On with the after show

What comes next after the degree show buzz has worn off and it’s time to stumble bleary-eyed into the next stage of your life? One year on, six 2023 graduates share their experiences and advice.

It’s the calm after the storm, the comedown after the high – that post-degree show, post-graduation moment when decisions need to be made, action taken. What to do? What’s your next move? How can you survive and prosper once you’re set adrift from the warm embrace of undergraduate life?

The answers to those questions are, of course, different for everyone. But to help a little with the next important steps on your artist journey, we thought it would be useful to catch up with six of our Class of 2023 interviewees from last year’s guide, to see how things have been going since we last spoke.

Joss Copeman, poppers, 30.5×25.4cm, archival inkjet print 2022

So, how did your degree show go?

Kalisha Piper-Cheddie: My degree show ended up being quite ambitious – printing and putting up wallpaper is a lot of work, and it did come with some challenges. I had screen-printed two rolls of wallpaper, which took me weeks, and at the very last minute found out I had to produce another one to fill the space I had been given. Learning how to wallpaper a wall effectively was a big learning curve. In the end the show exceeded my expectations because I wasn’t even sure I could get it all done. As a year group we worked very well together to put on a show we were all really proud of.

Joss Copeman: The degree show was my favourite week of the whole course. It was really nice for everybody to come together and celebrate each other’s work. We all learnt a lot about how an exhibition runs and the process of setting up, which was invaluable. It definitely allowed me to reflect on my work and realise there is still a lot of space for growth – even though I am still proud of the project, it showed me that in future I definitely want to work more with different mediums such as video and sculpture.

Anita Furlong: The degree show was amazing, I wanted it to last forever. Being part of such a big course, I only got to know the work of my course mates in small tutor groups, and suddenly there was so much to see. This gave me energy and hope – I felt a general openness; people were excited to talk about art, their work and the future, it was a very stimulating atmosphere. I did a few invigilating shifts during the show which allowed me to see how people responded to my work, and I also had some amazing conversations. It was one of the rare occasions where I felt a true sense of togetherness in my experience as a student.

Anna-Marie Gallares: My degree show was something I was anticipating for the majority of my final year. It was a tight timeframe but I was pleased with finishing my outcome of A Year In My Life, a 4.5ft by 18ft acrylic painted tapestry. I decided to be brave in choosing to showcase one work but it made sense considering all experiments prior were leading up to the biggest piece I’ve created so far. The opening night itself was unexpectedly fantastic as I was presented with The New Graduate Award, which included a three-month artist residency with a studio provided by Breeze Collective, and to be part of Middlesbrough Art Weekender to exhibit my outcome.

Samantha Jackson: It was really lovely. I think my favourite thing about it was everybody’s work coming together at the same time, and seeing everyone in a collaborative space. I don’t know if I had any super concrete expectations going in, it was more just about trying to deliver the work in the way that I thought would be best. There was a couple of opportunities that came from it, which was really nice. I won Glasgow School of Art’s Jon McFarland Prize for Printmaking, which was great. It’s a really good opportunity to platform your work and meet people.

Kite Myers: My degree show was amazing, I was able to have so many brilliant conversations about the works, particularly the different readings of the work, which has propelled my content forward in a way I hadn’t anticipated at the time. Some of those conversations have been extremely valuable to my practice and to my understanding of my own work and where I can go with it in the future.

Kalisha Piper-Cheddie, Somewhere between hope and mourning, two-screen video, 2023; Tropical Languages of Longing, screen-printed wallpaper, 2023

What did you do next?

KP-C: Since I graduated I’ve been studying full-time for my MA in Archives and Records Management at University College London. My goal is to work with other artists in developing their archives alongside their practices. I have also been lucky to have started to work as a freelance artist – I was given the amazing opportunity to work with Leeds Art Gallery in putting on a series of artist-led workshops in their Artspace, and I delivered some school assemblies as part of Leeds 2023. This area of art education and workshops is something I hadn’t really thought of before I graduated but I really enjoyed them and it’s something I’m keen to keep exploring.

JC: Since graduating I’ve been working a pretty mindless 9-5 which I don’t love. I’m finding that feeling inspired is something that is a lot harder to come by when I’m not surrounded by like-minded creatives in an environment that nurtures these conversations all the time. As a result, I haven’t made any new solo work. I have also been working freelance for the National Museum of Wales on a new project that aims to broaden the museum’s LBGTQIA+ archives with the outcome being an exhibition, ‘Ours To Tell’, at the National Waterfront Museum, Swansea [until 26 August] for which I led on photography and videography.

AF: Right after graduating I juggled two jobs and didn’t do any art; I couldn’t afford a studio and had very little time. It was a big contrast from all the optimism of the show, and the freedom and access uni facilities give you. The transition was hard, as money became a bigger problem.

Anita Furlong, Happy New Psicosis, 150x100cm, oil on canvas, 2024

A-MG: I went straight into an artist residency from July to September 2023 which ended with an exhibition. In July I was also put forward by the University to join The Art of Protest: The Future Walls project, Sunderland, to be part of the Future Talent programme, a project to enhance the visual aesthetic of Sunderland city centre through street art. After the summer I applied for jobs and in October I landed a full-time job at Gateshead College as a Curriculum Support Worker (Art Technician) in the Art, Media and Design department. It’s been challenging as I never dreamed of being selected for this role.

SJ: I worked a little bit in the summer and then moved down from Scotland to London in September to start a Painting MA at the Royal College of Art. I’d applied back in the January and got a place in February, then it was a process of working out funding, scholarships, housing, all that stuff. I decided to go straight onto the MA because I just felt that in my fourth year I tapped into something interesting, and to be quite honest I was afraid that if I didn’t take the time to explore that further it would kind of dissipate. I felt like I needed to follow through with all these new ideas and ways of working while it’s still fresh out the oven.

KM: After my BA I went into the MA Contemporary Arts Practice at Staffordshire University. I also work part-time to help fund my practice and my course. Due to the MA I still have a really good studio space and a community of artists around me that has essentially kept me in that creative ecosystem that I had as an undergrad. Myself and two fellow artists, Lorna Lakin and Poppy Deacon, have created an art collective to support each other and other local artists. We’re known as croK.

Samantha Jackson, Booklet, 2024

Has your art practice continued/developed over the last year?

KP-C: It has been difficult to continue my art practice to the same extent as I am studying full time and I no longer have access to studio space. But I am still working on some things where I can – it’s all about perspective, and making work is now something that has to fit around my life in a different way.

JC: Unfortunately not – I think it is becoming increasingly difficult for creatives to create at the moment with the cost of living and the arts being quite an elitist field. It is amazing to see all my friends and uni cohort thriving in commercial photographic roles, but I haven’t heard much in terms of new work from my fellow creatives who have a more conceptual focus in their work. There are very few job roles that cultivate this kind of practice and finding both the space to create and the time to do so is a lot harder when you have to juggle adult responsibilities.

AF: After six months [in London after graduation] I took a four-month break back home [in Argentina], and after all that time I started painting again! I’m returning to London soon, and I will be sharing a studio with one of my best friends, so I hope we will motivate each other. I realised how important it is for me to continue my practice.

A-MG: I had a studio space during July to October 2023. After my residency, I decided not to continue renting my space for financial reasons. I moved back with my parents and currently have a little corner in the house as my studio. My artist practice hasn’t been as active but I try to paint on the weekends or when I can. Having no deadlines has essentially conditioned me to take time, pace myself and take ownership in creating my work.

KM: My practice has taken a much more research[1]heavy route since my graduation. I’m fascinated with the social sciences, particularly anthropology, and so I have been more focused on learning and understanding the scope of where my practice falls within those contemporary discourses.

SJ: Part of the reason for going straight on to an MA was that I wanted to be in a shared studio space – community is really important to me in my work. I now know that that’s totally possible outside of an institution – there are studio programmes and other ways of doing things – but I was just very conscious of the fact that when the student loan stopped coming in I’d have to work full-time to pay rent and live. That’s quite a difficult thing to do and have an art practice at the same time, and I just didn’t want to have to battle with that straight out of the degree. I’ve got two jobs but I also get a scholarship from RCA – they are very good for that.

Anna-Marie Gallares pictured in front of her work, Letter to my Roots, 2023

Finally, what advice would you give this year’s graduates?

KP-C: My advice would be to try and say yes to as many opportunities as you can and apply for everything. Also, be prepared that graduating means a big change in the pace of your life and that most other graduates are going through similar things.

JC: I think the most important thing is to continue to maintain your network of creatives and try and meet as many new people as you can, as these could no doubt become important connections. I interviewed John Paul Evans when I was still studying and I vividly recall him telling me to make note of who is programming the exhibitions and events that are relevant to my work and find a way to make sure they know my name – this is probably the best advice I can think of. Equally, even though I feel bad for not being as creative as I was at uni, I think it’s important not to compare yourself to others as everyone is on their own path. It is a big shift into the ‘real world’ after uni, so make sure you allow yourself the time to engage with the things that inspire you.

AF: Take a break if you can! Plan your next move calmly; big cities can suck you in and make you think there is only one speed to follow, and you can experience a lot of FOMO. If you are in London, I’d say you should make sure you have a job and a steady source of income; even if it’s not your dream job, it will give you much-needed stability. I wish I had done internships or placements while I was in uni because I realised how hard it is to get a good job in the arts when you have little related experience – and I can’t afford to do placements or work for free after graduation. Also, collaborate with friends, reach out to people online, have group projects, try to put on shows with other people, have some crit group, share a studio space… that will help you stay in touch with those in the same position as you.

A-MG: Don’t lose the drive to pursue being a creative. It is important to go to exhibitions, workshops and events to meet other creatives – this allows you to constantly learn and keeps you present. Motivation and action are equally important; you never know what opportunities might come simply from making yourself known to the community and expressing eagerness. And don’t forget to enjoy your artist journey. At its core, art is fun. Don’t lose that.

SJ: While I don’t regret going straight into the MA at the RCA, I also think there’s no harm in taking time to pause and think as well. For me it was also just that I wanted to have the opportunity to go somewhere new. I feel like I could also have stayed in Glasgow, which has a very unique community of artists. It’s kind of like a special case in the UK – it’s quite special in the amount of projects that happen, things are very grassroots. There’s also lots of institutions that are very inclusive and you can achieve a lot with not very much.

KM: My main piece of advice would be to be kind to yourself and allow yourself time to process everything that has happened over your degree. Mull over the responses and conversations you had at your degree show, write down your own feelings about the experience and any particularly good nuggets of feedback you got (it may come in handy). Ensure you’re looking at the right resources for you – there are some brilliant places online to get information about open calls, grants, loans and competitions, but it can be so overwhelming. Pick out the things that are relevant to you, and if it starts becoming too much, consider collaborating with the artists around you: uplift each other, share the load.

 Kite Myers, Looking Forwards, Looking Back, reclaimed materials, 2024

Class of 2023: Who’s Who

Kalisha Piper-Cheddie: BA (Hons) Fine Art with Contemporary Cultural Theory at Leeds University

Joss Copeman: BA (Hons) Photography at University of South Wales, Cardiff.

Anita Furlong: BA (Hons) Fine Art and Art History at Goldsmiths, London.

Anna-Marie Gallares: BA (Hons) Fine Art at the University of Sunderland.

Samantha Jackson: BA (Hons) Painting and Printmaking at Glasgow School of Art.

Kite Myers: BA (Hons) Fine Art at Staffordshire University.

Main image: Anita Furlong, Happy New Depresión (detail), 100x70cm, oil on paper, 2024.

Read the a-n Degree Shows Guide 2024: