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Joanne Garner

MA Jewellery & Metal, 2015–

What were you doing before you started studying at the RCA?

I graduated from my first degree – which was in Jewellery & Metal from Dundee University – in 2007. After a couple more years in Dundee, I moved to Edinburgh where I was based for six years. There I was working on my own jewellery business and sharing a studio with a group of other makers at a similar age and stage in their careers. As well as running my business, I was doing a lot of teaching and youth work, organising exhibitions and was also involved in various different craft organisations in Scotland.

Why did you decide to study at the RCA?

I reached a point where I wanted my work to have greater depth of meaning. I realised that I had become quite customer-orientated, and I wanted to think more about what I was doing and why. I had thought a lot about applying for an MA over those eight years since graduating, but I didn't think properly about the RCA until I knew that I was serious about studying again. 

I knew that if I was going to do it, I wanted to do it properly, and that meant going to the very best place. I also liked the fact that the RCA is a two-year course, and that even though it is two years, the yearly cost is in line with that of other universities offering a similar thing.

What did you find to be the main differences between what you expected and what it's like to study here? And what were the main differences between your BA and the MA?

I was 21 when I graduated from my BA, and nearly 30 when I started my MA. That's the same for a lot of people. I was initially very pleased and relieved to find that everyone here was very warm and welcoming and interested in what you were doing – unlike on your BA where people are younger, and are perhaps a bit less confident in themselves. 

I did have a bit of a wake-up call in terms of cost though – it's free to study an undergraduate course in Scotland, and I hadn't considered that other people studying here might have a different experience of undergraduate debt.

How has your work or your thinking changed or developed while you have been at the RCA?

I think that I now have a much better understanding of why I make, and of what drives me. I think that my first year here was about getting to grips with that, and the second year has been about building on that knowledge and understanding. I've come to realise that making for me is very much a process of working through things, and of working things out. I used to think that I wasn't very 'conceptual', but now I've realised that I can put those two different things together – the practical and the reflective – to produce something meaningful.

Has anything particular influenced your work while you have been here?

For me, the dissertation – which you do at the end of your first year here – has been a really important part of understanding my own work and motivation better. I hadn't written an academic piece in about eight years, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. The tutors and lecturers were amazing. 

Another thing that has influenced my work this year is the travelling that I did during the summer. I was awarded a travel scholarship from my programme, and went to Siberia on a trip organised by Dr Jon Goodbun and the RCA's Architecture programme, where we travelled on the Trans-Siberian railway. It was a really amazing, eye-opening experience. Observing other cultures, and trying to make sense of what I see is a big part of my work.

Have you faced any particular challenges while you have been here?

I have definitely found the financial side of it a challenge. London is an expensive city to study in. Apart from that, well, it can be an uncomfortable and challenging process to push yourself and think deeply about your making practice. I also think that one of the main challenges you face while you're here is how to be selective, how to narrow your focus when there's so much that you could do, and could take part in.

Do you have any advice for people who are thinking about applying?

I would say that you should have a plan for what you want to get out of it. You also shouldn't be afraid to ask other people for advice – that's something I've really benefited from while I've been here. It's also worth trying not to feel too pressurised – you should try things out and take the time to experiment. When else are you going to get the chance to push yourself and take risks in such a supportive environment?
"I wanted to do it properly, and that meant going to the very best place. I also liked the fact that the RCA is a two-year course, and that even though it is two years, the yearly cost is in line with that of other universities offering a similar thing."
Joanne Garner
Joanne Garner