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Job Description of a Nature Illustrator

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a nature 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.

A career as a nature illustrator has no set educational requirements. A bachelor's degree or certificate in fine arts, or completion of a program that focuses on illustration may be beneficial. Those preparing to pursue a career in this field will need to develop a portfolio to showcase their abilities to potential employers.

Essential Information

Nature illustrators use various techniques to depict plants and animals that are life-like and accurate. Formal training is available through certificate or bachelor's degree programs in scientific illustration. Many nature illustrators are independent contractors, and they may find work from a variety of sources.

Required Education No standard requirements, though completion of bachelor's degree or certificate program for nature, biological or scientific illustration may be beneficial
Other Requirements Strong artistic abilities; developed portfolio and internships may also be required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 3% for all fine artists, including illustrators
Median Salary (2015)* $46,460 for all fine artists, including illustrators

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Nature Illustrator Job Description

A nature illustrator - sometimes called a biological or scientific illustrator - creates images of wildlife and plants using a variety of digital and traditional methods. These may include inks, oils, pencils, acrylics, graphics software and watercolors. Nature illustrators may work with specimens, which must be handled delicately. They may sometimes be required to use partial specimens in order to illustrate entire subjects. The main responsibility of a nature illustrator is to create images that can be used as educational tools; therefore, illustrations must be accurate and look natural.

In addition to illustrating plants and animals, nature illustrators may also create maps and charts that depict species information. Their work is often used in natural science publications, such as journals or textbooks. Nature illustrations are also used in websites, audiovisual presentations and museum displays.

Nature Illustration Training

According to the Guild of Natural Science Illustrators (GNSI), a degree - while not required - may improve employment prospects. Many academic institutions offer bachelor's degree programs that focus on illustration, but some schools offer programs that focus specifically on biological or scientific illustration. Students in these programs combine studies of biology with art classes. Internships may be required, and seniors may need to complete a creative thesis.

Certificate programs are also available in nature, botanical or scientific illustration. These programs may be offered through academic institutions or museums. Some programs are open to students of any skill level, while others may require previous education and proof of artistic ability. Students in these programs practice various illustration techniques, such as pen and ink, watercolors and colored pencil. Some programs include a portfolio review.

Career Outlook and Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that job opportunities for fine artists, which includes illustrators, would increase by three percent from 2014-2024. The GNSI stated that because full-time jobs in the profession are uncommon, many natural science illustrators do freelance work. They may find work through scientific publishers, park services, research institutions, museums, book publishers, government agencies and university presses, among others. In 2015, the BLS reported an annual median salary of $46,460 for fine artists in general. According to September 2016 statistics from Salary.com, scientific artists made a median annual salary of $43,626.

Nature illustrators create images of plants and animals that are accurate and life-like. They may work with specimens or be required to construct an image from a partial specimen. Their work is used for maps, charts, scientific publications, websites, audiovisual presentations and museum displays.


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