HOW DID I ACHIEVE AN A IN A-LEVEL GRAPHICS WITH NO EXPERIENCE?
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
When I went to sixth form in 2017, I took graphic communications as apposed to fine art (which I had recently taken at GCSE and achieved an A*) purely due to the fact that I wanted to push myself and see if I could potentially pursue a career with my artwork as I knew just how HARD it is out there for fine artists. But there was one BIG problem with this... I had literally no experience and to be honest no real idea of just what defined 'graphic design' (a factor that didn't seem major at the time but to then later choose between illustration courses at university against graphic design courses it made it very difficult) SO... how did I do it?
I must also say before I begin that my college experience was honestly one of the loneliest times so far and I hated every single minute of it. I am the BIGGEST introvert, I mean every single day for like two years I mostly sat alone every break I had so much so that I used to travel home on my longer breaks just to feel less alienated. Graphics was the only class where I felt I could breathe and I truly fell in love with just getting enveloped and lost in my screen. Not only this but I met some of the most genuine people in that class and if it wasn't for them, college would have been unbearable. So they probably don't realise how much of a special place they have in my heart. You know who you are ;).
Starting my course
My first lesson of graphics was very daunting as my head was just riddled with self doubt like 'why the hell did I do this to myself?' I had literally no experience with Adobe programs such as Illustrator or Photoshop and BOY did it show. Just for reference although this is most definitely not the best piece
i've probably ever made... here is how my first Photoshop task went because i'm not going to sit here and act like I didn't have a clue what I was doing and by no means did I instantly pick it up, it took time and it took a lot of practise.
This task was a Richard Hamilton task so I basically had to crop out some images and compose them together. I tried to go for a vintage theme in a modern house but I just really couldn't get it to work.
Here are a few more of my very first every Photoshop tutorials, mood boards and a perspective task where we basically just had to crop out things from their backgrounds and all I knew was how to apply a filter to something and it shows aha!!
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It was a few tasks in when we hit a task I actually enjoyed, Typography. We all got a letter and had to produce typography for that letter with words starting with your letter. This was when I realised that I could start incorporating my artwork into my designs which felt so much less daunting. The only thing that scared me was watching everyone else digitally make theirs and think oh god am I trying to make it too much like fine art to ease myself, have I picked the wrong course? But it was around this time my tutor picked up on my ability to illustrate and told me that there was absolutely nothing wrong with going back to my sketchbook and actually encouraged it.
My first project
The first official type of project was to create my own confectionary brand. I absolutely hated this project to start with because thinking of graphics in terms of designing packaging isn't something that particularly excited me but by the end I absolutely loved it. In terms of my skill level at this point I was still a beginner but at this point I'd not really taken properly teaching myself graphics into consideration. My tutor at college was a fine art teacher therefore didn't really specialise in graphics, preferring a paintbrush over a computer which I totally related with at the time. I knew I wanted to achieve something in this subject because I couldn't think of anything worse than studying my other subjects at university despite me enjoying them (History and English Literature). Here is a promotion poster and net packaging I made for my sweets, I themed the majority of this project around my brand mascots/characters. I had no idea how to shade my characters effectively or create my own backgrounds I mean literally there is one where there is a 'shuttershock' watermark in the background... Overall, for this project I achieved an A, which absolutely blew my mind and actually just blew my mind remembering that / finding my feedback sheet now. How I did this honestly I think at this point was through creating pages that went into depth about all aspects of my project (I think on every project I was always the one in the class with the most pages). This was something I took on from fine art as in terms of the mark scheme (although this is so stupid) the more you explain and show your process behind something to an examiner, the higher marks/grade you will achieve. And BOY did I know how to waffle on... I mean c'mon I did English Literature. They always tell you quality over quantity however when it comes to analysing your work and hitting them 'exploration' and 'development' markers, trust me.
Coursework - either your enemy or best friend
For my coursework, I had to produce my own campaign wether that be a charity, commercial or political. So, I decided to make a charity campaign about animal abuse, something I am VERY passionate about being vegetarian for maybe around 8 years now. However, I decided to take a challenging approach and aim my campaign at children, meaning I would have to be very careful about how I put across my messages. However, this meant I could create characters and products that would set my project apart from what everyone else was doing. I mean I did bite off more than I could chew but I must have pulled it off I guess?! This was because I decided to make a book series covering different aspects of animal abuse such as deforestation, animal testing, zoos, aquamarine entertainment and the fur trade. I think I would have achieved an A* if I would have actually had one made but a student ain't got that kind of moneyyy.
For each book cover, I hand painted all the little details such as the flowers etc. This made me feel so much more at ease being able to introduce my art into this project and being able to pick up a paintbrush again. Again, this is another good way to document your development as well as introducing new mediums and new skills as you can then submit your sketchbook as well as your final sheets. In my project I tried to include as many different mediums as I could such as photography, paintings, drawings, digital drawings etc. just because it shows development and the exploration of different ideas even if you know you're not going to use them, it is a very good way to tick boxes and gain marks, just of course make sure it stays relevant to the project.
My exam project - variation and similarity
For my exam, I got the prompt of 'variation and similarity'.. a very strange concept. I decided to create my own clothing/fashion brand just so that it varied from all my other projects, showing the examiner I am capable of doing multiple different project concepts. This showed variation through the different products however similarity as they're all under the same brand, sharing the same messages and the same aesthetic throughout.
Creating different company names, logos and aesthetics and exploring both in detail is another successful way to show the examiner you're exploring ideas and concepts, gaining you marks from the start of your project. Also, providing screenshots of just exactly how you made something shows the examiner in great depth your design process, again gaining you marks as you must almost make your project and break it down as if you are explaining your project ideas to someone with absolutely no background knowledge of graphic design.
It was at this point that I really wanted to succeed with this and get a grade that would allow me to take this further so I started watching YouTube tutorials on how to achieve certain things for example I wanted to try a glitched effect on my logo so I watched a tutorial at home and tried to implement what I had learnt in my project in lesson. This was also around the time I had started personally experimenting with creating graphics, taking work home and expanding upon it. So basically instead of just doing the work in the lessons, I expanded my knowledge at home and began practising as much as I could.
I then began my designs to put onto my garments, to show my development through these stages I hand-drew two different types of typography alphabets, the design and then digitally coloured and enhanced my design. This was around the time I started to look into digital drawings and the idea of scanning in my drawings and digitally enhancing them came to mind.
Then, I created mock ups as well as actual design template vectors for my merchandise and created visual advertisements for my brand. This was also the first time I had in depth looked at creating a website using WIX as I had made them for previous projects but I wanted to dedicate exam time to creating the right aesthetic for my website as presentation is a big factor of graphic design marks.
I also decided to push myself in my exam to create a shop exterior as I had seen it on a past A* project that had been shown for inspiration from another student and thought it would be a good way to not only test how far id come with Photoshop but also to set my project apart from the rest and add a unique factor to my exam piece. All I can say is that the reflections on the windows made this so much harder than it looks.
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Applying to uni after this, I was still very doubtful of my ability (and still am, however I was hit by the decision of Illustration or Graphic design which is a whole other situation that I might write a blog post about. Also I didn't want to bombard this blog post and bore everybody with mass amounts of my work so I tried to keep it as short and sweet as I could but if you are interested in seeing more of my college work/GCSE work then I will definitely be able to expand upon this.
Overall, for this project and my coursework I achieved an A grade. I was so pleased with achieving this just because id come to the course with absolutely no knowledge of graphic design as I was from a fine art background and wasn't exactly very tech savvy (although my nanans will definitely disagree aha). I was so proud of myself because at the time, college was taking a big toll on my mental health and I just didn't enjoy going at all but I managed to keep pushing through.However it was because of my time at Sixth form that I found something I loved, without it I probably would never have considered taking my artwork anywhere further and definitely wouldn't have set up a page or a website or print shop. Determination really is key and you can achieve so much when you put your mind to it. I hope by reading this I have inspired you in some way to keep pushing at what you're trying to achieve or pick up a new hobby, watch tutorials and educate yourself in the sector you hope to grow in.