Your Art Career - Part Three - Career Pathways

Your Art Career – Part Three - Career Pathways

Your Art Career cover image paper and art supplies
Your Art Career Part Three

With more and more people looking to the creative sector as an alternative career choice that is ideally suited to work from home, It’s probably fair to say that many who have recently come into the sector searching for a new career will perhaps by now be realising that the industry is a little different to how many of them imagined it might be.

This week…

natures thread fabric art by Mark Taylor
Natures Thread - Digital Fabric Art by Mark Taylor

In my previous two articles in this series, we took a look at the creative sector to figure out the most in-demand skills. This time, we go a little further and explore the types of roles and we ask the question, do I build a career as an employee or go it alone?

We also take a look at some of the employment data, and other information such as location quotients, the kind of information that could provide valuable insight into being able to find employment or running your own business, data that could also be very useful when figuring out where the markets for art really are, whether you work for an employer or not.

Here’s what we will cover this week:

  • Employed or Self Employed?
  • Understanding the Employment Landscape
  • Where to find the vacancies
  • Who’s Hiring?
  • Selecting your creative discipline
  • Self-Development and training
  • What to expect when working in the creative arts
  • How to demonstrate your skills
  • Alternative creative rolls
  • How to get noticed
  • Recognising the skills you have

So yes, this is another deep dive, but one that should begin to build a wider picture of the creative arts landscape over the coming years in terms of employment and building out your career to give you the best chance while you build up any additional skills you might be missing. Oh, and you also get to see some of my latest creations too!

Midnight, moon over mountains, art
Midnight Still by Mark Taylor

The Creative Sector is a different kind of industry…

It’s certainly different, and for the majority of working artists, it’s not so much nibbling on canapes at a gallery opening, it’s usually a skipped lunch to meet a deadline and multiple hours a day marketing your creations online while figuring out if you can squeeze just a little more paint from that tube of titanium white. Such glamour, we artists really know how to live and don’t get me started on the hundred and one things you can do with ramen noodles.

It’s also one of the very few industries that are as broad as it is long in terms of the diverse range of opportunities that it presents to creatives regardless of their chosen discipline. That’s something that I really love about the creative arts, but it can also mean that figuring out how the industry works and which bit of the industry is more relevant to what you do, can be overwhelming, even character building at times and not every segment of the industry is quite as accessible to everyone as the next.

There’s also an element of frustration that creeps into the creative arts sector. Creative arts and the art world more broadly can either be full-on love, light and peace or reminiscent of some film plot about the Mafia, and there are thousands of variations in between. It’s also the only industry I know that genuinely has no real, cast in some biblical stone kind of rules, but somehow still manages to have a million and one ways to interpret them.

For those of us who have been working in the industry for any length of time, the new faces joining the sector is a welcome sign that the creative arts are as popular as ever, maybe even more popular than ever, but if you are new to the sector you are probably finding out right about now that it’s not the easiest of sectors to navigate and particularly if you are trying to find your own place and space within it.

Over the past couple of articles, I have poured over the date to find out if the creative sector is still a great career choice, and would it still be possible to find employment within the sector, especially given where the world is with the pandemic. I also poured over the data to find out whether or not a post-pandemic world might lend itself more towards self-employment or freelancing, which is the way many creatives already go.

Mountain, snow, prayer flags, artwork,
Nearly There by Mark Taylor

Employee, Freelance, or Self-Employed?

The choice between working for an employer or working for yourself is not one that you will always have control over. It will depend very much on which direction you want to take your creativity and it also depends on your skill set, geographic location, willingness to travel, and the usual multitude of factors that you have to consider when you look at taking on any new job or tackle any new career, and of course, it also depends on the market for whatever you create.

Whilst the employment market intelligence I’ve been looking at over the past few articles has shown a general upward trend in the number of creative vacancies from companies and organisations, the directly employed workforce is generally only the tip of a very large iceberg in the creative sector. What floats below the surface is a greater volume of microbusinesses, and freelance creatives, artists, performers and even those working in the associated occupations such as sales and marketing in galleries with many gallery based staff working on a commission basis. A lot of other industries have multiple touchpoints with the creative sector so it makes the kind of research I’m carrying out here, well, let’s say, it’s a challenge and an always-moving target!

It’s also worth noting that this very tip of the iceberg, despite its upward trajectory, is still a relatively small tip of the iceberg, we’re not necessarily seeing the big numbers that you might associate with more typical day jobs, but none the less, it’s an upward trajectory and employers are still hiring.

However, what’s positive news without a bunch of caveats, after 2020, if you want a slightly less dystopian view of the world, you might want to binge-watch the Handmaids Tale, yes, even with these jobs trending upwards, it’s still an incredibly tough gig, but so is almost every other job and career right now.

Employment Markets aren’t always what they seem…

There may be a thousand jobs in a specific creative discipline but those jobs might be based at opposite ends of the country. The local jobs markets for creatives might be small or even non-existent in your location, yet if we look at the data, we can see the opportunity that exists for creatives but can’t always necessarily find the opportunities that exist for creatives. It’s a bit of a conundrum, which is also a really great word, but allow me to explain.

There will always be some local, regional, and national variations, but a greater need for multiple creatives in one specific region of whatever territory can skew the overall optics by artificially inflating a national need.

In short, it can look as if there are plenty of employment opportunities when you run the numbers, but that’s not to say that anyone locally will be hiring. What might be happening here, is that there is a significant skill need in one region which then skews the overall numbers because we tend to look at overall skills needs throughout an industry rather than what’s necessarily going on in any local industry.

To put that in its simplest terms, the numbers are actually saying, hey, we need lots of people over here, but we don’t need anyone over there. The volume of jobs still exists, they just don’t always exist where you ideally want to find them.

Another thing to consider is that if we were to look at this through the lens of an economist, which I’m definitely not, we would need to look at something called the location quotient. Maybe the easiest way to think about this is if the creative sector accounts for 2% of the jobs in your region, but only 1% of jobs nationally, the LQ for your region would be 2 ÷ 1 = 2.0 in your area when compared to the nation. In other words, your area’s creative workforce would be twice as big as normal, concentrating the industry in your region and you have to remember that some industries are only prevalent in certain geographic areas, you wouldn’t find a dock worker loading ships in a landlocked village.

Practically speaking, high-LQ industries with significant numbers of total jobs are usually critical pillars of any regional economy and that’s because they tend to generate income from non-regional sources. Here’s why: we assume that in the “average” economy, industries fulfil local economic needs first and they produce just enough goods or services to meet those needs. If they produce more than that (as indicated by being larger than average in terms of jobs), then we assume they are creating a surplus that is exported to other regions.

This reasoning simplifies a lot of economic realities of course, but it remains a good rule of thumb when you need to quantify how concentrated the workforce is in any particular area, and how vital to the economy a region's workforce is in any particular industry.

Prayer flags, mountains, snow, artwork
Pause For A Prayer by Mark Taylor

That’s kind of important to know when you are seeking employment opportunities. Yes, there could be plenty of employment opportunities out there, but you might have to think about relocating to access them and again, it comes back to, hey, we need lots of people here, but we don’t need anyone over there, but the area with a need for lots of people will sell whatever they’re creating to the people over there. Keeping up? This next bit is a sizzler for those who are currently self-employed.

Why is this LQ stuff important? Because a market exists over there, despite no one being employed in that area to serve its needs. Think about that, it’s really useful to know when you’re thinking about going it alone.

With the self-employed or the freelance route, that kind of information could be vital in working out whether or not there is a market in the region you want to work, it could tell you how viable it is, and it could even tell you if there is a niche that’s waiting to be filled with a more local producer, equally, it could also tell you not to waste your time and to focus on somewhere else.

If the ducks are at least in the same pond, even if they’re not necessarily lined up, your new market could be right on your doorstep but you will have to be at least one percent better than the alternative option of bringing the product or service in from over there. Starting to make sense yet?

It could also give you an idea of work that’s usually only available outside your immediate area but which you could potentially undertake as a freelance or self-employed creative, especially now there are fewer employment borders with a real surge in the acceptance of working from home. All of that information is incredibly useful when you are working out where your market might be, even if you are already working in the sector either for someone else or for yourself.

This is something that underpins the age-old question that I hear from a lot of artists and have probably asked myself, just where is my target market? In this case, it’s in the area that the high LQ area serves, we know there’s a market because what is made over there is being exported over here. Of course, that’s a single factor, but it’s the one factor that could tell you that you are at least in the right or wrong area.

Still not finding the vacancies…

One thing you will need to be cognisant of when looking for employment in the creative sector is that not every creative job or job title will be advertised. Firstly, the creative arts are still a sector where the portfolio speaks louder than words, and it can be quite an insular industry in that there could very well be jobs that get filled by knowing someone already working in the industry, and again, those jobs will only be the tip of the creative iceberg.

Another point to remember, is what I talked about back in part two of this series, that not all creative jobs are obvious or identifiable from the job title alone, hence you really need to be focussing on the skills that employers need rather than the job titles employers label on their payroll.

More and more, and you especially notice when you read posts that businesses share on platforms such as LinkedIn, there is a shift towards talking about skills rather than qualifications. If you can demonstrate that your skills are better than anyone else, there’s a better chance that you will gain the position as opposed to someone who might have the formal qualification but who lacks the experience.

The best advice I can give you here is to reiterate what I said last time and to apply to fill the skills needs of an employer instead of applying to fill a job title. I often hear employers say that there is never a problem finding people, there’s a real problem finding any with enough skills or experience.

Mountains, artwork, painting,
Mountain Pass by Mark Taylor

Who’s hiring?

The top industries I found when I looked through the employment  market information in the UK were also the most obvious ones that anyone working in the creative sector might be well attuned to already. When I looked further afield through other data sets, as I have done throughout each of the articles in this series, the data I was finding was telling a similar story in other regions beyond the UK.

Employment opportunities in advertising featured high on the list, as did publishing, but the data that I interpreted as showing some slightly longer-term promise was, as I suggested in my previous two articles,  around graphic design, 3D design, animation and video games (art, graphics, 3D) which isn’t too surprising given the surge in interest in video games throughout the pandemic.

Coupled with a new generation of games consoles, the employment market in this area certainly feels as if it has been invigorated. According to MarketWatch, the worldwide revenue from video games in 2020 would reach some $179.7billion, which puts the industry well ahead of the global movie and North American sports industries combined.

As an industry, it’s not just those who have the skills and are able to produce code, there is a real need for visual artists, voiceover artists, actors, producers, animators, camera operators, photographers, and yes, it’s a world or two or even ten, away from the days of Pac Man and Space Invaders, but the key here is that it’s not an industry that most creatives might immediately think about getting involved in.

The other key roles that are currently in demand can work across a broader gamut of sectors. Graphic designers, 3D and animators, are all in-demand skills.

What’s your discipline?

The skillset that you have, or are willing to gain, will be one of the critical factors that will determine the kind of role you can expect, and to an extent, this will also determine whether it is better to work for an employer or to go it alone.

If you are as yet to find your creative zone, then looking at the longer-term outlook for the creative sector is going to be what should be guiding you through your, at least, initial professional development. A creative career isn’t something you can build in a day or a week, it’s a long-term commitment to continuous development and training, and the real art is in selecting the right development and training that will serve you longer-term at the right time. It’s great that you follow a continuous professional development route, but you have to be very strategic about the CPD you chase.

That really does feed into another piece of advice I would share with any new or even not so new creative, your development as a professional in the creative sector will never stop. You will have a forever need to pursue a mastery of your craft. It’s not just expected professionally, it will be expected by those who buy into you and buy into your work and if you do want to follow a paid employment route, this development will be seen positively by those doing the hiring, so long as it makes sense. A three-year art course followed by a month-long tutorial about rocket science would be confusing to anyone, the rocket science would be seen either as research for an artwork or you still haven’t decided what you want to be when you grow up.

Initially choosing to follow the professional development options that will pay the bills, rather than the options that you feel more comfortable in following, doesn’t preclude you from following your dream in another sector of the creative arts in the future, in fact, it will give you the broadest range of options and experiences, and again, it has to be strategic, and it has to make sense.

Building a robust skillset isn’t something you should shy away from in the creative sector, and to be fair, over the past three decades or so, I’ve been noticing a kind of skills carousel. Skills that are needed today might not always be needed tomorrow, but more often than not, those skills needs have a tendency to come back around again. The ideal would be to make sure you can ride almost every carousel horse in between as the ride spins around, especially if you are self-employed or a jobbing freelancer.

Today’s skills needs…

So what exactly are the skills you might want to pay some extra attention to? Fear not, I ran the numbers for this too, and once again, the data is based on the UK data sets, but I also carried out some comparisons manually from the data sets that are publicly available in other countries.

Although those overseas datasets are not always as comprehensive, or rather they often are, but they’re not always publicly available, I was able to gather some anecdotal data from multiple sources that when combined with the data that is publicly available begins to demonstrate that the skills needs are broadly similar in comparatively similar economies around the world.

The UK data sets I use aren’t freely available, but with limited funds, and even more limited time, the picture I am about to paint is first, my gift to you, and secondly, as good as it gets until I can afford to buy access to more data sets! Your welcome to buy me a coffee though!

How I tackled this was with my usual mix of, I would like to say skill, but mostly it was drawing from three-plus decades of experience, together with checking hundreds of job postings to make sure I had selected the right kinds of data.  I looked at an occupation comparison to see exactly where the real growth is within the creative sector, taking data from between 2019 (pre-pandemic) and then running projected economic models right the way through to 2027. I made the executive decision rather than anything more scientifically informed, to select nine creative occupations which included:

  • Graphic Designers
  • Arts Officers, Producers and Directors
  • Photographers, audio-visual and broadcasting equipment operators
  • Product clothing and related designers
  • Musicians
  • Archivists and Curators
  • Artists
  • Glass and ceramics makers, decorators, and finishers

Whilst some of those occupations are not necessarily the ‘get your hands in the paint’ kind of creative, they are closely tied to the industry and might be considered great roles to work in alongside your art practice if you want some extra stability and need to keep the cash coming in for new art supplies and food, and probably in that order.

I also chose these because they were the creative disciplines that seemed to have the most data available and because as we have discovered in my previous two articles, these are really the kinds of roles that are showing the most promise when it comes to looking at the numbers. This time, I went a little further and looked way, way, into the future. No, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have data coming out of my ears!

What you will see from the data sets below, are some quite significant projected increases in demand right the way through to 2027, and surprisingly, a decrease too. Artists for example are set to decline by 2027 in the UK, and artists are also the only occupation from the nine which will see that decline.


creative occupation data
Creative Arts Occupation Comparison Data - Economic Modelling


occupation data for the creative arts
Occupation Growth - Creative Arts - Economic Modelling

creative arts occupation data
Creative Arts Shift Comparison - Economic Modelling

location quotient for creative arts employment
Location Quotient - If regions had been included, there would have been different outcomes, this is based on national data. Source: Economic Modelling

For artists, this outlook might appear worrying, but we also have to remember that the majority of working artists will not necessarily appear in this data, remember, we’re talking about the paid tip of the iceberg here and not every artist will have the job title of artist, so we perhaps shouldn’t pay it too much currency or get overly concerned about it right now.

It’s also worth remembering that when you look at data, you can get the data to tell you exactly what you want to hear if you torture it in the right way. There is a decline in employment, there might not be a decline in need.

That decline in employment opportunities could be due to an ageing population and not enough new artists joining the profession or projected to come into the sector. It could be an increase in the number of artists transitioning to another discipline or area, with those numbers then falling off the employed table in the diagram. Equally, it could be that other disciplines will just be in more demand, or, as I suspect, it might be the case when I look at all of the data, that artists are evolving with new skills and being consumed into other roles, or holding other job titles.

The majority of working artists today are likely to be working alone as microbusinesses and freelancers, and through self-employment, as opposed to being employed by an employer. Which brings us back to that underlying iceberg again, and any published data that I’ve been able to find, really does tend to only focus on the tip of that iceberg which points squarely to those who are directly employed and the self-employed, and wouldn’t necessarily cover the artists I prefer to think of as, working in disguise.

What I mean by that is those artists who art, but have an alternative job title. Cynical me also thinks that alternative job titles could either be to grandiose a position, or I suspect, for some employers, to be able to pay less, and/or get more. Like I said, three-decades plus of experience, there’s little I haven’t seen.

The self-employment, freelance and micro-business data is more difficult to find quantifiable data for and to separate out entirely from the overall workforce. In-part because the creative arts and the art world more generally, could never be an industry that could be accused of being overly transparent. Equally, if you are an artist, then considering including a skill such as graphic design in your toolbox will certainly be a worthwhile next step in your career development if only just to hedge your bets.  

Cannock Chase, Pye Green Tower, Artwork, Stag,
Another work to add to the Chase Collection - Chase Blue by Mark Taylor

Other Factors to Consider…

Whenever you look at employment markets there will be some other factors that you might want to consider, jobs are changing and depending on who you ask, the robots are taking over. The risk of automation within various industries is something that is often looked at when modelling employment market projections.

I have run the numbers around automation, and for the most part, the roles that we generally see in the creative sector doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. Having said that, Hollywood is utilising CGI more and more and there has been more than the odd murmur that computer-generated actors will be used in more films, they’re less picky, a lot cheaper, never complain, mostly do as they’re asked, but we’re some way off and while it might be useful in a pandemic, in regular times, we might all prefer to see real people, but ultimately, who do you think will create the CGI? Yes, creatives, artists, 3D modellers.

Just to finish off with that data, the occupation group location quotient doesn’t really show anything in this data set I have shown because I didn’t compare the regions to the national labour market needs, but if you looked at where the jobs are more likely to be when you compare the national job postings with regional postings, the picture would probably look different pre-and post-pandemic as more people work from home and more companies, particularly in the creative arts sector, have embraced new ways of working. A job that once required a commute can now probably be done at home, something I have been saying since, well, computers and Skype.

I think I’m about 99.9% confident that location is less likely to be a major issue for employers, post-pandemic. We’re living proof right now that the arts don’t stop completely when the world does and employment borders really aren’t a major issue, at least for now.

What can I expect as a creative, day to day?

You can breathe again now, the data is mostly done with, we have the numbers, we have an idea which way we want to structure our creativity, although we might not be too sure what we should expect. Bear with, I found the data that sorts this out as well.

The creative sector and the art world more broadly, even beyond the visual arts, is generally less like other industries in how it works and what you do. I’m going to caveat this with something I have said multiple times before on these pages, that you could put an artist in charge of Tesla, or any number of large corporations, or you could put an artist in space, and be confident that the work is going to get done, and probably better.

The work you will generally find will often be project-based and could be short-term, so there is a higher probability that you will need to be either freelance or self-employed and you might have multiple projects on the go at the same time.

A lot of creative work is project-based which usually means that the work is almost always timebound and has to be delivered by a specific date. It can also come with some strict deadlines that have massive knock-on effects, and there is an absolute requirement to be flexible.

Lower salaries aren’t uncommon at the beginning of a creative career, many would probably argue that they’re not uncommon throughout a creative career, and for those who do go down the self-employed or freelance route, this can often mean that secondary employment has to continue to be an option for most, at least for a while.

Higher wages and salaries usually, come with experience although there are certain disciplines within the creative sector that will always attract higher wages and wages are massively affected by location, and the number of creatives with relevant in-demand skills within a region. If you are always seeing openings for specific disciplines in an area, that’s usually because of three things, either there is a high churn of staff which might be a red flag, or there’s a lot of demand, or no one has the necessary skills.

If we look at the employment market information from my two previous articles, graphic designers are currently in demand, so those with Adobe Illustrator skills and some talent, can potentially earn more and find more opportunities, and wherever there is high demand for a skill and a deficit in the skills available, the remuneration usually increases. It’s all about supply and demand, which sounds cold, but did I mention that the creative sector can also be alarmingly brutal at times too?

Working hours are a perpetual challenge, particularly when you are working on commissions or projects with a need to meet strict deadlines, but there is also ample opportunity to work fewer hours than you might in other jobs, but hours can vary between companies, regions, and often even companies within the same region.  

If you are running a business, there are no rules that say you must commit to a hundred-hour working week. I know plenty of artists who haven’t got this memo and continue to work incredibly long hours, and I also know plenty of professional artists who work around family commitments, others who also have a day job, and despite the lack of hours being put into the business in comparison with some, they are still finding some level of financial success, or at least some financial security. It really is about working smarter, but if you want a ten-hour a week business, it is entirely possible to have this in the creative sector, and yes, there will be trade-off somewhere else.

However, bear in mind that the actual act of running a business is something else that needs to be factored in when you work for yourself. Sadly, it’s not all play in the creative sector so you will need to dedicate some time to the business side of creative art, along with the other never-ending list of tasks that need to be carried out and repeated almost every day.

Continuous professional development is critical for anyone working in the industry at whatever level. Artists will need to hone and refine their skills, as will graphic designers, as will anyone who creates art. On the non-directly-creative side of the sector,  those working in museums and galleries, for example, will need to keep pace with what’s going on in the wider arts community and as new works are added to collections, they will need to become knowledgeable in those works and the artists responsible for creating them.

In some disciplines, and particularly where a creative is working for an employer or attends shows and exhibitions, frequent travel is often required. This is especially the case when the creative discipline is involved in film and theatre, the music industry, or generally touring or marketing. From experience, I can tell you that three or four nights spent in a hotel during the week isn’t anywhere near as exciting or glamorous as it sounds, nights can be incredibly long when you’re away from home on business, but the first three weeks are fun, try doing it for thirty-years though.

Work environments vary greatly from working from the comfort of your own home to working in commercial production studio environments which could be a dimly lit office in the city to a full-on purpose-built studio with plenty of natural light, and everything in between. You might find that your location changes daily in regular non-pandemic times, or you might find that you will have space within an office where you are the only person employed as a creative, or you might be one amongst many in a multi-disciplinary team.

If you are a visual artist operating as a small business and you are alone in your endeavour, there is no typical day. Creativity will be interspersed with marketing your work, building up relationships with collectors, maybe looking towards shows and exhibitions, and you will be responsible for so much other work too. You will, in short, become the CEO and entire workforce, although this can apply just as much if you are a self-employed sculptor or a graphic designer.

Moon over forest, super moon, woodland,
Night Walk by Mark Taylor

What do you need to work in the sector?

Broad shoulders. It’s a sector that is either glide or grind and little in between. It can be a tough sector and even tougher if you are running a business, and whilst the sector overall is not without its own unique problems, it is still one of the best sectors to be involved with, and it is, for the most part, accessible to everyone at least on some level.

It’s not as completely necessary as it once might have been to hold a formal qualification in the arts or in traditional design-based subjects, so long as you have the skills and ideally the experience. What you will get from formal art or design education is a grounding that will provide you with some of the underpinning knowledge that you will then build the rest of your career on.

It also depends on which discipline you want to follow as a career choice. If you are thinking of self-employment, for example, you need to be thinking very strategically about what skills you need in place and when. It’s going to be much more useful in the short-term to develop critical business skills than it is to study a subject like art history. As important as art history will be for a visual artist, it is a subject that you will need to master over the span of a career, but if you are setting up a business tomorrow, you’ll want the skills to do that today.

Arguably, the formal study of art can be done at any time and it never really stops and once you begin to have any kind of career, that’s when it really starts. The business of the business of art is what will give you the more immediate skills you need beyond creative talent that will at least provide you with some economic forward momentum. Art isn’t a single qualification that culminates in some award of an end of curriculum certificate and then you are done, it’s a lifelong discovery and a never-ending journey of learning. Business, on the other hand, is much more immediate. Either way, you will be forever learning after the learning of whichever subject you take on first.

If you are looking to pursue a career in a non-creatively critical role, perhaps working as a curator or within a museum or gallery, then having that formal art education insight and grounding is going to be much more essential more immediately, although, I would expect high-end galleries would also put customer service and business skills at the top of their wish list too.

If you are looking to learn the skills you need to become a functional-creative, for want of a better phrase, someone who wishes to create the artwork or the product, to become an artist but who currently has none or few skills, then you will get much more out of a structured academic program that teaches you how to use the tools that you need to produce the work. 

As well as being strategic in how you develop your skills, it is also about being openly honest with yourself and recognising where your own skills need to be improved. If you want to become a graphic designer but have zero skills in using an application such as Adobe Illustrator, that becomes the skills gap, but you might have some idea of the application already which means there is a smaller skills gap that needs to be filled. In short, you need to learn what you need to learn and when and you don’t have to learn it all in one go, and besides, I don’t think anyone really can.

How you fill that skills gap also then needs to be strategic, after all, we all only have one lifetime to cram everything into, so for some, it might mean that a formal academic route will suit them better because they need the broadest understanding of how Illustrator works, for others, it might be a workshop or online tutorial to backfill some of the missing skills. As long as the end result is that you have the relevant skills for a given task, it’s just not all that important to an employer how you gained those skills, as long as you can demonstrate that you have them.

blood moon, red moon, artwork, art print, forest,
Red Moon by Mark Taylor

How do you demonstrate skills?

Ultimately, there are three ways that you can demonstrate to an employer that you have the necessary skills they’re looking for, you either show them a certificate which validates some kind of formal study, although arguably, that doesn’t always mean that you can do what the certificate implies, or, you can physically demonstrate those skills so that the potential employer can validate those skills, or you can do what you should be doing along with everything else, and present an up to date portfolio. Any creative agency, business, design studio, or even commissioning client who isn’t interested in your portfolio isn’t, or shouldn’t be, hiring.

The portfolio, and this applies whether you hold some formal qualification or if you are self-taught, is the creatives best and most valuable asset and should always, always, always, be kept up to date with a range of your best work, not your entire life work.

It should be relevant to the viewer, so you might need more than one portfolio in order to present the most appropriate one, and you might want to have a living portfolio that changes frequently. This is usually the best approach if you are looking for a position with an employer, they will usually look for a snapshot of the skills you have today rather than a historical nod to the skills you once had yesterday. Remember what I said about open badges and micro-credentials earlier in the series, they’re becoming increasingly important when it comes to validating all kinds of hard and common skills.

The portfolio is one of the best tools that a creative has, it should become a shrine to their best work, yet I so often hear of artists and those from other creative disciplines who haven’t updated them since they last left art school in 1886 or whenever it was. Even if you are working in the sector today, or already have a successful business with a bottomless pit of clients knocking on the door, you should always keep that portfolio up to date, and bear in mind that both digital and physical portfolios are useful to have.

Proving skills via a portfolio is one thing, but today's creative sector is more of a multi-disciplinary one than it ever has been before. What this means for creatives, is that even if you follow a traditional visual art route such as acrylic painter, you will be better served if you also have a further discipline or skillset that you can utilise.

Amongst everything else that you need to have in your skillset, and regardless of the creative discipline or path that you follow, you also need to be resilient, patient and take my advice here, heed the words I uttered a little earlier, it really would be awesome if you could grow a very thick skin and broad shoulders too. You will take critique from professional and amateur art critics alike but none of that critique will ever be as brutal as the critique that you will take from yourself.

mountains, landscape, snow, artwork
Which Way Now by Mark Taylor

So what career options are there?

In both of my previous articles I mentioned that the creative arts were broader than the occupation of artist and graphic designer. The creative arts grow exponentially in their diversity when you also consider the compatible occupations I mentioned in my previous article.

Just to recap, compatible occupations are roles defined as having similar daily tasks. It’s worth noting that those compatible occupations can be as far away from the role you may have had in mind as is possible with some appearing to be quite random opposites. Yet the kind of work undertaken requires very similar skills to perform a range of broadly similar tasks on a daily basis even if the outcome or end product or service is very different.

There are so many disciplines or occupations within the arts, and many of those disciplines and occupations stretch across a multitude of industries. Some of them we might not immediately even think about, so there is a risk that some extraordinarily creative roles can be missed altogether.

Many of these compatible occupations might be more relevant in non-pandemic times, but it’s worth knowing that compatible occupations are an option, particularly when you are after a stop-gap until something better or more suitable comes along. There is nothing worse for a true creative than to be stuck in an uncreative role, although the world is tough right now and you might have to compromise, but that shouldn’t mean that you have to or must compromise forever.

mountains, river, snow, woods, forest, birds flying, artwork,
Another Way Around by Mark Taylor

Other Jobs…

Let’s take a look at some of the jobs that are frequently advertised that might not immediately spring to mind when you are looking at joining the creative sector.

Exhibition and Events Staff – If you want to build a network, where better than to do that at an art exhibition or event. Just because you are working behind the scenes or even front of house, doesn’t mean to say that you will be shielded from being exposed to some of the movers and shakers within the industry. Of course, this is going to be very much a post-pandemic option and exhibitions will change, there’s a likelihood that we’ll all be learning to live with things like social distancing for a while, but I can certainly see hybrid, online, offline events happening in the short-term.

rust, mountain, abstract art, mount Fiji,
Surface Rust by Mark Taylor

Art Movers and Logistics – When a multi-million dollar artwork needs to be moved, there’s a little more to it than collecting it in a truck and driving it to its next destination. Often months of preparation is required to schedule the move, making sure that temperature-controlled transportation or hermetically sealed containers are available, protecting the works from damage and making sure that the work turns up at the next destination in exactly the same condition as it left its last, regardless of whether it has just travelled around the globe. There’s also the insurance to deal with, scheduling flights, and even accompanying the work on the aircraft until you can hand it over at the other end.

Video Games – I often see recruitment campaigns for the video games industry, huge organisations such as EA (Electronic Arts), Rockstar, and smaller indie studios have a huge reliance on digital and 3D artists, musicians, voice-over talent, actors, and apparently they sometimes have a need for coders too. Not an obvious choice for an artist who maybe isn’t quite so into gaming, but it’s an option.

Theatre Productions, TV and Film – from creating props to painting scenery, there’s an entire creative industry within a broader creative industry. This is also an area that can be fruitful in terms of supplying cleared artwork for use in TV and film sets. If you can expedite the clearing process (the process of getting permission to utilise your work in the production), there is ample room for creatives to get their work on screen, although you will sometimes have to also sign an NDA and you won’t always be able to discuss where your work is going to appear or where it has appeared, but sometimes you can.

Theming/Set Dressers – I have to say that I am so envious of the creative teams at companies such as Disney. When I grow up I still want to be a Disney Imagineer, and this is a creative role that really will have you thinking outside of, not just the box, but the universe the box is in.

From window dressing to dressing the sets in TV and film, or creating make-believe lands in a theme park where the rock is sculpted by hand, theming can require some exceptional creative thinking. It is also about making sure that a period drama has the props that are factually and historically correct for the time period. It’s a skill that must be honed over decades and these roles often require you to have knowledge of specific historical and cultural areas.

There are other roles that need creatives, community arts workers who are not only responsible for educating their community, they can often be asked to set up arts and culture events or work with disadvantaged groups and these roles can be great at building local community engagement.

If helping people is your thing, then roles such as an art therapist or art psychotherapist are not just about general mindfulness, these creatives are involved in helping people with significant and complex issues to get well through art. They might assist with communications problems or mobility or mental health issues, so you will need to champion the healing and therapeutic power of art and creativity. Often, art therapists and similar occupations will have some sort of requirement for broader health and social care related skills.  

More traditional roles – daily tasks and median wages:

For the following roles, I looked through the economic models to get an idea of how much each role typically pays when you work for an employer, and I looked at the related occupations (similar careers) from the O’NET data and I extracted the typical daily tasks that are used when modelling labour market intelligence.

Bear in mind that the median wages are based in the UK – nationally rather than regionally and are the mid-point pay scales, not what you would necessarily earn with experience, and not what you would necessarily earn as a new entrant with less experience. In other regions and territories the median might look different, it would certainly, be interesting to see if it matches your experience wherever you are based.

It’s also worth noting that there is a potential to earn more through self-employment and freelancing, there’s also a risk of earning less. Recompense is also subjective, and if you are an established artist with a collector base, you could hypothetically earn an annual salary from the sale of between one and a handful of pieces of your work, but let’s also set some expectations here, that’s going to take some time, luck, skill, and serendipity. Back to planet pandemic or earth, as we once knew it, let’s take a look at the jobs.

sun, blue mountains, abstract art,
Towards the Light by Mark Taylor

Graphic Designer – median UK salary - £28,244 per year

Daily Tasks

  • Produces or oversees the creation of the final product.

  • Liaises with other parts of the production team to ensure the graphic design fits with other elements, processes and timescales.

  • Prepares specification and instructions for realisation of the project.
  • Prepares sketches, scale drawings, models, colour schemes and other mock-ups to show clients and discusses any required alterations.
  • Undertakes research into the project, considers previous related projects and compares costs of using different processes.
  • Liaises with the client to clarify aims of the project brief and discusses media, software and technology to be used, establishes a timetable for the project and defines budgetary constraints.

Top ten in-demand skills

  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Adobe Illustrator
  • Adobe InDesign
  • Graphic Design
  • Adobe Creative Suite
  • Animations
  • Branding
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Brand Management
  • Typography

Similar Careers: Merchandisers and Window Dressers, Pre-Press Technicians, Conference and Exhibition Managers and Organisers, Artist.

Artists – Median UK Salary £26,472

Daily Tasks

  • Produces works on commission basis for clients.
  • Markets and sells finished work directly to customers.
  • Liaises with writers and publishers to produce book illustrations.
  • Uses artistic skills to restore damaged artworks.
  • Approaches managers of galleries and exhibitions in order to get finished work displayed.
  • Builds up composition into finished work by carving, sculpting, etching, painting, engraving, drawing, etc...
  • Prepares sketches, scale drawings or colour schemes.
  • Selects appropriate materials, medium and method.
  • Conceives and develops ideas and ways of working for artistic composition.

Top Ten in-demand skills:

  • Autodesk Maya
  • Animations
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • AAA Server (Authentication Authorization And Accounting)
  • Painting
  • Autodesk 3DS Max (3D Graphics Software)
  • Visual Effects
  • Unreal Engine
  • Game Engine
  • ZBrush

Similar Careers: Advertising, Creative Director, Graphic Designer, Printers, Pre-Press Technicians, Florist,

Arts Officers, Producers, and Directors – Median UK Salary £37,457

Daily Tasks

  • Selects, contracts, markets and arranges for the presentation and/or distribution of performance, visual and heritage arts.
  • Manages health and safety issues.
  • Ensures necessary equipment, props, performers and technical staff are on set when required.
  • Prepares rehearsal and production schedule for main events, design of sets and costumes, technical rehearsals and dress rehearsals.
  • Breaks script into scenes and formulates a shooting schedule that will be most economical in terms of time, location and sets.
  • Directs actors, designers, camera team, sound crew and other production and technical staff to achieve desired effects.
  • Chooses writers, scripts, technical staff and performers, and assumes overall responsibility for completion of the project on time and within budget.

Top Ten in-demand skills:

  • Animations
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Post-Production
  • Adobe After Effects
  • Adobe Premiere Pro
  • Video Editing
  • Photography
  • Scripting
  • Motion Graphic Design
  • Storyboarding

Similar Careers: Web Design and Development Professionals, Advertising, Creative Directors, Artists, Graphic Designers, Pre-Press Technicians, Customer Service Managers and Supervisors,

Glass and Ceramics Makers, Decorators and Finishers – Median UK Salary £23,598

Daily Tasks:

  • Applies decorative designs and finishes to glassware, optical glass and ceramic goods by grinding, smoothing, polishing, cutting, etching, dipping, painting or transferring patterns or labels.
  • Cuts and joins unfired stoneware pipes to form junctions and gullies, moulds sealing bands on clay pipes, prepares and joins porcelain or earthenware components and assists crucible makers and stone workers with their tasks.
  • Throws, casts and presses clay by hand or machine to form pottery, stoneware or refractory goods such as bricks, crucibles, ornaments, sanitary furnishings, saggars, cups, saucers, plates and roofing tiles.
  • Makes models and moulds from moulding clay and plaster for use in the making and casting of pottery and other ceramic goods.
  • Makes artificial eyes, laminated glass sheets or blocks, glass fibre tissue, wool, filament and matting, marks optical lenses and assembles rimless spectacles.
  • Uses hand tools and operates machinery to heat, bend, shape, press, drill and cut glass.

Top Ten in-demand skills

  • Optics
  • Optical Engineering
  • Physics
  • Zemax
  • Photonics
  • New Product Development
  • Simulations
  • Systems Design
  • Manufacturing Processes
  • Prototyping

Similar Careers: Moulders, Core Makers, and Die Casters, Machine Setters and Setter Operators, Printers, Metal Workers, Rubber Process Operatives, Plastics Process Operatives, Chemical Process Operatives, Routine Inspectors and Testers.

Abstract Mountains, mountain art, snow, yellow, gray, painting,
Three Peaks by Mark Taylor

Photographers, Audio-visual and Broadcasting Equipment Operators – Median UK Salary £29,194

Daily Tasks

  • Operates sound mixing and dubbing equipment to obtain the desired mix, level and balance of sound.
  • Manages health and safety issues.
  • Operates equipment to record, edit and playback films and television programmes.
  • Checks operation and the positioning of projectors, vision and sound recording equipment, and mixing and dubbing equipment.
  • Controls transmission, broadcasting and satellite systems for television and radio programmes, identifies and solves related technical problems.
  • Takes, records and manipulates digital images and digital video footage.
  • Photographs subject or follows action by moving the camera.
  • Operates scanning equipment to transfer the image to computer and manipulates the image to achieve the desired effect.
  • Inserts lenses and adjusts aperture and speed settings as necessary.
  • Arranges subject, lighting, camera equipment and any microphones.
  • Selects subject and conceives composition of a picture or discusses composition with colleagues.

Top Ten in-demand skills:

  • Photography
  • Adobe Photoshop
  • Image Editing
  • Digital Single-Lens Reflex Cameras
  • Public Liability
  • Adobe Flash
  • Broadband
  • Audio Equipment
  • Digital Recording
  • Data Recording

Similar Careers: IT User Support Technicians, Telecommunications Engineers, TV, Video and Audio Engineers, Printers, Pre-Press Technicians, Routine Inspectors and Testers

Pre-Press Technicians – Median UK Salary £26,783

Daily Tasks:

  • Arranges and pastes printing material onto paper ready for photographing.
  • Processes film setting or desktop publishing output to produce an image on film and transfers to printing plates and digital output.
  • Examines proof copies, checks for quality and accuracy and makes any necessary alterations.
  • Scans and retouches digital images to create sample proofs, plans and lays out artwork to match planned design.
  • Uses computer applications to generate images and text.
  • Determines from specification the kind and size of type to be used.

No data available for in-demand skills

Similar Careers: Web Design and Development Professionals, Library Clerks and Assistants, Tailors and Dressmakers, Print Finishing and Binding Worker, Florist, Merchandisers and Window Dressers, Routine Inspectors and Testers

Archivists and Curators – Median UK Salary £29,940

Daily Tasks:

  • Answers verbal or written enquiries and gives advice on exhibits or other material.
  • Liaises with school and other groups or individuals, publicises exhibits and arranges special displays for general, specialised or educational interest.
  • Negotiates loans of material for specialist displays.
  • Develops and promotes ideas for exhibitions and displays.
  • Allows access to original material or material not on display for researchers.
  • Makes sure that storage and display conditions protect objects from deterioration and damage.
  • Examines objects to identify any damage and carries out necessary restoration whilst preserving original characteristics.
  • Maintains indexes, bibliographies and descriptive details of archive material and arranges for reproductions of items where necessary.
  • Classifies material and arranges for its safekeeping and preservation.
  • Examines, appraises and advises on the acquisition of exhibits, historic records, government papers and other material.

Top Ten In-demand skills:

  • Collections
  • Curation
  • Museum Collections Management
  • Exhibitions
  • Loans
  • Art History
  • Archives
  • Library
  • Museum Studies
  • Auditing

Similar Careers: Library clerks and assistants, school secretaries, stock control clerks and assistants, personal assistants.

spring art, flowers, floral, yellow, gray, abstract, design, graphic design,
Spring Meadows by Mark Taylor

Securing those employment opportunities…

So, we have finally figured out where employers are hiring and this might be a precursor before going it alone. Just how do you begin to secure that elusive position and especially in the midst of a global pandemic when competition for any employment is at an all-time high?

It’s a difficult one to answer, much of your success will be dependent on a number of factors, but let’s assume that you have the all-important portfolio, the next thing that you will need to do is to find out as much as you can about how the potential employer likes to be engaged.

Some will categorically state, usually on their websites, that speculative applications are not accepted, others will provide detailed routes of submission (similar to galleries) and others will direct you to application forms or ask you to make contact.  Remember though, that many creative positions are not necessarily advertised so you might be just as well submitting a speculative application, wherever you cannot find anything to suggest that you shouldn’t.

Internships, and offering to work for free on a trial can be viable ways to demonstrate your skills, but beware that there will be companies who will take advantage of any offers of free work.  Paid internships are a much better prospect, but they can be difficult to find and there is usually a lot of competition.

Maybe the best strategy is a combination of all of the above, but also thinking about you as being a brand. How do you sell you?

Get Noticed…

Never wait until you have left your earthly coil to get your work noticed. If you and your work are getting noticed, there’s a much better chance that those employers and commissioners looking to take on the services of a creative will look to you.

Enter art competitions, be active on networks such as LinkedIn and Twitter, and make as many connections as you can, but also, make those connections meaningful. Don’t network with the ambition to simply collect business cards, networking has to be strategic and it has to add value to both you and whoever you are networking with.

Start a podcast, start a blog, set up a website, and use those channels to showcase your skills, and use those as a forum to add value to those who are reading and listening. Much of the industry is still very much stuck in tradition and word of mouth is as popular today as it was before the world had the internet. Having these platforms will allow you to extend your presence beyond the core day, and because recruitment is often one of the biggest employer expenses, they will often be looking online to fill the positions they have.

Consider community-based work and volunteering. This is very different to free work or internships, this is about putting back into the community. It’s a little like networking, it shouldn’t be carried out with a single-sided intent, you have to offer a value to the community, but if anyone in the community needs the kind of services that you offer, you could already be at the top of the list.

Think about the common skills you have too…

Whenever I have read a resume, it’s always felt like a long list of academic achievements and a timeline of different jobs, but rarely does it tell me anything. If anyone ever reads my LinkedIn page, which to be fair, I haven’t updated since I knew better, it reads like some random list of things I have done or achieved that would give anyone reading it causes to question how crazy my life has been.

It also doesn’t mention a heap of stuff I have done that would make slightly more interesting reading, and neither does it give you any inclination that I’m actually an okay public speaker, or that I’m pretty great at making coffee. It doesn’t mention the skills that most employers really want such as, the ability to communicate effectively, turn up to a job on time, be polite to others (but only after coffee), and my current resume doesn’t mention the skills that don’t have a paper qualification to verify them, but these skills are often at the top of an employer’s wish list. If I were to list them, hey, even I would reach out and offer me a job!

Never underestimate just how much value employers place on someone who can show a little common sense, and while it might be common sense to mention the softer skills, they’re not always mentioned in conversations with potential employers. As for common sense, surprisingly, it isn't that common.

There are some key soft skills, sometimes known as common skills that are increasingly in demand from employers, so I went back to the data and drew this out, and then looked at a number of job postings to see whether or not the skills had been listed within the adverts as being desired or useful to have, here’s what I found.

Creative problem solving and innovation – was mentioned more often and not just in the creative sector job postings I looked through.

Communication Skills – No surprise here, but one thing I did notice was that digital communication skills were also mentioned.

Effective Time Management – This seems massively important as almost every job advert I looked through mentioned time management as being a required skill.

EQ & EI – IQ seems so last year, maybe even last decade. The emotion quotient, or the ability to show empathy, and think emphatically about the people around you is a sure sign that organisations are beginning to think more and more about mental health and other issues that need a level of emotional intelligence. It was good to see that emotive issues might finally be being addressed in the workplace. Hats off to employers for adding this one.

Collaboration – This is something I have been talking about on this site for a number of years. If collaboration isn’t one-sided as it often is, the power of a hive-mind and the collective abilities of people can be massively useful in the creative arts sector and the art world more broadly.

When it comes to collaboration, we also have to address the real elephant in the room, and it is that collaboration is still very much an alien concept for some. A what’s in it for me attitude is something that isn’t particularly useful in the creative sector. Used strategically and ensuring that all those collaborating add value, collaboration can be one of the best long-term tools that you can master.

Listening Skills – Increasingly important in a world where the video conference is used as much as it is, the ability to actively listen and engage in the right places has been a little bit of a dying art for a number of years.

Adapting to change – There was no real surprise that this was mentioned as much as it was, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the world changed, we all changed, we’re not even sure what normal ever was or will be in the future. Of course, you will need to be able to adapt, it’s a new world my friends.

The ability to learn new skills – Hence I mentioned earlier that employers are keen to see professional development, even if they’re not quite as keen as they once were to see the formal qualification. Employers need to have assurances that you have the ability to learn and master new skills and besides, this is what you are designed to do, you’re a creative.

Leadership Skills – I’m sure there are plenty of employees around the world who are crying out for a leader to lead them. Leadership skills demonstrate that you are able to grow beyond the role, and that’s critical for employers as they will also be planning employee succession. It’s even more critical in a world that is frequently uncertain about what’s next, like I said just now, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the world is screaming out for leadership.

glowing sky, boat, ocean, shore, painting, tide, waves,
Adrift Under A Glowing Sky by Mark Taylor

Good Luck!

All that is left to say this time is that, I wish you every success whichever way you go. If you want to be employed as a creative or want to go it alone and build a small business or an empire, I wish you every success and please know that I want you to succeed.

Sometimes, all that someone needs to succeed is for someone else to believe in them. The fact that you made it this far into the longest post I have written in forever, and three parts into a series on growing a career in the arts, tells me all that I need to know about you.

I’m not going to be all glitter and unicorns, this is one incredibly tough sector to become involved with and even when were are not in the midst of a pandemic, there are way easier ways to earn a buck. But here’s what I believe, if you are a creative, an artist, a graphic designer, anyone with a creative bone, someone who has the soul of creativity running through their veins, then not being in a creative role isn’t a choice. I know that you will always be looking for the creative angle.

You have to want it, remind yourself frequently just how much you want it, and there will be times when the path of least resistance is giving up, but if being a creative is anything, it’s about not giving up, that’s really not what you do, and I don’t even think you can. Now go, go be creative, look after each other and as always, stay safe!

Mark x

About Mark…

I am an artist and blogger and live in Staffordshire, England. You can purchase my art through my Fine Art America store or my Pixels site here:   and you can purchase my new works, special and limited editions directly. You can also view my portfolio website at

If you are on Facebook, you can give me a follow right here,  You can also follow me on Twitter @beechhouseart and on Pinterest at

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