Furthering education?

June 6, 2008

Ever since I graduated college, I’ve had this little old woman hanging on my back whispering ideas into my head. Her name is grad school, and she’s impossible to shake! My professors in college always said, ‘You should go to grad school! Why wait?’ I was never sure though. I still am not really; I’ve always been on the fence, and that unsurity has led to me not applying. On one hand, the appeal of going back to school is obvious– be around creative types, network, force myself back into the hectic createcreatecreate schedule school gives me by default, experiment, blaze new trails. On the other, there’s the negative: it can be so pricey, what if they don’t want to give me scholarships, it’s a big move, do I have to abandon certain things I have here, do I really need it?ย  I’m still not very convinced yet.

The other downside to grad school (at least for us illustration types) is that there’s so few programs for us. A couple of limited residency ones, and then it seems like SCAD, SVA, and MCAD. And the Academy of Art (I think?) in San Francisco. Of course SVA seems like the best route for some reasons, though to be perfectly honest now I don’t know how much I want to live in NYC. (AKA, why can’t there be a great illustration program in Portland?) I think regardless of all this I need to do some applying; if nothing else than to see how I’d fare in that grand lottery of art school admissions. I’ve been feeling rather down on myself lately– my artwork is all right, but i think I could be worlds better with time and effort applied. I certainly never feel confident enough to apply to any of those illustration contests like American Illustration or the Young Guns or whatnot. What I do know though is that I don’t feel like I’m working to the best of my potential– perhaps grad school could help with that? Anyway, we’ll see. I’m hoping that working hard til fall will leave me feeling a little more sure of myself and then putting together a portfolio will leave me in a positive frame of mind to see how it goes. I’ll keep you posted. And of course, any advice you might have about the whole thing is always appreciated.


In ‘always the last to jump on the bandwagon’ news, I finally got my hands on a copy of the book Art & Fear, and man! That book is so spot on and pinpointed all the creative neuroses I have. Which made me realize I’m not so all alone out there. There’s a whole world of fear-filled neurotic artists! It reminded me ways in which to combat all those worries I have about not being good enough or having envy over my fellow illustrators. If you haven’t read it, I definitely advise you to do so!ย  (Also a goodie: How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, by Adrian Shaughnessy. Though I feel I’ve mentioned that one before. Very apt even for non designers!)

It’s June, which means that 2008 is nearly half-over! (Or is that really half-to-come?) Stay busy, pals.


13 Responses to “Furthering education?”

  1. Bjorn said

    Meg, what is it that you hope to find in Grad school? What do you want to learn there?

    I have looked at your portflio and your work is so mature! Sure, there is always room for improvement, but this has nothing to do with education. And you will always find yourself re-shaping your style and the direction you want to go in your work. That’s something all artists have to cope with I guess.
    Grad school is expensive, especially when you don’t recieve a scholarship. When you choose to invest in a 4 year (in europe most academy’s offer 4-year programns) programn you must recieve something in return. So that is why I asked what you expect from an education in illustration at grad school.

    The academy I attended choose people who had skills but were not properly developed. Like a small block of charcoal. The academy wants to make beautiful diamonds out of these coals.
    You’re not a coal anymore. Not by far. Your portfolio shows work made by a professional artist. If you would apply to me as a teacher at grad school I would doubt if I could learn you new stuff. Yes you would be surrounded with all kind of cool creative things. This kind of atmosphere is important. But would you be challenged by the assigments at grad school?

    You also have a very clear style. Again, very mature. Are you willing to change this? This is why academy’s pick students who are still searching for a voice. If you alreade have a voice, what are you doing at grad school? The work you make in your senoir year should look totally different than the work you make in your first year. If the work in your last year looks exactly like the work in first your something has gone wrong and you have wasted a lot of money!

    Good luck!


  2. Syracuse University has an illustration grad program. It interesting to note, though, that Syracuse & Parson’s illustration programs were designed by a guy who only spent 2 weeks in college.

    Lately I’ve been thinking about illustration for a master as well. I think a lot of the things you, and I, are looking for could probably be found cheaper, locally, by getting together in a studio with other artists.

  3. DH. said

    I have mixed feeling about graduate school, myself. In the end I am glad I did it, because I met some awesome people, and I always had the perfect excuse to abuse myself with long hours in small spaces making a mess in a room where it didn’t matter. And I like to think my work has improved because of the experience.

    On the other hand, I’m not entirely convinced (for illustration) that one can’t just self-educate through persistence and real (PAYING!) jobs. In my mind, the biggest benefit of grad school for artists is taking you out of your comfort zone and making you REALLY try something new. But a lot of people do that on their own every time they get to work.

    The program I went to was a fine arts program, so I’m not sure what the difference would be for an illustration program. The above description of “shaking your foundation” may not be ideal for a successful illustrator, and illustration grad programs may have a different goal for you.

    What it comes down to, IMHO, is what do you want? Are you looking for credentials to be able to teach? Are you looking for a focused time to really and truly change the way you work? Are you looking for access to some other academic-minded artists who can help you look critically at what you are doing? Then grad school might be the thing for you.

    Otherwise, if you just want to improve your work, I think motivated people (like I know you are, Meg) can do that on their own.

  4. I haven’t been able to come up with a good reason to go back unless I wanted to teach or switch disciplines. But I will say- Scad and illustraion? I can’t recommend that mix at all.

    I personally found that a lot of what I missed about school was being surrounded by other artists, inspired to try different things and having people to ask for critiques and just talk art about. That was all solved when I moved myself from Denver to LA. I don’t think LA is the only place where artists congregate, but I’m much happier largely because I have found so many more artist types here.

    There are so many fantastically talented people to learn from, students pushing themselves, artists with all different skills and directions. Nothing beats going to costume drawing every week- I leave feeling energized and inspired. It’s definitely cheaper than getting another degree, but I still get people and improving my work. I also have options to take classes from pros at Ateliers who knows where else if I desire (and can find the time) but I really don’t feel that nagging go back to school feeling right now.

    I still don’t feel I have a clue what I’m doing either and I can really relate to that desire for direction. But I’ll keep slugging away and getting critiques and comments and hope it all works out. I’m faking the confidence right now and hoping I don’t fall on my face too many times in the mean time.

    I’m in with all the above where I don’t think you need Grad School to succeed at all. You’re extremely talented either way.

  5. Nicole said

    Personally, I’d stay out of graduate school unless you want to teach. It’s expensive, and, well, at least for the SCAD program, the grad version was just a slightly harder edition of undergrad (one of the many reasons I never bothered with it.) At least for me, I learned a lot more that was directly applicable to what I wanted to do once I was out of school and doing real work. I know there’s a lot more of a year-to-year gap in my portfolio these days, which I attribute to more focused study than school would permit me.

    I hear you on the illo contests, though – I only submit to the ones that don’t charge you, since then I figure I haven’t lost anything but time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. Alan D said

    Attended SCAD and it didn’t seem to me that the grad program was leaps and bounds ahead of the undergrad, not to mention that healthy dose of TA you have to complete.

    It seems to me like you want to expand yourself as an artist, not figure out how to run your business. Take more art classes! Take oil painting or something. I think that’s a far superior way to enhance your talents. You have a beautiful product to give to art directors. Don’t be afraid of it just because you’re good at it.

    Of course I say all this and I worry about my technique constantly.

  7. Does anyone know, are there even any Master programs for Illustration in Canada?

  8. Frank said

    I’ve always considered grad school an option for when you get “stuck.” Like, when you feel like you’ve exhausted momentum with the direction you were working and you’re looking for someone or someones that you invite in to help you pivot. Yes, this can be accomplished without graduate school.

    Community is also important. I think about going to grad school about every other week. I’ll probably wind up doing it because I’d like to teach, but I’m very conscious to ensure my desire to go back isn’t only for the community, since that can be obtained in other, more economical ways.

  9. emma brown said

    I’m a few months out of my undergrad program, and I’ve been struggling with the do I/don’t I of grad school for a few years now. Of course, I’ll wait a bit before I consider going back to school – I still gotta take some time to live as a real person!

    However, I did graduate from MCAD and it seems to me that the grad students are generally pretty happy. I don’t know any personally, but there aren’t many of them from year to year (20 tops). It seems to be a very close knit and hard working group. MCAD is also very good to their design related majors.

    The idea of grad school as a waking up of sorts sounds appealing to me. Perhaps if I need one down the road, I’ll consider it.

  10. kirsten said

    I’m so glad to hear that there are a lot of people who are unsure about Illustration graduate degrees!

    Jamie – no, unfortunately there are not any Masters programs in Illustration (that I have found, anyway) in Canada. Though there are a few schools that have Interdisciplinary Fine Arts Masters programs that could be tailored for Illustration. This is part of the dilemma for me – no matter where I go it will always be international tuition rates for me for an Illustration graduate degree.

    Eventually I would also like to teach – and this is why I keep coming back to Graduate school.

    A friend of mine has done an interesting thing – she calculated how much it would cost her to go to Grad school, including living expenses etc. Then she calculated how much it would cost her to not work for two years, rent a studio, enroll herself into a few classes and workshops, pay for access to university libraries etc, hire a “mentor” for a couple of hours a week and start a critique group and found that it was, of course, by far cheaper! She loved it – the one thing she thought she would miss was the fun “atmosphere” of being at school, but her studio was in a large shared space with like-minded people, so that wasn’t a problem.

    She didn’t need the credentials – what she wanted was time and focus, and she built her own “program” in her own way.

    I’m glad you’re back!

  11. fraunie said

    I know I’m super late on the response of this post, but I highly recommend that if you do get interested in gradschools that MCAD is definitely one to look into. Out of the ones I applied to, it (not including state schools) was the only one to supply a decent amount of scholarships right up front. If you’re not considering grad school, there’s always just auditing classes or continuing education classes to consider.

    Facilities are also a good reason to consider grad schools. Some schools are really well equipped.

  12. Annemarie said

    Thanks for the tip on Art & Fear! I ordered it and am now halfway, thinking
    ‘check…..check……check’ on every page! I knew I had neuroses, but man! Very helpful book. Next time I comment I might finally have a website to fill in, even ๐Ÿ˜‰

  13. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored to tears at work so I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break. I love the information you provide here and can’t wait to
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