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The experience that took Joanna Spicer’s work from ‘formulaic and lacklustre’ to ‘spontaneous and honest’

6 October 2016

Part of the MA Show featured artists and designers series

Our annual MA Show showcases an exciting variety of work by emerging and established artists and designers, who have undertaken postgraduate study with us.

To celebrate the show, we'll be focusing on some of our favourite pieces from this year's exhibition, as well as the opinions and experiences of the students that have created them.

In this latest piece in our series, MA Illustration student Joanna Spicer shares how her postgraduate journey took her from a point of artistic stagnation to rediscovering her enthusiasm for her practice.

‘I felt completely disconnected from my work’

‘I had worked as a freelance illustrator for commercial clients across editorial and design. While finding this an exciting and challenging job, I noticed that my work had become a pastiche of itself. Where I had once associated making work with magical and exciting feelings, it has become formulaic and lacklustre. Additionally, the pressures of working as a programme leader to undergraduate students on an illustration programme, reinforced that my practice has become mechanical and stale.

I felt completely disconnected to my work, as I had no time to be creative and this caused me a lot of anxiety.

The decision to undertake an MA, offered the opportunity of the space and time to engage with my own practice on a very personal level, with the prospect of being able to reflect upon and reinvigorate my approach. I chose to study at Manchester School of Art, as it was local, offered the option to study part-time over two years, which would fit around my full-time job and the course also had a great reputation.’

‘I did not pre-empt the journey that the MA would take me on.’

'The initial starting point was simply to ‘draw dance’, an idea which evolved through childhood memories of dreaming of being a ballerina. Looking at traditional and contemporary dance, I made connections between drawing, the body and dance and attempted to convey movement and document ‘traces of dance’

My working method began to transform from being formulaic and tight, as it had been, to more fluid and unpredictable. I began drawing ‘off the page’ and using more tangible and tactile materials. My perception of ‘what’ drawing was or could be shifted. I discovered that I create ‘meaning’ through drawing and creative writing has uncovered a very personal narrative thread throughout.

This culminated in my drawings and poems, being used as a stimulus for GCSE dance students at Fallibroome Academy in Macclesfield, where it offered a model for teaching and become a teacher’s handbook. I relinquished control of the meaning of my work and the dancers ‘illustrated’ it, but they had transformed its meaning to become personal interpretations.’

‘I have wholly embraced my new approach to work, which is much more spontaneous and honest’

‘My tutor has been amazing throughout all of my fear and self-doubt that post-graduate study has presented me with. I was steered away from my own barriers and led towards embracing making work in ways far less controlling. I have wholly embraced my new approach to making work, which is much more spontaneous and honest. In a sense I have ‘surrendered’ what I deemed to be the way I work and opened it up. It has been truly a joy to be able to see work as a process, without focusing on an end result, and being released from constraints.

For anyone thinking of doing an MA, especially if you feel a bit rusty, do it! Trust yourself and allow yourself to be vulnerable, excited, ready to collaborate and open to the unexpected’

You can see Joanna's work at our MA Show until 8 October. To find out more information about the show, its opening times and to view other students' work visit:

Want to hear from more exhibiting designers and artists? You can find previous pieces from our MA Show featured artists and designers series on our news page.