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Professional Illustrator: Career Information & Requirements

Learn how to become a professional artist or illustrator. Research the job description and education requirements to find out how to start a career in illustration. View article »

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  • 0:00 Professional Illustrator
  • 1:02 Complete Training
  • 1:53 Choose a Specialty
  • 2:28 Obtain Technology Skills
  • 2:55 Build a Portfolio
  • 3:15 Gain Work Experience

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Professional Illustrator?

Professional artists or illustrators create drawings used within almost every industry. Some choose to specialize, such as drawing pictures for children's books, while others work as freelancers for a wide range of employers. Depending on the industry, these artists often have to complete projects within a short time frame, which may prove stressful to some workers. Those who are self-employed need to spend considerable time seeking new projects.

Degree Level Bachelor's or master's degree beneficial, but not required
Degree Field Fine arts
Experience Training in workshops, classes, apprenticeships, and internships is helpful; portfolio demonstrating past projects is essential
Key Skills Artistic ability, creativity, and manual dexterity; customer service, sales, and marketing skills
Median Salary (January 2016) $44,588

Source: PayScale.com

Step 1: Complete Training

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that fine artists, who include illustrators, don't need a formal degree in order to find employment; however, the BLS also noted that those who obtain professional training might be more likely to find work. Illustrators can choose to take individual classes and workshops that focus on different illustration styles and techniques. Many artists decide to get their training in an associates or bachelor's degree program.

Undergraduate degree courses in illustration include fundamental courses that cover basic drawing, figure drawing, 2-dimensional design, and color theory. Some illustration degree programs are designed around certain illustration careers. A commercial illustrator degree program consists of classes in layout design, advertising illustrations, and sequential art.

Find schools that offer these popular programs

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  • Commercial Photography
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  • General Visual Communications Design
  • Graphic Design
  • Illustration and Drawing
  • Industrial Design
  • Interior Design and Decorating

Step 2: Choose a Specialty

Professional artists or illustrators may select a particular industry as their specialty. For example, fashion illustrators draw and color designs for both apparel and accessories. Advertising illustrators create drawings and sketches that promote the sales of products and services. Other common industry based specialties include animation illustrators, background illustrators, architectural illustrators and medical illustrators. Illustrators can also take continuing education courses. Artists can refine their skills by enrolling in advanced or specialized continuing education courses.

Step 3: Obtain Technology Skills

Some illustration careers require significant technological skills, especially careers related to digital media. Professional artists and illustrators may need to use digital media software in order to animate, alter, or redesign illustrated graphics. Many illustration degree programs provide training with software programs such as Flash and Adobe Illustrator. Other coursework helps professional artists and illustrators improve their web designing skills.

Step 4: Build a Portfolio

Illustrators show potential employers their talent by displaying samples of their work in a portfolio. Degree programs usually include courses that teach artists and illustrators how to build a professional portfolio. Through their coursework, students learn how to organize their portfolios, including which types of samples to include.

Step 5: Gain Work Experience

Although professional artists and illustrators may specialize in a specific field, they can make themselves more marketable to employers by acquiring a diverse art background. Training in various artist studios with professional illustrators provides workers with valuable experience. Internships and summer jobs at art museums educates artists and illustrators in the areas of art restoration and preservation.

Professional illustrators don't need to have a degree, but they do need training and a portfolio. Specializing can help illustrators have the skills they need for what they specifically want to work on.

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