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  • Kerrie McNeill


I've decided to start writing a blog here on my website. I don't know how many newsletter style blogs I have subscribed to over the years but I love love love reading them! It's like I get to know the person and I feel like we're friends? maybe that's a little strange. But I thought it might be nice for me to use this space for anyone that reads to get to know me a little better and maybe find some of my thoughts and ideas interesting and inspiring.

(It also might be nice for me to look back on when I'm 80 hehe)

For this first post I thought I would give you a run down on basically my life so far. I'll not go into major details but more or less focusing on everything relating to art. (it's been a major part of my life)

I realised very early in education that I wasn't one bit academic. From primary school I had both english and maths supports as well as a tutor until lower sixth. I think I did struggle with this massively, it made me feel like I was useless and I really didn't have much confidence in myself- that being said creativity was where I flourished. In primary school I attended an art club after schools with a lady called Pen- a very fitting name for an art teacher! Pen was a lovely woman. I always enjoyed my time with her. I was able to express myself whatever way I wanted and Pen always encouraged this. I'll always remember one day I decided you know what I'm going to sign my drawing backwards (baring in mind I was like 6) and Pen's reaction was amazing! She couldn't believe I had done this and the idea just came so naturally to me. I think I even won a little art club award for doing it- how encouraging though!

Oil drawing of flowers with my name spelt backwards

Moving to secondary school, again scraping by every subject apart from technology, media studies and art! I really excelled myself when it came to subjects that were very much hands on! I loved making, experimenting, creating and I think from taking my GCSE's and picking my A Levels I basically knew that I wanted to be an "Artist". At school I won't lie the careers department wasn't that great when it came to the art's sector. The only really so called career advice I got was to become an art teacher or art therapist- so this was quite worrying. I remember so clearly being in school and trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the future was so daunting. I think there's a lot of pressure on students applying to universities or going straight into the world of work and any other outcomes and when I had applied to do an Art and Design Foundation Degree at the University of Ulster I did feel A LOT of pressure that I wasn't going off to do Law or something the majority of my year were going off to do.

Pencil drawing from School

I was SO nervous but excited to start university. I loved being in university and the environment where everyone around me was there because they were creative and also shared the same love for art and design as I did. Northern Ireland is a small place and so being in a smallish university setting means I got to meet a lot of people very quickly- some of which I would call my closest friends. Although looking back Foundation wasn't my favourite part of university life it taught me that whatever career path I chose in the creative industry everything more or less over-lapped. I struggled with picking fashion and textiles or Graphic Design and Illustration for my Bachelors Degree. I loved colour and patterns and thought textiles would be a fab way of me to explore this I also loved design and drawing.

Before doing Foundation I had never even considered a career path leading down design, making patterns or drawing and this really opened my eyes to the opportunity of making a living doing something really interesting and fun! I ended up picking Graphic Design and Illustration for the last few months of my foundation year and focusing on creating small projects working in this field. Ashling Lindsay, an amazing illustrator had came in to give our class a talk. Ashling discussed her work and what she did and her story was so so inspiring and gave me a lot of hope that this was the right path for me. This was the first moment that I realised I wanted to become an illustrator and be my own boss.

Final hand-in for my Foundation Year

I started my degree in Graphic Design and Illustration in 2019. The first year and a half were focused on developing skills in both Graphic Design and Illustration. I enjoyed learning about typography and the principles of design but I was so fully invested in Illustration that I chose this as my specialism. I definitely knew this was what I wanted to do. As I said before, I love colours and patterns and this heavily inspired and still inspires my work now. In foundation digital illustrations was becoming very popular and so the first two years of studying illustration, I focused on this type of work.

Graphic Design project- making a record cover sleeve

Although workshops were based on traditional methods using inks and drawings to create- I felt that I needed to create digitally as 1. it was very easy and I could create anywhere I was and 2. because it was quite trendy at the time and I thought I need to get good at this! I remember starting to feel stuck. everything started looking the same and I guess you could say this was my first time having the oul 'artist block'. From primary school- going to the art club making sculptures out of paper mache to making collages from Pen's chickens, keeping sketchbooks for GCSE and A Level projects I always loved making and actually creating with my hands and I think I forgot this side of my process. I got stuck in a bit of a rut near the end of my second year of university and as much as I loved creating digital illustrations I felt that I was missing something. I did feel lost. I was starting to apply for placements for my year out and soon discovered there weren't as many companies looking for illustrators as I had thought. I applied to so many and sent a lot of emails and unfortunately got no luck. This was really disheartening and I started to get the feelings back of not being good enough and slightly regretting my decisions.

digital illustration from a second year project

AND as if things couldn't have got any worse-they did. Covid happened and of course the UK, Ireland and the rest of the world went into complete panic mode and it was a scary and uncertain time for a lot of people. This made it 10000x times worse for me to get a placement as businesses started to close and honestly people were struggling and I did feel bad asking for placement opportunities. So I made the decision to take a 'year out' if I couldn't get some kind of placement and just start working for myself. From foundation I had created an art instagram to show my work and from around August of 2020 I began posting regular content on instagram and felt that I would go back to my roots and paint, draw and make forming instagram posts and stories of my sketchbook pages and painted ceramics. I also set up an Etsy shop and started selling a few prints that I thought I could sell. I had no experience selling work or marketing and so i'd say I kind of winged it and hoped for the best.

A painted plant pot from my Etsy shop

I signed up for a business course ran by an organisation called WomenFolk which ran for 9 months. The course was specifically for female creatives starting out and I loved being part of it. Everyone was so lovely and I still bump into some of the girls at markets and exhibitions! I learned a lot about marketing, general business tips about taxes/getting paid and also creating a healthy balance between life and work (still working on this!!!) Whilst taking part in the course with weekly meetings, I was getting on with posting on instagram, making new work and products I could sell on Etsy. Whilst being present online was quite exhausting it did pay off. I started getting some small jobs from local businesses and commissions which gave me such a confidence boost. In January 2021 I actually ended up getting a placement within my university and that was to create the designs for the overall look of the annual degree show branding. This was an amazing opportunity and gave me an idea of what it would be like to work freelance. I created the degree show branding, signage, merch and marketing content and loved every minute of it! It gave me the experience to work at a bigger scale than I had ever done and I think this was definitely the placement opportunity for me- I don't think I would have experienced and learned more than I did in those few months.

Merch from the degree show

After the placement was finished and the course was finished I still worked away on some commissions and running my shop right up until September when I went back to university to finish my final year eeeek!! Taking the year out was one of the best decisions I ever made. I needed that year and I accomplished more than I ever imagined. Over the year out I rediscovered my love for drawing, painting and making and in final year I decided to change my process and use a combination of both digital and traditional mixed. I think this changed the game for my work and I felt extremely comfortable using this process more and more.

if you've made it this far I hope you found this somewhat interesting!!! Apologies for the rambling. I feel like i'm writing a book about my life!! I'm going to talk about the last year- finishing university in the next post or I might actually have to make this into a book haha! Thank you for reading- I hope you enjoyed :)

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