Illustrating the point

As I sit to write this, I am surrounded by paints and pencils, text books and picture books, drawings and essay notes; in many ways, this jumbled clutter is a fairly accurate representation of me, my academic life in particular.

Before studying for my MA in Publishing at Plymouth Univesity, I earned an undergraduate degree in Illustration – not necessarily the most obvious starting point to a career whose roots lie in words, but pictures and text provide a classic counterpoint to each other, both in complement and contrast. This has lead me to possessing a strange duality, straddling the lines of publisher and illustrator. It can be an enlightening, complicated and uncomfortable position in equal measure, but the necessary flexibility has lead to greater insight from all different sides of the proverbial fence.

In the same way, my coursemates on the MA course have come from a huge variety of different disciplines: English; law; history; graphic design; journalism; French; architecture; I could go on. They all present this particular duality, too. This may seem obvious – after all, you need to do an undergrad degree before starting a Master’s – but to me, having spent three years surrounded by artists, bumping up against such a range of abilities was astonishing.

Working together on group tasks, our strengths came to the fore – as the artist of the group, I could offer aesthetic insight, the English graduate could finesse the text and the law student’s meticulous eye for detail would point out factors we might not have considered. We could become (if you’ll excuse the worn out cliché) like cogs in a wheel, each performing our own tasks quietly, diligently and without fuss – we applied our prior training to the ancient and ever changing business of books. Yet, we were not as independent from one another as cogs; in working in tandem with my fellow student publishers, I have picked up their knowledge as surely as I have learned from my tutors.

I had considered, when applying to MA courses, applying to a postgraduate illustration course – it was what I knew, what I’d been doing for years and would take almost no transitioning to get into the swing of study.

But there’s the problem – complacency. And that’s one thing which publishing certainly does not permit – in being surrounded by people as different from one another as, say, a picture book is from a text book, we do not allow each other to grow complacent.

While the world of publishing continues to grow and spread branches in new and unexpected areas, publishers themselves need to be as versatile; I’ve discovered during my course that, as a rule, we are. The positions we end up in may well be uncomfortable and complicated, but they allow growth, change, innovation. Being on the MA course has given me the chance to expose myself to a plethora of different skill sets and ideas – I’ve begun the long road to learning the art of versatility, and I don’t think that can be valued highly enough.

Rachel Rawlings has a BA in Illustration and is currently coming to the end of her study for an MA in Publishing at Plymouth University. She is a lover of dogs, horror and fantasy novels, illustrated children’s books and porridge; an M.E. sufferer and a feminist; a chronic doodler and shoe collector. She hopes to one day immortalise her greyhound Dan in a published picture book

This is part of a series of monthly blogs written by publishing students. To see the rest of the entries, click here.