Why did you choose Leeds Arts University?
I moved to Leeds in 1999 from North Wales to do a BA in Classical Literature at the University of Leeds. I came straight from University and, to be honest felt that doing a more traditionally academic degree was a wise choice, as far as getting a decent job when I finished University. However, I really lost interest in my degree and after graduating I worked a variety of entry level jobs and pursued a musical career. When I reached 30, I had pretty much done everything I had ever wanted to do as a musician and the weight of working dead end jobs around tours and recording was getting heavier. So I decided to make a change. I had some success with my last group (The Plight) and we sold a song for a global television advert for Lucozade and like two other members of the band, wanted to use the money to go back to education and try and get my life on track. So I had already established a life in Leeds. Leeds Arts University has the best reputation for studying art in Leeds and so I arranged to speak to the University about the course and got to see the facilities. I wanted to come to the University because it felt like a progressive place to learn. I felt that in Leeds, it was the only real option to study. There are great MA courses outside of the city, but Leeds Arts University I think is definitely your best option in Leeds. The University embraces modern ways of learning and is not antiquated in anyway, and I believe that gives the University a real advantage over some of the other options for higher educational art institutes in Leeds. As an example, my tutor Annabeth has been encouraging me to look into how could I incorporate Augmented Reality into my board game, through smartphone apps.
What made you select the MA Creative Practice?
The cost of doing a BA was too prohibitive at any University or university, but as I didn’t have an art degree further than A-Level I was concerned that I wouldn’t be eligible to enrol. However, through discussions with the University and looking through the application guidelines online I found I could apply as a practicing professional. As a musician I got to meet a lot of industry people and other musicians and had done quite a bit of design work to keep money coming in, designing record sleeves, t-shirts, a couple of pieces for magazines and I had a nice little side-line going. So really I’d begun taking my steps towards this MA years before. When the band called it a day I took a job as a Screenprinter at Awesome Merchandise in Leeds, screenprinting apparel for clients and although it was a great place to work. I began to realise that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life in the print room. I learnt some great skills that have helped me understand design and print a whole lot better but it was still at the industrial end of the creative process and I wanted to be at the other end of it! So, the MA was substantially cheaper than doing a BA and if I could get on the course, I’d not only save three years, but I would have a masters.
The great thing about the MA creative practice is that I chose exactly what I wanted to do, I have combined my interests and current skill set (that being gaming and illustration) and looked at what I would want to learn and how I could grow my skill set to serve me well once finishing the course. My proposal was to design, build and produce a commercially saleable board game, that would take influence from popular modern multiplayer gaming, be that board games, cards, dice, larping or computer gaming and condense it into a game that invites players to play against and with each other around a table, but focusing more on the people and their motivations and styles of play rather than strict, overly complicated games that are based more on rules than personal interaction.
My game is heavily influenced by the science fiction films from the USA in the 1950s, and the impact felt in popular culture by the Cold War, the Red Scare and McCarthyism. Those films were essentially a reflection of the fear of the infiltration and invasion of American culture by the Russian Communist regime. I have therefore researched American culture, science fiction, concepts of the future from the 1950s, game theory, the gaming community, playtesting styles and documentation, illustration styles and 3D modelling. I am only halfway through my Masters as I am studying part time and I will be exploring digital modelling and illustration more heavily in the second half of the course, whilst still developing my game. I will be including the use of smart-phone apps as a part of the game and hope to make a game that utilises modern technology as an aid to the playability of the game. I hope to collaborate with some of the students on the Digital Film, Game and Animation course BA.
What do you really enjoy about your MA and the University?
I enjoy that I am working towards something that will give me a future career in a field that I will love and be challenged by every day. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like work, but more an obsession. That’s not true all the time though, balancing work, bills and rent while trying to do your best at the course can be daunting and you have to be determined to knuckle down and get grafting. The University resources are staggering. The knowledge from the technicians alone has been inspiring. A quick introduction to SLRs by the photography technicians became a full afternoon workshop. Some of the guest lectures have been incredible and I felt very lucky to have been there. A skype lecture from the illustrator Ralph Steadman was one of the best experiences I have had in education so far, and an upcoming visit from Ian Livingstone, (Games Workshop, Fighting Fantasy, Domark, Eidos) who is an absolute titan of the gaming industry is one of the greatest opportunities for anyone studying or interested in gaming. To have access to these types of events is something I treasure. The support from the staff on the MA course; Sam Broadhead and my tutor Annabeth Robinson has been fantastic and especially with me not coming from an art school background, they have really helped me to engage with the course and helped me to feel like I can succeed at this.
What are you currently working on - what area do you specialise in?
My project is to design a heavily illustrated, modelled board game that encourages interaction, debate and communication between players rather than a strict set of rules. The game is designed so that the rules should be as minimal as possible and if you think “why can’t I do blank” in the game then you should be able to. Trading, bullying, intimidation, secret alliances and betrayal are centre to the game.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
I’m not sure really. My tutor, Annabeth is full of enthusiasm and passion for what she does and is genuinely a real inspiration for me. My course leader Sam and the other students on the MA are great to work with, and we have some great debates and discussions on each other’s works. We have had a series of lectures from external speakers, such as Nenagh Watson and from other tutors from the University which have addressed a wide range of styles, subjects and methodology but have all had the same aim of helping us to develop our practice. Outside of University I try and get out there to exhibitions. Recently, highlights have been Joana Vasconcelos and Grayson Perry in Manchester; Bowie by Duffy at Foam, Amsterdam and Avantgarde! at the Kulturforum in Berlin. A lot of inspiration for me, outside of the art world, comes from community work and culture. I’ve been involved with the DIY punk scene for a long time and the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ is a great reminder to me that I learn how to do anything. Spaces like the 1/12 club in Bradford, The Lughole in Sheffield, the Cowley Club in Brighton, Wharf Chambers and Temple of Boom in Leeds and squatted/appropriated spaces and events are great places to get involved with a culture and scene that embraces creativity and spontaneity whether it’s art, music, performance, writing, cooking or craft.
What do you plan to do after University?
I want to work creatively. I’d love to work at the Leeds Arts University or another University or University as a tutor. I still have a long way to go I think before I’d be capable of doing that, but it’s something to aim for, definitely. I have quite a few dream jobs, another of which would be to work at the Games Workshop Forgeworld in Nottingham, which would be working with games and concept art. I’d love to work for Bethesda Game Studios. Most importantly of all I want to be challenged every day and to grow as a game designer, modeller and illustrator and to be judged on the quality of my work above all else. I love ‘hands-on’ making, and I get a lot of enjoyment from making things by hand. I find manual processes fascinating, and once you’ve learnt to do them well technically, the fun really begins where you can exploit the processes for unique results i.e. you can learn how to take a technically correct photograph, but wouldn’t you rather take a great picture?
Tell us what you like about Leeds?
As an immigrant to Yorkshire from North Wales for the last 15 years, I can say that Yorkshire definitely has a culture and humour of its own. There’s a strong sense of pride in Leeds and a dry northern sense of humour. Leeds is a great city if you’re coming here to study because the city centre is so much smaller than say Manchester, Sheffield or Nottingham because of the ring road that was built in the 1960s capped the physical expansion of the city centre, but there is so much going on. It’s a nice blend of familiarity and a bubbling of subcultures that provide the fun. You really have to get stuck in and scratch the surface to get the most out of the city. The music scene is great, living in LS6 for so many years gave me so many great experiences, seeing touring bands from all over the world playing in your/your friend’s basement or front room, police turning up trying to shut it down but giving up, house parties that last all weekend, seeing huge bands playing at the Brudenell Social Club 400 yards from your front door. Then you’ve got the West Indian Centre in Chapeltown, open air theatre at Kirkstall Abbey (Fantasia runs every year with a live orchestra – check it out) art shows on Mabgate, great art studios/spaces at Duke St and East Street Arts, cool independent art shops like Colours May Vary and Village Books, record shops like Crash Records, Jumbo Records, Relics, great places for a beer like the Northern Quarter. There’s so much to see and do but you’ve got to go find it. There’s something decent happening every day in Leeds, if you look for it.
One of the best things about Leeds though, is that you have some of the best countryside in the UK on your doorstep, get out to Otley Chevin, Brimham Rocks, Bolton Abbey, the Dales, the Peak District for a great day out.