Editorial Illustration Jobs: Options, Duties and Requirements

Editorial illustrators create images for different companies, such as for magazines, journals and newspapers. Learn about the education, job duties and licensure requirements to see if this is the right career for you.

Editorial illustrators are often self-employed professionals who usually work on a project basis. They may also pursue art teaching positions in elementary and secondary schools, though formal education and certification is required for those jobs. Job growth in this field is predicted to be slower than the national average.

Essential Information

Those looking to become an editorial illustrator need to be well versed in many media forms and also have an artistic mind. Through 2-dimensional images, these illustrators communicate their views, whether it's about politics or comedy. Editorial illustrators are self-employed, and they are required to pay their own taxes. Formal training is often required to get a job in this industry. Bachelor and master degrees are offered, and coursework typically includes portraiture, painting, book illustration and art history. Students looking to teach college-level art classes must get an advanced degree, such as in fine arts.

Education Requirements High school diploma or equivalent
Job Growth (2014-24)* 2%
Mean Salary (2015)* $54,170 annually

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Options for Editorial Illustrators

Publications, such as newspapers and magazines, often hire editorial illustrators to artistically render a theme or emotion related to a written piece. According to the Kendall College of Art and Design (KCAD) at Ferris State University, editorial illustration is primarily freelance work (www.kcad.edu). KCAD noted that nearly 85% of all illustrators are freelancers. Self-employed illustrators may have a regular client base that provides them with contract work, and they can generally choose which projects they want to do.

Editorial illustrators may also find job opportunities in teaching. Primary and secondary schools may hire illustrators to teach art classes. A bachelor's degree and teaching certificate are required to teach at public schools. Illustrators may also be hired as faculty members in college or university art departments and at art schools.

Editorial Illustrator Job Duties

Editorial illustrators communicate ideas by creating 2-dimensional pictures either digitally or by hand. They create abstract or realistic images using color, shading and perspective. Illustrators use a variety of techniques, including graphics software, ink, airbrushing, paints and pastels. Other duties typically include working with employers or clients, organizing projects and collaborating with other artists.

Job Requirements

A portfolio is typically required by employers or potential clients to assess an illustrator's skill and talent. Most fine arts degree programs may require a portfolio for admission, and most require portfolio reviews before students graduate. A portfolio typically contains several samples of the illustrator's best work in a variety of genres and media.

Employment Prospects and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for fine artists - including painters, sculptors and illustrators - who worked for newspaper, book, periodical and directory publishers was $54,170 in 2015. The number of employed craft and fine artists was predicted to grow 2% from 2014-2024, reports the BLS, with job opportunities dwindling throughout the print publication industry.

Education Requirements

According to the BLS, illustrators may not acquire enough skills to earn a living unless they pursue formal training (www.bls.gov). Many academic institutions offer bachelor's degrees in illustration. Students in these programs learn various illustration techniques, such as hand drawing, printmaking and computer graphics. Completion of a senior thesis and portfolio is typically required. In addition to studying editorial illustration, students may also take coursework in the following topics:

  • 2-D and 3-D design
  • Typography
  • Portraiture
  • Digital photography
  • Painting
  • Book illustration
  • Art history

Illustrators who wish to teach college-level art classes may be required to have a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree, which is considered a terminal degree in the visual arts. Several schools offer MFA programs that specialize in illustration. Students typically receive advanced illustration practice in studio courses. Other coursework may include critical theory, digital illustration, advanced art history and children's book illustration. Most programs require students to develop and exhibit a body of work for their thesis project.

Editorial illustrators have few education requirements, though completion of a training program or bachelor's degree may help them develop their skills and compile a portfolio. Those seeking to teach need either a bachelor's degree or master's degree, depending on the level they teach, and teaching positions may require licensing. Those in this field can expect an average salary around $54,000.

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