Posted 05 June 2018

If I could go back: Five graduates reflect on their degree-show experiences

You’ve picked a location, paid the deposit, branded your show and have invitations safely sent in the post. But planning your degree show is only half the battle. We asked five recent graduates (including some of It’s Nice That’s own 2017 Graduates) the advice they would give themselves now, looking back on their own experiences – from execution and making the most of the opportunity to the moment of taking the work down.

Robbie Cathro
Illustration graduate from the University of the West of England
Make sure that responsibilities are spread across the year and not placed on a smaller ‘core’ group. Remember that everyone in the year shares the same workload, and each person still has their own personal uni work to complete – you’ll have a less stressful and more organised environment if everybody pitches in. Offer to help, or take the initiative to assign yourself a task during meetings. And if you find yourself with too many tasks on your shoulders, know that it’s okay to ask for help.

Make sure you have a method of getting your work from location to location. If you rent a van, have a group of people at the university to load it up but also people at the space to unload, and vice versa when taking down.

When we set up our show, we did it in small groups of three. This way one person can hang work, one person can hold the ladder and pass up nails, and one person can tell you if the work is straight. Then you can move on and hang the next person’s work. It’s more efficient and faster in the long-run.

The same goes for when you’re taking down work. For my show, only about 10 people stayed around to dismantle 60 students’ work. Make sure you have a confirmed list of people to do this and clean the space.

Laura Sayers
Illustration graduate from Edinburgh College of Art

It’s easy to be so focused on getting opportunities that you forget to enjoy the excitement of people seeing your work for the first time. Your degree show is a special time, when you finally get to reveal all your hard work to a whole new group of people – including friends and family. There won’t be a first time for that again.

I’d recommend leaving a little notebook in your space for people to leave their comments; the genuine words left by strangers have stuck with me, while the commissions that came from the show feel quite anti-climactic in retrospect.

“I didn’t see it as an opportunity, I wish I’d taken full advantage of it.”

Robert Scargill
Visual communication graduate from Leeds College of Art
Personally, my grad show didn’t help me in the slightest. But that’s because I didn’t see it as an opportunity, I wish I’d taken full advantage of it. I was a really diligent student, and really excited about the future, but I saw the grad show as a piss-up, and I shouldn’t have done.

I didn’t email anyone beforehand or attempt to make industry contacts at the show, which looking back, was so daft. There were a lot of people from studios at my degree show – but I had no idea who they were. Try and get people down to your show, or use that as a way to start a conversation. There were loads of designers that I could have sent an email to, saying, “I’ve got my show on this day, are you thinking of coming?”

Also, ask someone who isn’t exhibiting as part of the degree show to be with you. Someone close to you, but not your mum or dad. You can then stand by your work without feeling bored or lonely. But also, if somebody important walks past and likes your work, you’ll be there to talk about it. In my case, I just fooled around with my mates on the course. You could exhibit something really great or provocative that ignites someone’s interest, but if you’re not there to talk to them about it, it’s a missed opportunity.

This is one of the only opportunities where potential employers will be coming to you, so have something for them to take away. That could be a business card, or if you’re into print design, maybe a screen print to give away for free.

“Many students are duped into thinking the degree is the end of the journey into the creative world, but it is only the beginning.”

Giya Makondo-Wills
Documentary photography graduate from the University of South Wales
Don’t worry about being labelled a perfectionist. Making sure your work look the best it can be is a good thing; you should be able to step back, look at it, and know you’ve done all that you can.

If you get approached about sending your work to someone, do it as soon as possible. Although it’s a great feeling knowing that you’ve finished and you’ve got the summer ahead of you, don’t take your foot off the gas. Respond to people promptly and maintain relationships; you never know where they might take you.

Finally, enjoy yourself and be proud that you’ve come this far! Just don’t get too pissed because it’s not easy to explain your work if you’re half cut.

Roxannah Linklater
Media and communications graduate from Goldsmiths University
Try to think outside the box – especially if you are showing video work. So many people in my show just showed their work on a computer; you really want to stand out, so think about what makes your section different.

Don’t be disappointed if you don’t get ‘industry contacts’ at your show. I think many students are duped into thinking the degree is the end of the journey into the creative world, but it’s only the beginning. There’s a hell of a lot of work to do after you graduate to get your foot in the door.

So on that note, the advice I would have given myself would be to let loose a bit more and really enjoy the show! Be proud of what you’ve achieved. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you’ve got the motivation, you’ll get to where you want to be eventually.

If you have an upcoming graduate event or exhibition, you can submit to our Degree Show Listings. Plus, applications for It’s Nice That’s The Graduates are now open and will close on 25 June; apply here.

Illustration by Jiro Bevis