March 2021: Life of an artist- Art student to Full Time Artist, my story… an insight so far!

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This week I was asked to chat to the upcoming graduates of GMIT/CCAM about life of as an artist and what I’ve learned so far.

I completed my undergrad degree in Fine Art at CCAM ten years ago and felt humbled to be asked to share my path so far. Some of the areas I talked about were doing an Masters degree in Fine Art (MFA), where to do an MFA & setting up/finding an art studio.

Graduating Art School

This was a real trip down memory lane for me as I tried to remember what I was thinking about as I was about to graduate from art school. I knew I wanted to do a Masters degree in Fine Art but hadn’t figured out where yet. I remember having really honest conversations with myself about how I apply myself to my work and would an MFA benefit me? After lots of pondering and interviews at other art schools ( New York Studio School, School of the Art Institute, Chicago & The Belfast School of Art) I decided to do my MFA at Central Saint Martins which is how I came to be based in London and yes, it definitely benefitted me because an MFA is more specific than an undergrad and it really pushed me to sophisticate and establish my own painting voice in my work.

Moving to London

Basing myself in London meant that I was thrown into a fantastically diverse, energetic and engaging art scene with loads of opportunities but at the same time it was tough. I remember feeling lonely at the beginning and wondering at the irony of feeling lonely in a city of 8 million people! It does get easier, once you find ‘your people’ and learn how to navigate your way through the streets of London to get to exhibition openings, open studio events, performances or lectures- it was all so accessible and exciting.

Finding a good art studio in London

At art school, I was told that your peers are the best starting point post-Uni because you can group together for exhibitions or start collectives. I didn’t have that opportunity when I graduated from CCAM as I went back on tour with Riverdance (my career pre-art school that I’ll need to do a journal post on as it was so informative to my artwork and was also an amazing experience!) to fund further studies and after I graduated from my MFA in London, most of my fellow students went back to the country they were from as it can be difficult to sustain yourself here post Uni. It’s expensive plus big cities aren’t for everyone (and this calls for another journal post about how to actually survive as a budding artist in one of the most expensive cities in the world- I have many stories!)

Instead, I found that basing myself in a good studio with artists who were making genuinely engaged artwork while developing their careers became my best starting point. The first couple of studios I had were dire, (I’m not exaggerating!) but once I got a space in a proper studio I began to really move forward because I was surrounding myself with supportive artists who were showing in major galleries or who were fresh out of Uni. Being part of a spectrum like that meant I had a wealth of knowledge around me about how the art world works & how artists work plus all the nuances in between, it was like a perfect breeding ground to grow from.

I strongly advise anyone who is about to graduate from art school to be proactive in your research for an MFA, think about the type of artist you would like to be, where you would like to place yourself- ask for help, reach out to other artists if these are difficult decisions to make.

#JustGoForIt !

Also, manifest what you want, think about how you can do this and about where you would like to place yourself in the art world. This will change and develop as you grow but having a starting point after graduation will make life a bit easier because figuring out a career as an artist can be tricky to navigate. I’ve made both good and bad decisions but that’s how I’ve learned. Go for it, there’s no right or wrong route when you’re working out your own narrative!



Aisling Drennan is an award-winning abstract artist with a London, UK-based art studio.

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