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Every picture tells a story

Guest posts

Faculty: Arts, Humanities, Education and Social Sciences
School: Cambridge School of Art
Course: BA (Hons) Illustration
Category: Art and design

25 September 2019

Alice Nguyen seated, holding up the cover of an illustrated book

The work I am doing now is so different from many of my colleagues - even though we were all on the same course - and that diversity is a testament to the freedom the course gives to students.

I hadn't even considered applying to Cambridge School of Art until my A-level Fine Art tutor insisted that I should check it out if I wanted to do a degree in illustration. I went along to an Open Day and remarkably, Course Leader Chris Draper answered all my questions and concerns before I even voiced them. Three years later, I still think it was one of the best choices I’ve ever made.

I really adored the fact that the course is so focused on drawing, especially as the art school was founded by John Ruskin. It pushed me out of my creative comfort zone and let me grow and discover things about myself I never knew, all the while never trying to force me into any box. On that Open Day Chris said 'We have no ‘house styles’ here' – and for that I am truly grateful. The work I am doing now is so different from many of my colleagues, even though we were all on the same course and that diversity is a testament to the freedom the course gives to students.

Fairy tale illustration by Alice Nguyen. Two men in green doublets, a woman in a pink dress, a man leans against a wall in an alcove beyond them
Fairy tale style illustration by Alice Nguyen. A man walking through a forest, text written against clouds of chimney smoke from the small village behind
Fairy tale style illustration by Alice Nguyen. A woman walks through a forest, text is displayed against tangled tree branches

Throughout the three years, the tutors could not have been more supportive. Outside official teaching time, whatever you need help with (be that academic struggles, stress levels, or which type of murder method would make for the most aesthetically pleasing composition), all you needed to do was grab them and they would drop everything to help you out. The course is also extremely mindful of the practical side of things. They do not want us to become a day-dreaming, sketchbook-worshipping cult, but to graduate as fully-fledged illustrators, ready to take on that career full time, so the focus on professional practice in the third year was very helpful and reassuring.

During the course, I also got to work on live briefs, such as making bus posters for Headway Cambridgeshire’s project, 'IMPACT! Brain Injuries & WW1'. This enabled me to experience first hand what life as a full-time illustrator is like. The Degree Show and New Designers at the end of the third year were also fantastic platforms that the course provided for us to launch our careers. They allowed us to network and establish relationships with potential future clients like NoBrow Press, Folio Society, the House of Illustration, etc.

As for me now, with the help of the University’s initiative, the Startup Lab, I'm launching my own illustration and crafts business, Mushroom Nook Studio – focusing on bringing a little bit of magic into everyday adulthood. The concept came to me after spotting a gap in the market for illustrations and unique home décor products aimed specifically at adults, so that is exactly what I am setting out to do. I am very excited about this venture. It's something I could not have done without the support of so many people both from my course and the Startup Lab. Watch this space!

Alice Nguyen

Interested in studying illustration at ARU like Alice? Visit the course page to find out more, or book your place at one of our Open Days


The views expressed here are those of the individual and do not necessarily represent the views of Anglia Ruskin University. If you've got any concerns please contact us.