5 Tips From a Self-Taught Creative

By Joey Parks

If you are like me, you decided very late that you wanted to pursue a career in Graphic Design. Meaning, you probably don’t have the time or money to drop everything and get a Fine Arts degree. But coming from a self-taught designer, the idea that you need a degree to get a design job is a bit far-fetched. In today’s professional landscape, there are plenty of talented artists in the field who never enrolled in a design class.

blogpostimageSo, for my fellow aspiring creatives, here are my 5 personal tips for becoming a graphic artist without a fines arts degree:

  1. Anything You Learn In a Design Class is Probably Online

From my experience, there are not many design classes that offer anything different from what you can already find online.This applies especially to software usage; if you want to get better at using the Adobe Suite, Google is just as good, if not better than any professor. If it’s design theory that you want to know, books and blogs cover these extensive topics; however, design schools offer the outline of what topics may be most important in your future design career. Without attending one of these schools, you’ll have to do a bit of extra work to hunt down the design concepts that you can use the most.

  1. No One Cares About Your Degree, Show Them Your Portfolio

So you did it, you graduated with a four-year degree like your Mom, Dad, and high school guidance counselor said you would have to. However, when it comes to creatives, this piece of paper means very little. In fact, it is whatever work you have culminated over this period that employers really want to look at. It doesn’t matter if you got a design, communication, math, or even Pre-Med degree. If you can prove you know what you’re doing in terms of design, you can snag a job as a graphic artist. Put more time into perfecting your portfolio and personal website then deciding how to frame that degree.

  1. In Lieu of A Professor, Find a Creative Ally

Even if you love the work you make, it is not always your opinion that really matters. In the real world, you need to meet the needs and objectives of your creative director, agency, editor, or client with your design projects. Design school offers the opportunity to work under the care of professionals who have years of experience. They are there to guide you through the creative process, help you hit design objectives, and provide quick and constructive feedback on your work. Without design school, you’ll have to find this kind of guidance elsewhere. Luckily, there are always people that understand this plight and are more than willing to talk design over coffee. Don’t think you’re going to find a tuition-free professor right away, but start getting used to admitting you need help, and reach out to any creative whose work you admire.

  1. Get Used to Criticism

As a novice designer, it’s inevitable – you are going to make mistakes. You’ll make work that looks good, but completely misses its objective. And you might make things that just plain suck. It’s never fun to hear negative feedback about your work, especially when it’s a project you put your heart and soul into. But, no one ever gets better without hearing criticism; no matter how much it stings, you need to be ready and willing for people to tell you what’s wrong with your work. It’s in your best interest as a novice designer to accept any criticism you can, figure out what you can learn from it, and then make the changes. At the end of the day, I find I like my work even better after I’ve run it past two or three pairs of eyes.

  1. Keep Your Chin Up, It’s Tough Out There

Even after two years of being a self-taught designer and landing one in the field, I can admit how easy it is to feel upset about the skills you don’t have. The old saying is true, there is always someone better than you. When you feel overwhelmed by the skill of others, and maybe a little down on yourself, always remember that every designer had to start somewhere. The only way to get better is experience. Getting that experience might mean reaching out to others for work opportunities, definitely working for free, going through ten drafts of the same design, and spending some late nights finishing tough jobs. Always look at adversity as a way to better your skills That’s how you get better.

So if you are late to the game of design, don’t sweat it. It may take more effort than if you went to a design school, but it is by no means impossible to become just as good. Who knows? You may find that not taking the standard path into a design school was the best decision for you.


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