Where can studying Art or Design take you? What kinds of careers exist for those who study creative subjects at high school? While you might have heard that becoming an architect, fine artist, sculptor or gallery assistant is an option for those who study Art or Design, there are many other careers available for those who are able to envision, design and create beautiful things. This article highlights a selection of these – including digital and graphic design jobs – and illustrates the range of exciting art-related careers that are possible. It contains a list of over 150+ awesome careers, with 25 examples showcased in detail.
A growing list of art careers
Whether you love photography, graphic design, painting or any other art-related speciality, career options are limited only by your imagination. Art education propels people towards creative and unexpected destinations – many of which have not even been discovered yet. As noted in Need a Job? Invent It, in the New York Times:
…knowledge is available on every Internet-connected device, what you know matters far less than what you can do with what you know. The capacity to innovate — the ability to solve problems creatively or bring new possibilities to life — and skills like critical thinking, communication and collaboration are far more important than academic knowledge.
It is hoped that the 25 hand-picked, creative, inspirational people below will awaken your imagination and remind you that the world needs (and appreciates) those with artistic skill.
Movie Set / Costume / Special Effects Designer – Sir Richard Taylor
Sir Richard Taylor is the co-founder of the Weta Workshop, a New Zealand company that provides digital and physical special effects for film and television, producing costumes, props, make-up effects, prosthetics, models, miniatures, vehicles, armour and weaponry. Weta Workshop has won five Oscars, four BAFTAs and many other awards for their work on a range of well known film and television projects, including Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. Sir Richard Taylor studied at the Wellington School of Design and attended the Dick Smith makeup training programme. Some of the work completed by Weta Workshop can be seen in the video below.
Upcycled Jewellery Designer – Cat Ivins
Cat Ivins found a collection of blackened auto plugs in her husband’s truck repair shop and began designing jewellery using these and other recycled materials. After 10 years of working in a bank, she had no prior experience and attended a welding class so that she was able to create the jewellery she desired. She began selling these through Etsy, an online marketplace for creative people.
She describes her experience in the Etsy Quit Your Day Job series:
I started a business selling from mall carts during the holidays — I also sold things I made at craft shows during the year. After a while, I thought it was time to go back to school, when my niece showed me Etsy and I just fell in love with it. People making things with their own hands and making a living by sharing those makings with other people — it was exactly the way the world was evolving and I knew I wanted to be a part of it.
With two Etsy shops (Polarity and Uncorked), sales from her own website, doing shows and wholesale, Cat has a sustainable, full time income. She credits part of her growth to ‘creative tithing’ – giving a percentage of her profits back to the community.
Web Based Curator – Christopher Jobson
Christopher Jobson finds, discovers and shares artwork via his website Colossal. Colossal has more than 350,000 Facebook followers, 76,000 Twitter followers and 33,000 Pinterest followers and has almost 5,000,000 monthly page views. Work that is featured on Colossal often turns into a viral internet sensation.
In an interview with the National Endowment for the Arts Christopher explains:
Colossal was born from a lack of creativity and inspiration in my own life. I had been working for years as a web designer in a role that was personally unfulfilling and was unsure of what to do about it. As a way to expose myself to new ideas in art and design, I started the blog as a way to catalogue and share the interesting things I encountered around the web. Three years later it’s still going and has completely taken over my life – Christopher Jobson
Game Designer – Stephen Harris
Stephen Harris co-founded the game company Ninja Kiwi with his brother Chris. Ninja Kiwi’s most popular game, Bloons, involves monkeys popping balloons with a dart. After attending Western Springs College, Stephen gained a degree in geophysics and, later, a Post Graduate Diploma in Game Development from the Media Design School. It was here that he learnt programming, design and use of Adobe Photoshop – and was surrounded by others who ‘lived and breathed’ game design.
Ninja Kiwi makes close to $10 million NZD in revenue a year and has about 40 employees. They earn money by selling advertising on their website, virtual currency and smart phone apps.
Firebowl Sculptor – John T. Unger
John T. Unger creates sculptural firebowls that are hand-cut from recycled industrial steel tanks using a plasma torch. Providing light and warmth, the firebowls create a dramatic centre point in an outdoor environment.
Although I did attend the writing program at Interlochen Arts Academy in my senior year of high school, I dropped out of college the first year to pursue my art. I got my education by buying books, tools and materials, by making work, by looking at art in galleries and museums and by occasionally working for more established artists as a studio assistant. The upside of this approach for me was that I had no loans to pay off, was able to focus solely on learning about the art that resonated for me (which is quite a broad area), and my practice was hands-on and built a body of work. So many of the friends I have who went to art school eventually abandoned their art to take jobs that would pay off their loans. – John T. Unger
John reaches a worldwide audience using his own website and online network, and has so far shipped over a thousand firebowls (typically selling for between $1,000 – $3,000 US each) to twelve different countries.
Upcycled Furniture Designers – Jason and Adam Podlaski
Jason and Adam Podlaski design unique, upcycled furniture made from broken skateboards for their business Deckstool. The scraped marks on the skateboards become featured surface decoration, with every piece of furniture one-of-a-kind. Deckstool have recycling programmes in place to collect broken boards and produce furniture that combines modern construction techniques, fine craftsmanship and an artistic aesthetic.
Digital Portrait Artist – Cliff Roth
Cliff Roth paints digital portraits using Google+ ‘Hangouts on Air’, creating the works live on video – the equivalent of a modern day street caricature artist. His subjects include a number of famous people, including Guy Kawasaki. While it is free to attend one of Cliff’s Hangouts and potentially be painted, $40 guarantees you will get one. The portraits are completed in 10 – 60 minutes using Adobe Photoshop CS5 and a Wacom Cintiq 21UX (digital pen and screen).
Cliff studied Art, Photography and 3D Design (Sculpture) at Hopatcong High School, taking as many classes as he could, followed by introductory courses at Country College of Morris. He also completed The Art of Caricature, an online course by Jason Seiler.
Live speed-painting has allowed Cliff to amass a huge Google+ following, with almost 300,000 in his circles. It has also boosted the number of paid commissions he gets (for more detailed, fully rendered digital paintings, as in the examples below).
Magazine Art Director, Graphic Designer, Photographer – Adrienne Pitts
Adrienne Pitts discovered a passion for photography at age 16, when Kristin School first introduced the subject. Adrienne studied both Photography and Design in her senior high school years and, after a year-long student exchange in Chile, completed a Bachelor of Design from Massey University, achieving First Class Honours. Although majoring in photography, Adrienne ensured that all of her elective papers helped prepare her for a graphic design job, allowing her to get the best out of her four year degree.
I found my degree set me up for my career – as I essentially did my own little double major. I came out of University able to find work as both a designer and photographer – and I still do both. These are added strings to my bow, and the quality of education I received from lecturers who were passionate and leaders in the field really made a huge difference to how I approached finding work ‘in the real world’.
A degree in a creative field can be a funny thing. I think much of it can be learned in real life, on the job, however internships and apprenticeships in things like photography and design didn’t really exist when I was at University in NZ, and I knew I wanted to get the best grounding and education possible. – Adrienne Pitts
Adrienne is currently an award-winning Art Director for the Jamie Oliver magazine in London.
Brian Wood – graphic novelist
Brian Wood studied Illustration at Parsons the New School for Design and is a now a popular writer and illustrator of graphic novels. After working nights and weekends for six years, Wood now works full time.
Having a career in comics is a lot like being in a band. You have to start small and play a lot of free shows. But you have complete creative freedom. – Brian Wood
Brian has won several Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards and his books have been translated into several languages. Some are currently being developed for the big screen.
Pet Rock Painter – Ernestina Gallina
Ernestina Gallina paints detailed, realistic images of animals onto smooth river stones. After the cracks on the stones are filled, outlines are sketched with chalk before the animal is painted using acrylic. Ernestina did not attend art school, but has refined her craft through endless practise. Based in Italy, Ernestina teaches rock painting and sells her work via shops, exhibitions and her own website.
Personalised Sticker Designer – Emily Lopez
A huge number of people take monthly photographs of their babies to document their growth. When Emily Lopez had her own children, she began creating personal, custom designed baby stickers to help with this process and then selling them via her Etsy store PurplePossom. Emily has a degree in public relations and graphic design.
PurplePossom has made over 50,700 sales through Etsy at an average price of $11 – $18 NZD (this equates to an approximate average of over $8,700 a month).
Handmade Stamp Maker – Susan Walton
Susan Walton runs the Rubber Stamp Tapestry with her family in North Carolina. The stamps are handmade from wooden pegs and rubber and are used to create frames, borders, decorations and other artwork on cards, stationery, scrapbook pages and ceramics. The stamps are sold through the Rubber Stamp Tapestry website or via an Etsy store, where they are one of the top sellers.
T-Shirt Designer – Stephen Harris
Stephen Harris sells T-Shirts and other products through his Redbubble store Zomboy. Redbubble is a website that allows designers to take advantage of print-on-demand technology, with products printed and shipped as they are ordered (all the artist needs to do is upload a design; anyone can sell online without any up-front investment and make profit from the first sale). In a field where there is tough competition, Zomboy is consistently in the Redbubble Top Seller category.
Stephen designed his first T-shirt when he was twelve years old, using permanent cotton markers. He studied both Design and Technical Drawing at Auckland Grammar School and gained a Criminal Justice degree from Griffith University. Stephen credits his success to his discipline to draw every day, a passion for concepts and a commitment to trying new art techniques.
Upcycled furniture designers – Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri
Based in Beirut, Hoda Baroudi and Maria Hibri run the design and craft studio Bokja, creating furniture pieces made from recycled textiles and tapestries: harmonious combinations of pattern, texture and colour. Bokja avoids mass production and employs only local artists, carpenters and designers.
Maria studied Arabic Literature at the American University of Beirut and Journalism at the Lebanese American University. She cultivated her love for furniture from the 50’s and 60’s during her time as an antique dealer. Hoda Baroudi has a Bachelor degree in Business Administration and an MBA from the American University of Beirut. Following years of experience in finance and banking, her life-long interest in traditional tapestries, textiles and rugs of the orient lead to the creation of Bokja.
Education can really open doors, but at the end of the day talent is what really leaves a mark. We are a poster company for this, neither of us have a formal education in what we are doing. It is that talent behind this company that has made it what it is. We have an eye and an instinct for what we do and it’s not so much the result of our education, but our passion.
Bokja is an amalgam of things, it is layers and layers of reactionary thoughts, it is ‘of the moment’ and transient. Our designs are never innocent as they are often references or reinterpretations of something from our past. Within these objects there is a tangible charm that takes us back to the way things used to be, when products carried legacies that transcended time. We have created a cult following around the world; our designs speak a universal language, while appealing to people on a personal and emotional level. – Bokja Design
Their furniture is available in the US and sells for well over $2,000 USD a chair
Font Designer – Daniel McQueen
Daniel McQueen is a young, entrepreneurial typographer and owner of Ten Dollar Fonts – a website where selected designers sell font licenses to the world. After studying both Design and Photography at St Bede’s College, Daniel gained a degree in Visual Communication from CPIT School of Art and Design, with a focus on typography.
When his fonts began to gain attention on the social media website Tumblr, Daniel decided to sell licenses to his fonts. Worried that his work would get lost amongst the crowd on an existing font marketplace, he created his own website. Ten Dollar Fonts gained the attention of several well known designers and features prominently in social media.
Daniel gives advice for new graduates in an interview with Zoe Nash of Design Assembly:
…if you’re like me and you’re not excited by the idea of working for someone else, my advice would be as simple as do something for yourself. Have projects that you enjoy and take it seriously. Be patient and stick at it, you never know where it could take you. Even if you do have a full time job, have creative outlets and work hard at them. You’re young and most likely don’t have to support anyone but yourself right now, so there is no better time to put your ideas to work. – Daniel McQueen
Graphic Artist / Printmaker / Collage artist – Matt Dinniman
Matt Dinniman is a graphic artist with over 15 years of experience. He has made a name for himself selling affordable hand-made prints, using a combination of photography, digital collage and mixed media. He sells his work via his own website, Collage-O-Rama, and his Etsy store. His most well known works are animals printed onto dictionary pages.
We take old books about to be destroyed and upcycle them in order to give them new life. The aging, slightly-yellowed page is carefully removed, and the image is printed directly on the recycled paper. – Matt Dinniman
Based in Seattle, Matt has made over 55,100 sales since joining Etsy, with artwork commonly priced between $8 – $24 NZD (this roughly equates, on average, to sales of over $9,500+ a month).
Film Concept Artist – Dean Sherriff
For many Art students, the notion of creating beautiful, imaginary worlds is the dream career. Dean Sherriff does this for a living, as a concept artist for Universal Pictures. He has produced concept designs for popular films such as After Earth, X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Day the Earth Stood Still and Night at the Museum. Dean trained at Ontario College of Art and Design in Canada, gaining an Honours in Illustration.
Cake Decorator – Brian Stevens
Celebrity Chef Brian Stevens co-founded the specialty bakery Crazy Cakes with his wife, Jennifer. Brian has an Art degree, and became a cake artist after a varied career, including sumo wrestling, digital illustration, sculpting and video game development. He has starred in the Food Network and TLC’s Cake Boss: Next Great Baker. He is known for producing meticulously hand-crafted sculpted cakes of all kinds, with detailed textures and realistic painting.
Soft Toy Maker – Wendy Tsao
In a world when things are readily available to everyone, original, handmade items are in demand. Wendy Tsao makes soft toys that are inspired by young children’s drawings, taking orders through her website, Child’s Own Studio. Her work has become an internet sensation. She recently opened for orders and in three hours was booked out for the whole year.
I am inspired by the child’s drawing, a wonderful expression of childhood. Typically, a drawing is sent to me, and I decide if I can work with it. (I normally work only with children’s drawings, hand-drawn and coloured). There may be notes included with the drawing. I may ask for clarification about some details. And then I get to work, in my Vancouver studio. The machine whirs, scissors snip, needles zip, and everything gets covered in fibrefill fluff. – Wendy Tsao
Illustrator – Ryan Berkley
After working in a small Arts college for ten years, Ryan Berkley and his wife Lucy set up Berkley Illustration – an Etsy shop where they sell Ryan’s prints – often animals wearing suits. The illustrations are drawn using markers and coloured pencil, sometimes with digital blocks of colour added in the background. A self taught artist, Ryan speaks about his regret about not attending Art school in the Etsy Quit Your Day Job Series:
And I am regretful for many reasons. I feel like I could have learned how to properly draw the human figure, rather than learning from comic books. I also feel I could have an actual understanding of colour theory, which would be nice. I would have loved to learn some painting techniques. I was always jealous of my friends being in college in general, and in other cities, living on their own. I think that would have been fun. Especially with a bunch of talented art kids.
With over 41,000 sales made in Etsy, and items commonly priced between $12 – 24 NZD, Berkley Illustration generates approximately $7,000 per month in sales on average. This income is supplemented with wholesale orders, gallery shows and commercial commissions, including large clients like Nike, The Discovery Channel and Spoon.
Online Art Gallery Creator, Artist and Technology Entrepreneur – Amanda Lane
After completing her high school education at Rangitoto College and studying Film Animation as part of her Graphic Design degree from Auckland University of Technology, Amanda began a rich and varied career, working as a traditional animator, theatre and film scenic artist, art director and set designer. She now co-owns Exhibbit, a software development company that sells virtual Art galleries to students, artists and traditional galleries. This means that people are able to embed their own virtual ‘gallery’ within their website (see the image below).
…I have had a number of jobs within the creative industries – there is huge scope for creatives in business, especially now the internet plays such a big role. – Amanda Lane.
Pet Portrait Artist – Ron Burns
Focusing on a particular niche (pet portraiture) and combining artistic skill with generosity and business knowledge helped Ron Burns turn painting into a lucrative career. Ron has adapted a style that sets him apart from the ordinary (the market is flooded dull, realistic pet portraits) and produces vibrant paintings that are rich with emotion-filled colour. Ron began painting dogs in animal shelters (giving a percentage from sales back to the shelters) and, after 9/11, documenting dogs that have lost their lives in tragedy or were involved in bomb detection, disaster relief, or search and rescue. Focusing upon heroic or disadvantaged animals, Ron has supported spay and neuter programmes, anti dog-fighting legislation and helped to generate significant funds for non-profit organisations. Ron has received several awards, television and media publicity and public commendations for his efforts – exposure that has helped to cement Ron as one of the leading dog portrait artists.
Through his own website, Ron sells prints and ready-to-hang, commissioned acrylic paintings of pets to their owners.
Printable Wedding Invitation Designer – Eleanor Mayrhofer
Eleanor Mayrhofer designs downloadable wedding stationary, invitations, greeting cards and other paper items. With quality printers now at an affordable price, Eleanor creates and sells PDF templates with editable text via her Etsy shop e.m.papers, allowing people to print their own invitations at home. After graduating from Art school as a graphic designer, Eleanor was employed by a consulting firm. She now works full time on e.m.papers. Her products have been consistently featured in the media, appearing in magazines such as Marth Stewart Weddings and BRIDES.
Ceramic Artist – Karolina Grudniewska
After gaining a Bachelor of Arts, Karolina Grudniewska worked as an English teacher and a florist, before returning to college to study Interior Architecture. After a varied career, Karolina has become a self-taught ceramist. She sells work from Ireland via her Etsy store KaroArt, and her work is available locally through stores and craft shows. She is full time Etsy seller, with an online shop filled with functional items with beautiful, organic form. As she commented in the Etsy Quit Your Day Job series:
I find working with clay very intuitive. Once you get the basics, there’s a world of possibilities in front of you. It takes hours and hours of practice, with many trials and many failures, but each broken piece teaches you a lesson. Practice and repetition brought me to proficiency, but I feel like I’m learning a new thing almost every day, and there’s still so much I’d like to discover and learn.
Repurposed Furniture Designer – Rupert Blanchard
Rupert Blanchard takes mundane, discarded pieces of furniture, reclaimed plywood, used wooden fruit crates and other donated or discarded items and reassembles these to create stunning, contemporary furniture pieces. Working with an assortment of styles, techniques, surfaces, patterns and materials, Rupert creates dressers and furniture items that are reminiscent of abstract art: functional installation pieces for the modern home.
As described by the gentle author:
Rupert has developed a trained eye for the beauty of the disregarded and, as a consequence, lives at the mercy of his compulsion to hoard it, taking him to at least three car boot sales a week and connecting him to an elaborate network of scavengers, junk dealers, house clearance people, skip raiders and demolition workers. “Time will run out before the rubbish does,” he pronounced, pulling a long quizzical face, shaking his head and crossing his arms in bewilderment at his crazy hoarding instinct. Yet everything here is wonderful in its way, and Rupert has found means to give new life these artifacts once their original incarnation is defunct. Most of his furniture is one-off pieces, however some have a more streamlined production process.
The examples of Art, Photography, Sculpture, 3D Design, Game Design and Graphic Design jobs illustrated above are just a handful of the exciting career paths that are possible for high school Art students. It is clear that the journey to a creative career is not always clear cut. A Fine Art degree is not always necessary. Related degrees (Graphic Design, Animation, Computer Science, Web Design, Architecture, Marketing, Business) and/or skill-based courses – among many others – may also lead to successful outcomes.
Skill is practiced and refined ultimately by doing. Combine your artistic skill with ambition, generosity, persistence, hard work and business sensibility. If you want a creative career, carve out a little space in the world where you can become an expert: hone your craft via daily practice and make something that people love. Build a website and show off your talent. Let your work spiral out through social media and be discovered by the world.
And remember: if you are one of those lucky enough to be good at Art and other things…be prepared for people to try and convince you that Art is a swift and certain route to poverty (it’s not: read 9 Reasons to Study Art in High School). If this happens to you, keep in mind that those who are good at Art and other things are in the best position of all to succeed.
This article is a work in progress. New careers will be added regularly! You may wish to bookmark this page.
Amiria has been an Art & Design teacher and a Curriculum Co-ordinator for seven years, responsible for the course design and assessment of student work in two high-achieving Auckland schools. She has a Bachelor of Architectural Studies, Bachelor of Architecture (First Class Honours) and a Graduate Diploma of Teaching. Amiria is a CIE Accredited Art & Design Coursework Assessor.