Book Illustrator: Job Description and Career Roadmap

Research the requirements to become a book illustrator. Learn about the job description and duties and read the step-by-step process to start a career in book illustration. View article »

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  • 0:04 Should I Become a Book…
  • 0:40 Build Illustration Skills
  • 1:17 Earn a College Education
  • 2:32 Create a Portfolio
  • 2:53 Send Out Queries
  • 3:15 Secure Employment

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Book Illustrator?

Book illustrators work alongside an author to produce artwork that will accompany the story in a book. Illustrators use different media to produce their art, such as paint, pencils, watercolors, pastels, or computer programs. Many illustrators work as freelance artists, and competition for assignments may be intense. Looming deadlines may also cause stressful situations for these professionals.

Degree Level Certificate, associate, bachelor's, and master's degree available, none required
Degree Field Fine arts, illustration, or similar field
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, manual dexterity, computer skills with editing software
Salary As of May 2015, the median annual salary for fine artists, including illustrators, was $46,460.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Build Illustration Skills

Aspiring book illustrators must demonstrate proficiency in basic art skills. Art skills may be acquired through high school coursework, classes at local community arts centers, or through practice at home. A prospective illustrator interested in attending college to hone his or her skills will typically need to be able to display a firm grasp on elements of composition, value, shade, hue, and other artistic concepts in order to gain enrollment in a program. In addition to artistic ability, creativity, and manual dexterity, budding book illustrators may also want to develop computer skills with editing software.

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Earn a College Education

Though it isn't strictly necessary for a book illustrator to attend college, obtaining a certificate or an associate's, bachelor's, or master's degree may help prospective candidates gain experience and skills in the visual arts. Some colleges offer fine arts programs with specialization or concentration options in illustration. College students may complete foundational coursework in painting, figure drawing, graphic design, art history, typography, and computer illustration. Students are also generally required to complete design studio or lab courses in which they improve on their drawing and illustration skills.

Success Tips

  • Take business or marketing courses. Taking elective courses in business or marketing can help illustrators gain the skills they'll need to run their own business or promote their work to clients. Many book illustrators may be self-employed and freelance their talents to authors or publishing companies.
  • Take computer classes. With the rise of technology, more and more illustrators are beginning to use computer software to create or edit book illustrations. Taking computer courses can help an aspiring book illustrator learn how to use a variety of editing programs, such as Photoshop.

Create a Portfolio

Aspiring book illustrators should create a portfolio that shows the illustrator's best work and demonstrates artistic prowess. Illustrators can develop their portfolio during college by collecting their best projects from various classes. Portfolios can be used to present and market an illustrator's skills to prospective authors or employers.

Send Out Queries

Book illustrators can send out queries with examples of their work to publishers in order to get a foot in the door. Queries may result in a rejection, a hold, or a contract. If an illustrator's work is put on hold, this may mean the publisher is interested in using it at a later time. Aspiring book illustrators should send out at many queries as possible in order to find employment.

Secure Employment

Book illustrators may need to secure long-term contracts with authors or publishers in order to make a living, or may work freelance with multiple authors or companies. Joining a professional organization, such as the Association of Illustrators, can provide a book illustrator with a variety of resources and networking opportunities. For example, members can post their digital portfolio online to make it more accessible to authors or publishers. Other benefits include professional portfolio advice, client directories, member events, and more.

Remember that many book illustrators are self-employed and should continue to send out queries, develop their portfolios, and form networking connections throughout their career in order to earn steady income.

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