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Working As A Creative Director: How Art Can Expand Your Career Choices


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If you consider yourself full of ideas and vision, a career as a creative director may be the path meant for you. Many products and media that visually appeal to you are the way they are because they have a dedicated, innovative team led by a creative director. Most recently, rapper Pharrell Williams was appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton's men's fashions. Neither an insider nor completely an outsider to the fashion industry, Williams was chosen because of the creative leadership he displays. Louis Vuitton's chairman and CEO noted that Williams' penchant for breaking boundaries aligns with Louis Vuitton's values of innovation, pioneer spirit, and entrepreneurship. Of course, you don't have to be a Grammy-winning artist to pursue a career as a creative director. As mentioned above, a key element of being a creative director is your capacity for creative leadership. Below, we'll take a closer look at what a creative director is, what they do, and how learning art can help expand your career choices:

What is a Creative Director?

When considering the career path of a creative director, we can take a look at former Gucci creative director Tom Ford's trajectory. Ford had moved to New York City as a teenager to study art and architecture. In 1992, he became the design director of Gucci before the promotion to creative director in 1994, rendering him responsible for the design of all product lines. Aside from his foray into fashion, Ford is also a filmmaker, having directed, produced, and co-written critically-acclaimed films such as A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals. Creative directors work in various fields, sectors, and industries today. Film studios, magazines, fashion brands, marketing or ad agencies, charities, and even video game companies need creative directors to help execute ideas into actual products and outputs. The job description of a creative director is a holistic one, as they play an essential role in marketing, creative, communications, and digital departments. In line with creative leadership, creative directors are responsible for leading their teams, developing guidelines, and directing creative work. Essentially, a creative director is part coach, teacher, instructor, and critic — all at once. At a small business like Winged Canvas, being the creative director means wearing lots of hats. Fei Lu plans and approves creative projects including videos, educational programming/curriculums, and blogs – areas a director of marketing and strategy would typically be responsible for. Fei also trains, mentors, and works with new creatives.



What's the Difference Between a Creative Director and an Art Director?

While both roles may sound similar and are creative- or arts-bound, there are certainly differences between a creative director and an art director. A creative director acts as the leader of a creative team, developing concepts and giving out instructions; an art director works under the direct shadow of the creative director. For example, an art director would participate with the creative director in client presentations, taking cues to ensure the concept being presented to the client can be executed well.



A High-Earning Art Career You May Not Know About


If you’re a famous creative director leading a luxury fashion brand like Louis Vuitton and Gucci, you may be raking in millions. However, the creative director is still a high-earning position in most companies. Creative directors in Canada earn an average of $118,697 per year, with salaries ranging from $87,000 to $166,000. In the US, the average is $167,309 per year with some creative directors earning between $99,000 to $285,000 annually.


The Path to Becoming a Creative Director

Unless you start your own company or you’ve built up enough credibility and accolades to get recruited as a creative director, you’ll have to work your way to the top. In the advertising industry, climbing the corporate ladder might look like this: Junior Designer → Senior Designer → Art Director → Senior Art Director → Creative Director.


Fei started her journey by studying Illustration at the Art Center College of Design and freelancing as an illustrator and designer at various companies. As her expertise grew, she found her way into an ad agency, working as a graphic designer before getting promoted to the position of Art Director. However, instead of continuing the climb to Creative Director at the agency, Fei took a bold step and founded Winged Canvas, where she now thrives as a Creative Director, guiding the artistic vision of the company.


While there's no singular right path for pursuing a career as a creative director, education requirements for the role today look at applicants from all backgrounds with degrees in art, graphic design, marketing, communications, journalism, and other fields.



How Learning Art Helps Creative Directors

As mentioned, a proficiency or interest in the arts seems to be a common background among creative directors — regardless of the industry they are working in. In fact, the benefits of learning art can go beyond cementing a career as a creative director. Studying art and creating it can be a calming process, helping develop a better understanding of our world. Art making is associated with reduced cortisol levels — an anxiety-inducing hormone — and helps us better respond to stress. Ultimately, creating and viewing art can help us understand how someone else thinks and develop our empathy. For a creative director, understanding the technical aspects of a project's design and how people will view and interact with it is an important skill.



Digital art of female character in an orange coat
Instructor Josh Chan teaching character design

Art Resources for Aspiring Creative Directors

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