What the heck do I do with my fine arts degree?
January 24, 2015 4:36 PM   Subscribe

After a turbulent period in my life, I've realized that being a struggling artist is not the lifestyle for me. I've recently obtained my BFA in illustration and I'd appreciate any suggestions for career options.

Ideally, I'd like to head into a field with career longevity, some upward mobility, reasonable work hours, and decent wages where I can apply the skills I have, and develop in areas I have potential for. I don't mind the entry grind if it means a stable living in the future. I'm also open to taking classes or studying on my own time to increase my skillsets.

A little background:
Without sounding like I'm tooting my own horn, I'm great at what I do. I specialize in editorial illustration as well as graphic design, but print is very much a dying industry. I have good technique, an eye for aesthetics, and I work digitally so I'm proficient with the Adobe suite.

Although I haven't had much systematic training, I have somewhat of a knack for computers. I know basic HTML & CSS and I'm open to learning new programs & languages.

I'm bilingual. I have a natural talent for linguistics, be it spoken or written. Again, this is not something that I have devoted the time to cultivate, but I do have confidence in my ability to learn quickly.

the INFJ personality type rings true for me. I communicate clearly and I work well with others.

I have a highly analytical mind and I thrive on abstract thinking.

I've done odd jobs in various disciplines of the art/design industry. My portfolio thusfar is tailored to visual design & commercial illustration.

Fields like motion graphics, UI design, 3D modeling/texturing are some options I'm considering. I've done research for the aforementioned industries, but i figured it might be better to offer my unique case so I can get more tailored responses. My scope is limited however, so I'm open to any possibilities that I haven't considered.

Apologies for the messy nature of this ask, I'm at a crossroads in my life and I really need some outside opinion to help me make informed choices. Although this ask is appealing to industry insiders, I'd appreciate general life advice as well, I know very little about it being a twentysomething. Last but not least, I'd like to thank MeFites for your invaluable nuggets of wisdom which saved me months of agony over Life Problems.
posted by AstralJelly to Education (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Where do you live and are you willing to relocate? There are a lot of gaming art options in Texas, for instance, and the Midwest has a comparative ton of available graphic design and curatorial positions relative to anywhere else I've lived in the US (so more jobs than the upper East Coast and Louisiana), Pixar is hiring in California, and so on.
posted by vegartanipla at 4:51 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm located in Ohio and I'd be very happy to relocate.
posted by AstralJelly at 5:01 PM on January 24, 2015

I have a BFA and I work in the non-profit sector doing marketing and design work. My background is in installation art (OMG WHAT WAS I EVEN THINKING), but being able to get around the Adobe Creative Suite and having basic web design skills pretty much makes you a rockstar in the local non profit world. Yes, I do other things at my job too, because everything is underfunded and that's the way life is, but I love what I do and I have learned so many weird things in my non profit years. I can organize a film festival, I can lead youth campers in song, I can design posters and websites like a boss, and I'm making the world a better place.

You won't get rich at a non profit, but you can get by comfortably and the perks are pretty awesome depending on where you work.

It's not as glamorous as Pixar and the likes, but I am a real person with a BFA who has a job and is happy. Try all sorts of things -- I worked as a costume designer, an administrative assistant, even a waitress at the waffle house before I found my niche. Explore all your options in your 20s and you'll find where you belong by the time you're 30 and where that place is will probably surprise you.
posted by danielle the bee at 5:44 PM on January 24, 2015 [15 favorites]

Become an art director at an ad agency. You'll probably want to do a portfolio course to put one together to show to agencies but if you're good at abstract thinking and have an artistic background, you're halfway there. The hours suck but it fits the rest of your criteria and if you enjoy being creative, long hours don't seem that bad. The sticking point is when/if you want a family - it is really not a family friendly industry due to the hours which is why I've finally bowed out but that might not be an issue for you, depends on what you want out of life.
posted by Jubey at 5:50 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Since you didn't say anything about education, I recommend you don't consider that route. A lot of people hear the word "art major" and immediately suggest teaching as a career. I'm a schoolteacher and I love my job but you have to love art and kids equally for it to truly work. Plus, you'd likely need more time and education for a license so money could be an issue. It sounds like you have many interests and talents so I wish you luck in finding that good match!
posted by smorgasbord at 5:56 PM on January 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Please check your MeMail.
posted by doctor tough love at 6:00 PM on January 24, 2015

Although I haven't had much systematic training, I have somewhat of a knack for computers. I know basic HTML & CSS and I'm open to learning new programs & languages.

I'm bilingual. I have a natural talent for linguistics, be it spoken or written.

I have a highly analytical mind and I thrive on abstract thinking.

You sound like you could become a programmer! I am an illustrator (children's, with a healthy practice) and I am also a web/mobile developer. The tech job market is strong, and if you have programming chops, prospective employers will generally view your illustration background as a plus, sometimes a very attractive plus. There aren't many people with design sense who can also write good code.

Memail me if you want to discuss.
posted by the_blizz at 6:59 PM on January 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You sound like you might enjoy user experience - you will use every single one of the skills you list.
posted by bleep at 7:06 PM on January 24, 2015 [5 favorites]

Good front end developers have your training.
posted by oceanjesse at 12:33 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

"Content creator"? A position like this one sounds like it would be a good fit for you.
posted by Enchanting Grasshopper at 5:33 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

Most public or academic libraries would kill to have someone with your background on staff.

Marketing, visual communication, in-house technical/ programming chops are almost always areas of weakness for these sectors.

Potential issues --
* whether you would consider the wages "decent"
* identifying employers who have made these skillsets a priority by creating/ funding a position

But stop by a local library to get a feel for what happens there, chat with the director, etc.

Good luck!
posted by woodman at 8:07 AM on January 25, 2015 [1 favorite]

A salary guide like this one might help you figure out where you want to start.

If you recently got your BFA, does the school offer any career guidance? I certainly wouldn't bail on your art career to become a programmer (unless that's something you really want to do), at least not without a little more exploration.
posted by Bron at 10:35 AM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

Um, print design is not dead or dying. Could you elaborate on your design experience and why you don't think it's worth pursuing? (Not trying to be hostile, just want to have a helpful answer.) I am a graphic designer and my agency deals almost entirely in print design and we are always too busy without doing anything to promote ourselves. We are always looking to hire people and we pay well. We also work with illustrators who are often too busy to accept new work so I feel like maybe your issue is just lacking experience?

It's really hard to get your foot in the door because everyone claims to be really talented, and usually they are, but they lack experience. We move too fast to wait for someone to learn how to manage their time, communicate with team members, and juggle the mundane project management stuff to hire someone who ONLY has talent. That being said! Illustrators tend to be great designers because they are incredibly detailed, understand color theory and usually can translate Photoshop/Illustrator skills to InDesign. (However, InDesign is incredibly powerful and often people lie about knowing how to use it. We have done many trial runs with potential hires who claim to know Creative Suite, have a decent portfolio and work experience, but then we open their files and our team laughs and laughs at what a total wreck they are once it's clear they don't know how to use tabs, style sheets, tables, etc and are making things look decent in the least efficient way. This can be taught, but be honest about your skills.)

I can't think of anyone who would hire you as an art director without way more prior experience—like, most art directors I know had 3-5 years in the field—so you're going to have to start somewhere and spend some time feeling like you wasted your degree because you're learning so much that it doesn't even seem like school prepared you at all. This is fine and not uncommon.

I do urge you to consider print design, though. Attention to detail is so important (I think in some ways more so than web design, since spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a printed piece and missing a typo or low-res image is harder to rectify) and I deal with far too few who are willing to work quickly but precisely, but illustrators almost always can. Plus, you understand how key client relationships are instead of thinking that talent will let you avoid dealing with difficult people. If you are interested in print design, you should look to start in production design, where you can make a pretty good salary and do satisfying work. If you can write well (which your question indicates you can), companies will take notice of you. Good luck! (By the way, do you have an online portfolio you'd be comfortable linking us to? Could be useful for future answers to tailor to your strengths.)
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 3:14 PM on January 25, 2015 [2 favorites]

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