It is Degree Show time all over the country - art students in all corners of the nation are hanging their shows, awaiting their grades, and wrapping up years of study into their finished, strongest pieces of artwork - artwork that says a final farewell to undergraduate study. Or, in the case of Ediburgh College of Art students, a farewell to their Masters degree, as ECA students spend five years studying their artistic discipline.
We caught up with two ECA students to ask about their practice, their degree show and their plans for leaving art school.
How has your work developed through your time at ECA?
Emily Lang: Lots of things have changed over the five years I've spent at ECA, but the most important happened in my third year when I realised what I wanted to make my work about and how I wanted to do it. Until then I had spent lots of happy hours playing around with different materials and learning techniques in the print workshop, but I hadn't had a clear sense of where my work was going or what any of it was about. While I was away doing an Erasmus semester in Munich I realised that I wanted to use folk culture, stories and songs and so on as my inspiration, and immediately my work started to take a different and more focused course, which gave me lots more confidence and made things much easier to talk about with the tutors! Quite early on during the course I realised that I wanted to make drawing based work and that printmaking was the path I wanted to take, but it was only really in my fifth year that I decided to take my 2D printed work and make it into 3D objects, and got really into bookbinding.
Tiina Lilja: I am a figurative painter and my practice consists of portraits of objects that I find visually interesting. The work is to a point autobiographical (i.e. every object is linked to me through my aesthetic preferences or my background: being Finnish, a girl etc.) - yet I am more concerned with the iconic qualities of these branded, nostalgic or strange everyday ‘things’ such as boxes of cigarettes, bottles of liquor, dolls and so forth. I choose to paint from observation, but ideally the pieces would extend beyond documenting what is placed in front of me. Visually, the work is about colour and contrasting surfaces.
When I started at the Edinburgh College of Art, my work was more narrative. Figure, either objects or the human form has always been present, but only towards the end of the second year my work started to have a focus on single subject matter over mixed imagery. Once I started to pay more attention on the subject matter, what I wanted to portray and how, the narrative aspect of the work subsided.
What are your favourite art materials to work with and why?
EL: I specialised in printmaking in my second year and spent lots of time in the lithography, screen printing and block printing rooms practising those techniques. At the moment my favourite materials are paper, pencil, coloured crayon, and fine liner pens which I use to make drawings that I turn into screen prints. I like working with pencil and coloured crayons because they give me freedom to make marks and then to change them. Fine liners aren't quite so forgiving but they give strong lines that are good for exposing onto screens. Screen printing is usually a very quick process that works well with bold work, which suits the patterns that I have been printing recently.
TL: I have tried most traditional methods of painting from watercolours to acrylics, but I have come to realise the oils are best suited for my needs – the long drying time bothers me a bit, but on the other hand, that extra time is needed to blend in the colours the way I like them. And it has to be canvas all the way. I take pride in stretching and priming my canvases and would not have anyone else doing it for me. Choosing the right primer is almost as important as choosing the right paints.
What would your top tip be for other art students?
EL: Organise yourself into a routine that suits you. You don't have to work 9 to 5 but you want to make the most of the facilities available too. Make friends across disciplines and don't be shy to go and try different things out because there are opportunities that won't be quite so easy to come by once you've left college. Finding area of interest can be as broad as you like to begin with, then you can hone it down.
TL: For other students, I can only say, try out everything while you have the freedom to do so, and never be afraid of failure: sometimes your worse mistakes can turn into your most beloved pieces of work. Use colour! And learn how to look for colour. Did you know a shadow in orange plastic wrapping can sometimes appear as purple or green?
Can you tell us a little bit about your degree show pieces?
EL: For my final semester I decided to turn my attention towards stories and histories in Edinburgh, and I chose to look at the lives of the Newhaven fishwives who gutted and sold herring caught by their husbands to their customers in and around Edinburgh. The Newhaven fishwives wore distinctive aprons and skirts with vertical blue and white stripes, and it seemed to me that there was an affinity between the rhythm and repetitive nature of their work and the regular pattern in their skirts, and so I decided to use the textiles of the East Lothian fishing communities to tell this story. I made books that echoed the famous gala day costumes of the Fishwives' Choir, prints that combined the local knitting designs used for the fishermens' ganseys or jumpers with the female skirt patterns, a book that explored these knitting patterns in more detail and another book that used a fishbone pattern inspired by the gutting work of the fishwives that I arranged into stripes to echo their stripy skirts. I used work song lyrics and local sayings to title the work to give viewers a hand in understanding my concept as I deliberatley chose not to include too much overtly figurative imagery or text in the work because the stories of the fishing communities are largely sourced from oral histories rather than documented narratives.
TL: My Degree Show is a collection of paintings that portray things and objects that caught my attention thorough out the year. Visually I wanted to have an exhibit of interesting pieces that would also work together in the very busy, traditional setting of the Edinburgh College of Arts Sculpture Court. The end result is colourful, pop art-like and a bit kitsch.
What are your plans post-university?
EL: I am currently looking for print technician and art education jobs in schools and adult education centres, and if nothing comes up immediately I will keep up my part time job and do some residencies to keep things going and meet people with similar interests. Fingers crossed!
TL: After graduation I am planning to stay in my adoptive city of Edinburgh, at least for a year or so, and continue the development I started while in university. Painting has always being my passion and it is a pleasure and a privilege to turn it into a career.
The ECA Degree Show will run until the 1st June 2014 at Edinburgh College of Art, 74 Lauriston Place, Edinburgh. Opening hours are from 11:00 – 17:00 and there is late opening until 20:00 on Wednesday and Thursday.
Shop online for all your art materials, and stock up on your own Conte a Paris Carres Sketching Crayons, Staedtler Pigment Fine Liners and Screen Printing supplies to try out Emily's favourite materials.
Images 2, 5 & 6 - Emily Lang
Images 3, 4 & 7 - Tiina Lilja