After leaving art school first time around, I really wasn’t clear what I wanted to do with the experience of the four years behind me. Some folk seemed quite well prepared and focused on what to do next, they appeared to have a natural trajectory (or at least it looked that way!). I felt I had used up a lot of my energy in getting through it all, I don’t think I had thought about what would constitute “life after” – however, I was involved in a collective and did maintain my practice by being away on residency for example, but plenty of ideas fell by the wayside when the realities of life crept in and I found myself working full time and halfheartedly attempting to maintain a studio space with little time or energy to be of use.

Going back into full-time education was one way out of that stagnant period and I approached postgraduate study determined to have a better idea about how my practice would progress after being within the bubble of the education framework. Combined with a move to a completely new rural location, this new “life after” was an opportunity to use fresh challenges to adapt and prioritise areas of my practice I felt I could develop.

One factor that has assisted is having the support of a mentor. I suspect that if I had had access to something similar after completing my undergraduate degree, I would maybe not have gone back so soon to full time education or perhaps my practice would have evolved in different ways. Another aspect I am aware of is the peer network you build around you – as much as I am good at relating to, collaborating and working with others, I didn’t do as well as I could have in this aspect – your peers can be a fantastic source of knowledge sharing and opportunity making.
However, through a combination of a little luck, being in the right place at the right time, shared interests and proactively seeking connections, I have formed a good relationship with a mentor. Applying for the a-n bursary came at just the right time. Despite plenty of rejections, as many artists have, the act of applying and writing proposals forces you to think and plan about what you really want to do and evidence it. It can make things clearer and is particularly beneficial when there are a number of options. Using the bursary structure as a formal agreement with a mentor made having one much more “official” and added weight to the process – in that it wasn’t a loose chat every so often, more like planned time set aside to properly discuss what I was working through and areas I wanted to focus on.

This success is partly to do with the way I prefer working – having a plan suits me and means I can work towards objectives and tangible outcomes in the context of my practice. Having a peer group is of course highly valuable when discussing your practice but having a mentor is another level to this exploration – not merely because it is likely they will have had more experience in your area of interest, but they will perhaps have an alternative viewpoint and be able to question things in different ways.

I have spoken previously about the two way aspect of mentoring – to reiterate, it really isn’t a one sided thing and I believe both mentor and mentee are able to gain benefits from working together. I probably hadn’t thought about it prior to this experience, but mentoring is something I would like to get involved with in the future.

The other use of the bursary funding has been worthwhile too – setting aside time and resource to attend events and specific professional development training. I suppose it reflects on how having an artistic practice should be seen as a professional thing – in any other job there would be a training and development plan (to a greater or lesser extent) which would be overseen by a boss. You would have annual reviews and self-evaluation. I am not suggesting I suddenly start spending a huge amount of time on these things and become a bit corporate, but I do think some beneficial aspects can be taken from more traditional business models – actually valuing and creating time and resource for professional development, seeing it not as an add on but something as integral to how your practice evolves. It is also about viewing professional development as quite a wide area – for different people this will mean different things – perhaps an accountancy course is essential for an artist who needs to be able to do her finances but for another a course on learning a new glazing technique for ceramics is more appropriate. It is all relevant and having time for developing these things is essential.

For me having had the opportunity to do both things – go on courses and have the support of a mentor has made me think more specifically about my own professional development and what I want to get out of my practice longer term. It doesn’t mean I have all the answers (and indeed these will shift and change as life does) but certainly have a more focused outlook and more aware of how to proceed. Thank you a-n!


Having completed the online course I was studying, a little behind schedule, I can now review it. In principle, online courses are great, especially if you live in an area where the educational provision does not meet your requirements. If you are self directed and motivated to study you will gain more from what is on offer – conversely if you need the stimulus and drive of physically being present in a class online learning may be a challenge too far!

I prefer learning in a class environment face to face, but have got on well with on-line in the past so I didn’t expect to have difficulties. Unfortunately due to other commitments I was unable to “attend” the lectures in real time – one observation from watching them later, although there was some opportunity for people to be more interactive, it didn’t seem to be a great part of this course. This could be for a number of reasons – if you are not accustomed to this kind of communication, it can seem intimidating to dial in and speak or perhaps it was too short a course for people to get fully involved and able to participate.

There was a forum for adding comments in each week of the course but this wasn’t used much – which is a shame as it could have been a good platform for people to have exchanged ideas. Perhaps there was quite different interests and experiences which made it more difficult for the participants to feel comfortable in commenting on each other’s ideas. I felt quite a time pressure between each week and was unable to look at other participants work fully to be able to make any kind of useful comments or start a thread of discussion which was worthwhile – so that being said, perhaps it is important to look at what sort of time commitment you can give to a course before embarking on it to make it more of a valuable experience for yourself and other participants.

There are positives to having completed a course in this way however – I felt on the whole the course was useful. I do feel I had quite good background knowledge of the topic beforehand but did learn some new things and got some good pointers on how to further my knowledge and where to look for more information and good examples of organisations to study. There was an individual task to complete for which I received feedback – having some sort of validation is always helpful and despite not having the class dynamic, by having some dialogue it is beneficial for developing ideas and feeling you are on the right path. Having also the opportunity to study something over a period of a month and hear from people from all over the globe was valuable and made me think a bit more about my own ideas in context.

In general it brings to mind the need to be organised and informed – highly relevant when the other thing I have been concentrating on is starting to look at an application for funding to further the exchange residency project I started earlier in the year. Our group are keen to put in a proposal to allow us to work on something with a bit more scope than before – seeing that we all work well together and have common interests we’d like to pursue. I had the opportunity to chat through what was expected in the application with my mentor at our last session – just going through and talking about the basics is really helpful to iron out any obvious things that won’t work, or things that need to be said. In addition to that, Susan invited an archaeologist round to chat to me about her current projects – we had felt there may be scope to either work together or have some sort of crossover or mutual support. This is yet another way that having guidance and insight from an experienced practitioner can help – their network which allows you to contact people and resources you may not otherwise have been exposed to or be readily able to access. I am in an incredibly fortunate position and hopefully the forthcoming application bears fruit. The next stage of writing it will be a little more taxing…