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Editorial Illustration Jobs: Options, Duties and Requirements

Editorial illustration involves creating images to accompany articles or opinion pieces in publications, such as newspapers, journals and magazines. Illustrators must be skilled in a variety of techniques and media. Formal training in illustration is offered at many colleges, universities and art schools in the form of bachelor's and master's degrees.

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Job Options in Editorial Illustration

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.

Editorial Illustrator 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 wage for fine artists - including painters, sculptors and illustrators - who worked for newspaper, book, periodical and directory publishers was $56,430 in 2013. The number of employed craft and fine artists was predicted to grow 3% from 2012-2022, reports the BLS, with job opportunities dwindling throughout the print publication industry.

Education Requirements for Editorial Illustrators

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.

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