Alexandra Francis studied Fine Art at university but graduated knowing that it wasn’t her future. Four months later she enrolled for the full time course at Shillington and graduated three months later, knowing exactly what she wanted from the future. Since graduating, Alex has got a job with Flow Creative, co-founded a zine with some fellow Shillington graduates, is working with Ladies, Wine & Design in Manchester and is doing amazing things on social media! Sky’s the limit for Alex.
Read on to discover how Alex got her job through posting on Instagram, what inspires her beautiful illustrations and how Alex and her friends/fellow Shillington graduates are celebrating female-identifying designers.
Why did you choose to study graphic design at Shillington? What made you choose our course?
I had just graduated in June and I was unsure about what I wanted to do. I knew someone who did Shillington, raved about it and got a job soon after finishing the course. After hearing that, I went to an Info Session and booked myself onto the September course immediately after.
You previously studied Fine Art, why did you decide to add graphic design to your roster? How did Shillington enhance your skillset?
I finished my degree knowing I didn’t want to be a fine artist—I knew I could draw and think creatively but I didn’t know what to do with that in the real world. Graphic design appealed to me because I loved the idea of making something to help someone else, but what stopped me was my lack of experience in the Adobe programs.
Shillington taught me everything I needed to know to be a junior designer right off the bat and pushed my creative thinking to make something meaningful, not just pretty.
We have been absolutely loving your work recently. What kind of things have you been working on?
Thank you! I’ve been working through the alphabet for about a year now—I’m currently on numbers. I set myself the challenge to do a letter a week and it’s really nice to look back on how my approach and style has grown over time. I accidentally lined the letters on top of each other in my Instagram grid so it forces me to create something otherwise it would mess it up!
Tell us about your process—what inspires your illustrations?
Experimentation. I see my illustrations as just for me to mess about with new techniques that I learn and if other people like them then it’s a bonus!
I constantly want to try out new ways of making which is reflected in the fact that I don’t really have a consistent style but I think that’s okay. I am enjoying figuring out my style and playing with Procreate or Illustrator.
Would you be able to tell us about Make Room Zine?
Myself and two other Shillington graduates, Nina Hamer and Katie O’Rourke, wanted to make something together about being female-identifying graphic designers. The name is about being a bit sassy and forcefully creating space to celebrate women. We rented a Risograph that couldn’t be changed from German (none of us speak German), learnt how to bind our zine and even market ourselves on social media. The first issue is all about beginnings and we have interviewed some local graphic designers about their experience in becoming a designer. It was released in some fantastic book and magazine shops in Manchester and beyond last month!
As well as your personal and freelance work, you’re also a Designer and Illustrator at Flow Creative. Can you tell us about a recent professional project?
Earlier this year we worked with the National Lottery Heritage Fund to create an animation to launch their new funding scheme. I got to illustrate the entire animation, create landscapes and characters that would later be brought to life by the talented animators I work with. The film was about celebrating all the different kinds of heritage in the UK so I got to draw everything from steam trains to deer. It was such a fun project and felt nice to work on something that is benefiting society.
On top of this, you’ve also been helping out with the fantastic Ladies Wine & Design in Manchester. Can you explain what it is for those who don’t know?
Ladies Wine & Design is a community set up by the legendary Jessica Walsh in New York. The community grew globally and now there are different Ladies Wine and Design hubs in loads of different cities all over the world. In Manchester, the lovely Katy Cowan and Dani Molyneux, from Studio Dotto, organise free events for designers to get involved with.
I really believe in cultivating a community for female-identifying creatives to share their experiences, learn from and help each other.
We run everything from portfolio reviews to panel talks, it’s a really friendly and supportive community.
You’re really active on Instagram and Twitter. How important do you think this is in the industry? Can you give some advice to Shillington students about social media?
My Instagram landed me my current job! My creative director saw my illustrations and asked if I wanted to intern a few months later. That being said, social media can add a lot of unnecessary pressure on students so only have a social media presence if you want to have one. For me, it’s a creative outlet that I enjoy doing after work and I love interacting with other designers through different hashtags. If you want to start a social media for your design I’d say get involved with something like #36daysoftype or #inktober, it’s a great way to get started.
Did you make any lasting relationships with your teachers or other students? Are you still in contact with any of them?
Yes! We formed a big, weird family and we see each other nearly weekly. We’ve been on holiday together visiting students in our class who weren’t from Manchester and I’ll be going to one of my classmate’s wedding soon.
It’s nice to have a supportive community of people who are in the exact same position as you and who you can text asking for advice or if you’ve forgotten a shortcut!
What three pieces of advice would you give to a recent Shillington graduate?
1. Don’t compare yourself to your classmates, everyone will get jobs or internships at different speeds. You’ll find the right job for you in your own time.
2. Keep up the momentum!
It’s easy to slow down after graduating but it’s important to get keep making, honing your skills and being curious about design.
3. Get out to events. Manchester, for example, is full of design talks, portfolio reviews and exhibitions. Get your face out there and soak up the design around you—you never know who you’ll bump in to.
Massive thanks to Alex for sharing her story with us! Alex admits she has an “unhealthy addiction” to Instagram and Twitter so make sure to follow her to keep up to date on what she’s working on, and check out her website for more of her work. You can also follow Make Room Zine on Instagram and Twitter to watch the publication’s journey and see when it hits the shops!
Want to study graphic design at Shillington? Learn more about our 3 month full-time and 9 month part-time course in New York, London, Manchester, Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane.