Studying at the Oslo National Academy of the Arts: Design

Name: Julie Aida Graf
Master’s in graphic design and illustration

Why did you choose the Oslo National Academy of the Arts?
I had a teacher in media and communication at Drømtorp Upper Secondary School in Ski, named Hege Krogvig Bergstrand, who herself had gone to the Academy, at the time when it was known as the National Academy of Crafts and Art Industry. She believed that I was suited for the Academy and that it would help me find out what I wanted to do. She noticed that I really enjoyed design and drawing. After high school, I chose first to take a gap year and work at a store in Oslo, but it bothered me that I couldn’t express myself creatively, so I contacted my teacher again the following year when the application deadline was coming up. And then I made the waiting list, in second place – for me that was an achievement in itself, since not many students are admitted. And then the person in first place withdrew – and I was accepted! It’s struck me that I ought to find out who that person was, because it was thanks to him or her that I was given the chance to take a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design and illustration.

What were your expectations when you started?

I had heard a lot of nice things about the Academy, and that it was tough to get in. I was unsure of where I stood within the creative world. When I was at the application interview, it was entirely okay to say that I didn’t know what I wanted, but that I knew that this was the place for me. It was quite a relief to know that I would be going here for three years and discover who my creative self is. I wanted to feed my curiosity, and when I first began here, I really liked it from the get go – I felt at home. The three years turned into five now that I’m graduating with a Master’s degree.

What is the best thing about the Academy?

The workshops, and being able to learn several disciplines beyond what you’re specialising in. Here you’re allowed to try out everything. We have something called corridor weeks, where we’re given a shot at trying other disciplines than our chosen field. I think these corridor weeks are a unique feature of the Academy. And you can receive training at most of the workshops at the Academy. I think I must’ve been to all twenty of the workshops here. That’s how I spent my undergraduate years – I was testing out as much as possible. If you’re the curious type, then it’s definitely an advantage to go here.

In addition, my professors do a really good job of finding guest lecturers, and there are plenty of worthwhile courses here. I decided early on during my Bachelor’s studies to post some of my course work on social media, and I suddenly received a lot of support from friends who had no idea I was interested in drawing. So that’s how word got around, and I gradually received a few more commissions – it started with editorial illustrations, but I have gradually put together a rather varied portfolio.

Who at the Academy has played the most crucial role for you in your studies?

The whole environment there: my class, the professors. There are so few of us – there are 12 students taking the Bachelor’s programme, so we get to know everyone from the very beginning. We’re half as many in the Master’s programme. We don’t compete with one another, but support our classmates and let ourselves be inspired by them – that’s how we keep the atmosphere friendly. If we have a bad day, then at least we have one another. Our professors support us during the exam period and calm us down, and they also pop in when we have other teachers. We, the students, know each other really well – we can create our future careers together.

How would you describe life at the Academy to someone who’s thinking of applying?
Challenging – in a positive way – and something that piques your curiosity. If you make the waiting list, you should be really proud of yourself – and try again. That means that someone has seen your potential. Apply because you’re curious and want to expand your creative spectrum. Something’s always going on here. To begin with I was totally overwhelmed – I remember I saw a chocolate version of [Gustav Vigeland’s sculpture] The Angry Boy just outside the cafeteria here. I thought it was marvellous, and I recall talking with another student about what it was meant to symbolise. Now my feeling is that it’s cool being here, it’s creative – I’m just as impressed – but that it’s all become more of an everyday thing. All in all, it’s incredibly inspiring to be here. I’ll probably continue to spend a good deal of time here because I love the school and will be using the workshops in the future.

What are your dreams for the future?
I don’t really have a clear vision, but I plan to travel about to build a larger network and to be inspired by new environments. I really like getting to know people, and I think that’s important for getting a job. And, yeah, I’m also fond of doing decoration on other materials than paper. At the moment I’m working on merchandise for an international artist – not for the money, but because it’s something I’ve never done before. In fact, my Master’s project itself is all about doing things I haven’t done before, within decoration. I’m trying to find out why decoration must always be so pretty. I do this by adding an element of the imperfect, which is a bit taboo – it’s actually an homage to decoration. What I want to thank my teachers for is that they’ve been so clear in saying, “Be yourself, and dare to tell a story.” And I have dared to do that, for there aren’t any grades here. Instead it’s been very rewarding to present a project to the class and the professor and discuss it together with them. The jobs just turn up, and I’m certainly grateful for that.

What do you always have with you?
A thick, black felt-tip pen and a small, A5-sized sketchbook. I have to have lightweight tools with me. Suddenly I’m at it – whether I’m sitting on the bus or listening to others, I’m busy drawing. And I never throw away my sketches, because you never know when they might be of use. I was recently asked to contribute to an auction in support of Syria – I was incredibly busy but really wanted to help, so I showed them a sketch from my book and they wanted it. So I printed it here at the Academy, and the print was sold at the auction for almost two thousand kroner. It’s rewarding to work manually, to be analogue!