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Posted Feb. 7, 2022

What’s it like to study a PG art course online?

Online art masters courseSarah Redrup is studying an MA in Illustration via distance learning at Falmouth University and was awarded one of our Postgrad Solutions Study Bursaries 2020. We caught up with Sarah to see how she is managing to successfully study her MA in Illustration via distance learning.

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"At the start of 2019 I drove over five hours to visit Falmouth University. As I wandered around the art studios and browsed examples of student work, I found myself feeling conflicted. It had been my dream for a long time to go back to university to study an arts course but I also couldn’t see myself leaving my family, my job and my home behind to move to Cornwall. Falmouth had recently launched their online courses through Falmouth Flexible where they offered a number of undergraduate and postgraduate arts courses to students all over the world. But could I really get the most out of such a hands-on subject like Illustration by studying it as a masters degree online?

Now, after nearly two years of studying MA Illustration online I can confidently say that the answer is yes! Illustrators, as with many freelancers in the creative industries, spend the majority of their time working alone at home or in studios liaising with clients via email or video chat. The process of studying online emulates this career path: we are expected to manage our own work loads, schedule and attend meetings online, plan our work to meet deadlines and keep others in the loop with our progress. Although at first it was difficult to keep up while working full time, I found that with each new module my organisational skills improved. Looking back at where I was when I started the course I can see that this has been perhaps the most valuable aspect in professionalising my practice.

One of my biggest fears was that by studying online I would be missing out on studio space and won’t be able to try my hand at a variety of mark making methods that require specific equipment. To some extent this is a challenge that is difficult to get around, but that didn’t stop the course organisers from trying. Risograph printing for example has become a staple for many illustrators and graphic designers, however the printers are very expensive. To introduce students to this printing method without us having access to a printer the tutors put together an online risograph workshop. Together on a video call over three sessions we each made a collage using black ink and paper while the tutor explained the principles of risograph printing. We then scanned the work and emailed it to her, by the third session we watched as the tutor put together our artwork into a risograph ‘zine’. Each student had a copy posted to their home.

For me this workshop highlighted what is possible with online study, the students on the call came from all over the globe, one of them was even sitting outside a cafe in Barcelona! Although we were thousands of miles apart, together we collaborated on a piece of physical art. These are creatives that if it wasn’t for online study I would never have had the opportunity to meet. I have had the privilege of watching as their illustrative voice matures, each of them bringing different perspectives to the course. Although I create my artwork alone at home, I can share it with a very varied cohort of students and tutors. The tutors are experienced illustrators themselves, not all of them living in the UK.

Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen more experiences becoming accessible to a wider audience through the internet. Film premiers, open days, panel discussions, lectures, gallery tours, gigs and more have been streamed online. As an art student this has been incredible, long and expensive trips prevent a lot of students from engaging in cultural experiences. But now, from our own homes, we can tour the Vatican Museum in Rome, the MASP in Brazil and the National Gallery in London all in one day! Universities have had to re-think their teaching and consequently they have turned towards live streamed and recorded events. Via video calls lecturers can invite prestigious speakers and artists to give talks without having to organise travel and accommodation. For me, this has been one of the most exciting parts of studying online as an art student. I don’t have a lot of time to travel to events, so being able to fit in an illustrator Q&A before dinner has really changed the game for me.

Soon my course is coming to an end, but I am glad that I feel prepared to embark on a career in the creative industries. From the get go I have had to learn to be independent, get my own materials and be resourceful enough to make the most of what I have at home. I now have the tools to manage my workload, seek out clients and market myself. Online arts courses don’t have to play second fiddle to traditional campus courses, in some ways they are perhaps even better."

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