Three insider secrets to a lighting portfolio that lands your dream job.

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Three Insider Secrets to a stand-out portfolio

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The Top Creative, High-Paying Jobs Without a Degree (2024)

by | Last updated Jan 16, 2024

What are the top creative jobs without a degree?

Creative jobs can be high-paying, rewarding, and fun without requiring you to get a college degree. I should know – I have a six-figure creative leadership role at a Fortune 100.

Want to learn more? Here are the top creative jobs that don’t require a degree.

 

What is a creative job?

Creative jobs are those where you have the freedom to use your imagination to develop new ideas, solutions, and products.

This could be anything from designing your own product or using your artistic skills to writing a script for a movie.

But can you get a creative job without a degree? The answer is yes, and here’s how…

What can you do as an artist without a degree?

Typically, artistic jobs are seen as jobs that pay poorly.

But this idea of a “starving artist” doesn’t hold up – you can build a creative career that pays well.

Take me, for example. When I was in art school (and even before I decided to pursue a creative career), people told me it couldn’t be done.

That I’d regret my decision and I should look for a “real” job.

So, when I graduated from art school, I still wasn’t sure how to translate my design skills and interests into a stable career.

That’s when I stumbled upon 3D lighting. I’ve now spent 20+ years in the industry and my career has been versatile, fun, and interesting. I’ve worked on feature films like Rio and Ice Age, VFX projects, and I’ve had the opportunity to develop as a creative leader.

The thing is:

You can find financial, professional, and creative success in the arts. You just need to know how to go about it.

Since most artistic jobs are now digital or have a computer-generated component, the overflow into the technical arena makes wages even more competitive.

For example, 3D lighting artists, especially senior ones, can make six figures a year. People in managerial positions can make even more.

Plus, you don’t need to get a college degree to work in the industry.

It’s also important to understand that the road to success is not a straight line.

You may need to take a few detours and make a few mistakes along the way.

But, with the right attitude and determination, you can not only succeed in the arts but thrive.

That said, what are the best jobs for creatives?

And especially jobs that don’t require you to spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new degree?

Here are the best fun, creative jobs without a degree for artists and non-artists alike.

Top-paying creative jobs without a degree

The best creative jobs that pay well depend on your skills and preferences. For instance, as an introvert, a career that lets you work remotely can be really helpful. If you want to write, look for a writing job, and so on.

The thing is:

While each job requires some skills, all of them can be learned through online courses or tutorials. The primary requirements are creativity, the ability to market oneself, and possibly technical skills, which can all be learned as you go. With the right combination of these skills, a high salary is achievable without a college degree.

1. 3D animation

3D animation artists create realistic visuals for movies, television shows, video games, and more. 3D artists create objects and characters that look and move like real life. They can also develop complex environments and special effects.

Animation comes in 3D and 2D animation. 3D allows artists to create visuals with greater detail and realism than traditional 2D animation. This makes it possible to create scenes and characters that are more lifelike and believably interact with each other.

There are different types of animation roles and careers. A few include:

  • 3D animator
  • 3D lighting artist
  • Rigging artist
  • 3D modeler
  • Character artist

You could work in industries like these:

  • Entertainment
  • Gaming
  • Commercials
  • Medicine and health
  • Education
  • Design

…And more.

I’ve personally worked for big studios like Disney on feature films like Rio and Ice Age. I’ve also worked in Big Tech, VFX, and more.

Your career depends on your career goals.

For instance, 3D lighting is all about creating emotions and moods for a scene. So it combines things like artistic skills, technical skills, psychology, and physics.

3D animation doesn’t require a college degree. You do need to know your way around certain software, like Maya, but those (and the actual animation skills) are things you can learn from online courses and programs. What hiring managers look at is your portfolio – not the years you’ve spent in school.

How to get started: Read my guides on building a career in animation and becoming a 3D lighting artist.

2. VFX artist

A VFX artist is an individual who specializes in creating computer-generated visual effects for films, television, video games, and other media. They use a variety of software and technology to create realistic visuals in the post-production process (after a scene has been shot).

Movies that use VFX include “The Lord of the Rings” and “Avatar.” VFX is also a big part of gaming.

Many of the skills VFX artists require don’t require a degree. You need to know industry software and techniques, but those are things you can learn online (or in an offline program).

There are several career paths for a VFX artist, including special effects supervisor, VFX lighting artist, compositor, and matte painter.

For instance, a special effects supervisor is responsible for leading a VFX team, managing the budget, and ensuring that the project complies with the client’s vision and the director’s requirements.

How to get started: Read my guides on how to learn VFX and how to become a VFX lighting artist. 

3. Art director

Art directors are responsible for creating a visual style and images in movies, magazines, packaging, and more. They are the creative leaders of the process and manage those who develop artwork to do so in line with the overall design.

Art directors can work in different industries, including media, marketing, animation, and more.

For instance, a 3D art director oversees the creative process of a 3D animation project. They are responsible for ensuring that the project meets the desired aesthetic, as well as is completed on time and within budget. They also provide feedback and guidance to the team.

A few skills an art director must have are creativity, strong visual communication, and leadership. However, if this is a career you want to pursue, you don’t need a specific degree. What matters is your experience in a field like 3D animation, graphic design, illustration, or photography.

How to get started: Read this guide on how to become an art director. 

4. Game designer

A game designer is someone who creates the concept and mechanics of a video game. They oversee the development of the game and are responsible for ensuring it is fun and engaging for players. They also create the rules, storylines, and characters in the game.

This is an increasingly popular career path as video game demand is on the rise. By 2026, the video game market is expected to be worth over $300 billion. This growth is due to the increasing popularity of mobile gaming and console gaming.

Game designers are in high demand to help create new and innovative games that players will love. They must understand the technical aspects of game development and be creative and imaginative to come up with unique ideas.

Specifically, game designers must have strong creative, technical, and problem-solving skills to be successful. They must also be able to collaborate effectively with other members of the development team.

Within game design, there are numerous jobs such as level designer, environment artist, game lighting artist, and programmer. These roles involve creating the game world, crafting the user experience, and programming the game logic.

How to get started: Read this guide on how to become a video game designer and my guide on how to become a game lighting artist.

5. Industrial designer

An industrial designer uses computer-aided design software to create products with a focus on form, function, and aesthetics. For instance, an industrial designer might create a model of a car, focusing on elements such as the shape of the car, the placement of the headlights, and the design of the interior.

While the output is practical, the process requires creativity. Often, industrial designers use tools like 3D software.

There are industrial design degrees, but what’s more important is your portfolio. Just like in any design field, if your portfolio is strong and you show you have strong creative and visual skills, you don’t need a degree.

How to get started: Read this guide on how to become an industrial designer. 

6. Web developer

Another career that emphasizes creativity is a web developer. In this role, you will use coding and design skills to create and maintain websites.

While it’s a slightly more technical career, you’ll need to be able to think creatively and solve problems. Your specific coding skills will depend on the programming language you are focusing on. However, you can learn programming languages and frameworks on sites like Khan Academy and Udemy.

How to get started: Here’s how to become a web developer. 

7. UX designer

A UX designer often works hand in hand with a web developer. The job of a UX designer is to create user experiences that are both functional and enjoyable, focusing on the user-friendliness of products and services.

This includes researching user needs, designing user interfaces, testing products, and collaborating with developers to ensure that the product meets the user’s needs.

A UX designer works on web, mobile, and desktop applications. They also work on physical products such as consumer electronics, home appliances, and healthcare devices.

Plus, UX designers collaborate with marketing and sales teams to ensure that the product is user-friendly and meets customer expectations.

The different types of UX designers include UX researchers, interaction designers, visual designers, and UX writers. UX designers must have a deep understanding of user needs and behaviors, as well as the latest technological trends. They must also possess strong communication and collaboration skills in order to effectively work with other team members.

To become a UX designer, you can take a course on a site like CareerFoundry.com

How to get started: Learn how to become a UX designer here. 

8. Technical writer

Technical writing is a creative career in that it requires the writer to take complicated information and present it in a way that is easy to understand for non-experts. They use their writing skills to create user manuals, technical documents, and other materials designed to help readers understand and use specialized products and services.

For instance, technical writers may create instructions for a software program, outlining step-by-step how to use the program. Or they may write a guide for a medical device, explaining how to safely use the device in a clinical setting.

As a technical writer, you need strong communication skills and you need to be able to work with experts in various fields.

How to get started: Read this guide on how to become a technical writer. 

9. Social media strategist

Another creative career is social media strategist. Social media strategists help organizations create content and campaigns to reach their target audiences on various social media platforms. They also analyze data to measure the success of their campaigns and make adjustments to meet their goals.

It requires creativity to come up with effective campaigns and content that resonates well with people. You’ll also need to stay up to date with trends and new platforms to make sure their campaigns are effective.

To learn how to become a social media strategist, you’ll need to learn one social media platform really well, probably through trial and error and by going through different courses. For example, LinkedIn Learn has plenty of social media courses.

How to get started: Learn how to become a social media strategist here. 

10. Copywriter

A copywriter creates compelling and persuasive content for advertisements, websites, and other forms of media. They are skilled at crafting copy that captures the attention of the intended audience and persuades them to take action.

It’s a rewarding career for those with a creative flair, a good command of language, and exceptional communication skills. You’ll also need to have the ability to quickly digest complex information and distill it into an engaging narrative. The job can typically be done virtually anywhere with a laptop and an internet connection. Copywriters work with a diverse range of clients, making the job interesting and dynamic.

How to get started: Read this guide on how to become a copywriter.

How can you get a creative job without a degree?

Now you know what types of careers you can get into without a degree.

While you can get a degree in most of these fields, you don’t have to. But how do you land a job without that experience?

Here’s what you need to know.

Education

No, you don’t need a degree.

But you need to learn a skill. (Unless you already have one.)

Now, you can take the DIY approach to learning the skills required for a specific creative job, but that may take considerable time.

So, there are also online courses and learning programs. These courses can be a great way to gain the relevant skills and knowledge required to get and keep the job.

Furthermore, they can often be completed in a shorter period of time than a degree program.

It’s also beneficial to join a community of like-minded professionals to get advice and support.

For example, some online programs and courses include such a community. And if they’re created by industry professionals, even better.

At the Academy of Animated Art, for example, you learn from mentors and industry experts. You also gain direct access to employers, allowing you to build relationships and get hired faster. Plus, you can learn at your own pace and in the comfort of your own home.

I personally have over 20 years of industry experience in feature animation and VFX, at companies like Disney (Blue Sky Studios) and Framestone. Some of my lighting credits include Ferdinand, Peanuts, Rio 2, Epic, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Rio, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, Ghost Town, and The Nanny Diaries.

Not to mention, you can see what our alumni have to say. We’ve helped our students gain the skills and contacts they need to land amazing creative jobs.

Skills

You need the right skills. So whatever career you’re interested in, look for programs where you learn specific skills.

For 3D lighting artists, we offer a course Bundle that includes pretty much everything a new lighting artist needs to learn (such as Adobe Creative Suite, Autodesk Maya, Unity, and Unreal Engine). It’s the program I wish I would have had when I was new.

These skills include:

  • Communication skills
  • Artistic skills
  • Creativity
  • Time management skills
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Specific software and technical skills

Portfolio

One of the most important things needed to start a creative career is to showcase your work. And that’s why you need a portfolio.

This is a collection of your best work, which can be used to demonstrate your skills and show potential clients and employers what you can do. A good portfolio can be the deciding factor in whether you get hired or not.

For instance, to become a 3D lighting artist or similar, you’ll need what’s called a demo reel. A demo reel is a compilation of your best animation or video work. It should include scenes that show off your ability to create interesting lighting and moods. The reel should be short, no more than a few minutes, and be edited professionally.

However, for more technical careers, such as web design, you’d go to GitHub to showcase your work.

Ultimately, a solid portfolio is far more valuable than a degree.

How to get your first job

So, how do you get your first job?

There are a few ways:

  • Get an internship or freelance experience to build your portfolio or demo reel
  • Network and reach out to people in the field
  • Utilize resources like job boards, job fairs, or even social media to find job opportunities
  • Practice your interview skills and make sure your resume is up to date

And, in the meantime, enroll in a program that offers the training you need to be successful.

Next steps

There you have it! Those are the top creative jobs without a degree.

There are numerous lucrative creative jobs and career paths.

A creative career might be just the change you need in your life, and you don’t have to be a starving artist.

However, want to get started building your skills?

Start looking for programs that teach you the skills you need.

If you want to become a 3D lighting artist, then get started with these three secrets to building a portfolio that will help you get hired:

 

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

Jasmine Katatikarn Headshot

About Jasmine Katatikarn

Jasmine Katatikarn is the founder of Academy of Animated Art. She has 20+ years of experience in Feature Animation and VFX. Jasmine’s lighting credits include movies like Ice Age, Ferdinand, Peanuts, and Rio. Read more here.

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