Illustration Career Information: Becoming a Professional Artist or Illustrator
Learn how to become a professional artist or illustrator. Research the job description and education requirements to find out how to start a career as a professional artist or illustrator.
Requirements for Becoming a Professional Artist or Illustrator
Professional artists or illustrators create drawings used within almost every industry. Some choose to specialize by working for individual industries, such as drawing pictures for the children's book industry, while others work as freelancers and work 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. The following table provides the main qualifications to become an illustrator or professional artist, as noted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):
|Degree Level||A bachelor's or master's degree is helpful, but not required|
|Degree Field||Fine arts|
|Experience||Training in workshops, classes, apprenticeships, and internships is helpful|
|Key Skills||Artistic ability, creativity, and manual dexterity|
|Additional requirements||Customer service, sales, and marketing skills|
Step 1: Complete Professional Artist Training
The BLS reported that fine artists, which include illustrators, do not necessarily need a formal degree in order to find employment; however, the BLS also noted that those who obtain professional training may be more likely to find work. Illustrators may choose to take individual classes and workshops that focus on different illustration styles and techniques. Many artists choose to obtain training by completing a degree program, such as an associate's or bachelor's degree in illustration.
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 particular illustration careers, such as commercial illustrator degree programs that include classes in layout design, advertising illustrations and sequential art.
Step 2: Choose a Specialty
Professional artists or illustrators may choose 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.
- 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. Some degree programs also offer coursework that helps professional artists and illustrators improve their Web designing skills.
Step 4: Gain Work Experience
Although professional artists and illustrators may specialize in a specific field, they may also gain a diverse background of experience to make themselves more marketable to employers. Training in various artist studios with professional illustrators may help some workers gain vital real world experience. Internships and summer jobs at art museums may also provide artists and illustrators with experience in the areas of art restoration and preservation.
Step 5: Build a Portfolio
Illustrators show off their skills to potential employers by displaying samples of their work within 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.
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