Award-winning alumna reflects on B&FC

Published on 24/02/2020 by DTHACK

Blackpool School of Arts' alumna Heidi Atkinson was recognised for her design excellence when she won the prestigious D&AD 2019 D&AD New Blood award. But though design was always her first love, it took a career reboot to find her true calling. Heidi tells B&FC about her transformation.

I didn't start my career in design.

But design rediscovered me. 

I would have liked to have followed my heart and be able to tell my younger self to follow what I loved to do.

But instead I listened to some that doubted the employment opportunities available in this sector, and undertook a different path. 

This interest followed me through into my school days and I loved design and art subjects.

I feel I was lucky to find my feet and gained a senior management position in a job I was good at but was not creative, all through my career I still undertook creative hobbies and interests alongside my full time demanding role until I decided enough was enough and if I didn’t do it now I never would so I looked into doing a degree.

I had been worried about the finances of doing so but I worked it out and after speaking to another mature student about how they managed financially during studying I felt that I could do this and I could manage on the financial help that was on offer.

I chose graphic design at B&FC as I’d always been interested in the creative field from a young age. My grandparents had been creative - my grandma being crafty, and granddad a photographer and artist.

I had visited other educational institutes but they didn’t quite feel as welcoming as B&FC. The facilities were great and the work they showed me was brilliant, but at these other places there was something missing.

I very nearly didn’t go to the open day at B&FC and only just made it before they shut - but one of the tutors there gave me some time and really showed an interest in my work.

They showed me round and even though I had rushed to make it before they shut and everyone else has gone home, they were friendly and welcoming and made me feel at ease and excited about the opportunities.

As a mature student I did worry about entry level qualifications, but through my career at the time I had a level 5 management qualification and this, combined with some of the work I had produced during my spare time showing my creativity and conceptual side - as well as my enthusiasm - meant that after filling in my application form I was accepted on to a degree course at B&FC,

I was over the moon!

The class sizes at B&FC mean you get to know everyone really well, and the tutors get to know you and your work.

I was worried about my style of work, or if I had a style. It turns out I did, and I was encouraged to pursue and experiment which strengthened my work further.

Different experts at B&FC gave advice and I could ask questions about how to further my career and experience which really helped me to make decision about my work and my future.

I had my eyes opened to the opportunities available in the creative industries and not just as a graphic designer, I wish I has taken the leap earlier to follow my dreams as I love every day of what I do.

I have been fortunate enough to have had some fantastic opportunities which have included working with some very talented people.

I’ve worked with Cloud Nine Decor at a festival installation, with Hattie Newman in her studio in London on a project for Google, and interned at Saatchi & Saatchi in Trinidad - a fantastic experience.

These experiences also helped my decision on which career path I wished to follow.

In my second year at B&FC I completed a project based on watches and was inspired my watch company Olivia Burton in my designs after completion my tutor mentioned I should send it off to them, so I took their advice and did.

I didn’t hear anything back for a while, then out of the blue they asked if I would consider doing some work for them. I remember being so excited and accepted.

After this I have received regular commissions from them and worked freelance for the company undertaking campaigns for Christmas and Valentine's Day, and supplying designs for their flagship boutique in Covent Garden.

In my final year at B&FC I entered the D&AD awards and took my entry down to London in person. I entered a brief for John Lewis & Partners and it turned out they loved it. I attended the awards ceremony in London and won a Yellow Pencil award, which has opened a lot of doors for me as everyone wants to see the project behind the award. 

I was also fortunate to have been shortlisted in the Creative Conscience awards and after leaving B&FC I was included in the New Talent edition of Computer Arts magazine, in which my cover design was shortlisted and featured.

I have since continued working with Olivia Burton and also completed commissions for a charity, private commissions, and work for Team Ineos (Formally Team Sky).

I now work freelance as well as being a graphic designer for a growing local firm. 

One thing is for sure, is that I haven’t stopped working since I graduated.

Heidi's 5 tips for students

  1. If you don’t ask you don’t get, put yourself out there!
  2. Don’t be afraid of knock backs (don’t take it personally), brush yourself off and go bang on that next door.
  3. No one is going to do it for you, get off your backside and get motivated, find the things that interest you push to get better, keep your eye on the end goal.
  4. Use your time at B&FC to do projects you love, to be ambitious, to experiment, use it as a time to be self-indulgent in creating work you love, when you get in the real world you have real clients, use this time to be your own client! 
  5. Network, Network, Network! Sign up for that group/event, go to that portfolio review, send off/share work you are proud of with people that you think will like it (you never know where opportunity will come from).

Thank you B&FC!