You might have discovered you had a love of creating visual art as early as when you first put crayon to paper as a child. The most fundamental skills of a visual artist are imagination and the ability to draw -- to communicate in pictures through the use of various media such as pencil, ink or paints. Illustration uses these fundamental skills. Art school can build on them and provide training for a career as an illustrator.
Vocational art school can help you develop the basic skills you need to establish a portfolio of your artwork, which is as important as a resume when pursuing a career in any of the art and design fields. In addition to illustrating all different types of publications from children's books to medical texts, the skills you learn can open the door for you to explore a number of other interesting career paths open to illustrators, including animation and graphic novel illustration.
Career specializations in illustration
Many illustrators choose to work as freelance artists so that they can broaden their skills by working on many different types of illustration projects. Others work for companies large and small, in industries that include advertising, motion pictures and video production, retail stores, publishing and design services. Typical occupations for trained illustrators include the following:
- Advertising or marketing artist -- designing illustrations for ads, promotions, websites and corporate branding
- Animator -- creating characters and settings or 3D models for animated movies, videos and even video games
- Comic book artist/graphic novelist -- writing and illustrating comics and graphic novels
- Fashion illustrator -- working with fashion designers, fashion magazines, or retail clothing stores
- Storyboard illustrator -- drawing storyboards for film, animation and television projects
Certifications and degrees for illustrators
Many independent art schools and colleges offer everything from certificates and associate degrees to bachelor's and master's degrees in fine art for illustrators. A prerequisite for any program includes basic drawing skills. Curricula include drawing, painting, and color and composition in a number of different media, with each degree level providing the opportunity to deepen your artistic experience and skills. Each type of program may offer courses which include the following:
- Certificate: non-credit program for adults includes graphic design, intro to illustration, studio, business of illustration
- Associate (AA): typically two years of full-time study includes form, figure drawing, digital media, art history and painting
- Bachelor's (BFA): program includes core liberal arts studies, illustration, intro to anatomy, figure drawing, digital media, painting, collaborative project
- Master's degree: three-year program of studio work in the major, directed study and liberal arts graduate level courses
Salary and job projections for illustrators
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.com) does not break out salaries or employment growth projections for illustrators. Their data are grouped with that of other artists such as painters under the category of fine artists. The national average salary for all fine artists as of May 2013 was $50,900. The majority of fine artists, including illustrators, are independently employed.
Job growth for all fine artists nationwide is expected to be less than the average for all occupations, 3 percent from 2012 through 2022, according to the BLS. However, they report that these 5 states employ the largest number of fine artists, including illustrators, while Projections Central shows those state projections and annual number of job openings as follows:
- California: 10.1 percent growth; 240 jobs
- New York: 4.4 percent growth; 90 jobs
- Florida: 11.9 percent growth; 60 jobs
- Washington: 15.4 percent growth; 70 jobs
- Texas: 18.5 percent growth; 50 jobs
Talent, diligence and hard work are required to make it as an illustrator. By doing everything you can to hone your skills and learn the business side of making a living as an artist, you are giving yourself better odds to succeed. Taking advantage of an art school program if you want a career in illustration can be the first step in the right direction.
Art and Illustration Major, Great Careers, John Brown University, http://www.jbu.edu/majors/art_and_illustration/careers/
Craft and Fine Artists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/arts-and-design/craft-and-fine-artists.htm
Fine Artists, including Painters, Sculptors and Illustrators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes271013.htm
Fine Artists, including Painters, Sculptors and Illustrators, Long Term Occupational Projections, 2012-2022, Projections Central, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
Illustration, Ringling College of Art and Design, http://www.ringling.edu/learn/majors/illustration/
Illustration, Academy of Art, https://www.academyart.edu/academics/illustration