What should she be when she grows up?
February 19, 2011 6:17 PM   Subscribe

What can a 27-year old with a BFA do for a semi-stable career?

My girlfriend is a very talented illustrator. She graduated several years ago with her BFA and had been working as a receptionist and doing freelance ever since then. However, we recently relocated so I could go back to school and she is now unemployed, and feeling really discouraged. Due to the economy, the freelance illustration market has significantly dried up and she has not been finding any work. Though she is applying, she hadn't found any job leads yet either.

I can't help but feel that as an intelligent, hard-working, and likeable person with a college degree, she should be able to find some sort of reliable career, even if it means changing direction a bit. She's sick of working a low-paying, hourly job and is feeling the pressure of nearing her 30's without the success she hoped for in the illustration world. (I'm still holding out hope because I think she's really quite good and certainly motivated.

I guess my question is, what are some of the best avenues she could go down? Is there some kind of reliable job or career that someone with a college degree could get into, perhaps with a little additional training? It doesn't have to pay particularly well, though that would certainly be a bonus. It just has to be a legitimate "career" that will be fairly easy (considering) to find a job in and that won't completely kill her soul. For the record, she likes people but is not the constant charm your socks off energetic type (though she is good with small talk and makes friends easily) and doesn't mind a sort of quiet, boring atmosphere. I'd say she performs pretty well under pressure but she does not thrive on it. And she does not particularly want to be an art teacher - in fact, non-art related jobs might be the better route at this point.


I'll probably be threadsitting this one.
posted by ohsnapdragon to Work & Money (22 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Does she have any web design skills?
posted by anniecat at 6:31 PM on February 19, 2011

Also, is there an art school near where you guys live? Maybe she could work in admissions there or something?
posted by anniecat at 6:34 PM on February 19, 2011

She doesn't have web design skills. Though she's a competent designer, she's actually not a huge fan of computers.

There is an art school near us, and she has applied for a couple jobs there with no luck, but we'll keep trying.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 6:40 PM on February 19, 2011

I'm not entirely sure how one gets into this, but litigation law firms sometimes have illustrators on staff, especially for patent and med-mal cases. The key is being able to illustrate something scientifically complicated in a way that's understandable to the average person (who will be on the jury). There's also a certain market for this in, like, car accident cases, but there's also software that can do a lot of that and I think more of that is hired out, since it's pretty repetitive work. It seems to be more the unique cases involving large amounts of money between two businesses suing each other over something arcane where an actual individual illustrators are sought. (That said, there are companies that do this kind of work that firms hire when they don't have someone on staff, though I know EVEN LESS about them, but they must hire people!)

If she put together some kind of portfolio of business illustrations (organizational charts showing a flow of responsibility RIGHT TO THE GUY YOU'RE SUING, for example) and scientific illustrations that relate specifically to legal cases, she could put together a pitch letter about making things clear to the jury and stuff. Maybe target some mid-sized firms for freelance work, and look around for illustrators working at big firms to find out how they got there.

Note that most law firm illustrators I've known have also been responsible for preparing powerpoints and sometimes formatting advertising materials to make them pretty and that sort of thing. I suppose it's also possible she could pitch herself as an administrative assistant WITH BONUS ILLUSTRATION SKILLS, that might be a good pitch.

If she puts together a portfolio from scratch, I would actually pick some cases in the news and find really clear ways to illustrate some key point that would help whatever side make its case. That'd take some research on her part, though, to make sure she understood the key points of the cases.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:52 PM on February 19, 2011

The most important thing you can do to help is keep encouraging her without being pushy, and try to do little things to keep her happy (nice little notes tucked away in places she can find them, etc). When I was in this exact situation, my significant other kept my hopes up when I felt hopeless, and it really, really made a difference.

Has she looked at any recruiter/headhunter/temp agencies? Many times, a temp job will become a permanent job. There are also agencies specifically geared toward the creative field. In D.C. there is a agency for creative jobs called Profiles. With a BFA, and some experience, a temp agency will be able to find her something.
posted by archivist at 7:02 PM on February 19, 2011

Does she like kids? She could be a nanny. I think parents would like an artistic nanny.

Or maybe with her skills, she could be a designer at some kind of event planning firm and design invitations and stuff.
posted by anniecat at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2011

Archivist - you are definitely right, and I will try to remember that. I am going to encourage her to apply to some temp agencies, and I will see if we have a creatives temp agency here in Atlanta. Thanks!

Eyebrows McGee - that's a really interesting career that I've never heard of before! However, her style is more along the lines of children's books/graphic novels, etc and I don't think it would really be applicable to that sort of thing. Thanks though!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:08 PM on February 19, 2011

Anniecat - she would consider nannying, I also suggested being a daycare assistant. But she's not terribly excited about it, and I'd worry that nannying is not really stable/long-term enough. Definitely something to consider though, thanks.
posted by ohsnapdragon at 7:14 PM on February 19, 2011

medical illustration is a viable option but requires some training
posted by raw sugar at 8:00 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Well, it's an art-related job, but a lot of people with that kind of background get careers in video game production - concept artist, character designer, texture artist, 3d modeler, etc. It sounds like she'd have to become more interested in computers though. But that may be necessary regardless; these days, an illustrator/designer - in any field - who isn't making use of the powerfulness of computer tools is like a phone store that isn't big on cellular phones.

That said, because the work is nice and enough people want to create games, the industry conditions aren't great because there will always be people happy to take your place.
posted by -harlequin- at 9:02 PM on February 19, 2011

If she got a MFA, she could teach art at a community college. With the BFA, she could probably get a casual hire position and teach a class or two or more. I know people who have made careers teaching as lecturers at community colleges. Although, a regular position is better, since there is more stability.
posted by fifilaru at 9:54 PM on February 19, 2011

What can a 27-year old with a BFA do for a semi-stable career?

I have friends who consider themselves to be artists, and I have friends who have art degrees (BFAs+MFAs) but do not refer to themselves as artists. Using that info, here is the answer to your question.

"Anything she wants, as long as she stops referring to herself as a BFA, and sees herself as a 'college graduate'." The end.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:44 PM on February 19, 2011

fifilaru: "If she got a MFA, she could teach art at a community college. With the BFA, she could probably get a casual hire position and teach a class or two or more. I know people who have made careers teaching as lecturers at community colleges. Although, a regular position is better, since there is more stability"

I worked for a CC, and collaborated with the graphic design dept at times. My recommendation, for anyone pursuing an adjunct position, is to
1. Think twice.
2. Treat the position as equivalent to volunteer work: great for the resume, good for the networking, and for access to institutional support.

Adjunct pay is terrible. Once you factor in prep time, grading, and training, the hourly wage is craptastic. And there's a class of people who jump at the opportunity, because they've wrapped their identity up in becoming an academic, no matter how craptastic the wage. Still, it can be a good way to keep the dream and opportunity alive.

ohsnapdragon: "I can't help but feel that as an intelligent, hard-working, and likeable person with a college degree, she should be able to find some sort of reliable career, even if it means changing direction a bit."

If you still think this after the past three years, you haven't been paying attention. The unemployment rate for Georgia is currently sitting at 10.2 percent. There aren't jobs for nobody, let alone careers. While the rates for people with degrees is lower, the measurement method obscures the fact that new graduates who can't find work don't show up in the numbers. (I hope any decisions you've made about taking on large chunks of debt for your own schooling doesn't obligate you to discount what I'm saying.)

The normal suggestion for people with non-professional degrees is Store Manager for Borders. Problem is they're closing down 30 percent of their stores, and most retail is no better. My suggestion is to look to the fields that are likely to grow in the coming decade, i.e. health care. Unfortunately, "college degree" is too general for the obvious jobs. And the non-treatment roles are like textbook definition soul crushing. Personally, I think genomic research is neat, but that's very computer programmer / statistics oriented.
posted by pwnguin at 11:38 PM on February 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

Many of my comics artist/freelance illustrator friends do occasional storyboarding work. Bonus if she has animation experience.
posted by milk white peacock at 12:47 AM on February 20, 2011

How about working a retail store that has a signmaker? Making signs can be creative. I was a young BFA when I started working at a co-op grocery store as a signmaker and I'm still doing it. Medium size stores without a corporate headquarters are the most likely to use in-house talent.

Screenprinting also uses art skills.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 1:34 AM on February 20, 2011

Elance.com & guru.com provide lots of freelance illustrator opportunities. A cursory look at design jobs on elance came up with this one for graphic novella work.

It's not a new career, but it could help tide her over until there are more local opportunities.
posted by Kronur at 4:36 AM on February 20, 2011

Thank you everyone for the continued suggestions.

Pwnguin, I know unemployment is high. But obviously there are still jobs out there and still people working, and for that matter, nothing is permanent. Georgia's unemployment rate will fall eventually or if not, there is nothing tying us here once I finish school, and I am actually making money from attending so we'll be okay in the mean-time. While I would love for her to find her dream career and start work next month, what I'm more realistically hoping for is a direction for her to move in, to have some sort of path and goals for the future.

I will run the rest of your suggestions by her. Please keep them coming!
posted by ohsnapdragon at 5:18 AM on February 20, 2011

Teaching art fundamentals (or something related) in a college, high school, kids summer program, or private art school setting? To get a foot in the door, she could contact teachers at her alma mater college & high school first- they might hire her as an instructor, a guest speaker, a sub, or an admissions consultant (ie screening the portfolios of applicants), etc. If she has connections to someone at the institution she might not need all the same qualifications to teach there as one usually might, and once you have that experience it's much easier to get hired in other institutions.
posted by pseudostrabismus at 5:39 AM on February 20, 2011

As a fellow 27 year old in Atlanta with a BFA, I've had the most luck in the non-profit sector. The pay won't be amazing, but its livable, and there is enough flexibility to have allowed me to go back to school part-time for something non-art related, so I'm sure she could also illustrate on the side. I think the High has a couple of positions open right now. Have you tried www.opportunityknocks.org? Their listings for Atlanta are pretty decent. The local Atlanta theaters are also a good place to look for work with a BFA, especially if she's willing to work in larger scales than just illustration. Atlantaperforms.biz has their job listings.

Send me a message if you'd like -- I'd be happy to keep my ear on the ground for any Atlanta leads.
posted by danielle the bee at 6:19 AM on February 20, 2011

Unfortunately, the illustration market is a tough nut to crack, especially with the proliferation of cheap clip art websites and low-cost art factories online. It's not impossible, but it's rough going.

Has she contacted any art reps? I would highly suggest she try to contact a rep. If, for not other reason, to get some feedback.

And, I completely sympathize with the whole computer thing. I hate 'em, too. Unfortunately, unless you live in a large city, the chance of landing a creative position where your responsibilities don't also include a lot of web work (not just designing...actual coding!) is very rare. It seems that, outside of large cities, most places want visual creatives to be a jack-of-all-trades.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:25 AM on February 20, 2011

My sister has a BFA and got her masters to become a teacher. That job market is obviously in serious trouble; at her school other fully qualified teachers with masters degrees are working as classroom assistants and being cut from budgets.

But basically what hal_c_on said: "Anything she wants, as long as she stops referring to herself as a BFA, and sees herself as a 'college graduate'."

If she's at all entrepeneurial she could start and run an art camp and/or 5 day a week after school program around arts and music, too. That's what I would do and indeed what I did do many years ago. Warning: it's a HUGE amount of work.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:22 AM on February 20, 2011

And the non-treatment roles are like textbook definition soul crushing.
This is really not true. I have worked in non-treatment roles in health care for over ten years, and I have often had interesting, meaningful work to do. It has never been soul-crushing.

I have worked as a medical staff coordinator, an executive assistant, a patient advocate (this is TOUGH - do not recommend it), and now I'm a trainer/educator in a hospital. I got most of those jobs without a college degree and with some administrative/secretarial experience.

With her preferences, she might like working in medical records. More info about those careers from AHIMA. Health care is one of the few growing sectors in the economy right now, and careers in that arena don't tie you to one place. It is particularly good for a "trailing partner".
posted by jeoc at 11:47 AM on February 20, 2011

« Older What does "FER-MAY-GHEN" mean?   |   what is this webcomic Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.