Help me turn indistinct desires and ideas into a concrete plan of action.
October 28, 2010 7:32 AM   Subscribe

What kind of art/creative director should I be, and how can I get there?

After nearly finishing a BFA in Printmaking, I realized it was not at all what I wanted to do. I took a year off and have been working an office job, and in January I am going to SCAD-Atlanta to get a BFA in Advertising. It will take two years to complete. The program mainly consists of design, copywriting, and art direction classes. My goal is to become an art/creative director as soon as possible.

The main problem is that it seems like there are many breeds of creative directors, in nearly every field, and I don't know which direction I should be aiming for. It seems like the major divisions are publishing firms, advertising agencies, creative department at John Doe corporation, or television/film/theatre. Of those, I feel like the first two would be my top choices, but I'd like to know more. I also don't know the best route to get there, as I'm aware creative director is a position you work towards. It seems like the two major ways in are either copywriting or design, both of which I think I could become good enough at to succeed, but I don't feel passionate about either one.

My biggest skill is idea/concept generation. I really enjoy brainstorming and research. I'm also "aesthetically gifted." By that I mean I enjoy (and am good at) creating and judging visual products in all sorts of mediums, everything from interior design to photography to illustration. I'm more a jack-of-all-trades than an expert in any one visual form, but I am a very observant and critical and detail-oriented person, so I can usually become reasonably good at discerning what makes something "look good" or not. I'm also a pretty good writer but it's more of a "hard work and thought and planning" type than "inspired genius, words just flow out" type. I am an assertive person who feels comfortable leading, and I really enjoy working with a team. I am very flexible, and I like when my job requires a large variety of skills, tasks, and responsibilities.

I have a large portfolio of fine arts work (mostly drawings, some prints and a few paintings) and I've been taking up photography as a hobby lately. I'm pretty sure all of that is useless now (in terms of career at least.) I have absolutely nothing that could count as graphic design, and I've never even taken a class. I have taught myself the basic/intermediate functions of Photoshop, working on Illustrator, and I like computers enough to teach myself any other programs that would be useful.

I want to start looking for internships for next summer. Which direction should I go? I probably need to start working now on a portfolio to present - should it be design, copywriting, illustration, or something else? How do I know what kind of projects I should include, and how many? Is it hopeless for me to get an internship in the field I want to go into before I've even taken a single (related) class?

My two questions are, I suppose:
1. What kind of art or creative director should I be?
2. What are the first steps I need to take in order to get there?

Thank you for any insight you can give me. I'll be watching this thread closely.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Work & Money (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Whatever else you decide to do, take some courses in management.

You're on track to be an artist right now, and however gifted or multitalented you are that's not a director. Management is not only a real skill, but it's capital-H hard and good managers with strong technical roots in their field are in desperately short supply in all industries, all the time.
posted by mhoye at 7:55 AM on October 28, 2010

You need actual pieces in your portfolio. Join the student newspaper and browse the SCAD job board for some work. A degree is nice, but your portfolio is what matters, so you need to build that.

Learn Indesign. Photoshop and Illustrater are nice, but Indesign is the meat and potatoes of putting everything together. Fill your portfolio with a brochure or two, pages from the newspaper and several ads and a identity system (not just a logo) or two.

Not to be unkind, but considering that you nearly got a degree in fine arts before switching to commercial arts, you should probably try several different internships to see what sort of what sort of creative direction you'd like to be. You may like several. While there, do whatever they ask you do to and volunteer to do more. You want to learn as much as you can and be known as THAT intern, the one who shines and get's things done without thinking they're better than the actual art directors and designers.
posted by nomadicink at 7:56 AM on October 28, 2010

Keep in mind you can make any program for yourself at school, so the most important thing is to spend time with your professors. There is a good chance that many of them are ADs or CDs who also moonlight as faculty. Not only will they be able to advise you on coursework, they'll also be able to put you right to work out of school.

example 1: a close friend is a CD at an ad agency in New York, and also teaches at Parsons. Any student that shows promise and great work ethic would be able to not only get advice beyond the normal class sessions, but step right into the first position that becomes available either at his agency or somewhere a friend works.

example 2: another close friend who went to Parsons for a post graduate degree really hit it off with his professor whose day job was lead designer at a major magazine. He ended up interning for the magazine and using several other connections and then was hired full time.

I don't know the exact differences between a place like Parsons and a place like SCAD, but I do see a lot of SCAD grads in the NY creative industry so it seems like a great school. Being in Atlanta is a bonus because there are a lot of resources for an AD or CD - so the main thing is to develop relationships with the teachers there who have experience in the field. Not only will they be able to advise you on what kind of creative to be and how to develop your portfolio, but they can also vouch for you to their colleagues, if you're good.
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 8:00 AM on October 28, 2010

All the Creative/Art Directors I've known have, at some point in their careers, worked on a team as a designer/artist/whatever. You can't lead a team of creatives until you've got plenty of experience being part of a team as the worker. You just don't get that experience for how a particular field/group of creatives work anywhere else.

It might be my own personal educational bias, but I'd also recommend taking some theory-level design courses in the field you're interested in. You might have all the aesthetic skills and knowledge, but you will gain the vocabulary and way of talking. When you are working with other creatives, it is very important to know the shared language. Designers will critique and talk about a work differently than artists, artists different from photographers different than engineers and so on.
posted by ninjakins at 8:25 AM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: @infinitefloatingbrains - if it helps at all, I've always known I didn't want to be a freelance artist or gallery artist, but I thought the printmaking program would be more technical, digital, and contemporary instead of the fine arts program it was. Regardless, it was a poor decision to stay there as long as I did, but I'm trying to fix that now. I would absolutely LOVE to try several different internships and that's my plan - my question is how to best start building my portfolio/resume in order to get them to take me.

@ninjakins - can you elaborate a bit more on the recommendation for theory level design classes? When you say "in the field you are interested in," what do you mean by that? Do you mean advertising/publishing, or photography/illustration type of field? Do you have a recommendation for where I would find this type of class, if not at the school I'm attending?
posted by ohsnapdragon at 8:46 AM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, that first comment should be directed towards nomadicink.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 8:59 AM on October 28, 2010

you can not just graduate from school and become an art director or creative director right away. these are pretty much near the top of advancement beginning with junior designer or designer (if you go into graphic design) or junior art director if you go into advertising. advertising moves quicker to art director but you spend a lot more time there (and then you go up to senior art director and spend more time there)—we are talking years. same with designers. it will take you years to get to art director and a lot of years to get to creative director (at least a dozen)—and if you do not already begin with a design or advertising degree, it may take longer.
posted by violetk at 10:42 AM on October 28, 2010

I'd also recommend taking some theory-level design courses in the field you're interested in.

actually, theory-level classes are pretty useless in practical terms of getting a job, unless you go into design education. you don't need a theory class to "talk" like a designer—which in and of itself is a weird way to say it. like any profession, we do have our own language, but that is just something you learn in a class (not necessarily design theory classes) or from experience. what will help you out is experience, and actual design, illustration, or advertising courses.
posted by violetk at 10:46 AM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: I think I may need to rephrase/re-emphasize my question a bit. Like I said in my original question, I know becoming an art director will take A) several internships, B) a degree in advertising, C) an awesome portfolio, D) several years of experience. My query is what steps should I take, RIGHT NOW, to help me A) put together that awesome portfolio and B) get related internships and C) figure out which path to art director would be best for me to embark on.

posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:04 AM on October 28, 2010

Hasn't this been covered. You got advice on putting together a portfolio, networking with teachers for internships and trying out several different types of internships. Hit up Career Services and see what you can find, even if it seems lame or boring, and do it and do it well.
posted by nomadicink at 11:31 AM on October 28, 2010

Response by poster: I did appreciate your suggestions for what to include in my portfolio and that was helpful. Networking with teachers will also be a good move, although I can't do that until I start school in a few months. I guess I was hoping others in the industry could provide advice for what might be a good match for me, or specifics for what they'd be looking for in an intern/portfolio. Or even just insight into what the (years long) process of becoming an art director was like.

Sorry if I came across as ungrateful - I'm just trying to be clear.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 11:37 AM on October 28, 2010

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