An Artist in the
Post-Grad Movement

By Sarah Foote

October 6, 2018

Image courtesy of bridgesward/

Image courtesy of bridgesward/

So much work, so much build up, and then, at last, graduation! You breathe a sigh of relief, bask in your accomplishment for a couple of weeks, and then— post-graduation hits. Sure, you may have applied to a few jobs, thought about grad school, but inevitably the “what am I going to do next?” question becomes ever more pressing. This is true for everyone coming right out of college, but for artists and creatives, I think it hits a bit harder. Part of it is our own doing (let’s be honest, getting a degree in Fine Arts isn’t the most secure career choice) but we love what we do so much that we are willing to take the risk anyways. Then we build a strong community of open-minded and sensitive people that share our passion for making and ideating. After four years of immersion in this safe, nurturing environment, we’re sent out into the world, an experience which can be more shocking than the bottom of your silicoil tank after a semester. Most people won’t understand you, what you do, or why it is important. And here we are left to establish ourselves and our work in this post-graduate movement.  

I write this from an admittedly biased position. I am a Graphic Design and Painting BFA working as a designer for a corporation, doing what I spent four years learning to do. Am I ecstatic to be here? No, but I’m content and I am okay with that. This I see as one of the many post-graduate experiences one may have on the road to career nirvana. That being said, take the following advice as you will, because I’m wise enough to know that I’m still woefully naïve.

I. Time: Re-learning the concept

We all know that time is a construct of man to measure that which is purely based in perception. How we order these measures shapes our perceived experience. i.e. in college with semesters, scheduled classes, deadlines within those classes, and a multitude of social obligations, time seems very finite. Four (or more) years go by in a flurry of late nights in the studio (or the bar). There’s an overwhelming urgency and importance to everything, and then… it stops. Suddenly, you have your whole life ahead of you without any predetermined monolith marking your way. Things move slower —A LOT slower if you’re entering corporate America — and patience, with yourself and others, becomes paramount. It takes months to compile your portfolio and apply for jobs, even longer to interview and accept an offer. It takes time to submit show proposals and build the network to get your work out there. A degree does not automatically make you an established artist or professional, and it will take time to find direction in this broad world we live in.

So how do we adapt to this new rhythm? The easy answer: embrace it. The helpful answer: set both short and long term goals for yourself. For example, in the short term I want to improve my portfolio and website, spend time on nutrition and fitness, and work towards a down payment on a condo. Long term I want to advance in my career, work towards grad school, and teach design in some capacity. The rest I just take as it comes.

II. Thinking abstractly in a literal world

Creatives think differently, partially from nature, partially from training. We’re sensitive to and more observant of things that people commonly overlook or take for granted. Being surrounded by different minds can be stimulating and refreshing, but also draining when all you want is someone you can talk shop with. As a lone in-house designer, I can’t count the number of times the damper has been put on my professional excitement simply because there’s no one to share the same joy in the spatial interaction of two typefaces or the rhythm of a layout. When there are no other creative minds to challenge and inspire you, it’s easy to get comfortable in your process and slack on innovation. Fight it.

How do I fight it? Find a co-worker that’s creative in some capacity, and you will have a collaborator. In my case, he a chef, I a designer, we don’t know in detail each other’s trades, but we are makers, and that is enough to inspire us both. I also bring my creative network into my work life where I can. Days my former classmate/friend/photographer comes into the office for a photoshoot don’t feel like work at all. Finally, force yourself to be exposed to inspiration where you can. Put on a podcast instead of music on the drive home, go out of your way to make an art show opening. It’s the little things that drive you to develop.

III. Whatever you do, KEEP MAKING!

It is so, so, so easy to fall out of making work when there’s no assignment to complete, no professor to impress. But that work is what keeps you thinking, keeps you wanting more. Don’t lose it, don’t put it off. Schedule time for a weekly painting session, carry a sketchbook in your bag, make a friend hold you accountable for producing work. Whatever it is, make it happen.

This is one area where I will admit I fall short regularly. I work, then freelance, then am too drained to even think about my own projects. Life often distracts me from doing what I love. But I find solace in knowing that I always come back to an intrinsic desire to make. I can’t stop myself from planning projects in my head while I’m driving; I can’t resist saving an image that inspires me. This path we’ve chosen is like a religion. It feeds us, it fulfills us, it drives us to be better versions of ourselves. No matter how far this post-graduate movement may take us away from what we’ve grown to know and love, we can, and will, always come back. 

This article is funded by the Illinois State University Friends of the Arts.

Sarah Foote is a Graphic Designer and Artist who earned her BFA in design and painting from Illinois State University in 2018. In addition to developing Sight Specific’s branding, Sarah has worked as a graphic designer for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, the Vidette, and the Town of Normal. Now working as a freelance designer, her clients include the Town of Normal, Uptown Normal, The Garlic Press, and Jan Brandt Gallery.