Becoming a Cartoon Artist: Careers, Salary Info & Job Description

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Are you interested in making a career out of drawings, illustrations and cartoons? Is it worth the practice, education and training? See real job duties and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a cartoon artist is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Cartoon Artist Careers

A cartoon artist creates entertaining images and stories based off of a central idea or character he or she has developed. Find out the good side and the bad side of being a cartoon artist by reading below.

Pros of Becoming a Cartoon Artist
Formal schooling isn't strictly required*
Creative work*
Freelance opportunities*
Self-employment options*

Cons of Becoming a Cartoon Artist
Eyestrain, fatigue and back pain are common for cartoonists who work for long periods at a desk*
Periods with deadlines can be stressful*
Potential job decline for cartoonists in newspapers*
Keen job competition*

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

Job Description and Salary Information for Cartoon Artist Careers

Whether it's editorial cartoons, artwork to illustrate text for greeting cards, graphic novels or caricatures to visually define a product, cartoon artists need to combine drawing skills with the ability to create an emotional response through their work. The nature of each of your assignments is dependent upon your employer.

First, you take the central idea of the project and define it. Once you have the basic idea, you can make initial sketches and create a storyboard for the piece. Using your sketches, you'll create a final piece of art that you're happy with. Additional touchups and enhancements, such as color, can be made before you present the final cartoon.

Salary Information

As of May 2014, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported the average income for artists and related workers was about $61,000. The average hourly wage for this occupation was about $29.

Software publishers, architectural/engineering firms, the federal executive branch, newspaper publishers and advertising services were the top-paying industries for this occupational field as of May 2014. The top-paying locations for this field were the District of Columbia, Maryland, Georgia, Nevada and Virginia.

What Are the Requirements?

Educational, Training and Portfolio Requirements

There are no formal requirements to become a cartoon artist as long as you possess the necessary drawing and illustration skills. However, it may be helpful to obtain a bachelor's degree in fine art. Many schools offer specific programs for cartoon artists and illustrators. These programs give you a chance to receive constructive criticism and study methods to improve your cartoon art.

A portfolio is a collection of your best artistic work. If you enroll in a formal education program, you'll likely be required to complete a portfolio as part of the curriculum. As a cartoon artist, you can have a formal portfolio of your works in a folder to bring with you on job interviews in addition to having an online portfolio that anyone can view. Having an online portfolio allows potential employers or clients to view your artistic abilities and offer you employment opportunities.

What Employers Want in Cartoon Artists

An employer typically first looks at how good a cartoon artist's portfolio looks. As the use of technology grows, many employers want cartoon artists who have experience with design and art programs, such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. Previous experience and a good track record in completing jobs by the given deadlines are other factors employers are looking for in cartoon artists. Take a look at some real job postings that were requesting artists on and in March 2012.

  • A company in California advertised for a cartoon artist who could draw illustrations for a children's book.
  • A videogame company in Nevada put out an advertisement for a cartoon artist with experience in Photoshop and Illustrator. The position required a bachelor's degree and at least five years of experience.
  • Another gaming company in Georgia needed a lead artist with knowledge of color theory, motion graphics, typography and layout techniques to make 2D art.
  • A graphic tees company in Michigan wanted a creative cartoon artist with unique and creative designs to help with creating images for shirts. The applicant must have had at least five years of experience with embroidery and screenprinting designs, and a bachelor's degree was also required.
  • In California, an engineering business required a lead cartoon artist with experience in managing internal and outsourced art teams. The position required at least six years of experience.

How to Stand Out as a Cartoonist

Due to the decline of newspapers, many cartoon artists are going online and creating comics on the Internet. Many of these comics have a dedicated following, and some cartoon artists are able to make a living by posting comics online. Even if you don't go this route, it is still important to familiarize yourself with computer technology and programs that can enhance your cartoons. By possessing a strong knowledge of programs, like Photoshop and Illustrator, you can demonstrate an additional proficiency that another applicant might not possess.

Alternative Vocational Opportunities

If you enjoy working with computers, you can apply your artistic talents toward a career as a graphic designer. Typically working for newspapers, magazines and other publications, a graphic artist uses initial designs to create and modify illustrations, animations and pictures by using specialized computer programs, such as Photoshop. Many of the works produced by a graphic designer are also used in advertising. The average annual income of graphic artists in May 2011 was $49,000, according to the BLS.

If you'd rather help create products, such as vehicles, appliances and furniture, the design and drawing skills of a cartoon artist can be applied towards becoming a commercial and industrial designer. Commercial designers create a new design or change an existing one to figure out the necessary work that needs to go into the product. From there, certain characteristics of the product are determined, including color, weight, shape and size. The BLS found that commercial and industrial designers made about $64,000 on average as of May 2011.

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