My Shillington Story by Sam Grainger

I’m Sam Grainger, a graphic designer and illustrator based in Sheffield and a recent graduate of Shillington. I work for FYI Studios in Sheffield, UK. I can often be found in a pub. I have ambitions to, one day, play a basketball match without getting myself injured. If you have a dog, I will find it and I will pet it. I’d choose a pencil and paper over a computer every time. I’m a fortunate and proud (for this season at least…) Norwich City supporter. I have a dog, a cat, and four chickens. I don’t play my guitar as much as I should do.

Here’s my Shillington story to hopefully encourage future designers in the making to take that leap!

Disillusioned and bored stiff in a marketing role, I spent plenty of mornings, meetings, lunchtimes, afternoons and more meetings daydreaming about finding a job I cared about. Graphic Design had always interested me and I’d heard about Shillington before, but the costs, travel logistics and other flimsy excuses all stopped me going after something I knew I’d enjoy and thrive at.

A lucky run in with a transit van on my cycle to work one morning knocked some sense into me. Two months of sitting at home with a broken arm in a sling gave me plenty of time to think, and plenty of time to make the decision to take on the part-time Shillington course in Manchester. I may have been off my nut on opioids and paracetamol, but it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

Shillington was pretty much nine months of naivety, elation, coffee shakes, tinnies on the train home doodling icons and logos and thumbnails over and over and over again, Design Matters podcasts, uncontrollable frustration, countless “oooh yeah…” moments, pure joy at getting a project done and “signed-off”, numbing confusion, portfolio week sleep deprivation, Ginsters pasties and more sighing than an Eastender’s episode.

It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t impossible either. I still miss it, and probably will for a while—it was one of the best experiences I’ve had.

Those nine months flew by, and we were all celebrating with free alcohol and bang tidy portfolios at graduation before we knew it. My time at Shillington was made even better by the endless patience and support from tutors, Lou and Katie, and the amazing bunch of talented, hilarious, inspiring and hard-working mad heads I got to share the course with. We all finished as friends with a shared achievement, couldn’t ask for more than that.

In October 2018, three months after graduating, I was offered a junior designer role at FYI Studios in Sheffield.

That job offer came exactly one year and one day from when I first sat down at my mac with my notebook at Shillington, shitting myself and hoping I wasn’t too bad at graphic design.

Turns out I was bad at it, but that’s why I was doing the course. I clearly needed it. All worked out eventually! The transition from studying part-time at Shillington to a full-time role as a Junior Designer in a busy studio has definitely had its challenges, but without the first-hand experience, practical knowledge and an industry-ready portfolio I gained at Shillington, I wouldn’t have got close to landing that junior role.

I’m pretty buzzing to see where the creative industry takes me. Here’s some pearls of wisdom to any students who are starting Shillington soon:

  1. Put in the hours. Your tutors can tell when you haven’t. No excuses, just do the work.
  2. Keep pushing. When you think you’ve explored every single possible creative avenue you can take your design down, explore a few more.
  3. Silence your self-doubt. Turn the volume right down on that part of your brain, it’s not helpful. Just put your head down and get stuff done.
  4. Listen to your tutors. Design is subjective, but your tutors know what they’re talking about. Listen good.
  5. It’s okay to be that guy with four tinnies on the last train to Sheffield as long as you’re doing thumbnails.

Huge thanks to Sam for sharing his Shillington story! Be sure to check out his website and follow him on Instagram.

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