How to Become an Illustrator? Turn Your Art Passion into a Career

by | Mar 14, 2022 | Creative

Drawing is a passion and skill that people of all types and ages enjoy. From digital art to sketching to illustration, drawing can take many different forms and can be a relaxing hobby or a fun skill to practice. However, not everyone with talent is a professional artist – they may doubt their skills, or simply don’t know how to transition into a job in the industry.

This blog will cover everything you need to know about illustration, as well as offer some tips that will help you succeed as an illustrator. Read on for more!

What is an Illustrator?

illustrator drawing an illustration

We’ve all seen illustrations, but how about the hand behind the drawing? What does an illustrator do, exactly? A traditional illustrator is an artist who is hired or commissioned to produce a visual representation or imagery to accompany or explain a concept or text. Illustrators work extensively with a client, discussing their illustration needs, developing samples, and eventually producing a final illustrative work.

Illustrators are typically creative, realistic, and curious. They are open and communicative and know how to follow through with clients and projects. If you are interested in working as an illustrator, there are several choices and career paths for you to consider.

10 Common Types of Illustration Jobs

We have listed the 10 most common types of illustration jobs that you can find on the market. Illustrators make illustrations, it might sound very simple and straightforward. But they require different creative skills and creative design concepts.

Product Illustrator

A product illustrator creates specific illustrations highlighting specific features of a given product. These illustrations can then be seen in advertising, packaging, websites, and more. Product illustrators are skilled in portraying products technically, accurately, and attractively. They may go hand-in-hand with branding and digital marketing teams, helping a company solidify its brand image.

These illustrators may be hired by private companies or advertising agencies contractually. They are often good at conceptualizing products and may even draw products that haven’t been created yet. Their goals may include convincing customers to buy the product or making it stand out from competitors.

Editorial Illustrator

Editorial illustrators partner with books, magazines, and newspapers to bring written words to life. They may aim to transform points in an article, accessorize an editorial piece, or complicated blocks of text into understandable editorial illustrations.

Editorial illustrators work closely with art directors for magazines to convey a message through imagery to the readers. It is a wide-ranging job, however – editorial illustrators can draw traditional illustrations, maps, collages, and more. They are typically hired by editorial or magazine companies or work as freelance illustrators.

Comic Book Illustrator

Everyone loves a good comic book. This career path is interesting and fun, thus one of the most sought-after jobs in illustration. Illustrators work with authors to produce a full illustrative work, making it a highly saturated market.

A solid experience in Illustration or art school may be required to be hired full-time, but many who are not formal illustration graduates have found success with the rise in webcomics and popular platforms for individual artists such as WEBTOON, WebComics, and more. These jobs have influenced the rise of the freelance illustrator job. Overall, comic book illustration is competitive but very enjoyable and fun!

Children’s Book Illustrator

children book illustration

Children’s book illustrators work closely with authors to bring a storybook to life through illustrations meant for children. They are typically colorful, thought-provoking, and interesting illustrations that provide children with the necessary visuals to understand and comprehend a story.

Children’s book illustrators may work freelance or with a publishing company, from the planning stages all the way to the final published piece. As with any book illustration job, extensive planning is required and needed for children’s book illustration.

Storyboard Illustrator

If you are very interested in working for film and animation companies or marketing agencies, a storyboard illustrator might be a good option for you. 

Storyboard illustrators work by drawing illustrations for films, videos, animations, commercials, and other multimedia. These illustrators work with a team that may include an art director, filmmaker, producer, or advertiser.

Their job is to illustrate a play-by-play of the video or movie, including camera angles, character poses, and backgrounds. The storyboard is then used during planning for the final production. Portfolios are important for storyboard illustrating, and the job does require extensive teamwork, but projects are always unique.

Technical Illustrator

A technical illustrator is a broader career choice – it encompasses many fields including illustrating blueprints, graphics, diagrams, and more. They may be hired by companies to depict their products or communicate information of a technical nature. Technical illustrators must be able to draw accurate illustrations by reading and interpreting the text. 

They may see their work published in manuals, instruction guides, research papers, and more. Proficiency in software like AutoCAD and MS Office is a huge plus for this job.

Medical Illustrator

Another type of technical illustrator is a medical illustrator. Though this profession is a niche, it is incredibly important. It typically requires an extensive background in scientific and medical training or a B.S. certificate in a related field – on top of illustration skills. Medical illustrators mostly produce accurate drawings of body parts to help medical professionals, researchers, and other industries.

Of these listed career paths, it is one of the least creative jobs; however, it pays well and illustrators have a responsibility to help medical professionals and the general public understand their bodies and medical options.

Fashion Illustrator

fashion illustrator or designer

Fashion illustrators are experts in portraying clothes, accessories, and styles. It lives at the intersection of drawing, painting, and the fashion world. Fashion illustrators are typically commissioned by magazines or clothing companies for brand advertising, editorial features, or to make the buying process a bit easier for stylists.

They specialize in making clothes look appealing on paper using both realistic and abstract sketches. A portfolio is essential in the fashion industry – there are also many opportunities for traveling or attending fashion shows.

Salary of Professional Illustrators

As with any job, illustration offers levels of salaries for different skill levels. For a junior or entry-level illustrator in the United States, the average salary, according to ZipRecruiter, is $43,317 per year, about 2% more than the national average annual salary. Junior illustrators residing in California have a higher annual salary than the rest of the country. Senior illustrators, on the other hand, earn an average base salary of about $66,484 a year. Graphic designers and technical illustrators are two of the highest-paid types of senior illustrators in the U.S., with senior graphic designers earning an average annual salary of $85,907. 

Part-time and freelance illustrators have a very high pay range, from as high as $94,500 to as low as $17,500 a year. This range is a result of differences in skill, background, location, and experience. The highest-paid part-time illustrator jobs are offered in New York City, with San Mateo, CA and Boston, MA close behind in second and third. Illustrator interns with less than one year of experience, on the other hand, are paid an average of $15 an hour. Interns may be just starting off in the design field and tasked with supporting an experienced team of designers and illustrators.  

How to Kickstart Your Illustration Career

Getting started on a whole new career path might sound daunting and hard to achieve, but if you do your research well and structure your career plan, you can achieve your goal as an illustrator in a rather short period of time! We have broken down the plan into four essential steps:

Step One: Focus on One Area

To start, evaluate your personal skill level, including any previous training or formal educational background you’ve had in the past. This would be a good time to think about your specific illustration interests, strengths, preferred style, and more. 

Then, try to narrow down your scope to a few specific jobs you want to dive into. For example, you could make a list of jobs you’re interested in, and cross off jobs until you get a smaller list. With a smaller focus, you can save a lot of time in finding the right resources and education, even as a beginner.

Step Two: Practice Your Skills and Tools

After you have decided which kind of illustration job you would like to work towards, you can start polishing your personal skillset and tools. Start by looking into your specific job and researching some common tools and software that professionals may use.

You can find this out by asking a seasoned professional in the field, looking up job requirements, or exploring the software that is out there. Common graphic design software may include Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, or 3D design software, depending on the field you’re looking to go into. However, if you’re a beginner, this software might be difficult, to begin with, and/or a bit too expensive.

To begin your creative journey, you can use try beginner-friendly software like NoteLedge or Animation Desk.

Animation Desk is an amazing app to use for those interested in getting started out with animation or storyboarding. It can help you get started off and accustomed to the format of storyboards and moving images in a low-stakes environment, with easy-to-use yet comprehensive brushes, features, and interface.

NoteLedge is a note-taking app for creatives that features a great variety of brushes, themed color palettes, and the capacity to add images or video references to practice sketching. Newbies can easily navigate through the features and really focus on mastering drawing with a tablet and stylus and other digital illustration skills.

Step Three: Build a Portfolio

With many jobs, the most important item to bring with you is a resume. For illustration jobs and the art and design world, a well-done and robust portfolio is another key requirement to getting hired, sometimes even outweighing your educational background.

A portfolio is incredibly important, so take time to build it up! You can be creative with your portfolio by showcasing your best illustration projects, or any work from previous illustration gigs. Grow your art skills, carefully curate your best works, and become confident in your own artistic skills. In our digital age, you can easily build a portfolio through a website, on an Instagram or social media account, or even start a YouTube channel. Some portfolio-specific platforms are Behance, Dribbble, and ArtStation. A digital portfolio can be a way to “get noticed,” make your work visible and public online, as well as advertise yourself and your skills.

Step Four: Cultivate Your Personal Brand

You can have a perfect, glittering portfolio; but that doesn’t mean the right people will come across it. People won’t be able to discover your amazing portfolio if you’re not actively marketing it and yourself! Opportunities won’t come unless you make the first move, here are some ways to market yourself:

Networking

It’s easier than ever to meet people online. Using designer-dominated sites like Dribbble or following seasoned illustrators on Instagram are great ways to get your foot in the door, connect with some creative professionals in the industry and start building your network. 

You can even branch out and go to in-person meetups and events for illustrators and connect with people there.

Apply for Jobs

Again, opportunities won’t fall at your doorstep; you need to get yourself out there. Using job search websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, Upwork, Linkedin, and more can help you get a good grasp on what companies are looking for, and aid your application process! 

Always remember to include your portfolio, website, anything for interviewers to have a glimpse of your style and skills. Furthermore, these kinds of job listing websites usually have a job alert feature. Apply to your chosen illustration positions, then select the function to be notified when there are new job postings.

Make Use of Social Media

Nearly everyone is on social media nowadays. In a way, it can be easier for others to find your work via your social media channels, rather than your personal website. Social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram have effective search features that allow users to search with keywords, hashtags, names, etc. If you play your hashtags right and find the sweet spot for that algorithm, who knows? Your work could end up on the right person’s “Explore” page!

Tips that Help You Succeed as An Illustrator

Some additional tips to help you succeed:

  • Always make deadlines: The creative field is a cutthroat industry. There are many more illustrators out there, waiting to scoop up the job you may have. Making every deadline can help build up your credibility to a client, and possibly land you referrals to other clients. Either way, it’s good to be on time, showing that you value the client’s time as well as have your own pacing on the right track.
  • Develop your own style: It can be tempting to follow artists or illustrators you see online, but developing your own unique style of illustration is crucial. A client hires you for your work, not a copy of someone else’s style. Make sure to stay true to yourself and constantly practice your craft to hone your style.

Launching your career as an illustrator takes time and a strategic plan to achieve, but is definitely possible – even if you are a beginner or someone who is looking for a career transition. You can easily kickstart your illustration journey with beginner-friendly tools like Animation Desk or NoteLedge.

For those who already have a solid art education and training, find out your strength and niche market, there are plenty of remote or freelance illustration jobs available on the market. Next thing you know, you are paying your bills with your brushes!

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