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  • Temporary installation by Phoebe Cummings for TOAST, 2018

What I wish I’d known when I graduated: 11 craftspeople offer advice

Established makers – from Phoebe Cummings to Jochen Holz – give guidance

Crafts magazine's September/October has just hit the shelves, with our selection of the best graduates from craft courses across the UK. As the new flock of makers embark on their careers, we share what leading craftspeople wish they'd known when they were starting out.

Early Ancient Stage Chandelier, Phoebe Cummings, 2017, clay, wire and candles, at Galway Arts Centre

Phoebe Cummings
Clay artist

'Focus on the things that are most important to you in terms of your work and how you work and allow some flexibility in other areas. It can be daunting to go from having a studio and making every day to suddenly finding that space and time independently, and it takes time to figure out. My first year after graduating involved lots of applications and working out different ways to earn money. I had a loose goal of trying to do at least one project a year as a way of continuing to develop my portfolio and experience. I found it incredibly helpful to keep in touch with the people I studied with as you can share and learn from their experiences too. The one piece of advice that I have held onto from when I graduated was not to make excuses. You can make work by the side of the road if you need to – the important thing is just to keep doing it and keep learning from it.'

Show Pony by Hannah Stanton of Second Sitters

Jude Dennis & Hannah Stanton
Creative directors of Second Sitters
'Graduating can be daunting: think of it not as the end of learning but the beginning – and don’t be scared of being scared. Get as much experience in the workplace as possible. All experience is good experience and you will learn from it, whether you realise it or not. Trust your ability and your ideas. Be proactive! Get networking both online through social media and at organised events. Seek out opportunities and collaborations, enter competitions and don’t take it to heart if you get knocked back – sometimes people want something red and you have something blue. Determination is key. Trust your instincts; your best connections often come when you least expect them, so always follow up that conversation you had at the party or in the pub... You never know where it might take you.'

Bespoke leather handrail by Bill Amberg Studio

Bill Amberg
Leather designer

'My main piece of advice would be to take your time. I know that might sound a bit obvious, but it’s important to take things slowly because finding what it is that is going to work for you can take a while, maybe even a couple of years. Don’t be in too much of a rush and remember it takes 10,000 hours to perfect a new skill. So I would preach patience and, therefore, it’s essential to really enjoy the things you choose to make.'

Hua Flower Cylinder, Peter Ting and Zha Cai Duan, porcelain

Peter Ting
Ceramic designer

'You’re never sure what will happen. That’s the scariest thing on leaving art school because you leave the protected surroundings, and it doesn’t matter how many commercial lectures you attend, you leave and you’re left alone. I think what I’d have liked to have known is that actually you’ll be OK, whatever happens. It’s about accepting that if something turns in the pathway, and moves to the right instead of the left, or does a U-turn, it’s not that there is something wrong with you. Go with it, don’t just stop. Pick up speed with it. If it’s wrong, you will reach a dead end, but it may prove not to be. The most horrific thing happened when I was finishing my BA in Farnham, but it turned out to be the best thing that ever happened. I was using these beautiful moulds, and when we were clearing out the studio, I saw them being filed down to make plaster bats for drying clay. I was completely horrified, but with hindsight, you realise that’s the end of one period of your life and you’ve got to move on. You must leave things behind.'

Who Sat on My Chair, Jochen Holz, glass

Jochen Holz 

'What do I wish I’d known when I left university? Well, I guess that sometimes you have to hang in there because no career is plain sailing. When I left the Royal College of Art I had a major exhibition at the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea, but then things went a little quiet. Just finding your own creative space or place takes a while, so stick around for long enough and keep making. 

Gathering Places, Frances Priest, 2017

Frances Priest
Ceramic artist

'Work out what your strengths are, and find others to fill in the gaps. I probably didn’t realise that when I came out of college, and tried to do too much, thinking you’re supposed to know everything, and you’re really not. It’s OK to ask for help, whether that be with work you’re making or how you run your practice. And celebrate successes. I think that it’s very easy to keep looking forward, up to the next branch, and you can forget to acknowledge where you are and where you’ve got to. It’s important to do that right from the beginning – you might be a high flier and get going right away, or you might be someone for whom it’s a slowerpaced thing. You should mark every little victory: you’re often on your own, not part of a team, so there aren’t the natural structures where you reflect on successes. But because it’s a solitary pursuit, I think it’s actually even more important to take stock and acknowledge what’s moved you forward, so you can start to see the direction you’re travelling in.'

Skipper Pendant, steam-bent ash by Tom Raffield

Tom Raffield
Furniture designer

'The thing I would say is that you really need to focus on the product and make sure that it’s something people want to buy. At the same time it’s also important to communicate your process. Make sure your audience is aware that your product is hand-made – otherwise they’ll think it comes from China or IKEA. You need to be able to tell your story if you’re a designer-maker based in England.'

Drawn panels in vitreous enamel on steel by Helen Carnac

Helen Carnac
Maker and curator

'I always used to hate finishing or ending points in my work. When I reached the end of a project, I would always feel very uneasy. Gradually I’ve realised these are resting points – ideas connect back and forward over time. I wish I’d known that before, but you only find it out through doing things. You must be patient and stay true to yourself. Laila Diallo, a dancer I’ve worked with for a long time, once gave me an Anaïs Nin quotation which I’ve kept hold of: "We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present and future mingle and pull us backward, forward or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations."’

Socorro Bindi, Margo Selby

Margo Selby
Textile designer

'One of the things I’ve realised 20 years on from leaving art college is just how valuable that time was, having years that you can dedicate to development and exploration. What you have in your portfolios is precious material for the rest of your design career. Obviously you’re always expanding and developing your portfolio and ideas, but it’s a very precious body of work that you’ve got already, so look after it. Be conscientious of how you let go of it into the world. I remember selling designs because I needed the money, which was fine and it did work out, but it’s just about thinking about the potential for the work. Saying that, it’s good to take opportunities that arise – I’ve tried to take every one that came my way, even if there wasn’t an immediate, obvious value. I’ve found that by embracing opportunities, they end up leading to other things.'

Plektra Stool, Ineke Hans for Iittala

Ineke Hans
Industrial designer

'When I graduated I was so completely involved and occupied with my work that I forgot I had to communicate with others about it. I think lots of students are like that. I wish I’d been aware that sometimes you need other people to help you go further. Very often students think: "OK, I’ll do the work and that’s it." Just having a great idea isn’t enough – you need to be open for opportunities that people offer you as well.'

Pick up a copy of the September/October issue of Crafts for our selection of the top graduates of 2019.

This article originally appeared in Crafts' May/June 2018 issue. You can read all our back issues on Exact Editions

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