JACK CASEY - 12/10

About My Degree

I  studied Design Crafts, a multi-disciplinary craft and design course, at De Montfort University in Leicester, graduating with first class honours in the summer of 2019. It was without doubt the perfect course for me and I loved every second of it. It just felt so right from start to finish. I was always excited and motivated to work hard. 

 It sometimes feels as though there is a stigma associated with going to 'art school', in that it's a waste of time, or that you don't learn any useful or transferable skills. Having been and done it, I can say that if you are really into making and being creative, none of the above are true. I have never had a problem finding work in my field and have learned so many valuable skills that I would never have picked up studying a more conventional, academic course.

In my first year we were trained to work with metal (jewellery), ceramics and plaster, hot and cold glass, and textiles (textile art as opposed to designing patterns for clothing). We were also lucky enough to be trained in a number of other subsidiary workshops, including woodworking, rapid prototyping or 3D printing, laser cutting, print making, metal fabrication and machining, digital design, and many more.

During my second and third years, we were encouraged to explore and develop the processes and skills we had been taught in our first year with the aim of narrowing down a specialism. I was always torn between metal-working and jewellery,  and ceramics and plaster, and kept flitting between the two or designing projects that incorporated both disciplines. This is reflected in my Brass and Copper Series, featuring ceramic cups with looped metal handles.

In the end, I focused on ceramics and plaster, because I had fallen in love with plaster mould-making. Happily though, I still work with metal on a regular basis at my day job as a wood and metalwork technician at a local sixth-form college, as well as when making handles for my Brass and Copper Series. 

The biggest lesson I picked up at university, was that creativity is not some innate and mystic skill that you are born with or without. In fact, it is something that can be learned, taught, shared, developed and refined. This, aside from the hard technical skills I learned, was probably the most valuable thing I took away with me when I left. From the word go we were taught to think in a different way, see in a different way, and approach design from an ideas and concept-based perspective, and to find function later on, if at all.

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Brass Series

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I think for many people, this idea that one needs to know what one is designing or making before they start, is the biggest stumbling block when it comes to creativity. If you build concepts and ideas first, then produce work, models, samples and sketchbooks based upon those ideas, you can end up with many more interesting ideas. One concept can lead to a multitude of offshoots all ending in completely different outcomes, products, or pieces of art.

If you partner this ideas-led approach with the structured development of hard skills, in my case, ceramics, jewellery, glass and textile making, you can end up applying the knowledge and skills of a particular material or discipline to those ideas naturally. For example, if you learn how to carve rubber stamps, you'll express concepts and ideas through that medium.

My degree was heavily focused on designing and making, with weekly workshops taught by the amazing technical staff and large termly projects based upon our own interpretations of a brief set by the academics staff. 

We also had one substantial module each year focusing on 'professional practice'. These modules involved learning the skills needed to make a career of making and selling your work, navigating the choppy and confusing waters of working with galleries, exhibitions and major craft and design shows. These were invaluable lessons, taking the form of weekly lectures given by a successful and established artist or maker about their creative practice and business, as well as targeted tutorials and seminars with artists and designers.

Design Crafts at DMU was a relatively small course when I started in 2016, with perhaps 30 students each year, and so we had loads of one-to-one with our academics and visiting staff, who we got to know intimately. They were very skilled at knowing exactly what to say to get you really fired up if you had hit a wall, or simply just to draw the best from you. For me it was a delicate balance between compliments and criticism: 'this is good, but it needs more, it could be better, refine, rework, revisit'. I found myself wanting the praise of my teachers, all of whom I respected greatly, but also being driven to prove that I could do it better and that I would get it right.

To prepare us for the real world of designing and making, we were encouraged to work to 'live briefs', projects set by industry giants such as the Goldsmiths Company, Sainsbury's Home, and Wedgwood, among many others. These briefs often included strict technical criteria, but allowed for a broad scope of ideas. I found these briefs a brilliant exercise in applying my own ideas and style to a client's brief, and learned a lot by working in this way.

In my second year I designed what would go on to become Copper Series, working to a live brief by Sainsbury's Home. I was lucky enough to win an award for that project and along with that I won a two-week placement at the Sainsbury's Home design studio in Coventry. This was a fantastic experience and a fascinating insight into the workings of a large commercial design studio. 

My time at Sainsbury's helped me to decide how I would move forward with my designing and making career. Having worked in a commercial design studio, I realised what I really loved was making. The team at Sainsbury's Home are brilliant and taught me loads, but I could not escape the fact that there was no actual making involved. I decided that for the immediate future, i would continue down the path of being a designer-maker and keep the option of working as a designer for a large commercial company as a potential career move for later in life.

My 3rd and final year of university came around quickly and from the offset was hard, fast and fun. This year I was keen to move away from designing and making conventional tableware and explore something a little more conceptual and sophisticated. After a lengthy sketchbook project over the summer prior to 3rd year, I started making strange and functionless plaster blocks. These blocks interlocked and connected to each other in a really satisfying way and didn't do anything, their function was to be impressive objects in their own right and to be satisfying to handle and look at. Over the course of the full year, this project developed, with help from tutors and visiting lecturers, into my Locate collection. This collection explores ideas of permanent use; working functionally as plates, platters or centrepieces or used for display as wall mounting ceramic art.

This long project was exhausting and difficult to produce, posing some real technical challenges. Often times I wished I had chosen to make something a little simpler, but executed it perfectly, however with hindsight I can see that I am better maker now for having chosen to tackle something difficult. 

dont miss

Copper Series

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With the end of our course came our degree show, the culmination of the 3 years of work. The 30 or so of us in my year worked together to organise and run the show at our university, which was by all accounts a resounding success. I remember feeling so proud of our collective achievements and also of my close friends, who i had seen and shared minor breakdowns, tantrums, life struggles and tears with. The icing on the cake of it all was to be awarded the PotClays Graduate Award 2019, for my Locate collection.

After the degree show, myself and a dozen others were lucky to be selected from our year group to exhibit our work at New Designers 2019. This is the top graduate design show in the UK, representing the top 3000 design graduates from a multitude of disciplines and the UK's top creative universities. It was an incredible experience and a real eye opener, in terms of the work that goes into exhibiting at such a large and prestigious show. It was a pleasure to see other graduates amazing work, attend inspirational talks and most of all to talk with members of the public and top design industry professionals about our work.

Having graduated I was selected to be one of three Artists in Residence at my university, an amazing opportunity to access all of the workshops and equipment for free for a full year and continue to develop our creative practices and businesses. I loved this role so much, it gave me complete freedom to make and design without worrying about being marked or graded and also gave me access to the amazing technical staff and all of their knowledge and skills. Furthermore, i was able to act as a kind of informal mentor to younger students on my course and others, offering advice on technical issues and other projects, something i was glad to do as my way of giving back to the university and course i enjoyed so much. 

Sadly, my residency was cut short by 6 months with the onset of the Corona Virus pandemic, which was a huge loss for me. Every cloud has it's silver lining though, as this forced me to mobilise and buy myself a kiln and find a studio to make in. Its funny thinking about it now, 4 years ago making was a hobby for me, now it is a fact of life; I need somewhere to make, its my passion, my profession and my addiction or compulsion.