Become a Children's Book Illustrator: Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a children's book illustrator. Research the education requirements, training, and experience you will need to start a career in children's book illustration.

Should I Become a Children's Book Illustrator?

Children's book illustrators design and create pictures and drawings for children's books and stories. Illustrators might be employed by magazines or publishing houses; others may be self-employed. Freelance children's book illustrators can develop a list of clients that they work for on a regular basis, and may need to spend considerable time looking for new clients. These workers may deal with tight deadlines and work in home offices or studios.

Artists can get training in illustration by enrolling in a bachelor's degree program in illustration or by taking private art lessons, workshops, or art classes. Students can also study with other illustrators who have more experience through an internship or apprenticeship. During their art training, illustrators can build a portfolio of work to show to potential clients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees available
Degree Field Illustration or related field in the arts
Key Skills Artistic skills, creativity, manual dexterity, sales and marketing skills, interpersonal skills, computer art skills
Salary $43,890 is the median annual salary for fine artists and illustrators (2014)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Step 1: Earn a Degree

Although a degree is not required to become an illustrator, graduates may have an easier time finding a job with a degree or some formal training, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Many illustrators choose to attend college for a bachelor's degree in illustration or a similar subject. Common classes offered in illustration education programs include drawing strategies, contemporary art, drawing techniques, technology in illustration and illustration markets. Graduate degrees in art and illustration are also available for those who wish to fine-tune their skills.

Success tip

  • Complete an internship or apprenticeship program. Working with an artist who has more experience can help students refine their artistic skills.

Step 2: Develop a Portfolio

Many education institutions with art and illustration programs also help students develop a portfolio; some schools offer an entire course devoted to portfolio development. Illustrators may also use their freelance illustration work and even class assignments in their portfolios. Employers often consider illustrators' portfolios before hiring them, so developing an outstanding portfolio may be the key to finding employment, according to the BLS. Artists may wish to present their portfolios online to reach a broader audience.

Success tips

  • Create your own unique style. By developing a personal style, illustrators can stand out in a competitive market.

Step 3: Obtain an Illustration Job

Children's book illustrators may work directly for a publishing company or may be freelancers with multiple clients. Illustrators who have been successfully employed for a time may seek advancement into a position, such as art director or a management role, depending on the company they work for. Illustrators with developed portfolios may also consider freelance work.

Success Tips

  • Develop marketing skills. Illustrators will need to promote their work in order to sell art to customers. It will help illustrators if they know what people are interested in buying.
  • Learn graphic design. The demand for illustrators who can create art with a computer is expected to grow, according to BLS. The median annual salary for graphic designers is $45,900.

Step 4: Build a Client List

An important step for illustrators who opt for self-employment is developing a client list. A client list is composed of satisfied customers who may provide repeat business. Because of the sporadic nature of such projects, children's book illustrators may be required to retain a full-time job while building their client list to the point where it will support them.

Success tip

  • Develop interpersonal skills. If illustrators plan to sell their own work, they will need to be able to work with many different kinds of people.

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