Class of 2018: Brewing up a great career

Leah O'Brien

Published on 29 November 2018

Liah O’Brien picks up her Masters degree in Design today at the Stadium of Light just a year after graduating with a first-class undergraduate degree in Illustration and Design.

During her postgraduate course Liah was aware she needed to increase her employability skills, and the 23-year-old secured a university internship via Creative Fuse, at Brewlab, a training provider for the brewing industry. There, she utilised her graphic design skills to promote the company’s work, which then led to additional placement at Sunderland-based Brewlab’s sister company, Darwin Brewery as a creative illustrator in the promotion of their products.

Taking full advantage of these work-based opportunities has now led to Liah securing her first full-time job as an academic tutor on the University’s Illustration and Design course, embedding her creative skills and business insights into the classroom.

Liah, from Stockton-on-Tees, said: “I am looking forward to graduating and also very excited to start my new job as an Academic Tutor. It’s certainly been an exciting year!” says Liah.

She added: “Having no previous professional experience in design, the programme ran by Creative Fuse helped me gain the necessary experience I need to get the design job I have always wanted.

“The opportunity allowed me to learn new things about the line of work, as well as my own capabilities, as it pushed me out of my comfort zone. My time at Brewlab helped make both my CV and portfolio more attractive to potential employers, with professional, varied pieces of work I would have never had the opportunity to produce. Following this placement I have gained a job as an Academic Tutor, and believe if it wasn’t for this experience I may not have been considered for the position.”

Daniel Vecsey Senior Manager of Brewlab Ltd, commented: “Liah successfully supported several projects during her placement at Brewlab and Darwin, and integrated herself as a well-respected member of the team. Through applying her excellent graphic design skills, she specifically helped deliver three key projects which have res­­ulted in commercial success for both businesses.

“Liah’s main project was to support our new on-line course - the Certificate in Brewing Technology - where she produced engaging and appealing images to explain complex brewing science and technology in basic terms. In addition to this project, Liah also supported a refresh of the Darwin Brewery’s branding. In achieving this work, Liah proved herself to be a valuable member of the Brewlab / Darwin team.”

Creative Fuse North East is a unique partnership between Sunderland, Newcastle, Northumbria, Durham and Teesside universities and is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the European Regional Development Fund, and Arts Council England. The project offers a variety of business innovation support opportunities, insights into the regional creative economy, and brings different working disciplines into closer collaboration.

Dr Derek Watson Creative Fuse Co-investigator and Placement Mentorat the University of Sunderland, said: “We provide students with a range of employability opportunities such as the Creative Fuse Programme, in which students are able to blend their subject knowledge and creative skills in terms of business support.

“Liah is clearly a very talented and creative student who has been able to make the most of the university’s placement opportunities and has made a tangible impact for both Brewlab and Darwin Breweries.”

Profile: Liah O’Brien

Having studied A-level Art, Biology and English Literature at Stockton Sixth Form College, Liah was unsure about whether she could make a career out of art. And after applying to study Fine Art at one of the region’s universities, she quickly realised it was not what she wanted to do and left the course.

However, she says she always had a passion for drawing from an early age, but was unsure of her style. She opted to study a Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at Cleveland College, and it was there she discovered an interest in illustration.

To continue her passion, Liah applied for Illustration and Design BA (Hons) degree at Sunderland, after attending an open day. She said: “I was impressed with the facilities and what the Illustration course offered at Sunderland. I also wanted to stay relatively local to home in Stockton, but still move into student accommodation, and moved to The Forge.”

During the Illustration course, Liah says she discovered her style and love of illustration. She created children's books, as well as an adult colouring book titled "Birds of the World”, with matching products.

She says: “I found my tutors Holly Sterling and Matthew Briggs very helpful, and they gave me a lot of advice that still benefits me to this day. I also enjoyed discovering new techniques I had never done before, and being pushed out of my comfort zone.”

After graduating in 2017 with a first-class degree, Liah had enjoyed her course so much that she decided to return to Sunderland to study a Masters degree in Design.

As part of her Masters Liah commissioned a series of educational children’s books, promoting the acceptance of cultural diversity and equality, titled ‘A World of Celebration.’ The innovative three books are designed to engage children and retain their attention whilst they learn about exciting cultures they may not have encountered in their lives. Liah hopes to have the books published.

Liah said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my postgraduate course, especially creating the interactive children's books that promote the acceptance of cultural diversity and equality.”

This month she graduates with her Masters of Design and begins her job as an Academic Tutor at the University of Sunderland on the same illustration course in December 2018.

And what advice does she have for students just starting their own university journey?

“Don't stress about finding what works for you, try things you have never tried before, and everything will fit into place,” says Liah. “You get out of your course what you put in, so push yourself!”