🚧 NSCG | Q&A with NSCG's Group Head of Creative Arts and Media, Mike…
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25th June 2020

We caught up with our Group Head of Creative Arts and Media, Mike Kelly, to find out about his experiences before joining the College, why the arts are so important to him, and his advice for anyone wanting to get into the industry.

Q: Tell us about your experiences before joining the college.

A: I’d been working for a few years as a freelance cartoonist for magazines like Punch and a broadsheet cartoon newspaper called The Cartoonist, mostly caricature and topical gag cartoons. I was balancing commercial work with teaching life drawing at a college in Newcastle upon Tyne, two jobs I really enjoyed. The whole arrangement was exciting but unsustainable, so when an old friend from Staffordshire (where I’d studied on a degree in Fine Art) told me that Newcastle-under-Lyme College were looking for someone to teach life drawing and illustration I sent in a CV and covering letter. I was invited down for an interview and my career direction moved slowly into teaching full time.

Q: Why do you think art is important?

A: The world would be a pretty desperate place without picture books, animation, movies, gigs, stories and poems. We’re currently in a moment where art is crucially important to us all, informing, challenging and entertaining us, but experience tells us that when money is tight it’s seen as a luxury. Funding for art and design education and community based projects needs to be seen as essential.

Q: What advice would you give to your 15 year old self?

A: Find out more about careers in art and design and which school or college is going to get the best out of you. Also that girl you like… just ask her out.

Q: Who is your favourite artist and why?

A: I’ve got lots of favourites in different areas, but I’ll pick one in a sequential arts vein. Art Spiegelman, New Yorker cartoonist and author of ‘Maus, a survivors tale’. I’d grown up reading and drawing from Marvel and DC comics as a kid in the 70’s, but this was the first grown up ‘Graphic Novel’ I’d ever read. It’s a powerful, starkly rendered interpretation of Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as a concentration camp survivor in WW2. It’s a story that needs to keep on being told.

Q: Why did you decide to get into teaching?

A: I was offered a part-time job teaching life drawing by an old tutor of mine when I graduated. I’m pretty good at representational drawing and he’d remembered this from my days on Foundation Diploma. I found myself thinking of ways to make the class more exciting for the students; drawing large scale, over each others studies, exaggerating proportions and to different kinds of music - with the model walking around the room. I got a huge buzz and satisfaction from seeing students get better over time.

Q: What challenges have you faced in your career and how did you overcome them?

A: Like most people I’ve had lots! A big recent challenge has been having a final exhibition when we can’t gather safely in big numbers. Our Head of Games and Animation at Stafford College, Mark Cruxton, has done a great job of designing a virtual exhibition environment to host this year’s graduating students, which will be going live on 26th June.

Q: What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into the creative industry?

A: Don’t listen to the naysayers. Just because no one in your family has been a games designer or an interior designer, it doesn’t mean you can’t be one. The UK's creative economy will bounce back from COVID-19 and talented, hard-working people will have exciting careers within it.

Q: What sorts of careers have your past students gone on to have?

A: Too many to list. One of the most exciting things about creative careers is that by the time a students has studies for 2 years on a BTEC or A Level then done a degree, there will be new job roles that didn’t exist when they were 16. Our students go on to become architects, fashion designers, games designers and VFX experts. They run design agencies and work on award winning animated movies. Some even become teachers!

Q: What key skills does someone wanting to pursue a career in the creative industry need to have?

A: Persistence, ideas, the ability to adapt and communication skills. And the ability to bounce back when things don’t go your way first, second or 33rd time.

Q: What’s your favourite thing about working at the College?

A: The staff and the students. We have some great kit and resources, but the way my staff team supports, interacts with and inspires our students is an inspiration.

Don't miss our annual arts exhibition, 'UNLOCKED', where you'll be able to see the work of our talented art, design and media students from Newcastle and Stafford Colleges Group (NSCG), who will this year be showcasing their end-of-year Arts Exhibition virtually. Find out more here https://nscg.ac.uk/unlocked.