If you’re a visual arts major living in fear of succumbing to the “starving artist” trope, there’s no need to worry. Thanks to demand in the digital world, jobs for visual arts majors have become a necessity for more and more companies, with a job growth of 8% in the upcoming years.
Whether it’s for a video game, a mobile app, a web page, or a television commercial, multimedia artists are needed to create effects and graphics that will attract customers and help advance the client’s bottom line.
But if becoming a multimedia artist isn’t your thing, there are still other options to consider when you are looking to launch a career with your newly acquired visual arts degree.
While selling your art may be your end goal, earning money using your skillset is likely top of mind. Luckily, visual arts majors graduate with a plethora of transferable skills that can open the door to many different job opportunities, such as working as an art director, photojournalist, or fashion designer.
A career in the visual arts can be very competitive, so entering the workforce with a plan in place is the key to landing your dream job after college. Read on to learn about the five solid steps to take to launch your visual arts career.
1. Plan your career path
In such a broad field, there are many different creative paths visual arts majors can follow. Which is why deciding what your goals are upfront, and creating a road map is essential.
The first step is choosing between pursuing a career making physical art or digital art. Here are the main differences between these two paths:
Craft and fine arts careers typically involve selling or exhibiting original pieces of artwork. Common occupations include ceramic artists, painters, and sculptors. Becoming a successful craft and fine arts artist requires strong business skills, many years of practice, and outstanding artistic abilities.
Multimedia roles focus on creating digital art for various platforms, such as movies, video games, television, and websites. The field has become increasingly popular and competitive. To find a job in multimedia, you should be creative, an expert at using computer programs, and have solid time-management skills.
2. Consider freelancing
Fresh out of college, freelancing can be a smart way to get started in the visual arts field.
With freelancing, you are in control of how much work you accept, what your hours are, and what type of environment you work in. Plus, for recent grads with limited work experience, this is a terrific way to beef up your resume.
Lorrin O’Neill, creative director at SapientRazorFish says freelancing is a great entry-way into the field.
“If your technical skills are there, then freelance work is great,” she said. “I got to meet a lot of people, establish connections, and network. So, I think it’s a good way to get in.”
Though pay may not be steady or consistent, you’ll gain professional experience, meet different people in the field, and pick up tools along the way that can help you advance in your career.
3. Pursue an Internship
Interning is a huge stepping stone to building a career in the visual arts industry.
According to a survey done by The Strategic National Arts Alumni Project
(SNAAP), 86% of visual arts students surveyed, reported that internships helped them find employment directly after graduation. They also reported having higher job satisfaction and developing stronger networking and entrepreneurial skills, compared to students who did not pursue internships.
With an internship, you gain valuable experience working in a professional atmosphere and the opportunity to add published clips to your portfolio.
4. Start building your portfolio
For landing any creative job, preparing a strong portfolio is essential. In this field, the portfolio is the most important component of the application process.
“You can’t get a job – not even entry-level – unless you have a portfolio,” O’Neill stated.
The samples in your portfolio should convey your creative vision and demonstrate to employers your skills and abilities.
O’Neill encourages recent visual arts grads to incorporate their school projects, in addition to any published clips from internships or freelance work.
“You should definitely have student work in your book. It not only shows [employers] what your visual aesthetic is and [your] capabilities, but also allows them to see conceptually where you took something and how broad and big your thinking can be,” she said.
Although personal websites and digital portfolios are expected, it’s still a good idea to produce a physical portfolio as well.
For example, in certain design positions, such as fashion, Menchaca explained that bringing tangible pieces to the interview can work in your favor.
“[An] online [portfolio] is 100% necessary, but bringing in a physical copy is great too. I love to see your fabric swatches and textures,” she said. “There are things you can’t translate online.”
You must also be able to thoroughly explain your thought process behind every piece in your portfolio. Interviewers want to know how you created the work, what served as inspiration, and whether or not your ideas can be executed.
Knowing the company’s current products and trends within the market is also helpful.
5. Network to find a job
“The best way [to find a job] is to always go through people you know,” according to O’Neill.
“It’s hard to break through,” she explained. “See if you have any contacts in the company you’re interested in working for and reach out on a personal basis.”
Networking, therefore, is an essential part of the job-hunting process. Before you even head to job boards or send your applications to companies, start by reaching out to the people you know.
You’ll have a higher chance at getting hired if you already know someone in the company or reach out to a professional in the industry, compared to if you blindly submit your resume online.
Without the use of contacts or referrals, O’Neill says a resume can get lost in a “digital shuffle” of applications.
Business cards can also be a major networking tool.
Handing them out at industry events can help you create connections and spark action with the people you meet. People are also more likely to remember you and be willing to help you if they have your contact information.
6. Request an informational interview
If you lack contacts, but there’s a specific company you have your eye on, emailing them for an informational interview can be a good start.
Menchaca said that she regularly meets with young fashion hopefuls who reach out to her for advice and to hear about her experience in the field.
While it is understood that there are no job offers being discussed in this setting, it’s a great opportunity to get advice from an experienced professional and add to your network.
7. Develop your personal brand
Whether you are selling your work as a freelancer, or communicating your vision during a job interview, having a strong personal brand, and knowing how to market that brand is a must.
Being able to confidently communicate who you are and what you have to offer will help effectively market your work and abilities, gain clients, and nail job interviews.
Companies need to know what about your artistic abilities makes you worth hiring, and why your creative vision is more suited for the brand’s aesthetic, than other applicants.
It’s also a good idea to create your own gift that you can leave with interviewers.
O’Neill mentioned that a small box of stickers motivated her to hire someone.
“One woman left behind a little pack of stickers that she had designed,” O’Neill explained. “They didn’t have her branding on them, but they did have her illustration style [and] contact information on it. I didn’t forget her, and I ultimately ended up hiring her, because she left an impression.”
Putting in the extra effort may be the deciding factor of whether or not you get the job.
8. Cultivate a following
As an artist, your online presence is important.
Use your social media accounts to help you distinguish yourself as an artist and make your portfolio easily accessible.
“I encourage posting your art on Instagram. People Google people now. So if you’re serious about your work and your art form, 100% share it with the world,” O’Neill said.
It’s also a great opportunity to get direct feedback, gain a loyal following and network with other artists who also post their work online.