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Student Stories: Ashley McLaughlin

Ashley is mid 30s, from England. Was previously a makeup artist/sfx artist and is now studying with the OCA at Stage 2 (HE5) of her Illustration degree and working part-time.


What is your previous educational experiences and what drew you to OCA?

At the time of enrolling, I was working full-time and needed a part-time study option that was flexible. I have always been an artist but realised my passion was painting on paper and not on faces and I wanted to study illustration to learn narrative illustration. To be honest it was all on a bit of a whim, yet it was the best decision I have ever made, as it has led to some big revelations in many areas of my life. Studying art means you have to dig deep at times and it has helped me understand myself better.

Can you describe your OCA journey?

I really struggled to get motivated and get into my coursework initially, but then I joined a study group and this has helped me feel a sense of community. This has been pivotal for my progress in my studies. I am Dyslexic so it has made deciphering the briefs very difficult at times and I am lucky to have a great DSA-issued study skills tutor who helps me with this. Managing time is still something I struggle with, as fitting study around work and other commitments is difficult and something that needs constant management. I am learning so much though and have enjoyed getting to try new things and give myself time to develop my practice.

What was the Tutor and/or Peer Support like on your course?

Most of my support has come from our study group. These people I body double with regularly to help myself stay motivated and hold us all accountable. My core group has been Manar Kadri, Andi Follet, Beanie Rahwangi and Emma Clements, but the group has been steadily growing and we now have many more members. My previous tutor Ilsa Brittain also really helped me navigate a difficult part of my OCA journey, when I was dealing with how things in my personal life would affect the outcome of my work. She helped me understand why that was happening and what I could do to either work with it or find a way to consciously move away from it. This has made a huge impact on the direction my work has gone in terms of subject matter and my approach. I am now trying to be more authentic and I don't think I would have come to that conclusion if it wasn't for that one piece that I discussed with my tutor.

What does studying with OCA mean to you?

I will be the first member of my family to complete a degree, which is a big accomplishment for me. But more than that, having a degree opens up possibilities that aren't open to me without one. Be that the possibility of teaching or emigrating. However, ultimately the journey of learning and self-development has been my driving factor and is what keeps me on this path.

What's next?

I aim to author/illustrate children's books, so learning narrative art is a critical part of that. I also hope to go on to do an MA in illustration. Although that may change depending on how I feel when I graduate.

Any advice?

My biggest advice would be to join a study group, join the discord server and connect with fellow students. Studying with distance learning can be incredibly lonely at times and you will learn so much from your fellow students. They are also the biggest champions of each other and are a great bunch of people. Definitely don't be lonely. I would also advise you not to worry about creating amazing work at level one. It is a time for experimentation and failures, because we learn best from those. I was so hung up on trying to produce 'perfect' work, that I didn't allow myself to experiment and if I could go back I would do level one very differently.


Follow Ashley on Instagram @ashleysart

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So interesting to hear your journey, Ashley, and I'm sure it resonates with many other students. I can certainly identify with things you found challenging. All the best for the future!

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