The year after graduation

It feels great to reach the threshold of graduation after spending years at college developing your practice among motivated and inspiring people. You can look forward to continuing to develop in the time ahead, but the value of your student experience will depend on how you manage your immediate future. Alastair Levy shares his experiences of that crucial first year.

Many students have high expectations of what the final show will bring. It is crucial not to be disappointed if your show is not a storming success, and equally not to become over-confident if it is. 

Making work and generating new ideas is never easy but will only become more difficult the longer you wait.

You will almost certainly feel like you need a break during the summer, but it is a good idea to try and think about getting back into your practice by September. Making work and generating new ideas is never easy, but will only become more difficult the longer you wait. As weeks become months, it can become tempting to make excuses for not being productive. You have invested time, energy and money in your degree: it makes sense to honour that commitment by making it work for you. 

In the first year after college it is important to maintain the momentum that your practice has gathered. However, do not panic if things are not going as you had imagined. David Bachelor (RCA, Curating Department) stresses the importance of taking a long-term view. The aspiration to be an artist or designer is a lifelong aim and not something that can be achieved in an instant. Some people may find that they have made little or no new work in the year after graduation. There are many obstacles to pursuing your own practice, notably funding. I have funded my work through a variety of jobs, from painting and decorating to editorial photography. Work has not always been forthcoming, and I cannot stress enough how important it is for a freelancer to always be on the lookout for future work. It is alarming how quickly you can go from being quite comfortable to being in financial difficulties.

My practice has developed significantly in the nine months since I left college. I have had pieces exhibited in a number of group shows and I have a solo show coming up in September. I really enjoy the freedom of making work outside an academic environment. After spending two years explaining my work in tutorials, it is liberating to do something just because I feel like it, without contextualising it or propping it up with theory. I am productive in bursts: weeks when nothing happens are followed by weeks when things flow much more easily. I know that I could be even more productive, but I feel that things are moving in the right direction. 

Try to keep up the momentum and build on your studies, but remember not to panic if things do not fall into place straight away. In the words of the artist Nigel Rolfe (RCA, Senior Course Tutor, Sculpture): ‘look long and dig deep.’