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Career Options in Art & Design: School Leaver

What is the industry about?

Are you a creative type with an abundance of artistic flair? If so, a career in the art and design industry could be for you. You need to be creative and be able to think so much outside the box that you also casually think outside of the ball, pentagon and any other shape we can name. You need to be setting the trends, not following them. It’s horribly clichéd, but most definitely true.

Art and design is an industry where creativity and imagination rule the roost. However, be warned, this isn’t an industry where you can come swanning in, thinking of yourself as the next prima donna (in fact, this can’t and won’t happen in any industry). You won’t be designing the latest spring/summer collections straight away, nor will you be thinking up the interior of a new home. You’re more likely to be the assistant to the person who is creating, but remember that everybody in this industry started out this way and the only way to the top through a potent combination of hard graft and innovative ideas. For this reason, it’s very important to keep a portfolio of all your ideas, not just the ones you like the most.

Working hours and patterns in this industry varies and is sometimes quite unconventional. Working as a freelancer is a common path, but can also mean that you go through pretty tough periods where it’s tough to get any work. You also need to be good at the business side of things and networking if you’re going to be a freelancer. Many don’t work entirely on their own though. You can become part of an art collective or design agency, allowing you to develop communication and teamwork skills.

What opportunities are available to me?

This industry has countless nooks and crannies that you can specialise in, ranging from popular routes such as fashion design and photography to animation, body art and web design. And that’s only mentioning a handful! For this reason, there are loads of opportunities available to school leavers:

- Apprenticeships

- Further and higher education.

Whilst that list only has two bullet points, there are, quite frankly, bloomin’ loads of options available to you. Check this mammoth list out:

- Animator

- Antique dealer

- Architect

- Art gallery curator

- Art valuer

- Body piercer

- Costume designer

- Fashion designer

- Fine artist

- Florist

- Furniture designer

- Graphic designer

- Illustrator

- Interior designer

- Museum curator

- Photographer

- Product designer

- Set designer

- Sewing machinist

- Tattooist

- Textile designer

- Web designer.

Graphic designers can undertake an Apprenticeship and see their career expanding into all kinds of work – from book design to food packaging design. On the other hand, wannabe architects and landscape designers can also undertake an Apprenticeship and go on to design city expansions or new housing estates.

It can be the case that to follow a career path in some areas of art and design it’s better to do an Apprenticeship whereas other career paths are better followed once you’ve spent some more time in education. For example, it’s really tough to break into the fashion or photography industry, so spending some time in education working on projects and developing your portfolio will give your CV a big boost in later years. Additionally, getting into web design is tough if you have no experience of writing web pages using various types of code. Therefore you should consider further education and a degree in computer science.

Setting the school leaver record straight

As there isn’t as much widespread information about Apprenticeships and school leaver programmes as there is about a route to a career university, the full options aren’t always available.

What can be said about the art and design industry is that there are routes in at every level, however this doesn’t mean that it’s easy. Simply saying that you’re creative on your CV isn’t enough, you need an expansive portfolio with all your snazzy ideas displayed attractively. You can develop these ideas independently or go onto further and higher education and also learn more about the area you want to specialise in.

Formal education: should I stay or should I go?

As mentioned, you can break into the art and design industry at any level following your GCSEs. However, you will need to evidence your skills and ideas through your portfolio. The industry is also highly competitive, so further and higher education qualifications could help you stand out. If you want to be a tattooist, employers are more likely to hire somebody who studied illustration at a specialist arts university with a specific focus on body art, rather than somebody who has left school and throws a few sketches from GCSE art classes their way.

Whatever area of art and design you want to get into, you can definitely turn your career into an absolute masterpiece. You just need to know how!