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The Tunnel Magazine Survival Guide: Settling into your first year creative course

Part 1: Welcome to your new home – The Studio

It’s about 11pm on a cold winter’s night in the depths of November. I’ve just dived into my flat and already the tears are streaming down my face as I cry hysterically down the phone to my mum. It’s been yet another long, tiring day in the studio and once again I’m stressing out about how much work I supposedly have to do over Christmas; I feel absolutely drained.

This was a pretty low point in my course but one which I later realized a lot of students go through, but very few talk about. Being on a creative course can be an extremely challenging and tiresome experience, and there is an awful lot to get used to; most definitely NOT the smooth sailing that many people outside the Arts may assume.

Personally I found it a difficult transition from an art class of eight to a studio year of eighty-eight, but the advice I received from fellow students and lecturers along the way helped me eventually overcome my anxieties and settle in fine.

For this 2-part article I have compiled the most important lessons learned and tips received during my first year at The Bartlett, so hopefully some of you don’t feel quite as stressed as I did, on the cusp of beginning your creative degrees. I hope this helps!

So you think you’re special? Think again…

In high school my class was renowned for its success in Art & Design, and I have to admit I felt like a big fish in a small pond. People saw me as the art guy, a creative; my school even named me “Artist of the Year” for God’s sake! I’d be lying if I said it didn’t make me feel special.

But on arrival at UCL for my architecture course, I was shocked to find that everyone and their dog was that kid who lived, breathed and made love to their art. Suddenly I wasn’t special at all, and I have to say my confidence took a real knock. However, the sooner you too face up to this fact, the sooner you’ll begin to improve and really push your work to heights you never imagined it could reach!

It doesn’t always have to be a competition

To try and regain confidence in my work I began to see everything as a competition, I felt I HAD to be the the best. However, in doing so, I began to horde my ideas, as if they were gold dust. But after the first couple of months I realized that my work wasn’t improving as much as my course mates.

It wasn’t until a much appreciated bit of advice from my head of year that I started to find my inner creativity again: “don’t be so precious with your ideas, always give away as much as you gain, and never forget you are part of a year group”.

University is a brilliant opportunity to both learn from, and be inspired by some truly incredible people. Through constant debate and conversation with your peers you will gradually form new ideas and opinions, as well as challenge those that are existing. In the words of my year coordinator: “You will learn far more from each other, than you ever could from your tutors.” So relax, life’s not all about competing.

Getting your priorities right

A tough but true point to swallow came from a particularly dry, yet fiercely intelligent professor who stated: “you will make discoveries that to you will seem monumental and groundbreaking, but yet have already been explored thoroughly by countless before you”. Jeez! Talk about deflating! However, having mulled that statement over for months now, I’ve realized that unless I constantly question my work, and where I’m heading I can never hope to progress and eventually have that true eureka moment! There is a whole world of knowledge and information out there that is waiting for you to discover, so just enjoy the journey and don’t worry about desperately trying to find the next “big idea”, it’ll find you.

Your most important relationship in first year

Working with a tutor can seem quite alien to many new students. They are there to bounce ideas off and steer you in the right direction. Most importantly, they’ll help you unlock your true potential and discover what you’re most interested in. I was fortunate enough to be tutored by Ifigeneia Liangi, an extremely talented and inspiring young Greek architect whose amazing work you can check out here: http://liangifi.blogspot.co.uk/

But remember, they are NOT there to do the work for you. You must learn not only to take responsibility for your own studies, but at times also take their advice with a pinch of salt. A brilliantly written article by an anonymous academic in The Architects’ Journal (special student edition, 25/07/2014, No.4, Volume 240) entitled: 12 Things I wish I could say to my students, explains very eloquently the unique student/tutor relationship and how best to make it work. For convenience I have included the double-spread scan in this post.

The Architects’ Journal

Special student edition, No.4, Volume 240, 25/07/2014

Ifigeneia told me on several occasions that she produced her best work when she was most relaxed and happy. Only then did the creativity truly flow.

In Part 2 next week, I’ll be sharing how I dealt with stress in my first year and how I’m continually learning how best to balance my work time with my down time. Not to mention how to capture that elusive moment of inspiration.

Rory Turner is a second year student at the Bartlett School of Architecture, UCL.

Screen Shot 2015-09-07 at 13.06.23

Transcribing by Managing Editor Katie Carson.

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