A day in the life: Sandra Bignell

Art and design teacher at Bellerbys College talks University Business through a day in her shoes.

How long have you been in your job?

I’ve been teaching Art & Design Foundation at Bellerbys College for three years. However, I have many years of teaching experience, having previously worked as Director of Art & Design and Media at The BRIT School.

How does a typical day look?

Usually, I would commute to London and teach face to face. However, recently I have been teaching a lot of sessions online and in fact I taught the whole Foundation Diploma online to remote students during the pandemic. I’m currently teaching a hybrid approach, so this involves online and face-to-face lessons.

Online classes usually start at 8.00 in the morning to allow for the time differences between the UK and East Asia. If it is a practical lesson, I set up my easel and materials, ready to do live demonstrations on Zoom. Sometimes, I use breakout rooms to put the students in groups to work, or so that I can do one-to-one sessions, within the virtual classroom. I specialise in fashion design, so I have lots of fashion materials to hand.

All lessons start with students sharing their work with me and the group. All our students work in different specialisms which include fashion, interior design, illustration, architecture, graphic design or animation – so there is a lot of individual teaching later on in the course when they set their own briefs. If I’m in the classroom in London, I run the art room as a ‘studio’ so other students can come in and work while I am teaching a different group.

How did you get into your career?

I come from a background in visual arts and self-taught myself fashion design. I have worked freelance, designing and making one-off bespoke pieces as well as designing costumes. In my own work I am inspired by Victorian fashion design, as I love the construction techniques. Brighton Museum and Art Gallery commissioned me to make an outfit for their fashion collection ‘Renegade’ and the piece is still on display as part of their permanent collection. I have also worked at the Victoria & Albert Museum with the costume designer in residence, and produced a scaled version of a costume for Lady Macbeth that was exhibited there.

After going into teaching as an art and costume teacher, I gained the position of director of Art & Design and Media at the BRIT School.

“Online classes usually start at 8.00 in the morning to allow for the time difference between the UK and East Asia”

What is the first thing you do when you get to the office?

I usually log straight onto the computer while drinking a coffee. It is so exciting to open up the students’ online portfolios before they come to class so I can see what they have done. I also spend time preparing materials ready for class. There’s a lot of email communication too, as I team teach modules in London and we also work as one college with two campuses (London and Brighton).

Has the pandemic changed your job, and if so, how?

The pandemic changed my job dramatically during lockdown as I had to deliver the full course on Zoom. I have taught so many sessions online now and this has actually been really effective, but it involved adapting techniques to the new situation. For example, I often had to draw diagrams to teach certain skills like pattern cutting when in a classroom situation I would be working at a massive table with large paper pattern sheets.

Your number one most vital prop/tool/piece of equipment?

Ha ha – I would like to say my sewing machine as that would always have been true before. But to be honest, now it is my laptop. When I turn it on it is like opening up the whole college world in there.

If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

I would be a full-time artist, working in illustration, painting and fashion.

What is your favourite memory of your time in this role?

My favourite memory is the end-of-year joint Zoom session we did across different classes so that students could showcase their work. One particular student had made an amazing video of his final fashion piece and he was thrilled to share it with as wide an audience as possible. It is always great to see students rightly taking pride in their work and they learn how to offer constructive critiques to support each other.


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