Kilgraston alumnae stories – Sophie Downes
Kilgraston alumnae Sophie Downes recently graduated with a First Class degree from the prestigious, Glasgow School of Art in Textile Design. Sophie left Kilgraston in 2017, and very kindly shared some of her thoughts on her time as a Kilgraston pupil and how it helped shape her.
What were your favourite subjects at school and why?
Apart from spending any spare moment in the Art Department to work on my Design and Fine Art projects I also loved Geography, saw it through to Advanced Higher and almost chose to study this at University. I particularly enjoyed Physical Geography and spent the majority of Upper Sixth quizzing Dr Phillips on the how’s and why’s of the planets and their creations. As a visual learner, Geography was the perfect mix between essay writing, experiments and illustration. History followed close behind and although I didn’t study Drama as a subject, taking LAMDA to Grade 8 curbed this fix! I generally preferred social subjects at school.
Why did you choose to study Textile Design at university?
Having considered Law, Geography, Event Management and all things Art School, my career options were incredibly broad. After careers talks, research and realising that I made any subject a creative task (I turned my entire Higher History revision notes into a cartoon strip!) I decided that studying Design was what most inspired and appealed to me. I ended up applying to five different Art School courses at Scottish Universities and it wasn’t until Glasgow School of Art’s Open Day that I realised that it was Textile Design that I really wanted to study! My design work during Higher and A Level Art at Kilgraston really lent itself to this course and without realising it, I had been practicing Textile Design through my last four years at school. This meant that my portfolio also lent itself to this degree. Textile Design is a very adaptable course and overlaps into many different Design paths. I always explain it as a subject in between Fashion and Interior Design. We design and create the fabrics and pass these over to a Product Designer. Textile Design appeared as a drawing-heavy and incredibly practical degree which suited my hands-on work approach.
How did Kilgraston help you develop your skills?
Especially during A Level Art, I was encouraged to push my design ideas and delve into new techniques that I had never tried before. Throughout that year I experimented with a variety of medias and approaches and took risks which were both successful and not. Through this I learnt how to be resilient and determined. Studying essay-heavy subjects at school proved really beneficial when writing Design, History and Theory essays at University. When it came to writing my dissertation this year, I chose to investigate the Historiography of Children’s Dress History so my Higher History analysis and evaluation skills definitely came into play. Although Kilgraston helped shape my academic skills, through extracurricular activities and opportunities I also left with confidence in public speaking, interpersonal skills and self-determination.
In your opinion and experience, how is Kilgraston different from other schools?
I struggle to explain my time at school to other people as it was an incredibly unique experience. Having studied at Kilgraston from the age of 5 to 18, I saw the school from every angle and got to experience all of the special traditions, incredible sense of community and lovely support from all of the teachers for many years. I would go back to school in a heartbeat! Kilgraston is an incredibly safe space, where you can truly be yourself. There’s no comparing yourself to others, awareness of subject stereotypes or shyness when it comes to sport. I always felt encouraged at school and doing well and trying hard was highly looked upon and you were not seen as a ‘try-hard’ by classmates for putting your all into school projects. Although school and it’s subjects and teaching were key factors to my happy memories of Kilgraston, the quirky and special extras are what makes Kilgraston the school it is. I got the opportunity to throw myself into so many different experiences and events which are the memories I always look back on! The size of the school is definitely something that sets itself apart from other schools. Due to the small year sizes I always felt listened to, supported and was confident to ask questions and speak up in class. Also everyone knows everyone by name which emphasises the happy community at Kilgraston!
How did Kilgraston help you on your higher education path?
I actually never intended to study Art when it came to choosing my Highers as I didn’t recognise it as something I was particularly great at, more just a hobby! It wasn’t until I asked Miss Macleod at a Parents Evening if she thought I’d be able to do it, that I started to consider it at a higher and career path level. With Art not always being accepted as an incredibly academic subject, I never felt this through school, and felt as though I got treated with the same support as my friendship group who all chose to study STEM subjects at University. When it came to choosing a higher education path I always felt as though I could ask questions and receive help with researching options. The Art Department staff were amazing for encouraging and giving me confidence to apply to the Universities I did.
What are your plans for the future?
Now having graduated GSA, I plan to apply for Junior Designer roles within Fashion and Interior Brands with the hope of moving down to London. I will continue to design and sell my own prints, gift and lifestyle products online in the meantime. My dream is to design for a children’s wear brand who share the same mission as me of creating ‘happy’ and feel-good textiles. I am also open to working within Fashion Events as during this past year I have been Creative Director of Edinburgh’s Charity Fashion Show 2021 which has exposed me to many new career paths. As long as I can be creative, scribble and sew and be myself in a workplace I’ll be a very happy human!
Do you have any advice for Kilgraston pupils interested in studying Art subjects?
I’d say go for it! Although when at Open Days and when looking through example entrance portfolios you may be full of self-doubt and compare you work against others (this was me!) the tutors at Universities hunt for new qualities each year. For example, the year I got accepted we were told they were looking for drawing skills. So although you may not feel your portfolio exactly matches the degree you are applying for, they may see something in your work. As long as you are passionate, demonstrate that your skills are adaptable to different projects and show that you aren’t afraid of taking risks you will be sorted. My four years at Art School were insane and I’d encourage anyone to apply if you have the slightest incline to. If you enjoyed being yourself at Kilgraston, Art School is an emphasis of this where literally anything goes!
How would you sum up Kilgraston in five words?
Encouraging, Special, Homely, Supportive and Lively.
Your favourite Kilgraston memories
Every school production (particularly wearing a bright pink suit as Nathan from Guys & Dolls in Lower Sixth with my best friends), the annual Barn Dance and BBQ, the hot chocolate and tea cake break with Dr Phillips during Advanced Higher double periods on a Wednesday morning, many breaktimes spent in our dens in the Adventure Playground during Prep School, the Christmas Concerts at Perth Concert Hall, winning the Midlands Cup in our final First XI Hockey Tournament in Upper Sixth, the Lower Fourth Dance Competition in PE, the Sixth Form Ball prep and night, Hockey Tours to Berlin and Barcelona, Fright Night, lunch time performances in the common rooms, getting ready for our first social, House Cross Country, Morning Club colouring, line dancing and movies with Trish, Highland Dancing with Mrs Malloch, playing the lead mouse in the nativity play and drawing around and painting life size versions of ourselves in Reception with Mrs Ferguson.
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