Book Illustration Education and Career Information

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a book illustrator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and necessary skills to find out if this is the career for you.

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It may be possible to begin a career as a book illustrator with a high school diploma; however, those artists seeking work in this field will need to create a strong portfolio to showcase their illustration skills. They will benefit from training in drawing composition, illustration techniques and artistic computer technology.

Essential Information

Book illustrators often design and create the covers for books and, depending on the project, may also draw illustrations to be used in the work itself. Book illustrators normally complete four to six years of higher education, though there isn't a standard education level required for the job.

Required Education No official requirements; bachelor's or master's degree in fine arts or similar field is typical
Other Requirements Strong portfolio demonstrating illustration skills
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators
Mean Salary (2015)* $54,170 for fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Education Information for Book Illustrators

Book illustrators are not required to complete any given type of education program or level of education. Normally, however, book illustrators choose to complete a bachelor's or master's degree in a subject such as fine arts. Some institutions have degree programs designed specifically for illustrators that combine training in fine arts techniques, such as drawing composition, illustration techniques and artistic computer technology, with courses on developing a professional portfolio and understanding contemporary trends in the illustration profession. These programs generally grant a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) or Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree.

BFA illustration programs usually include general education courses in English, mathematics, history and science, as well as courses specific to illustration. Education programs for illustrators may be offered in online form, but traditional classes are more common, probably because of the hands-on nature of the profession.

Aspiring illustrators for medical or science books often take classes related to the industries in which they hope to work. Medical illustrators, for example, might choose to take undergraduate classes in anatomy and physiology or enroll in a specific medical illustration master's degree program.

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Career Information for Book Illustrators

In order to advance their careers, book illustrators usually develop a portfolio that demonstrates their work to potential employers. Portfolios may consist of projects completed during school, freelance work, projects done for employers and artwork done for personal reasons. Some education programs offer courses on portfolio development.

Book illustrators who are self-employed and work successfully as full-time freelancers often maintain a client list of satisfied customers who regularly offer repeat business. Illustrators who are transitioning from a full-time position to freelance work must at times continue to hold a full-time job while developing a client list that will allow them to support themselves through freelance work.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), as of May 2015, about a third of fine artists, the BLS category that includes book illustrators, were self-employed (www.bls.gov). Book illustrators who do work in staff positions might be employed by book publishing companies, comic book publishers, or magazines. Between 2014 and 2024, opportunities for painters, sculptors and illustrators were expected to increase by 3%, especially for those who are adept at using computers for illustration. However, it's important to note this represents slower-than-average employment growth compared to all occupations. The BLS also reported in May 2015 that fine artists, including illustrators, earned an average yearly salary of $54,170.

Book illustrators create artwork to accompany text in a book. Approximately one third of those who work in the field of fine arts are self-employed, and they need to develop a strong portfolio to showcase their abilities to appeal to potential employers. A degree in fine arts may be an asset.

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