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How to become an Illustrator

illustrator careers

What does a Illustrator do?

Illustrators produce drawings, paintings or diagrams that help make a product more attractive or easier to understand. Sometimes illustration and graphic design are combined.

Illustrators may work on a variety of products, including books and book jackets; brochures and leaflets; educational reference materials; instruction manuals; greetings cards; packaging and magazines.

They work in many different styles and for many different projects, ranging from illustrations for children’s books to detailed technical diagrams for manufacturers. In most cases they take a brief from the client or designer and use this as the basis for ideas.

Specialist areas include fashion, medical and scientific illustration. See the Medical Illustrator profile for information on this area.

Illustrators may use computer design packages, but drawing and painting are still very important.

What's the working environment like working as a Illustrator?

Illustrators usually work between 30 and 40 hours a week, but might work longer hours to meet deadlines. Part-time work is possible. Because most illustrators are freelance, hours may vary and will often be flexible.

Illustrators usually work at home or in a studio. If they are involved in technical or scientific illustration they may also make site visits. Some time may be spent visiting clients to promote work and discuss briefs.

What does it take to become a Illustrator?

To be an illustrator you need:

  • excellent drawing skills and an appreciation of detail
  • the ability to work to a brief and think around a problem
  • creativity and imagination
  • knowledge of CAD (computer aided design) and computer graphics
  • to be able to manage time well and meet deadlines
  • to be good at communicating with clients and colleagues and, especially for freelancers, the ability to make presentations and sell ideas
  • business skills for freelance work
  • to be able to handle criticism.

Illustrator Career Opportunities

Most illustrators work freelance and may use an agent (who takes a commission of up to 40%), or sell their work directly. Lists of agents are available from AOI. It can be extremely difficult to become established and known to commissioning clients and agents and many illustrators supplement their income with other part-time work whilst building up contacts.

It is also possible to work for a design agency, a publishing company or a magazine, though graphic design skills may be required. A very few illustrators work for industrial or commercial clients directly.

Publications such as the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook are useful for researching potential clients. This is published annually, and should be available in reference libraries as well as in bookshops.

As an illustrator working for a company, progression to art director or design manager is possible. There may also be opportunities to specialise or to teach.

Membership of professional bodies such as AOI and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators gives professional recognition and opportunities for networking. Members of AOI have access to portfolio consultations and business and legal advice. You can also register for entry on the AOI database which potential commissioners can search. See Further Information.

Further information

If you would like to know anything about Illustrator that does not appear on Hotcourses, further information can be found below.

Association of Illustrators (AOI)
2nd Floor
Back Building
150 Curtain Road
London
EC2A 3AR
Tel: 020 7613 4328
www.theaoi.com

Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators
P.O. Box 522
Peterborough
Cambridgeshire
PE2 5WX
Tel: 01733 390141
www.istc.org.uk

Creative and Cultural Skills
Tel: 0800 093 0444
www.artsadvice.com

Creative and Cultural Skills
11 Southwark St
London
SE1 1RQ
www.ccskills.org.uk

Facts and Stats:

  • There are one million people in the sales profession, excluding retail sales

  • Half of all sales people are in business-to-business sales.

  • Until something is sold, nothing happens (think about it).
  • The sales process in company IT may take three years.