First Hand — Camberwell illustration graduate Ellie Butters on finding your path and staying practical

Posted 21 September 2017 Written by Ellie Butters

You’ve handed in the portfolio, hung your final show and donned the cap and gown. But the end of your degree is just the beginning of something totally new. Faced with starting this new journey, Camberwell illustration graduate Ellie Butters decided it was time to readdress her initial expectations. After stints as an art department assistant, working on projects for Charli XCX and Craig David, she now co-runs an arts space in South Bermondsey. Here she tells us how working while studying can offer a wealth of experience and a pathway into the world of work.

My first year post-graduation has kind of had a snowball effect. I feel like I’ve condensed a lot of learning into a very small space of time. After graduating from the BA Illustration course at Camberwell College of Arts in June 2016, I now co-run JUNO, a new arts space in South Bermondsey, alongside production designer Mikey Hollywood. We’re currently in the process of planning our programme for the coming months, as well as our launch party at the end of September! 

Stop and think.
At uni, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in the idea that you’re going to leave and be a freelance artist or designer. There’s a real pressure to have something to display at the degree show, and I felt the need to create work that I could exhibit as an artist. I learnt a lot post-graduation about the breadth of the creative industries. Finishing a degree is so intense – take time to stop, and honestly ask yourself what you enjoy doing, and how best you can use your creativity. 

Find the time to do work outside of university.
I had been working as an art department assistant whilst studying, using my student loan as an opportunity to work for small fees while gaining as much experience as possible. The final year of studying can feel like the most stressful thing you’re ever going to do, but looking back, the work I did outside of uni was probably the catalyst for everything that’s happened since; having this experience definitely helped open a lot of doors post-graduation. I secured an internship pretty soon after graduating at Auto Italia South East. It’s an organisation I have always loved, so it felt like a pretty surreal experience. Auto Italia are a small team, which was great as I quickly gained a lot of experience and was given responsibilities I didn’t expect to have so soon after graduating. It also introduced me to creative opportunities I didn’t even know existed. 

“Finishing a degree is so intense – take time to stop, and honestly ask yourself what you enjoy doing.”

Money matters.
Initially I was working at Auto Italia two days a week for 10 months and was later kept on as their production coordinator. Luckily this was a paid opportunity, however due to London being soul-crushingly expensive, I also worked full-time at a pub, alongside doing more art department stuff. Everyone hopes they’ll land their dream job after graduating, and I spent my first couple months really resisting getting a supplementary ‘normal’ job. But in hindsight I probably wouldn’t have been able to stay in London without it. Sometimes life stuff gets in the way; make sure you have that thing that pays the bills – regardless of whether you think it has impact on achieving that dream career.  

Get down to business.
I don’t think there’s enough emphasis prior to graduating on the logistics of being a freelancer. I had to really motivate myself to learn the business side of it. I don’t know anyone who finishes uni knowing how to fill out a self-assessment tax form. There’s a lot of admin, which can be daunting, but don’t be afraid to ask your peers for help. I’m fortunate to have met a lot of people over the year that have helped me wrap my head around this!

Don’t be scared of rejection.
During my first couple months after graduation I sent email after email to production companies looking for work, and nine times out of ten, they wouldn’t reply. It can be difficult not to take that personally, but it’s important to retain confidence in your abilities. Be persistent!

You can keep up with Ellie on Instagram.

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From internships to launching startups and everything in between, we’re looking to showcase a variety of experiences across the creative industries. So whether you’re a recent graduate or creative with a lesson learned or story to share from your first 12 months, get in touch at [email protected] 

Posted 21 September 2017 Written by Ellie Butters
Collection: First Hand
Disciplines: Illustration
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