After reading a rather ignorant and defensive twitter post by someone I did not know about artists transitioning into other fields being sub par to those who are trained and remained in their field I began to have a thought(after the “I’ll remember never to hire you” thought of course)…after all, I’m an artist and illustrator who became a designer and 3D animator and then became an advertiser and a brander…and who knows what I’ll be tomorrow. So I wanted to take a closer look at the unique sub culture of artist working in an alternate field.

There is a strange sub section of Advertiser Creatives out there in the world. They’re not really “big idea” generators, they’re not really designers….they’re not really production artists. They’re sort of a hybrid. They’re the artists. Creative sponges who like to draw and create – but aren’t necessarily trained to do much else. They have visual imaginations that are often way off target or brand but if you are able to navigate through their thought process they can often have the best ideas, the best visuals and more importantly in today’s online and offline world of marketing and commerce…they can often have the unique style and perspective to give you something different to work with.

Like many of these people I to have found my way from industry to industry, project to project, learning to learning and somehow – for the present at least – have found my way into advertising. A world that is so far removed from art and commercial illustration (what I was schooled in) I often find myself marveling at the idea that I’m even here. I hear similar thoughts from others from my discipline who are now working in advertising not as artist but as as Designers, Art Directors, Creative Directors and all other variety of titles;

“How did I go from painting stuff for magazines and drawing in sketch books to selling marketing ideas on how to push products?”

It’s an intriguing thought and usually is counter balanced in the arts industry as well as photography industry with statements such as “Things are good but if they don’t pick up I may have to get a real job”. A strange thing to say as I did not realize that a real job only consisted of a regular paycheck…

So thinking that, I began to wonder what makes artists in other fields unique – for the better or worse. Think about this: I am a self taught designer. I’ve had only one real graphic design class (and I didn’t do very well at all). I simply like to organize things by nature and if you look at how I paint things…well I tend to design it as well. I work with composition in my design much like I do when I draw. Not because I was told to, only because I tend to. When it comes to thinking I break down ideas to answer a solution. For those like me in the industry I see some similar hurdles we (artists) all face: presenting an idea as an idea – not as a garbled creative thought, designing the look of something to serve an audience – not ourselves and collaboration. Over the past ten plus years I’ve found I’m pretty comfortable with all those hoops and can jump through them with ease. However I see with younger Creatives in the industry – and recognized in myself if i look back – that they stumble often with how to overcome their own need for personal expression and the high learning curve you face when you begin to transition from production to actual advertising and management of others.

If you are of a similar mould as I and find you are an artist in advertising with street knowledge, and an urge to learn and are not sure how to grow, I have some suggestions (take it or leave it):

  1. ASK
    Your non-artist counterparts are creative. Be careful to acknowledge that they know things you don’t and vice versa. Often simply opening yourself up and asking questions (especially when you’re starting can not only help you form a collaborative, non-selfish working relationship – but can also improve many of the skills you may have not learn while learning your artist craft). I once taught a group of final year college students how to think beyond what they thought they knew after 3 years of learning to be illustrators. The most important part of that course was NOT creative thinking. It was the fact that they were mandated to present their ideas and work on an almost weekly basis on very different projects. As an artist interacting with others can be a scary thing. It’s made easier in opening yourself up to a regular dialogue. Other industries are constantly working at bettering themselves through continued education and mentor-ship.
  2. LEARN
    On that note – if you want it, you need to work at it. Like marriage, an alternate career from that of what you were before is a lot of work. You will need to educate yourself. My first website job back in early 2001 was sold when I said “yeah I can do that”. I then went home and picked up a book on how to use Dreamweaver and spent 3 days teaching myself “how to do that”. I kept learning in the evenings and weekends while working to improve my skills. Same thing goes with 3D animation – picked up books and read through them over a summer between semesters back in school. Some of the most creative and empowered people in any industry are successful because they have a hunger to always learn. Advertising is no different. (Especially digital – see the previous blog post on that topic…)
  3. SPEAK
    Learn how to talk. Practice it and listen to others. Over the past half decade as I’ve begun to lead projects and companies. I’ve focused much of my efforts in two new areas of discipline: talking and thinking big picture. I present a lot more and talk to a lot more people – clients, colleagues and vendors. When it comes to presentations work at being a human sponge. It’s not uncommon to see a good presenter casually open their note pad while listening to someone else present and write down a phrase or word they like. We learn from each other not only how to talk to certain people but how not to talk. Tact is after all a skill.
    And possibly (for me anyways) one of the most important things to work on – follow your industry, BUT DON’T feel hand cuffed by it. As artists we have a lot of influencers and it is very common for them to have nothing to do with advertising or marketing at all. Use that to your strength. Keep an eye on the industry out of respect for what you are doing and to not feel ignorant to the craft – but bring forward outside inspiration. It is our greatest strength and it is often shunned not by our fellow industry colleagues but by ourselves. We fear they won’t care so we do not bring it up. Some of the best solutions came from completely unrelated fields of thought. I still watch cartoons and animated features, I still play video games, I follow art and technology advances. I pay attention to things that I like and try at every occasion to use it on projects if I see a fit.

I encourage EVERY real job artist convert to do the same. No matter where you go remember where you are from and use it to your advantage. Id if you don’t like – there is always another path.

(originally published on

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