WHEN fire swept through the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art last May, final year fine art students were inside busily putting the finishing touches to their degree show.

Standing outside, many in tears, they watched as a year's hard work went up in flames.

Not only did they lose their exhibits, they didn't get the opportunity a degree show offers to showcase that work to the public, possible employers or financial backers.

All was not lost. The GSA announced the setting up of Phoenix Bursaries, rising from the flames to offer hope and a chance of rebirth for that lost work.

Thanks to funding from the Scottish Government, 100 graduating students were offered an allowance of £315 per week towards the cost of living expenses and a choice of locations around the world to work for up to 15 weeks and £1000 for materials.

Half stayed in Glasgow, based at studio space in the Whisky Bond at Speirs Wharf, the others ventured as far afield as Mongolia, California, Iceland and Mexico. Now the fruits of the bursary go on show in a group exhibition. Ahead of its opening, three students share their experiences over the past year.

For 24-year-old painting and printmaking graduate Adam Quinn from Baillieston in Glasgow, his pieces about to go on show are a natural progression from those he lost.

"My work was in a studio above the basement that went on fire. I was in the library at the time finishing research. Someone came in and said: 'The Mac is on fire'," he says. "I just thought, 'God, I hope not'.

"I came out and there was smoke billowing out of the building. I got one painting back but lost a big sculptural piece. The painting is in my dad's garage but is pretty scorched. I've hung on to it because it was the only thing of mine that came out of the fire."

Choosing to stay in Glasgow last year, Adam made the most of the facilities at the Whisky Bond.

"There were a couple of different projects I wanted to do and it helped me figure out how to approach them."

Fine art photography graduate Frank McElhinney realised quickly last year that whether his work was damaged by the fire or not, it was gone.

The 50-year-old former distillery worker who grew up in East Kilbride and now lives in Milngavie enrolled at GSA with a degree in medieval and modern history already under his belt and planned his degree show around the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn in May 2014.

"When the degree show didn't happen it wasn't like I could remake it because the impetus was gone. The timing of it was all in the build up to the referendum and the way people would look at history and think about that in relation to the national question," he says.

"A few days later it started to sink in that this was going to affect me quite badly. My answer to it was to go out and make more work."

McElhinney threw himself into a new project, taking aerial photographs with the simple technology of a kite from the source of the River Forth to the sea. It won him first prize in the Jill Todd Photographic Award, with an exhibition last autumn at Glasgow's Street Level Gallery.

"Out of the disaster came something positive," he says. "The thing the competition gave me more than anything was confidence. I have a wife and kids and had given up my job and career to do this course."

He used the bursary to focus on another Scottish project that kept his fellow graduates at the Whisky Bond fed on crispy snacks for weeks.

Frank used part of the bursary money for materials in Tesco, buying 200 tubes of Pringles. He needed his old classmates to eat them as fast as they could to use the packaging to make pinhole cameras that were placed in the country's 45 most populated towns and cities.

From Glasgow and Edinburgh to Inverness, Cumbernauld, East Kilbride, Elgin and Musselburgh, Frank left the makeshift cameras in situ for up to six weeks, then went back to collect them and scan the images.

Those lines of the sun tracking across the sky went on show at an exhibition last year and some can be seen this month, alongside a novel concept that gives visitors the chance to interact with a piece of his work.

"Imagine a grid of lines on paper – 45 one way and 45 the other. There are 2025 points of intersection and I think of them like either people coming together or votes cast.

"If I make 990 of those drawings, at that point I will have exceeded the number of points of intersection, well over 2 million. It will have exceeded the number of No votes cast in the referendum. It's a way of finishing off that bit of work I started with the pinhole cameras.

"When people come to the exhibition they get a pencil and a ruler and make a grid. I give them one to take away. By the end of the exhibition hopefully it will be complete."

Isabella Widger remembers the feeling of relief as she finished installing her work in the studio next to the library in the Mac building when the fire alarm sounded.

"I joked, 'We'll just ignore it, we've got stuff to do'. And then I started hearing people coming down the stairs and could see the smoke billowing out of the room I was facing. It was surreal," she says.

The 25-year-old fine art painting and printmaking graduate who moved from Manchester to study in Glasgow was shocked at the speed the fire escalated and ran outside. Parts of her sculptural installation survived but were affected by water and smoke damage.

She chose to use the bursary to travel to New York with her boyfriend Paul Brady, who was in the same class, and spend two months at the prestigious Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.

"I couldn't have predicted I would have been doing that. It was amazing. It was the right time for us to be in a place that had such energy and that unfaltering sense of possibility," she says.

"It was a good place to be. It's funny and strange but that feeling is infectious."

Isabella will show an installation at the exhibition featuring digitally printed silk hangings.

Phoenix Bursary exhibition, Glasgow School of Art Reid building, from July 24 to August 2. Visit www.gsa.ac.uk