How Do I Become a Professional Illustrator or Artist?

Aug 19, 2018

Learn how to become a professional illustrator. Research the education, career requirements and experience required for starting a career as a professional illustrator.

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  • 0:00 Should I Become a…
  • 1:09 Career Requirements
  • 1:40 Career Steps

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Should I Become a Professional Illustrator or Artist?

Professional illustrators are fine artists who produce pictures found in books and publications. With the advancement in technology, illustrators can use computer software programs to create images through techniques like drawing and stenciling.

An illustrator is considered a special type of fine artist. Fine artists are employed by businesses or work for themselves. Artists that are self-employed create their own schedules, but weekend and evening hours are common. Freelance artists need to promote and advertise their business, and there could be time lapses between clients. Thus, they have less job security than artists hired by a company. Talent, experience and illustration skills are preferred over education. However, enrolling in a formal training program helps individuals improve their artistic abilities and provides them with portfolio samples. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a median annual salary of $46,460 for fine artists, including painters, sculptors and illustrators, in May 2015.

Career Requirements

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; undergraduate or graduate degrees common
Degree Field Fine arts, illustration, multimedia, or another related arts program
Experience 2-5 years
Key Skills Creative and artistic ability; manual dexterity; interpersonal skills; proficiency in illustration software programs like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign
Salary $46,460 (2015 median salary for all fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators)

Sources:, Job postings (August 2012), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

You'll need a high school diploma or equivalent to become a professional illustrator, but many fine artists pursue an undergraduate or graduate degree in fine arts, illustration, multimedia or another related arts program. Two to five years of experience is usually required. You'll also need creative and artistic ability, manual dexterity to create illustrations, interpersonal skills for marketing and proficiency in illustration software programs, like Adobe Illustrator and InDesign.

Steps to Become a Professional Illustrator or Artist

Let's go over the steps you need to take to become a professional illustrator or artist.

Step 1: Learn to Draw or Create Images

Before considering formal training or even thinking about a career as a professional illustrator or artist, artists must learn how to draw. Artists and illustrators often develop a personal style. Whether it is through a sketchbook or computer illustration program, learning how to draw and create images will be an essential part of becoming an artist.

Success Tip

Assemble a portfolio. Some formal training programs require applicants to submit a portfolio for admission consideration. Artwork done at school or home can be used to represent an artist's best work and talent.

Step 2: Consider Formal Training Program

Fine artists, including illustrators, generally pursue formal training programs to improve artistic skills and career prospects. Undergraduate and graduate programs, like a Bachelor of Fine Arts or Master or Fine Arts, are available to teach students about drawing, the history of art and 3D illustration. Students take elective courses to learn how to draw human figures, create children's illustrations, develop book illustrations and use computer art programs. The work completed in these courses is ideal for inclusion in an artist's portfolio.

Success Tip

Consider medical illustration training. Studying medical illustration at the graduate level can help increase job opportunities, according to the BLS. Medical illustration master's degree programs teach illustrators how to develop detailed images of various living organisms and medical procedures.

Step 3: Look for Employment Opportunities

Career opportunities are available in a variety of industries, and illustrators can find employment creating drawings for greeting companies, publishers and engineering companies. Recent graduates can search for employment through job postings and submit their portfolios for review. Illustrators may also need to continue drawing to keep their skills up-to-date while they look for a job.

Success Tip

Consider self-employment. To be successful as a self-employed illustrator, it's a good idea to specialize in a field like cartoons or children's books. A freelancer has to constantly search for new projects, but once the artist establishes a reputation it's easier to keep regular clients and attract new ones.

To become a professional illustrator, you'll need to develop your artistic skills and consider formal training.

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