Last year my network map helped me to build new events further afield and in September 2017, I teamed up with friends to create Oxford Print Fair. Debuting at Modern Art Oxford with a few of my regular sellers alongside makers from the Oxfordshire area, we now have plans to make this an annual event for the city after a very successful first event.
I cannot have imagined during that first event in Night and Day Cafe on Oldham Street back in 2011, that I would now be planning events in other cities, with collaborators I would meet through the print fair. It's exciting to be looking towards new events which hopefully I will be launching this year!
So the four themes at the beginning of my talk bring me to its finishing notes...
Connect - it really is about who you know, who can give advice, put you in touch with the right person for the right project.
Create - Make the work you want to, your ideas and character are what sets you apart.
Engage - Be present in the network and community around you in a genuine way. A good deed will be rewarded.
Enjoy - Enjoy the everyday things, when some days are not so easy. Try to enjoy the moment, although it's easy to feel you haven't done enough. Be kind to yourself.
As part of my talk I profiled a few of our print veterans, regulars who have been part of our events over the years. I interviewed them about their experiences attending events and their 5 top tips for students!