Graphic Arts BA(Hons)
Liverpool John Moores University
My Erasmus Experience: Connecting Life and Learning
Berlin is an amazing city; it is bohemian, eccentric, wild and magical. It is a city of constant surprise and inspiration; whether I was at the flea market on Sunday or cycling through Tiergarten (whilst looking out for foxes and red squirrels) or finding myself on a roof top party, 5 floors up with a stunning panoramic view of Berlin.
My Erasmus year away was spent at the Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK), studying Illustration. My tutor was Professor Henning Wagenbreth, a well-known and respected Illustrator in Germany. Henning was a great tutor fo me, he taught me how to create images that are bold, graphic, easily understood whilst keeping depth, intrigue and meaning. I can still hear his voice in my head as I draw or design an image, I feel I have a different perspective when making work and for the better. He made me really challenge myself. He was a very inspiring tutor.
I also gained a lot from my class in Berlin; being in a mixed year group I was taught alongside students who were in their fifth year of study and so this meant that the level of teaching was much more demanding.
Germany illustration as a whole I feel is very different English illustration to so this was really interesting to be shown something new. I look at my work now since being back and can see the influence it has had on my work.
Ups and Downs
I was able to live life in Berlin like a lord, the price of living compared to other German cities and especially English cities was considerably lower. I was able to live in a lovely flat, eat nice food, buy lots of books, objects and prints I could never usually afford.
Finding a flat in the first semester was quite a struggle. I visited many, many flats all with people with long lists of other potential flat mate names written down. I felt like I was never going to find a place. Despite this, I did enjoy looking round people’s flats and walking around gave me a really clear sense of the city.
I stayed in a youth hostel, sleeping in a room with nine other women for a couple of weeks until I was eventually offered a charming flat next to the canal. I then had to fly suddenly back home after finding out my boyfriend was critically ill. So things took a while to lift off.
However when returning in April for the seond semester, looking once again for a flat, it was quite different story as I was offered the first flat I went to, which was absolutely perfect and I really enjoyed living there.
One major problem was of course the language barrier. I went to Berlin without ever having a German lesson, just a few CDs before catching my plane. At the beginning I felt bad for not being able to speak German and relying on other people to speak English for me.
Lessons were difficult trying to understand in German. I got tired of irritating people asking them for help. I felt really out of my depth, stupid and a bit lost. Illustration briefs were not written down and so often I would get things wrong, once spending hours working to produce a full colour A5 image to find out that it was actually meant to be in black and white as an A4 image. I had to start over again.
So, I decided to take German intensive evening classes which gave me a really good boost . I felt myself improve quickly and was able to engage in German life. Though, if I am honest, I felt I could only get by and even towards the end I found having long conversations a difficulty. This I found disappointing.
However, learning another language has ironically given me a better understanding of my own language. I enjoyed looking for the word connections and etymology; I even began to make work based upon this whilst I was there.
Whilst looking for a room on the Internet, I got to know an illustrator called Tom Eigenhufe, who had a room he needed to rent out. In the end I didn’t need the room but we kept in touch nevertheless.
Soon after we met and Tom asked if I wanted to get involved in a print project with a group of illustrators. The project was to make a large format lino cut calendar for 2007 based on the bizarre theme of ‘Muff”. In total there were eight illustrators each with either one or two designated months. I was given January (which was used for the front cover also) and September.
We then printed it together at the fantastic Bethanien, an old, grand hospital that has been converted into a cultural centre, part of which is an amazing print workshop.
Once it was finished we had an exhibition of the calendar in a gallery‚‘Fraeulein-Smillas‘, in Berlin for two weeks. The calendar was then sold in a variety of places including the Neue Nationalgalerie shop.
In April, I returned for the second semester at UdK. Tom Eigenhufe asked if I would like to make a two colour, sixteen page, silk-screened book on any theme of my choice. A few weeks later I made the illustrations for my book, “The Green Man” and he completed his also and we printed once again at Bethanien. We silk-screened 250 books and then these are now selling in Berlin, Hamburg and a selected locations in England.
In return for my work I gained a share of the books and the ‘Muff Calendars 2007’ and also a small payment.
Although it was a lot of work to have running alongside my university work, being involved in these projects was a great experience and opportunity. I was lucky to be able to work alongside professional illustrators and to be given an insight into working as an illustrator. It was interesting to see how my work altered when working on live brief with limited time. I made me realise that if you work hard enough one can make things happen.
I think Berlin has prepared me well for my final year for example at the end of each year, the whole of UdK, all years and disciplines have a major exhibition held in each of the sites. This was a great experience being part of this show as it has masses of publicity and crowds of people came flocking in. I found the idea of showing my work to the public really drove and pushed my work to a higher level.
Berlin has also prepared me mentally for life. I feel I have a lot more confidence and understanding of myself and work. I feel that if I can survive a year abroad then there are plenty more things I am capable of. I have come back to university feeling confident and independent with having this experience.
Next year I hope to go on to study master in Visual Communications/Illustration in London and as part of this I would like to return once again to Berlin as part of the studies. I would enjoy to be taught again by Henning Wagenbreth, he invited me back in to his class.
I met so many inspiring people and experienced many things I would have never dreamt of. My time away was full and exciting. Berlin will always hold a place in my heart.