Ask the Illustrators & Authors
John Speight comes from a family with a tradition of silhouette profile cutting, he's the third generation, although he has chosen other subjects and has created his own style. 'Rooks' is from a collection of his 'Finest Paper Cuts', all skilfully hand cut and mesmerising in detail yet, as images, they are beautiful in simplicity. John has been working as a professional paper cut artist since 1990 and shares a studio with his wife, professional jewellery designer, Lorna Speight.
Being self taught John asks a useful question for anyone who is considering art school.....
'Hi, I have a question for you all:
I am a professional papercut artist who didn't go to Art College. My father at the time refused to let me go because, as he put it, "There is no money in art".
I now often meet parents with the same dilemma. Their son or daughter wants to go but they believe it's a risky venture or a waste of time.
As I look back I think by attending I would have learned much that would have helped my career, but on the other hand, maybe not going helped me to come up with a style unique to myself.
So my question is: Did you go to Art College, and how did your decision help or hinder you?'
Many thanks for commenting on the blog John!
'Wow, this scratches the surface of what is really a much bigger issue for me. I often come across this situation of parents under valuing the arts and their importance and as a student I was surrounded by it. It is really about getting people to realise that creative industries are very relevant and that if it is pursued seriously an art school place can lead to a rewarding career in what is for the most part a very exciting and prosperous area to work in.
This country doesn't really manufacture anything anymore. When it moved away from manufacturing it became a colony of giant offices and now the giant offices have moved to places like India because it's cheaper. It leaves me wondering, what do we do here that's so relevant. And actually, what we are really good at here in the UK is creative industries. That great big film industry in Hollywood looks to us for photographers, directors, actors, etc. Our theatre and music is the best in the world and travels well across the globe. As do the fruits of our publishing industry. There are many other examples.
I find it odd that people in general don't realise this. That we don't value imagination, creativity, visual innovation, etc. The fact that people don't value or recognise these things leads to the misconception that, 'you need something to fall back on' in case you don't become a famous artist. If you asked your average guy on the street what people do at art school they wouldn't know. People generally don't make the connection between, for example: James Dyson's Vacuum Cleaner and the fact that he was a product design student at the Royal College of Art. They wouldn't think about Alexander McQueen's impact on the fashion world and connect that impact to his time spent as a student at St Martins School of Art.
I forgot to say...YES, I did go to art school. And it was a breath of fresh air. Being among like minded people, feeding off other artists and creatives, being in an environment that was conducive to creative thinking. I don't think it taught me how to draw - the only way to learn to draw is to draw. But it taught me how to look at things differently, it gave me a good grounding in the basics of perspective and anatomy and helped me grasp hold of a good sense of design. Also important were the external contacts. Something which is essential to any self respecting art school course. Links to the industry are paramount.
So yes, I think if someone shows an aptitude for the creative side of things and especially if they're not academic, it should be encouraged. And it's no more a hobby than accounting or civil engineering!'
Many thanks Chris!
All of Chris's images are taken from the marvellous Scribblemanic World of Chris Mould - A real treat! Try Tesco for a Dyson.
Here comes Jill with more fury and feathered friends than Noah... For chickens also try Tesco. For cats don't try Tesco, yet.... and never try Tesco Express!
'In answer to your question, yes I did go to Art college, I did a year in Foundation Studies which helped me to see the areas of art that interested me the most, and also to see the areas that I did not want to specialise in too.
After that I went to University to specialise in Graphic Design, I was advised to apply for Graphics rather than Illustration by the course leader, as they said that my drawing skills were not as strong as my design ability. However during my degree I always leaned very strongly towards illustration, probably more so than the course would have preferred, but for me I was luckily to get out of my degree what I wanted, as it's where I found my style, and when something just clicked.
However when I left, being the stubborn and determined person I was, I knew what direction I wanted to follow with my art styles, and instead of taking the advised route (by the Uni,) to work for a company to gain experience, I went alone, and freelanced from the start. This meant I had to take cleaning jobs and tutoring jobs to help finance myself whilst I still persuaded my career goal. So it didn't come easy.
Also I was lucky to be a student who did not need to pay for Uni fees, like students do today, if that have been the case as supportive as my parents have always been about my decision to pursue my art, I doubt very much that I would have gone. But I would definitely say that going to Uni for me was a huge advantage, as at the end of the degree you get to display your work to companies, which in my case, was where I was spotted by my first main large greeting card company.
The way I went about it has been long winded, but I believe if your heart is in it, you will achieve your goals, however you go about it. As I say, I have always been very lucky that my parents have, and still do support my decisions to follow my artist talent, and now my husband is the one to encourages me through the harder times. My daughters, although young at the moment, are both very keen on art and if that is a way they wish to go I will encourage them 101%!!! I know too many people who have careers that they have sort of fallen into, and have never really had a main "want," in their career, but if you are luckily enough to really KNOW what you want to do then nothing should stop it!
If you have an aim like it sounds you did, you knew you wanted to achieve an artistic career of some kind, and you have done, and for you the fact that you weren't able to pursue it at art college hasn't stopped you. I think people who are lucky enough to have a burning interest and talent do end up following their dream, (which does sound very Disney like I know,) but art isn't an area you just think of doing out of the blue, you have to have a passion for it. I'm sure it's the same for musician, dancers, and other creative careers, and despite often being a harder goal to reach, we can get there in the end!
Apologies for my long winded reply, you can clearly tell that I am a just a tad passionate about what I do for a living!
All the best, Jill!
Many thanks to Jill!
Since Jill wrote this response, and has seen this post, she has emailed to say, 'John's work is just stunning! He's clearly got such an incredible talent, very beautiful, detailed and highly skilled.'
Did Art School help or hinder you? Are you considering Art School? Or perhaps you'd like to ask the next question, for discussion, in the comments below. We'd like to hear from you!