We all want to follow our dreams, but who really wants to be a starving artist? You don’t have to choose between making a living and finding a professional role where your creativity will be valued. There are plenty of careers where creativity is a central requirement, but workers can still expect to earn well above – and in some cases, two to three times – the median salary for all occupations.
Here are 10 careers that will allow you to earn a living while still following your creative passions.
1. Art Director
You’ve got an eye for design. You can communicate ideas through visual art, from photographs to paintings, and you have a knack for presenting that art through stylish and effective layouts. A role as an art director in an industry like movie production, publishing or advertising and public relations would be an excellent way to put those talents to use.
Art directors are the design professionals who choose the art, photographs and other visual elements that go into an advertisement, publication, motion picture or life performance. They come up with a vision for how the design will look and the manage artists, graphic designers, photographers and set builders who work to create the vision. Though a talent for design is crucial to success as an art director, the work isn’t all about the creative side. Art directors also need to handle business responsibilities like interfacing with clients, working with other departments involved in the project and creating and following budgets and timelines
Most art directors get their start as creative professionals in fine art, photography, editing or graphic design. In addition to earning a bachelor’s degree in their chosen subject, aspiring art directors typically spend five years or longer gaining experience in their arts and design roles and building their portfolios before they advance to this high-level, and highly compensated, role.
Education: Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography or Graphic Design
Creative Field: Visual arts
2. Technical Writer
If you build up your technical knowledge, you can turn a passion for writing into a career that earns more than double the median annual salary in the United States. Technical writers are the communication professionals who create the text used to convey technical information in instruction manuals, frequently asked questions (FAQ) resources and journal articles. Most technical writers work in scientific and technical services or the manufacturing and information industries.
Being a good technical writer requires many of the skills necessary for success in other forms of writing. You have to think about your audience and figure out what they need to know to use the product safely and effectively. The role also involves doing research into the product’s design, development and use.
Writing out complex technical information in ways that are simple, accessible and easy to understand is the crux of a technical writer’s job. However, these professionals are also responsible for creating or attaining the visual elements – like diagrams, charts and photographs – that help users understand the product. Today’s technical writers may also be responsible for creating interactive presentations of technical information, including video and audio elements.
Technical writers need to draw from both communication skills and technical knowledge. That means these professionals need an education that emphasizes writing and communications but also a background in the technical subject they want to write about. In fact, many technical writers start their careers in these technical industries, often as research specialists or assistants. Aspiring technical writers are in luck – the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts opportunities for this profession to increase by 10 percent over a decade. That’s faster than the seven percent job growth expected for all occupations and much faster than the growth expected for communications professionals and authors (four percent and two percent, respectively).
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Communications or English, Plus Knowledge of Computer Science, Web Design or Engineering
Creative Field: The Written Word
3. Industrial Designer
Every product we use was designed by someone. In industries like manufacturing, specialized design services, architectural and engineering services and wholesale trade, that someone typically goes by the job title of industrial designer. Part designer, part engineer and part businessperson, an industrial designer comes up with the designs for products large and small, from motor vehicles to children’s toys.
An industrial designer does consider the visual aesthetics of product design, but creativity also comes into play when creating a product that fulfills requirements of function, cost and user-friendliness. These professionals need to figure out the “audience” for the product and visually design (with the help of computer-aided design software) a product that meets that audience’s needs and expectations. These designs don’t remain sketches for long – they progress to virtual models and finally physical prototypes.
A bachelor’s degree is sufficient education to land you an entry-level role in industrial design, but employers will look at more than your degree. Most aspiring industrial designers build an electronic portfolio of their product designs, which they can show to prospective employers to illustrate their skills, the BLS reported.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Design, Engineering or Architecture
Creative Field: Design
4. Fashion Designer
Not all art hangs on gallery walls. If you have an eye for aesthetic designs and the art and computer skills to create hand-drawn sketches and computerized graphics, you can put your creativity to work designing clothing, costumes, footwear and accessories.
Fashion designers are involved in the process of creating apparel from beginning to end. They develop themes and ideas to inspire clothing collections, create sketches that express their designs and choose the fabrics, patterns and colors they want for the clothing. They collaborate with other members of a design team to develop a physical prototype of the clothing design. A career in fashion design isn’t all about sketching colorful clothing ideas, though.
Fashion designers must research current style trends to help them figure out what designs will attract buyers. They have to be detail-oriented enough to develop instructions on how to correctly make the design concept a reality. A good fashion designer considers not only aesthetic appeal, but also function, making choices about the garment’s materials and construction. Some fashion designers are responsible for tasks like pitching the design ideas to a creative director, supervising production of the garment and marketing the finished fashion item.
If you want to become a fashion designer, you’ll need more than drawing skills and a creative flair. You’ll want to earn a bachelor’s degree in a subject like fashion design or fashion merchandising, which will teach you about different fabrics and the computer skills necessary to create virtual representations of your designs. Your college career is also the perfect time to begin building your professional portfolio of design concepts and get some work experience by interning with fashion design companies.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Fashion Design or Fashion Merchandising
Creative Field: Design
5. Multimedia Artist or Animator
In animation and multimedia art, the graphics created require more than a single method of creating art. Instead of just drawing or painting an image, animators and multimedia artists create moving pictures and visual effects. Video games and animated movies and television shows are examples of the kind of work these professional artists do.
In each medium, an animator or multimedia artist is responsible for creating every aspect of the image, from the background to the foreground and the characters to the scenery. The ability to create visual art by hand is important for an animator, who will usually have experience drawing, painting and sculpting subjects. However, since computer-generated images (CGI) are very common in today’s entertainment and multimedia art, an animator or multimedia artist must have excellent computer skills, too.
Creating an animated piece of art is a process. Multimedia artists must develop the concepts for the designs, create storyboards that plan out the animation process and get projects done within a timeframe and a budget. They may need to do research to develop their designs or base those designs on the visuals of actual landscapes, people and movements.
Multimedia artists typically work in motion picture and video industries, computer systems design, software publishing and advertising. Though they may not always work in traditionally arts industries, they need to build a strong portfolio that shows potential employers their creativity, design and technical skills.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Animation, Computer Graphics or Fine Art
Creative Field: Visual Arts
6. Professional Writer
Striving to write the great American novel can certainly leave you feeling like a starving artist – but there are plenty of opportunities to make a livable living using your skill with the written word. After all, written content is essential for advertisements, magazines, websites, television and movie scripts, marketing materials, blogs, social media posts and many more types of media.
Copywriters, bloggers, screenwriters, biographers and journalists are all types of professional writers. Sometimes they have different job titles that may incorporate industries like marketing, communications or advertising. They might focus on specific topics or industries, or they may be generalists. Professional writers may work at an agency, in-house within a company or for themselves.
Though opportunities for professional writers are growing at a slower than average rate, about two-thirds of writers are self-employed, the BLS reported. That means it’s often possible to begin writing professionally on a part-time basis or as a side job – including while writing that novel, play or song lyric. Freelance writers don’t necessarily have to compete against numerous other candidates to get chosen for a position, but they do need to attract and build relationships with clients to get consistent work.
Copywriting may not sound as literary as penning the novel, poem, play or song of your dreams, but successful professional writing still requires many of the same skills used to write fiction and other creative content. It’s essential to know the rules of good writing and when to break them, and of course, you need to consider your audience, purpose and tone. Making valuable revisions is part of professional writing, just as it should be part of the creative writing process. The best way to improve your writing skills is through plenty of practice – which means writing professionally, even for advertising companies or marketing departments, can help you get close to achieving your literary dreams.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Writing, English, Journalism or Communications
Creative Field: The Written Word
7. Art Therapist
What if you could use your skills in art to help people? That’s precisely what an art therapist does. These professionals study psychology to learn about human behaviorand mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They also study art and how to use it therapeutically to help people cope with these conditions or just with difficult emotions like grief.
An art therapist may have their clients sculpt with clay or create pictures with paint. They might guide clients in creating art that is helpful to their physical, mental or emotional state. For example, some art therapists will ask clients to create images of the metaphorical baggage from their past or of their hopes for the future, the BLS reported. Whether they work in schools, community centers, medical facilities or psychiatric hospitals, art therapists need to have knowledge of and passion for both art and psychology.
If you want to be an art therapist, you will really have to work at it. Aspiring art therapists often start preparing for their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in both psychology and studio art, so they have a background in both fields and meet all of the prerequisites required for grad school. Then they have to earn a master’s degree in art therapy, which will include courses in counseling. To even get into grad school for art therapy, students will most likely need an impressive portfolio of their own. Throughout their education, they will need to complete internships to gain hands-on experience. In many states, it’s also necessary to attain a license.
Education: Master’s Degree in Art Therapy
Creative Field: Visual Arts
If you enjoy working with the written word from both high-level and detail-oriented perspectives, you might make a great editor. These media and communications professionals work in the advertising, broadcasting and newspaper, magazine and book publishing industries. While their responsibilities differ depending on their industry and specific job title, the role of all editors is to get content ready for publication.
Some responsibilities of an editor are less creative and more detail-oriented. Copy editors, for example, effectively proofread written content to make sure it is free of spelling, grammar and punctuation mistakes. They may also check that the copy adheres to the approved style, tone of voice and editorial policies. Editors may also have to check facts presented in the content. Editors commonly suggest revisions to make a story, article, book or other piece of content easier to read and understand.
However, editing can still require a good deal of creativity. In many positions, editors take a big-picture view of the content, planning what stories need writing and working with the writer to create the best copy possible. In literary journals and book publishing companies, for example, publication assistants read a manuscript and decide whether or not to publish it. During the publication process, editors might also work with the writer to strengthen the story through revisions, including cutting, adding and changing the content as needed. Editors of newspapers and magazines develop or assess story ideas and decide if the idea is worth pursuing and what angle to take when approaching the story. Some editors are even responsible for designing the publication’s layout, incorporating visual design skills as well as knowledge of writing and reading.
Editors may also take on a leadership role. For example, the managing editor of a newspaper, magazine or broadcast media station oversees the day-to-day operations of the department. Executive editors choose what stories will run in a publication and what angle the writer will use to cover the topic. They also oversee assistant editors, who are themselves responsible for different categories of content within the publication.
In the modern job market, editing roles are extremely competitive. To land your dream job, you need a degree in a related subject like writing, communications or journalism. Most editors work their way up to the position from writer, reporter or editorial assistant roles. Experience working in publishing in some form, including through internships or experience helping with school and local newspapers, is beneficial.
Education: bachelor’s degree in Writing, Communications, English or Journalism
Creative Field: The Written Word
9. Interior Designer
Don’t limit your art and design skills to the canvas – put it to work making physical spaces functional, comfortable and attractive. That’s exactly what an interior designer does.
These professionals find employment in specialized design services, architectural and engineering services, furniture stores, wholesale trade and residential building construction, though around 25 percent of them are self-employed.
To start, interior designers have to find new projects to work on and attain clients. To do this, they must have excellent interpersonal and listening skills to determine a client’s needs and goals and persuade clients that they are the right designers for the job. When it comes to the actual design aspect, that’s when creativity, visualization skills and artistic abilities come into play. Interior designers must use their imaginations to develop design concepts that fulfill the required function and desired appearance of the space. They choose how the space will be used and the décor, including color themes, wall paint or coverings, furniture, lighting and plumbing fixtures, flooring and appliance styles. In addition to being functional and beautiful, their designs must be safe, complying with building codes and other government regulations.
To express their design ideas, interior designers must use hand-drawn sketches and computer-aided representations. They often take this task a step further by using computer software to create virtual three-dimensional models of the finished space. They must make sure their designs can be accomplished in the timeframe and budget specified by the client.
Interior designers may focus on a specific type of design or interior space. Some specialize in designing corporate spaces or healthcare facilities, while others focus on home kitchens and bathrooms. Interior designers may work to achieve a specific goal beyond function and appearance, like accessibility or sustainable use of energy.
Interior design occupations are seeing slower than average growth right now, the BLS reported. To break into this career, you’ll need a college degree. While the career path doesn’t necessarily call for a specific degree, candidates do need a background in drawing, interior design and computer-aided design (CAD), according to the BLS. To develop these skills, most candidates will look for a degree program in interior design specifically. Some programs even specialize further, focusing on subjects like kitchens and bathrooms. Aspiring interior designers should keep a portfolio of sketches that illustrate their artistic talents. When it comes time to enter the career, candidates may need to earn a state license. (Learn more about the top 10 interior design schools in the U.S.)
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Interior Design
Creative Field: Design
10. Graphic Designer
Using visuals to convey meanings and messages isn’t solely the domain of fine art. Businesses and organizations also need to represent ideas through images – and that’s why they hire graphic designers. These creative professionals earn a living by using their artistic skills to create the graphics used in logos, advertisements, magazine publication layouts, websites, product packaging, brochures and other marketing and promotional materials. Through computer design software and hand drawn sketches, they develop an image from the first concepts to the final version used in publications and product art.
Graphic designers first learn about the project, including the goals and style the client or art director has in mind. They think about how to best express the ideas and marketing messages through the combination of images and text. Then they create those visuals – or at least, the first drafts of them. Graphic designers show the decision-maker, whether a client or an art director, their idea. If changes are needed, they revise the work and get the final graphics ready for publication.
Success in a graphic design career requires a great deal of creativity as well as technical artistic skill in drawing and computer design. In fact, graphic designers also go by the name graphic artists or communication designers. They need to come up with original design ideas that stand out and make readers and consumers take notice, but whose meanings are clear. They also need to bring those designs to life through their artistic skills, particularly those using graphic digital illustration, graphic design, layout and photo editing software. Graphic designers have to have a good aesthetic eye, because they choose the color, font, size, and spacing of text, images and design elements in a project. The wrong choices could leave a project looking busy and cluttered, bare and uninteresting, or otherwise unappealing.
Graphic designers often find work in industries like specialized design services, advertising and public relations, publishing, printing and wholesale trade. About 20 percent of graphic designers work for themselves. To get started in the career, you will most likely need a bachelor’s degree in graphic design. An undergraduate graphics design program will probably incorporate studies in design principles, commercial graphics production, studio art, printing techniques, computerized design and website design, the BLS reported. Throughout their studies, aspiring graphic artists should focus on developing a portfolio of their most inspiring and effective designs that they can show to prospective employers or clients to help them land a job or freelance gig.
Education: Bachelor’s Degree in Graphic Design
Creative Field: Visual Arts and Design
Art is all around us. Whatever your creative passion, you can find an opportunity to put it to use in your career and earn a decent living, if you find the right industry and cultivate the right combination of skills.
Editor’s Note: The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics was the official source for the salaries, job descriptions, education and training requirements, expected growth rates and other factual information presented in this list. To learn more, readers should visit the BLS’s resources Careers for Creative People and Art and Design Occupations.
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