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Next on the blog we have Kyra Gibeily
Please get in touch if you wish to share your story ‘after Heriot’s’.
What is your current role?
I’m currently a student in the third year of my marine biology course at the University of Glasgow. I spend most of my time in labs and lectures, seeing friends and working on my many assignments. In between that, I try to promote my graphic novel, and create art so that I can bulk up my art portfolio.
What was your journey to get there?
I’ve always loved art and biology fairly equally but pursuing a degree in biology made sense for me – I could gain job/financial stability and opportunities to travel with a STEM degree, as well as creative inspiration from the things I’d learn. While this made sense in a pre-pandemic era, my first two years in a predominantly online setting limited my enjoyment in biology and learning itself as it was such an isolating time.
The silver lining was that I had more time to do art, and in the summer of 2021, I thought about doing a graphic novel based on the carbon-copies of letters my grandfather wrote to family members during the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990). I had always been intrigued by the stories my dad told me about living in a country torn to pieces by warring beliefs, lives uprooted in an instant – a society that was once at the peak of its time, now regressed and warped through conflict. The family element interested me too as I never met either of my grandparents on my dad’s side – they died before I was born. I imagined my grandfather as a Captain von Trapp sort of character – a strict and rigid man, but with immense love and loyalty to his family. I wanted to highlight how he desperately wanted his kids to have better lives, and a better education than he did – his own dream of going to university was crushed by WWII.
I wanted to explore the isolation element as well, how he was stuck in his study sending letters, listening to the conflict outside, and how this chipped away at his health – though my grandmother would often leave, braving the snipers every day to provide medical care for the injured. The war led to the children splintering off to different parts of the world, and so finally, I wanted to provide an empathic voice on the refugee crisis.
We began by selecting key letters – my dad compiled the relevant ones. I was lucky to have familiar links to a publisher – I drafted a proposal, and they agreed to take on the project, with a short print-run of books. I then collated a mood board of relevant artist styles, colour palettes inspired by the 70s-80s, and started working. I drew the novel in three stages: First the linework, then the flat colouring, then the shading, so that everything looked cohesive and it wasn’t a totally different art style by the end.
What are your achievements?
The graphic novel is by far my biggest achievement to date – it did however take around a year and a half rather than the proposed three months that I had originally intended owing to the level of detail and because I was also attending university at the same time. I’m proud of the illustration work as it’s the first big creative project I’ve done since Heriots, but I’m also proud of the research I put in to make sure that the details were accurate to the time and place, for example, the newspaper that my grandfather read at the time, the model of the Beetle car my grandmother drove (and the licence plate, which is accurate to the time and place). Looking at it now of course there’s some things I wish I could tweak but overall, I’m so happy with the final result – it’s almost surreal now looking at it as an actual book rather than being on a screen. This project strengthened my family bonds as well, as I worked closely with my dad who put the letters together and told me stories and descriptions of what it was like at the time, and my brother, Caius Gibeily, who proofread it so thoroughly. It brought me closer to that side of the family in a way, trying to imagine what their day to day lives were like at such a chaotic and dangerous time and place.
What are your favourite memories of Heriot’s?
I remember going on a trip to London and Paris in S3. Seeing so many galleries and exploring the cities was incredible, and it was a great experience overall. Performing as part of the flute ensemble and the senior concert band at Usher Hall and St Cuthberts were fantastic opportunities that I enjoyed as well. The biggest highlight for me, however, was in S6 – the balance of subjects I had was perfect for me, and I especially enjoyed the time I spent in the art department. Although we were still at school, it felt like we had so much more freedom, as we could chose when to come in on our free periods, and what materials and equipment to use. The chaos of trying to fit big art assessments into short periods of time was also strangely entertaining, in a chaotic and slightly delirious kind of way. The friendships I made and have kept from Heriots are also very important and much appreciated.
What are your two ‘takeaways’ from your Heriot’s days?
Heriot’s is an incredible school, with amazing opportunities and staff there to support and help students. My biggest takeaway would be to not take this for granted. It’s a brilliant starting point for finding passions, honing skills, and making long-term friendships. That said it’s not the be-all, end-all. While at Heriots (and school in general), you have an amazing support system, a network of friends, teachers, and family nearby who care – that kind of safety net is hard to come by and can be helpful to rely on when trying out new things, whether that’s a new club or placements or whatever. School is a finite experience, so make the most of it! My other takeaway would be to relax a little more – do your best in whatever you can, but at the end of the day, the habits and mental strain you put yourself through can stay with you. I’d suggest trying to focus on living in the present. That doesn’t apply to Highers though – good grades in those mean better university prospects and much less stress in S6! Overall, I’d suggest making the most of your time there, academically and socially – and after leaving, you’re open to a whole new world of opportunities that you might never have imagined.
Any top tips for current pupils when planning their future?
There’s so much pressure in the later years of school to decide what to do, seemingly for the rest of your life. While the choices you make at this stage are incredibly important (and choosing something that you’re passionate about and that makes you genuinely excited is key) there are always other opportunities that can randomly spring up later, due to the people you meet and stuff outside of your chosen degree/job. I think it’s important to not be fixated on one particular route – having flexibility in your choices can lead you to places you’d never expect, if you follow what you like.