Learn How to Draw for a Living: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a professional artist who draws. Explore the education and experience required for starting a drawing career, along with some areas of specialization. View article »

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  • 0:04 Drawing for a Living
  • 0:34 Career Info & Skills
  • 1:36 Step 1: Choose a Specialty
  • 2:43 Step 2: Pursue a Degree
  • 3:42 Step 3: Develop a Portfolio
  • 4:11 Step 4: Work…

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Video Transcript

Drawing for a Living

Traditionally, a drawing is defined as a hand-created picture of a person, object, landscape, event, or abstract design, executed in a dry medium such as pencil or in ink. Some budding artists learn to draw in high school art courses, while others get further training in postsecondary art programs or through apprenticeships. Classes are one way for artists to get the daily practice needed to develop advanced skills and hone their techniques.

Career Info & Skills

Aspiring artists with a passion for drawing may choose from among many careers, such as illustrator or cartoonist. They might work for an advertising or commercial art agency, a multimedia company, or a book, greeting card, magazine or newspaper publisher. Artists who specialize in drawing may also freelance. However, income from freelance jobs may be sporadic and attaining assignments might be quite competitive.

Degree Level None is strictly required; bachelor's and master's degree programs are available and may teach important skills
Degree Field Fine arts
Experience Formal training or apprenticeship positions can prepare fine artists for advancement in their field
Key Skills Customer-service, communication, and marketing skills; artistic ability and manual dexterity
Job Outlook Employment of craft and fine artists expected to grow by just 2%, or slower than average from 2014-2024
Salary (2015) $54,170 per year (Average salary for all fine artists, including illustrators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2014)

Step 1: Choose a Specialty

Early on, many aspiring artists begin to consider a specific career path. For example, a person who draws for a living may work as a drafter and produce technical drawings that guide the production of machines and structures. Illustrators create pictures for publications and products such as greeting cards. Cartoonists draw humorous, political, or advertising cartoons. Forensic sketch artists make portraits of suspects for law enforcement, while sketch artists draw courtroom scenes for the media. Fine artists who specialize in drawing may exhibit and sell their work directly to private patrons, online, or in art shows, galleries and museums.

Success Tip:

Take computer courses. Many artists including drafters make drawings with the aid of computers. Look for classes that can provide training in computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided design and drafting (CADD), or the use of software like Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop or SketchBook Pro.

Step 2: Pursue Degree

Depending on the goals of the individual, a 2-year Associate of Arts or 4-year Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Fine Arts program at a college, university, or independent art school may be beneficial. It is possible to major or concentrate in drawing at the undergraduate level. In addition to the history of drawing and studio work, students get an all-around art education in courses such as aesthetics, color theory, composition, and digital art. After developing a strong foundation, students may focus on the further development of their unique styles. Many art schools offer a mix of commercial and fine arts training. Some offer concentrations like commercial illustration.

Success Tip:

Participate in an art show. Many art programs offer shows to display student work. These shows can help prepare students for careers as professional artists.

Step 3: Develop a Portfolio

To find freelance or regular employment as an artist, get noticed by a gallery, or accepted into a juried art show. Artists who specialize in drawing should have a portfolio of their most outstanding drawings. This may consist of a physical collection of drawings or a website that displays them. Most artists begin to develop portfolios during their postsecondary training or while pursuing freelance work before finding a full-time position.

Step 4: Gain Work Experience

Prior to being hired, some artists work in other fields while adding of freelance work to their portfolios. When hired by companies such as ad agencies or publishers, they often complete routine assignments while they gain experience, learn about the business, and watch other artists at work. An important way to train as an artist who specializes in drawing is to draw as much as possible. Improvement comes from practice.

Earn a Graduate Degree

Artists interested in advancing in the fields of commercial art, advertising, or illustration may want to look into earning an advanced art degree, such as a Master of Arts in commercial art or visual communication. This requires studying a wide range of topics in addition to drawing. Fine artists, especially those who would like to teach drawing in a college or independent art school can earn a Master of Fine Arts in Studio Art with an emphasis in drawing. Programs can include topics in art criticism, history, and theory, along with studio courses in drawing. Artists interested in becoming teachers or school administrators may consider a Master of Arts in Education with a concentration in art. Once enrolled, they may learn how to develop an art education curriculum, conduct research, and study educational social issues.

We've covered a lot of ground in this video, so let's review. Artists who like to draw may pursue careers as commercial or fine artists, drafters, illustrators, or sketch artists, among other occupations. Those employed as fine artists, including illustrators, earned an average annual salary of $54,170 as of May 2015.

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