Ellise Collins

Ellise Collins tell us her story

My name is Ellise Collins I am 27 years old, I studied BA (Hons) Graphic Design at South Essex College from 2014 – 2017 and this is my story.

I left school in 2012 and attended South Essex College of Further and Higher Education from 2012 - 2014 on the UAL Level 3 Ext Diploma course in Art & Design. I had always enjoyed art at school, so I thought a BTEC in that subject was the right path for me.

Once I completed my BTEC, I was then a little stuck with where to go next. I applied for lots of unis, but it was Lee who struck up a meeting with John Chandler to apply for the Graphic Design degree. I didn’t know which direction to take, fine art, graphic design or interior design. 
I chose to study at South Essex College because I initially felt that the lecturers were so understanding and approachable that it made me feel like it was the right decision to trust them. The graphic design courses sounded so diverse too. It ranged to lessons in fine art, to design, to animation, printmaking and photography so I thought by trying it all I’d hope to find one area that I would gravitate towards.

I was a fine artist at heart, but it was both Lee and John that suggested I give it a go, as they could see potential in me to go that way. I then studied on the BA (Hons) Graphic Design degree course from 2014-2017 where I learnt many skills sets and honed my craft as a graphic designer, but also printmaker. Looking back, I am so incredibly grateful of the three lecturers on that course because they all supported me and gave me the confidence as an aspiring graphic designer, Dave Welsh, John Chandler and Hannah Miller. You three are my shining stars. I received a first-class honours in graphic design.

My time at South Essex College gave me invaluable experience within the field. Having industry-led briefs in the third year gave me an understanding of what sort of work would be required of me and time frames. Deadlines! That was something that I thought was so difficult at university because I just wanted to spend my time learning, researching and creating and having a deadline was so difficult. Little did I know deadlines would be so much shorter in working life.
The best thing about doing further and higher education is learning your craft and honing your skillset. Exploring the endless opportunities that’s on offer. Spending hours on end researching and producing work that you then bounce ideas of other students and lecturers and push your ideas to the fullest. Also, the amount of time you have to try new techniques to know what you feel is most enjoyable.

During the Graphic Design degree we used software that I still use day-to-day now. Adobe Creative Suite is invaluable as a designer, that’s our go-tos. I learnt pure basics and university on Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign and it enabled me to take these fundamental skills into the industry and progress.

Since graduation, I have been fortunate enough to have worked consistently. Beginning as a junior designer at start-up companies, to print production companies to local agencies. Through doing this, I’ve gained so much valuable experience which has enabled me to where I am today. 
Also, in my spare time, I do freelance graphic design work and run my own Etsy shop selling my linocut prints. I also do signwriting and lettering jobs where I can and have exhibited my work in places such as Brick Lane’s Truman Brewery and Beecroft Art Gallery. I’ve attended local art fairs and pop-up shops around Essex selling my work too, which has been great networking with likeminded artistic local talent.

I’m currently working as a creative designer at Swan Creative, Leigh on Sea.
I am working on concept work for international theme parks such as Merlin Entertainment and Parques Reunidos. Designing concepts and Point of Sale for restaurants within their parks in Germany, USA and the UK. Every day is different at Swan, no day is the same. My work ranges from creating logos, to producing full-fledged brands and working with the team to create solid brand guidelines and marketing suites. Lots of print related work comes through Swan too and aiding the marketing team in producing social media graphics and email banners. I also help the Swan team produce work internally, so I work on producing mock-ups for our website and creating eye catching animations to go across our social platforms.
Through working at many different companies, I have gained experience to be the creative designer I am today. 

Before I would say I was primarily a fine art inspired graphic designer, but I create such diverse work now that blurs the lines of graphic design. From an animator, digital designer, interior designer, photographer, copywriting, social media creator and beyond. It’s being an all-rounded designer that matters.

My favourite memory of being at the college is for our final major project in year three of the degree, we needed to fundraise money to pay for our exhibition at DA&D New Blood in Truman Brewery Brick Lane. As a team, we decided to reach out to all our favourite artists, designers, illustrators, typographers that we admired and see if they would provide us with pieces of work that we could auction. It was honestly a long shot but as a year group we all worked together to compile a list. Incredibly, so many replied and helped support us. From the likes of Printmakers such as Alan Kitchener and Anthony Burrill to Illustrators Oliver Jeffers and Chris Riddell and the ultimate graphic design god to us, David Carson. I suppose our story resonated with each of them as being students, starting off in the world and trying to get out work out there.

They each sent us their work and we were able to auction off the artwork at an event  held in the 1st floor gallery of the college The money gained from this enabled us to put on our end of year show. It was great teamwork and the local newspaper also got involved.

I love working within this industry, yes every job has its ups and downs. But at the end of the day, I work every day to create. When people ask me what my job is and I say, ‘graphic designer’, most say ‘what’s that?’ and that’s true, what even is it? It’s purely whatever you want it to be. The work is so diverse, and I feel like I work on so many different projects and switch my hat to so many different job roles and it’s all under the bracket of being a graphic designer and that’s exciting to me.

So, I’d hope to continue working in agencies and working freelance on the side, doing my printmaking and hand lettering work that I enjoy. Perhaps in the future, I’d love to teach and become a lecturer to inspire students the way that John, Dave and Hannah did for me on the course, that would be perfect. I could only hope I could do half as good as what they did for me.

Success stories

Georgia Nichols

Georgia Nichols

Course studied

My greatest achievement so far, is when I spent six months in the Royal Opera House

My name is Georgia Nichols ,I am 23 and in my second year of the Costume Construction BA course, and I am hoping to achieve a Level 3 Diploma in Garment Making.

I am currently doing an apprenticeship, working at the Royal Opera House in the ladies costume production workroom. My job requires making costumes for new opera and ballet productions at the Royal Opera House. I applied for the apprenticeship when I saw it online. At my interview, I did some simple sewing tasks and brought in a portfolio of a few things I had made. There's a wide variety of types of costumes that we make, some days we're all working on tutus and some days they are big ballgowns! 
Before my apprenticeship, I was working an unrelated administration job and taught myself how to sew for fun during lockdown. The apprenticeship gave me an opportunity to enter into my dream career, which I didn't think would be possible without doing a four-year university degree.
I chose to study at South Essex Colleges Group because the Costume Construction BA course is closely tied to the Royal Opera House, which is why it's the course the apprentices are put on so it gives you incredible opportunities you wouldn’t get elsewhere.
I've learned a lot of new techniques during my time at college. It's really useful to get as many different types of guidance as possible. It's really important to have multiple different methods of doing things, taught by a wide diversity of different people, both in the workroom and at college. I like to pick and choose which methods I want to use in my work, and it makes me a better maker.

The best thing about doing higher education is the space to experiment and ask questions to further my craft. Taking the time to really understand things is really important for my learning. I've learned a really wide array of technical sewing skills which have proved really valuable every day, both from college and my workplace. Working across both environments has also given me experience in adapting to different work places and styles, my teacher will do something different to my workroom manager, so I get to experience both sides of that and broaden my knowledge.
My greatest achievement so far, is when I spent six months in the Royal Opera House men's workroom, and just completed an 11-week tailoring unit in college, and I'm really proud of the advancements I've made in tailoring specifically since I started my apprenticeship. It's a tricky craft, and I really didn't expect to enjoy it as much as I do, but it's my favourite part of costume now!
I'm looking forward to freelancing after I graduate in August this year. I want to get as much experience as possible, and I'm excited to branch out into doing some film costume as well as continue my theatre journey.

Jordan Smee My Story

Jordan Smee My Story

Course studied

My greatest achievement so far has been my interview with Lv.80, it was an unexpected surprise as I wasn’t ready for the project I had released at that point to gain so much traction and gain their attention

My name is Jordan Smee, I am 25 years old, I studied Computer Games Development at University Centre South Essex from 2018 until 2020 and this is my story.

I was born and raised in Essex to a middle class family, in the countryside of the Dengie Area.

During my time at the college between 2015-2017 while I was doing my two years BTEC course, I was encouraged by the head of the games course at the time to consider staying on at the college to continue into the university course, and after reviewing a number of options within other universities I decided to heed that advice, as at the time the university offered a more broad course structure to some of the others which had more narrow and closely defined subjects. This was useful because at the time of choosing I had little real knowledge of the industry and didn’t know where I wanted to go within it.

During my time at the university, I had a genuinely great experience. From the moment I joined, to the moment I left, I was supported by both the tutors and by my peers, and although I ended my time at the university at home due to the pandemic. Before that time I learned plenty and grew both as a creative and as a person.

The course lead was phenomenal at ensuring we were as prepared as possible, and taking a technical minded focus enabled me, who granted was more artist focused, to broaden my skillset and give me a chance to learn and explore other avenues within game development that I wouldn’t have otherwise been able to learn or capitalise on. In tandem to this, the events and industry connection we had and used in our visit to Bossa Studio did a great job and keeping me invested and in tune with some of the expectations people were expecting from within the industry.

Within my time at the university I was given the chance to broaden my skillset and explore the various different ways in which games can be made and how to approach that. The course primarily takes a technical focus the game development and so coding, tools programming etc. take presidency but it doesn’t mean we were limited to these points, instead these were usually pathways to lead us to explore other options, coding could lead into shader creation and understanding the mix between technical and artistic pursuit, tools programming gave us faster pipelines which could be expanded to create generative tools in Blender or Maya.

These skills have given me a solid baseline upon which I can now specialise and focus in on the parts of my industry that I love, and with those other skills in toe it means I am a more capable developer and can aid in more cases than I can’t and I wouldn’t be able to do that without the time I had to gain those skills.

Since completing my course at the university I have gone on to publish an interview of my work and process in 80.lv a well-known game development website and organisation that help to share information around the industry from development logs to interviews. I have also gone on to work with Surgent Studios a transmedia company that is currently working in partnership with EA Originals on an unannounced video game project.

I also recently joined the Grads in Games organisation as an industry advocate, helping to get more up and coming graduates into the industry.

I am currently working with Surgent Studios. I am a technical artist which requires me to act as the bridge between both the programming/design teams and the art team. This means that I will be doing a variety of shader creation, tool generation for artists, optimisation of assets and materials alongside implementations and blueprint work to ensure visual consistency. I have also recently taken on a number of VFX pieces, and thus in that I also create new VFX for various aspects of our game.

I had previously worked freelance both at an indie company and a modding project, Black Clover Games and Beyond Skyrim. From there I did some minor contract work and during the spring of 2021 I was approached for the position of Technical Artist for Surgent and applied and was lucky enough to get into the company.

Doing higher education means you can gain a better understanding and a broaden your skills for the industry you want. Additionally, if your course is able and can get you to industry events, these events can enable you to make numerous connections within the fields you are aiming for. I’ve known a number of current and past students already in the short time I’ve been in the industry who know a number of my colleagues due to events they’ve been able to go to, and I know that this has enabled those students to progress further than those who have not made those connections.

I also think for those who do pursue further or higher education, the education itself should inspire you to do additional work on yourself at home or wherever you are. Courses can only teach so much and while that could be seen as a negative, it can also be an impetus for a student to go on and learn things that have been missed or get answers to questions that the subject just doesn’t or can’t answer yet.

My time at the university really helped my confidence, I have never been the most confident person in the world, but being able to chat with other people who shared my interests but could also be critical of my work and enable me to keep growing both as a creative and a person, it massively helped me figure out myself and where I wanted to be in the fields I was interested in.

I’d recommend the UCSE for those who want to gain a baseline skillset that could enable them to specialise in any field that then takes their interest. Having an overall understanding of your subject will let you more accurately decide what area you want to pursue.

My greatest achievement so far has been my interview with Lv.80, it was an unexpected surprise as I wasn’t ready for the project I had released at that point to gain so much traction and gain their attention. The interview was great and I’m very proud of the published work.

I’m looking forward to the eventual release of the project I’m working on now, and in the future I plan to continue to just make interesting and exciting games that will give people new experiences.

Will Thatcher

Will Thatcher

Course studied

Graphic Design & Illustration BA (Hons)

My greatest achievement so far has been breaking into the industry of my choice at an agency where I am able to work with dream clients.

My name is Will Thatcher, I am 28 years old and I studied BA Graphic Design and Illustration at South Essex College until July 2023 after graduating with a first class, and this is my story.

I wasn’t a big fan of school when I was younger, so I did a Business Admin apprenticeship in London. I then stayed at that company for another four years working in IT but decided it wasn’t for me. I have always been passionate about art and design, so I came to South Essex college to pursue a more creative career. I first enrolled on the Access to HE Art & Design course for a year, which helped me solidify my choice of graphic design.

I have just finished a six-month internship as a Graphic Designer at West Ham United FC organised through the college. It was part-time, so I was lucky enough to be able to do this alongside my studies and continued this a few months after graduation. Working at a Premier League club was an unforgettable experience, and I learnt so much from it. I am very grateful to those involved, and I still can’t believe it happened.

I have just landed a job as a Graphic Designer at IMG | Seven League. They are a consultancy and digital marketing agency working with major sports brands such as the NFL, Premier League and NBA to increase fan engagement and attract new audiences.

My job involves working within the design team to come up with creative concepts for both client and internal briefs, such as social media campaigns, and producing exciting graphics to be used by the clients. Sport is super visual, and I get to work with different clients, each with unique identities, so no job is the same.

Having to give up my job to study full-time meant I knew I had to make myself as employable as possible. The great thing about Graphic design is that you can combine it with any passion. I am obsessed with sports, so this became the focus of most of my work, leading me to be selected for my West Ham internship. I also reached out to various football clubs for freelance work and developed passion projects. It was great for my portfolio and ultimately secured my current job. My advice to anyone studying for a creative degree is to push yourself and focus on a specific area/industry you would like to work in. It will make you stand out from the crowd.

I chose to study at South Essex because they offer a variety of courses on my doorstep. It allowed me to study while living at home, close to my family and friends. I also loved how diverse the college is, and I have made friends from all different backgrounds and ages. Enrolling on the Access to HE Art & Design course enabled me to try many mediums before making my choice.

Studying on my course allowed me to gain insights into the industry from my experienced lecturers and guest speakers. I learned design principles and essential skills such as Adobe Illustrator and printing methods.

The best thing about doing higher education was that I had the freedom, time, and space necessary to develop my knowledge and skills while under the guidance of my lecturers. It also gave me a lot of focus, which I may have struggled with if I had self-taught myself outside of my job.

I had no graphic design or media option at school, so everything was new, such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. I now consider myself skilled in them, but like everyone, I am still learning new things every day. We also learned how to present more effectively in crits to my peers and open myself up to feedback. Responding to feedback is a crucial skill in the creative industry, and the course provides a supportive and encouraging environment to help develop this.

The college provides access to Apple Macs with an Adobe Creative Cloud, which I previously had never used before. Although they are not absolutely necessary, it was good to learn how to use this industry-standard equipment and software. There are also brilliant printing facilities.

I would recommend South Essex College because it is a good option for anyone living locally who wants a supportive environment to learn at their own pace. A smaller number of students on each course also allows more interaction with your lecturer. You would rarely get this at larger institutions, and I don't think I would be at the same level I am elsewhere.

Coming here has massively helped me with my confidence. Before I came here, I wasn’t sure where life was going, but I realised it was the best decision I've made. Like anyone, I still have days of self-doubt, but these are much rarer now due to the strides I'm making and the encouragement of others.

My greatest achievement so far has been breaking into the industry of my choice at an agency where I am able to work with dream clients. I always knew I wanted to work for major brands. I still have to pinch myself.

I want to continue working in sports and have ambitions to be a creative director one day, as I enjoy motivating others and hearing other perspectives and ideas.