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Getting Into… Fine Art: advice for current students and graduates

Illustration of someone in a gallery
Illustration of someone in a gallery
Explore Your Career Ambitions, by Gracie Dahl
Written by
Eleanor Harvey
Published date
22 February 2021

Back in January, three University of the Arts London (UAL) Fine Art graduates spoke openly and honestly about life post-university in the online event, ‘Getting Into… Fine Art’. Chaired by Wendy Chapple, Associate Lecturer and Printmaking tutor at Central Saint Martins (CSM), Ildikó Buckley, Sam Mogelonsky and Puneeta Sharma shared their advice on what to expect when you first graduate, balancing your practice with making money, and how to start building your network. We’ve rounded up the highlights for you below.

About the speakers:

Selfie of Ildikó smiling into the camera infront of a collage
Ildikó Buckley

Ildikó Buckley

  • PG Diploma Fine Art (2007) Chelsea College of Arts
  • MA Fine Art (2008), Chelsea

Ildikó is a Berlin-based artist. She is the co-creator of the now-iconic YES sculpture that has been touring publicly since 2011. In 2018 her work featured in the book ‘The Word is Art’ by Dr Michael Petry, alongside works by Tracey Emin and Jake and Dinos Chapman. She has shown in Art Fairs both in Germany and Hong Kong and is held in collections internationally including The David Roberts Art Foundation and the private collection of Richard Greer. Ildikó is currently working on a long term project with The FACE magazine and co-curating an upcoming show in Berlin featuring 2 fellow UAL alumni.

Headshot of Sam smiling into camera, in a black top and a white blazer
Sam Mogelonsky

Sam Mogelonsky

  • MA Fine Art (2007), CSM

Sam is a Toronto-based artist, curator, designer and arts professional. Currently, Sam is the Director of Arts, Culture and Heritage for the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of Greater Toronto and works with the Kultura Collective, a network of contemporary Toronto-based Jewish Arts, Culture and Heritage organisations. In her artistic practice, Sam’s sculptures use embellishment to speak to notions of craft production and decoration. She has received grants from the Toronto Arts Council, the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts.

Selfie of Puneeta smiling into the camera
Puneeta Sharma

Puneeta Sharma

  • Foundation Art and Design (2005), CSM
  • BA (Hons) Fine Art (2009), CSM
  • MA Paper Conservation (2014), Camberwell College of Arts

Puneeta is Assistant Paper Conservator in the Prints and Drawings department at Royal Collection Trust (RCT), based at Windsor Castle. Her role includes the preparations of artworks for exhibitions, loans and display, and the ongoing maintenance of the collection.

What to expect when you graduate

Something a lot of people struggle with when they graduate is having no idea what they want to do next. Puneeta and Sam both experienced this; “I thought I wanted to be a professor, I really had no idea how the world worked” laughs Sam. One thing that Puneeta found was that knowing what she didn't want to do was a helpful way of navigating the graduate jobs market, “I knew the things I didn’t enjoy during my degree,” she says, meaning she was able to eliminate jobs or opportunities that weren’t right for her.

Ildikó on the other hand always had a very clear idea of what she wanted to do but knew that in the beginning at least, she’d have to do something else alongside to support herself financially; “I’ve known since I can remember that this is what I wanted to do, but I also wanted to support my art with teaching. Teaching keeps everything fresh and energised, introduces me to new people and makes me take steep learning curves, which ultimately is reflected back into my work.”

In the meantime, for Sam, the best thing you can do is “enjoy this time! Take advantage of everything the university has... and ask questions.” Ildikó agrees, you just need to “focus on what you’re making. You can leave pretty much everything else until after you graduate!”.

Sparkly, oversized sculpture of the word 'YES' in front of a stone building.
YES by Ildikó Buckley and Jane Palmer 2013 The Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich, London. Image courtesy of Nick Caro Photography

Starting your career

Whilst the dream is always to be able to live entirely off the money you make from selling your work, this isn’t always the case, at least not straight after graduating. Sam points out that there’s actually quite a lot of life admin to being an artist; her first piece of advice: save your receipts. “If you have an artistic practice you're making money out of, you're essentially a small business so you should start saving your receipts for your taxes”.

Balancing your personal practice with earning money can be tough; “you’ve got to be flexible and inventive to find ways to earn money as and when you need to” says Ildikó. Sam adds “I try to ensure that my art sales/freelance/curatorial work pays for themselves and my studio. I realised early on that I probably wouldn't make a lot of money off of my practice and that until I could, I would have a primary 9-5 job. This relieved the stress of trying to make ‘saleable’ work, and I looked for roles that would use my skill set while keeping me engaged with the cultural world and arts community.”

It can be disheartening when you apply for exhibitions, competitions, jobs and you don’t get them, but Ildikó highlights that it’s all part of the process, “don’t get hung up when something doesn’t work out. You just have to dust yourself off and see what you can learn from it; there’s always something else around the corner.”

Another piece of advice that came up was the need to try things out. After her BA Puneeta thought she wanted to go into Art Psychotherapy, so she took on a volunteering role for an Arts Therapy team in London “but I found this wasn’t for me”. During a trip to India, she became aware of the ancient heritage that exists in buildings, sculptures and paintings, “I became fascinated with how artefacts from hundreds of years ago could survive the testament of time, and then I wondered, ‘who were the people responsible for caring for these treasures?’” This began her research into conservation and in 2012 Puneeta started the MA Paper Conservation at Camberwell.

Sequins arranged in multicoloured circular patterns on foam
Target Practice, 2012 by Sam Mogelonsky. Collection of The Robert McLaughlin Gallery.

Building your network

One thing that all three of our speakers agreed on was the importance of creating a network, and it’s not as hard as it may seem. “Expand your network of classmates and stay connected,” says Sam, “you'll need support from one another”. Ildiko agrees; “when you first come out of university that network you have is how you’re going to make shows happen so utilise it and be each other's champions. I count my fellow Chelsea and UAL friendships as being some of the most important, nurture them and support each other.”

Ildikó adds that it can take a while for opportunities to start arising, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth investing the time, “a lot of stuff has happened from people at university and through contacts I made through Chelsea. If you’re supportive of other people then you’ll get introduced to more people and so on. You have to put in the effort but it’s also enjoyable!.” Whilst networking can seem impossible at the moment Puneeta points out that you can ask people you admire for a virtual coffee. Whilst you might not get a response from everyone, “someone will reply, and you never know where it will lead.”

Sam’s last key piece of advice for networking successfully is following up; “if I’m in a great meeting with someone and they asked me to send something over, I don't wait a week. I will send a ‘following up’ email and summarise our exchange and attach whatever they asked for.”

Woman drawing
Royal Collection Trust / © Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II 2020

Get in touch

We’d like to thank Ildikó, Sam and Puneeta for offering up their time to speak to students and recent graduates and giving such wonderful insight into their career’s to date. Also a massive thank you to Wendy for chairing this event and offering her invaluable expertise throughout the discussion.

Wendy Chapple:

Ildikó Buckley:

Sam Mogelonsky:

Puneeta Sharma:

Continued support from UAL

There's lots of support across UAL for current students and recent graduates figuring out their next steps.

  • For advice on how to make a living doing what you love, head to Careers and Employability
  • Find out about the benefits you can access as part of the UAL Alumni Association. From free events to utilising UAL’s international creative network, and receiving discounts on short courses to continue your learning
  • All UAL alumni have access to the job opportunities on Arts Temps, regardless of when they graduated. The roles offer flexible hours and a great way to gain industry experience and build skills.