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Creative arts & design Career Pathways & Advice

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Overview

Those working in the creative arts and design fields bring flair to the projects that they work on, creating and curating work that other people can enjoy. Graduate arts, design and fashion jobs are in high demand, making these some of the hardest career areas to crack – but some of the most rewarding when you do. You’re likely to be doing something you love that lets your creativity flow, after all – not many other sectors can offer that!

If you’re creative and have a good eye for aesthetics, a career in the arts could be for you. This is an industry that values creativity and imagination above all else, so you’ll need these in an abundance to make it in this highly competitive field.

Working in fashion, arts or even graphic design means more than just liking to shop or following the latest design trends – you've got to set your own styles and not be afraid to do something different. Think about the designers and artists you like best – they're the ones whose work you can't help but stand back and admire.

When you start a career in the arts, design or fashion, it’s likely that you won’t be the one designing clothes, decorating a room or directing actors on stage. Instead, you'll be assisting a person or team who will do most of the creative work. But this is where everyone starts – it gives you a chance to see how the industry works, and to see what you'll need to do to successfully create your own designs. You'll learn how to work with all kinds of clients, and to get the best out of yourself and your team.

Working hours can vary because you'll usually have strict deadlines to meet for clients, shows or your colleagues, so you might have to work nights or weekends to make sure it gets done. Indeed, this might be when your fashion show, gallery opening or stage production takes place.

You'll start a design career having to work according to the ideas and guidelines your manager gives you, but you'll have more freedom to put ideas forward and try new things as you get more experience. Make your CV stand out by taking internships or helping out with different kinds of projects.

Alternatively, if you prefer to work for yourself, you could begin your career as a freelancer, taking or commissions of work from companies or individuals who will pay agreed sums for your services. While this allows you greater freedom and flexibility, your income will be solely reliant on your ability to secure projects, which can be quite challenging when you are just starting out in the industry.

Some jobs that you could pursue in the creative arts, design or fashion include:


  • Gallery curator

  • Graphic designer

  • Illustrator

  • Textile designer

  • Fine artist

  • Fashion designer

Skills

Arts, design and fashion jobs are all about being creative, and having the confidence to run with your ideas. You'll need an open mind not just to try new things, but also to learn from and work for people who've been in the industry a long time. You also have to be on time with deadlines, and be able to work well with a team of people.

One of the main skills you will need as an artist or designer is the ability to keep up to date with the latest trends and developments. You’ll also need a thick skin, because being successful in this industry is tough.

- Ability to Work Under Pressure
- Commercial Awareness
- Communication
- Creativity
- Design
- Graphic Design
- Teamwork
- Time Management

Progression opportunities

Unlike in a lot of industries, there’s no set progression path for those working in the creative arts – instead, you’ll have to leverage a combination of networking, determination, talent, availability for the right projects at the right time – and, yes, a slice of good luck. Build on successes to network with those around you, and those who might be able to introduce you to new opportunities. Keep track of every skill you gain and every success you have, no matter how minor it might seem – and shout about them wherever, and whenever, you can.

Career development

There are various funds that you can apply for to help you move forward in your creative career, for example those offered by Creative Skillset. These include programmes supporting talent in TV, film and other areas.

There are of course also a large number of professional courses that you can take to hone your skills in various creative areas – again Creative Skillset is a great resource, listing over 12,000 courses through its Hiive web app.

Related Companies

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Earning potential

It’s no secret that salaries in the creative arts can be low – with so many people vying for positions, companies aren’t required to attract candidates with large amounts of money. Starting salaries for assistants in this field are usually around £13,000. Average salaries for the following roles, according to Pay Scale, are:

Gallery curator - £27,122
Graphic designer - £21,562
Illustrator - £22,030
Textile designer - £22,127
Senior fashion designer - £34,006

Freelance workers earn on a project-by-project basis and in this case, the sky really is the limit – think haute couture fashion designers and those directing on the West End or Broadway stage. However, for every stratospherically successful designer or director, there are a number of independent creatives earning little more than they would in a full time role, so make sure that you are comfortable with financial uncertainty until you crack the sector!

Qualification requirements & subjects to study

You don’t necessarily need an undergraduate degree in a specific subject to get a role in this industry – you can supplement your interest in the subject matter with work experience and internships.

Those with degrees in the following subjects are likely to look to move into roles within the sector, though, and will have creative work and portfolios that they’ve created at university:


  • Fashion

  • Design

  • Filmmaking

  • Fine art

  • Illustration


If that’s not you, you’ll need to strategise on how to get there. Masters or other courses are likely to give you the key knowledge you need.

How to get there

If your degree is in a specific subject, for example a certain branch of fashion design, the roles you can apply for as a graduate should be fairly clear – as assistant designer in a menswear department, for example, if you have studied menswear design.

If your qualifications are more general or you have studied something that you now don’t want to pursue directly, you may want to look into a masters degree or postgraduate qualification in your particular area of interest, as this will firm up the skills you need.

Two things you’ll definitely need are a strong portfolio that demonstrates your work and technical ability, and a significant amount of work experience to prove your dedication to your chosen field. Work experience is absolutely essential in this industry, so aside from a well-stocked portfolio you will need to demonstrate that you have taken on various internships – some of which might have to come after you’ve graduated or completed your course. Contact companies directly and ask if you can come in for work experience or to shadow an existing member of staff.

Industry Bodies

Arts Council England

Arts Industry

Arts Hub

Arts Professional

Arts Emergency

Design Council

British Institute of Interior Design

UK Web Design Association

Design Industries Association

Design Business Association

Creative Industries Federation

British Arts Festivals Association

Performing Arts Network and Development Agency (PANDA)

Chief Cultural & Leisure Officers Association

Equity

ArtWorks Alliance