Becoming an Illustrator: Job Description & Salary Info

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An illustrator's average salary is about $51,000. Is it worth the training and education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming an illustrator is right for you.
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Pros and Cons to Becoming an Illustrator

Illustrators draw pictures for a variety of creative and commercial uses. You could find employment with a publishing company or work independently creating and sell your own art. You can learn the pros and cons of being an illustrator by reading below.

PROS of Becoming an Illustrator
Artistic and creative career*
Freelance and self-employment opportunities*
Variable work schedules are available in addition to full-time careers*
A wide variety of different industries use illustrators*

CONS of Becoming an Illustrator
Overtime requirements can occur on certain projects*
Stress is common during deadline periods*
Repetition and practice are necessary when developing illustration skills*
Some employers require postsecondary education*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Information

Job Description

Publications, such as magazines and books, use illustrators to create pictures. Producers of commercial products such as greeting cards, wrapping paper, calendars and textiles also use illustrators. An illustrator might draw her own art and try to sell her pictures independently or through a gallery. As an illustrator, you might use physical media such as pen and paper, paints, or block printing. You could also use computer technology or a combination of physical and digital media to create the illustrations An illustrator generally consults with his or her employer on a project and works on several drafts until the final product meets the employer's satisfaction.

Salary Information

Fine artists, which include illustrators, earned about $24.47 per hour on average in May 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This resulted in yearly average earnings of $51,000 or so. The salary was about $91,000 and up for fine artists in the top tenth percentile of the wage estimates. Washington, New York, California, Connecticut, and Michigan were the states that paid the highest average wages for fine artists.

Job Outlook

A slower-than-average employment growth is expected for illustrators. The BLS is projecting a 3% growth in employment for craft and fine artists from 2012 to 2022. Overall, the employment of illustrators is tied to how the economy is doing. The better the economy is doing, the more likely people are to buy art. Employment with publishing companies is expected to decline, but employment with Internet businesses is projected to rise.

Career Requirements

Job Training and Education

Illustrators practice drawing to improve their skills. As an illustrator, you could work under an experienced artist through a job training or internship program to get illustration tips. Alternatively, you could independently study different styles in an attempt to improve your own art. Formal education is another way to better your skills. Some employers look for illustrators with at least a bachelor's degree in a fine art or illustration.

What Are Employers Looking For?

Prior experience creating art on time is preferred by many employers seeking illustrators. Experience with common computer programs used by illustrators is also a plus. As you continue to read, you'll see some information that was taken from real employers who were hiring illustrators in November 2012.

  • An illustrator opening in Missouri calls for applicants who possess experience with software such as Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft PowerPoint, Corel Presentations and ScanMaker.
  • A Wisconsin company requires an illustrator with a minimum of three years of experience in an advertising, marketing, design or creative environment.
  • Five years of experience in children's product design is necessary for an illustrator job in Connecticut.
  • In California, a business needs an illustrator capable of converting illustrations to web icons.

How to Stand Out as an Illustrator

A portfolio lets illustrators stand out from other artists by demonstrating and highlighting your skills and talents as an illustrator in a collection of your best work. If you possess a unique illustration style, an employer might take notice of that through an online or physical portfolio. Additionally, if you can get experience in a specific aspect of illustration, you might be more appealing to employers. For example, if you have knowledge of human anatomy, you could be a match for medical illustration, and experience with plant and animal life can apply to scientific illustration careers.

Alternative Occupational Options

If you want to get involved with video games, movies and television, you may look into becoming a multimedia artist or animator. In these careers, you use models, visual effects and animation to help enhance a story in a media format. Multimedia artists and animators acombine illustration and computer technology. From 2012 to 2022, the BLS projected an 6% growth in employment for multimedia artists and animators nationwide. Multimedia artists and animators were reported to make about $72,400 on average as of May 2013.

If you're willing to use computer software, you might be able to use your illustration skills as a graphic designer. Graphic designers help represent identities or ideas through the creation of logos and images. A graphic designer's work is normally used in promotions and advertising. The BLS found that in May 2013, graphic designers earned an average salary of around $49,610. Graphic designers were projected to see an employment growth of 7% from 2012 to 2022.

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