Kirra Harris attended Australian Professional Photography Awards
Visual Arts Student Shines

Professional placement offers unrivalled learning experience

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September 08, 2017

Kirra Harris is a talented young artist and designer, undertaking her second year of the Bachelor of Design Arts majoring in Visual Arts, and sub-majoring in Graphic & Digital Design. As part of her professional placement, she was privileged to attend the judging of the recent Australian Professional Photography Awards (APPA) - Australia’s pre-eminent professional photography event – with digital artist Karen Alsop.

Why did you choose the Visual Arts major at the Academy of Design Australia?

I want to be a concept artist in the gaming industry, to help create the visuals for games. You work on the look of the characters and environment, and help to create an overall style. When I started the Visual Arts Major I was originally doing more traditional work in terms of drawings, paintings and sketches. I choose the course major because I thought it was so open that I could branch out into a number of areas. Since being at the Academy, I’ve become more tech focused. I hadn’t made a game until after I started here. The tutors encouraged me to work on what I was passionate about. For my sub-major, I was on the fence between Photography & Film, and Graphic & Digital Design, but I did a small amount of graphic design and really enjoyed it. This course gives me so many opportunities and variety.

Where are you working for your professional placement?

I’m doing two placements at the moment – I’m working at StoryArt, which is the platform of artist Karen Alsop, and for a game development studio called Tin Man Games. Both places are pretty fun, but the work I’m doing at Tin Man made me confirm that I want to be a concept artist.

While you’ve been working for Karen Alsop, she won an award for one of her photographs. How did you score a placement with such a talented artist?

I knew Karen prior to my placement. She had a project called the Christmas Wish project, where she photographed sick children with Santa, then photoshopped them into beautiful scenes. My Dad played Santa Claus!  I was inspired by her ability to create these amazing scenes that you couldn’t get in the real world. There’s one photo where a girl who cannot walk is being picked up by butterflies. I sent Karen an email afterwards asking to work with her. She’s just had four works in the APPA awards. All of them are mesmerising.

Did you work on those pieces?

I assisted with two. It was mostly behind the scenes work - I helped to record a shoot where she took photos of real cats and mice in different poses. I had to keep the cat on a table so it would sit near props involved with the shoot. I’ve got quite a bit out of working with Karen. It’s interesting to see how someone can use photoshop to manipulate photographs, and how it can be so freeing compared to taking a photo and accepting what’s happened in it. Once the artwork is finished it’s made into a print and framed. I was lucky enough to experience handing back the final result to someone who had assisted on a project – the owner of the restaurant and animals in Karen’s piece that won a Gold Distinction at the APPAs. The owner was ecstatic when she saw the picture.

How did you find your placements?

I was encouraged by my tutor Donna O’Neill to contact as many people as possible. I emailed a lot of companies and teams. It’s a waiting game: you have to wait for responses and it took me over a month. I tried to meet with a few people as well. I met a designer from Taurus Games and he politely told me that I couldn’t have a placement there. I took it on as something that happens – it’s a hard industry to get into and a lot of places cannot afford to have people as they have generally small teams.


Did you have a portfolio of work to approach companies with?

Yes, and a lot of places were quite happy that I had a portfolio. I also have Facebook and Instagram, where I show clips of games and the art I’ve made during my time here at the Academy. That helped, as the companies could see I’m dedicated to working in the industry. Even the people who rejected me told me it was a good folio.

Finding a placement can be challenging. What tips can you offer for finding something that you love?

Have a good folio. List your skills clearly, including programs you know how to run, and make sure you back them up with evidence in your folio. Show your love for the industry, by knowing what’s going on in the industry and being able to talk about current trends and events when you approach potential placement companies. Finally, be ready to bounce back from rejection. There are so many opportunities out there that if you don’t get one placement, you’ll always find another.

Follow Kirra on Instagram and Facebook, and Karen Alsop at Story Art.

Image credit: Kirra Harris, 2017, untitled, paper and ink.

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