Studying Art & Design subjects at College can open avenues to some fascinating lines of work, some of which may be things that you never even considered or thought about as career options.
Just ask former student, Martin Selbie.
‘Visual merchandising’ is probably an unfamiliar term to most people, although the result is far from alien to all of us. High street shop windows and the layout of the stores is an integral part of marketing, and Martin now has the task of creating the visual components of the shopping experience at the British institution that is Marks & Spencer.
‘Global Windows and Visual Merchandising Planner’, Martin, has responsibility for M&S store fronts the world over, from our neighbours over the Irish Sea to Kuwait and beyond, as well as more than a thousand shops in the UK.
"I had an interview and within a month I was down in London, still working for the same company but I’d swapped being a sales assistant to designing shop fronts and floors for 25 stores in the UK and Ireland."
Having left the College in 2006, Martin went on to do an Art Foundation course before moving to Leeds to study for a Fashion/Apparel Design degree. After university, his journey took him to the USA, and then on to London where he established himself as a formidable force in the creative industry.
From first-hand experience, Martin appreciates just what immersing yourself in all forms of art can bring, and the opportunities that can arise along with it.
He said: “I think a lot of people don’t realise how many paths you can take in the creative industry. There’s a tendency to look at Art as a non-facilitating subject and not career-based, but I’d fight to say the opposite. I think it’s probably one of, if not the most, facilitating subject. You can get into photography, designing computer games, clothing, you can go into advertising – there are just too many possible jobs to name and they all stem from Art and nurturing your creative side.”
On his time at the College, Martin went on to say: “I loved drawing from such a young age. Getting good feedback on your work really helps to develop your interest, at any age. When I came to the College, I really enjoyed being around other people who had the same level of interest in Art as me, and it’s at that stage that you start feeding off each other. It’s was a little bit competitive but in a really good way. You have to raise your game and your skills develop that way. That’s the way it is in all of the creative industry, I think.”
Martin's work for M&S includes artwork and installations for their collaboration with the Paddington Bear film
Martin explained that there are any number of paths into the industry, with his story not being as straight forward as some.
Moving home after his university course finished, he took up a job in retail with TM Lewin before heading to the Catskill Mountains in New York to work at Camp America. There, he spent six months working in the costume department for the Camp’s many productions, as a large number of the youngsters in attendance already worked in theatre and television and were mainly at the Camp to develop their performing skills and CVs.
Martin said: “The biggest production was Les Miserables, and I had responsibility for all the costumes in it. We had to create 300 costumes, so there we were with the sewing machine at the ready! It was a big success and I loved my time working there. I really got a hunger from it to get into the creative industry when I got back to the UK.
“I took my job at TM Lewin back up when I got home, but that’s when I met my now manager. She was working in their visual marketing team and thought I might be suitable to join them. I had an interview and within a month I was down in London, still working for the same company but I’d swapped being a sales assistant to designing shop fronts and floors for 25 stores in the UK and Ireland.”
After four years with TM Lewin, Martin joined his manager at a new job with Inspired Thinking Group (ITG), where he took responsibility for one of their biggest clients, Marks & Spencer. His recent work includes the design of artwork and installations involved with M&S’s collaboration with the Paddington Bear film release, and now with Christmas, Martin’s job doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon.
Offering advice to today’s A Level Art & Design students, Martin said: “There’s so much out there for you, and College is the time that journey begins and you really start to consider what you want to do with your life.
“Grades are really important but so is the process of the whole experience. In anything creative, the more experience you have the better. I think younger people really need to appreciate that and try to get those work experience places and do all of those extra things because it’ll help you out so much when it comes to getting set up in your career.”