career in illustration

Get A Career in Illustration: Guide & Tips

If you are an artist with a passion for bringing stories to life, a career in illustration is an excellent choice. With the demand for skilled illustrators in various industries, such as publishing, advertising, and digital media, there are plenty of job prospects available. However, getting started can be overwhelming, and you need guidance to navigate the industry effectively.

In this comprehensive guide, we will walk you through everything you need to know about starting a career in illustration. From understanding the job prospects and industry trends to finding the right career path and developing your skills, we’ve got you covered.

In the following sections, we will explore the various career options available in the illustration industry, provide tips on building your portfolio and navigating the job market, and offer strategies for personal growth and staying inspired as an illustrator. Whether you’re interested in pursuing a freelance career or working in-house, this guide will equip you with the skills and knowledge to succeed.

Quick Answers:

  • Illustration offers numerous career options in various sectors, including publishing, advertising, animation, and digital media.
  • Understanding the current job prospects and industry trends is crucial for success in the illustration industry.
  • Developing essential skills such as drawing, composition, color theory, and digital illustration is necessary to succeed in the industry.
  • Freelancing offers flexibility and independence, but it also requires mastering business skills such as pricing, contracts, and marketing.
  • Continuing education and skill development are crucial for staying competitive in the illustration industry.

Why Choose a Career in Illustration?

Are you looking for a career that allows you to express your creativity and make a lasting impact through your artwork? A career in illustration may be the perfect fit for you.

Illustration is a field that offers endless possibilities for self-expression and growth, allowing you to apply your unique style to a variety of mediums and industries. As an illustrator, you have the opportunity to bring your ideas to life and make a difference in the world through your visual storytelling.

Whether you’re interested in pursuing a freelance illustration career or joining an illustration agency, the industry is constantly evolving, offering a wide range of career paths for those looking to enter the field.

Joining the illustration industry can provide you with exciting job prospects to explore as well as present you with ample opportunities for personal and professional development. From publishing to advertising, animation to digital media, the possibilities for an illustration career are endless.

So, if you have a passion for art and a desire to bring your imaginative ideas to life, a career in illustration may be the perfect choice for you.

Image source: Career in Illustration

Job Prospects in the Illustration Industry

If you’re considering a career in illustration, it’s essential to understand the current job prospects and industry trends. The illustration industry is highly competitive, and staying informed about opportunities and challenges is crucial.

Illustration Job Prospects

The good news is that the demand for illustrators continues to grow in various sectors, such as publishing, advertising, animation, and digital media. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of craft and fine artists, including illustrators, is projected to grow 2 percent from 2019 to 2029, slower than the average for all occupations. However, the demand for illustrators may vary by industry and region. For instance, the demand for medical and scientific illustrators may be higher in certain areas.

In addition to traditional illustration jobs, there are also opportunities for illustrators to work in related fields, such as graphic design, product design, and user experience design. As companies increasingly value visual storytelling and branding, the need for illustrators who can communicate complex ideas through art is likely to grow.

Illustration Industry Trends

Illustration is a dynamic field that constantly evolves with new styles, techniques, and mediums. To stay relevant and competitive, it’s crucial to keep up with the latest industry trends.

One trend that has gained traction in recent years is the use of digital tools and software in illustration, such as Adobe Illustrator and Procreate. Digital illustration allows for greater flexibility, efficiency, and accessibility, making it a popular choice for many illustrators.

Another trend is a growing demand for diversity and representation in the illustration industry. With the rise of social movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, there is a growing awareness of the need for more inclusive and equitable representation in media and art.

By staying informed about trends and incorporating new techniques and perspectives into your work, you can not only stay competitive but also expand your artistic horizons.

Exploring Illustration Career Options

Illustration offers a plethora of career options that cater to diverse interests and aspirations. Whether it’s creating children’s book illustrations, working in the gaming industry, or producing artwork for advertising campaigns, the possibilities are endless. Here are some of the most popular illustration career options to consider:

Freelance Illustrator

If you thrive on independence and flexibility, a freelance illustration career may be the perfect fit for you. As a freelancer, you have the freedom to choose the projects you work on, set your own rates, and manage your schedule as you see fit. However, being your own boss also entails taking care of business aspects, such as finding clients, negotiating contracts, and managing finances. It is important to possess excellent organizational and communication skills to succeed as a freelance illustrator.

Illustration Agent

An illustration agent represents illustrators and helps them find work in the industry. They handle contract negotiations, marketing, and promotion, and take a percentage of the illustrator’s earnings. Working with an agent can be advantageous as they have established relationships with clients and can help you get your foot in the door. However, finding and securing an agent can be challenging, and they may not be the right fit for every illustrator.

In-House Illustrator

An in-house illustrator works for a specific company, such as a publishing house, advertising agency, or design firm. The advantage of working in-house is that you have a stable salary and benefits, a consistent workload, and opportunities for professional growth. However, you may have limited artistic freedom and may have to work on projects that don’t align with your personal interests or style.

Storyboard Artist

If you enjoy storytelling and visual communication, becoming a storyboard artist may be a great option. Storyboard artists create visual representations of a script or story for films, TV shows, and commercials. They work closely with directors, writers, and producers to bring the story to life and add their own creative touch. Storyboarding requires excellent drawing and composition skills, as well as the ability to convey movement and emotion through visuals.

Mural Artist

Mural artists create large-scale artwork on walls or other surfaces, such as buildings, bridges, and tunnels. Their work can be found in public spaces, businesses, and private residences, and is often used to convey a message or beautify a space. Mural artists must have excellent visual communication skills and be able to work on a large scale. They may also need to have experience with particular materials, such as spray paint or mosaics.

Navigating the Illustration Job Market

Now that you have honed your illustration skills, it’s time to navigate the job market and find the right illustration job opportunities for your career path. While finding the perfect job may take time and effort, with the right strategies and tools, you can increase your chances of success.

Here are some tips to help you navigate the illustration job market:

  • Build a strong portfolio: Your portfolio is your most valuable asset as an illustrator. Make sure it showcases your best work and highlights your unique style and strengths.
  • Network effectively: Networking can help you connect with potential clients and employers. Attend illustration events, join online communities, and reach out to industry professionals to expand your network.
  • Explore online platforms: Websites such as Behance and Dribbble can help you showcase your work and connect with potential clients. Don’t forget to also explore job boards such as Indeed and SimplyHired for illustration job opportunities.
  • Consider internships and freelance work: While it may not be your dream job, internships and freelance work can provide valuable experience and help you build your portfolio. Plus, they can lead to full-time employment opportunities.
Industry Sector Job Opportunities
Publishing Children’s book illustrator, editorial illustrator, book cover illustrator
Advertising Commercial illustrator, storyboard artist, concept artist
Animation Character designer, background artist, 2D or 3D animator
Digital Media Game artist, UI/UX designer, web illustrator

There are various sectors where you can find illustration job opportunities, including publishing, advertising, animation, and digital media. The table above showcases some of the most common job positions available in each sector. However, keep in mind that the illustration industry is constantly evolving, and new job opportunities may arise as new mediums and technologies emerge.

By utilizing these tips and exploring various illustration job opportunities, you can find the right fit for your skills and interests and kickstart your illustration career.

Building Your Illustration Career Path

Whether you’re just starting out or looking to take your illustration career to the next level, it’s important to have a clear path in mind. Here are some steps to help you build your illustration career path:

  1. Define your goals: What do you want to achieve as an illustrator? Do you want to work in a specific industry or specialize in a certain type of illustration? Having clear goals will help guide you in creating a path that’s right for you.
  2. Assess your skills: Take an honest look at your technical and artistic abilities. Determine your strengths and weaknesses, and identify areas where you can improve.
  3. Choose your niche: Decide where you want to focus your illustration work. Do you want to create children’s book illustrations, editorial illustrations, or concept art for video games? Choosing a niche will help you build a portfolio and establish yourself as an expert in that area.
  4. Build your portfolio: Your portfolio is your visual resume and can make or break your career. Create a body of work that showcases your skills and demonstrates your unique style. Consider including a mix of personal and professional projects.
  5. Network, network, network: Building relationships within the illustration industry is essential. Attend industry events, connect with other illustrators and creatives on social media, and reach out to potential clients. Who you know is often just as important as what you know.
  6. Seek out opportunities: Look for illustration job postings and freelance work opportunities that align with your goals and interests. Don’t be afraid to apply for jobs, even if you feel underqualified. Every opportunity is a chance to learn and grow.
  7. Continuously improve: To stay relevant in the competitive illustration industry, you need to continuously improve your skills and adapt to new trends and technologies. Take courses, attend workshops, and seek feedback from trusted peers and mentors.

Essential Skills for Illustrators

As an illustrator, there are several essential skills you need to develop to succeed in the industry. Whether you are working on traditional or digital platforms, honing your technical and artistic abilities is key to producing high-quality work. However, it’s not just about your technical expertise; you also need to have excellent communication, time management, and adaptability skills to navigate the professional world of illustration.

Technical Skills

Strong technical skills are essential for any illustrator. Here are some technical skills you need to master:

  • Drawing: Excellent drawing skills are the foundation of illustration. You need to be able to sketch and create line drawings confidently.
  • Composition: Composition is the arrangement of elements in an illustration. You need to be able to compose your illustrations in an interesting and dynamic way, guiding the viewer’s eye to the focal point.
  • Color Theory: Understanding color theory is crucial for creating visually appealing illustrations. You need to be able to choose the right color schemes and use color to convey mood and emotions.
  • Digital Illustration: With the rise of digital media, it’s essential to have a mastery of digital illustration software. You need to be familiar with programs such as Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, and able to create digital illustrations with them.

Artistic Skills

Aside from technical proficiency, illustrators also need to have a deep understanding of artistic concepts. Here are some artistic skills you need to develop:

  • Perspective: Perspective is the technique of creating the illusion of depth in a two-dimensional image. You need to understand perspective to create realistic and dynamic illustrations.
  • Light and Shadow: Understanding how to use light and shadow to create depth and dimension in your illustrations is a crucial skill.
  • Anatomy: Whether you’re illustrating humans or animals, a solid understanding of anatomy is essential for creating realistic and dynamic figures.
  • Style: Developing your own unique style is a crucial part of establishing your identity as an illustrator. You need to experiment with different techniques and approaches to find a style that suits you.

Professional Skills

Aside from technical and artistic skills, you also need to have excellent professional skills to succeed in the illustration industry. Here are some professional skills you need to develop:

  • Communication: Communication is key to any professional relationship. You need to be able to effectively communicate your ideas to clients, art directors, and other members of your team.
  • Time Management: Time management is crucial for meeting deadlines and delivering work on time. You need to be able to prioritize your tasks and manage your time effectively.
  • Adaptability: The illustration industry is constantly evolving, and you need to be able to adapt to changes in the market. You need to be open to learning new techniques and approaches to stay ahead of the game.

By developing these skills, you can position yourself as a successful illustrator in the industry, delivering high-quality work that meets the needs of your clients and art directors.

The World of Freelance Illustration

Freelancing as an illustrator can be a viable and rewarding career option if you have the right skills and mindset. However, it requires a lot of hard work and dedication to succeed in a highly competitive market. Here are some tips to help you start your freelance illustration career on the right foot.

Building Your Portfolio

Your portfolio is your strongest marketing tool as a freelance illustrator. It should showcase your best work and highlight your unique style and skills. When building your portfolio, consider your target audience and the type of projects you want to attract. Keep it simple, organized, and visually appealing, and make sure to update it regularly with new projects and client work.

Setting Competitive Rates

Pricing your work as a freelance illustrator can be challenging, but it’s essential to charge competitive rates that reflect your value and expertise. Consider the scope of the project, the time and effort required, and market rates in your area when setting your rates. Be transparent with your clients about your pricing structure and communicate clearly about any additional fees or expenses.

Networking and Self-Promotion

Building a strong network and promoting your work is critical to finding clients and growing your freelance illustration business. Attend industry events, join online communities, and connect with other illustrators and potential clients on social media platforms. Consider creating a website or online portfolio that showcases your work and provides potential clients with a way to contact you.

Managing Contracts and Payments

As a freelance illustrator, it’s essential to have a clear and concise contract that outlines the terms and conditions of the project. Make sure to include payment terms, project scope, timelines, and any other relevant details. It’s also crucial to have a system in place for invoicing and receiving payments from clients. Consider using online invoicing software like QuickBooks or FreshBooks to streamline the process.

Staying Motivated and Focused

Freelancing can be challenging, and it’s essential to stay motivated and focused on your goals. Set realistic targets and deadlines, and create a work environment that is conducive to productivity. Take breaks when you need them, practice self-care, and stay connected with other illustrators and creatives for support and inspiration.

Freelancing as an illustrator requires a lot of hard work and dedication, but it can be a fulfilling and rewarding career path if you have the right skills and mindset. By building your portfolio, setting competitive rates, networking and promoting your work, managing contracts and payments, and staying motivated and focused, you can create a successful freelance illustration career.

Pursuing Illustration Education and Development

Continuing your education and developing your skills is crucial for success in the illustration industry. Whether you choose to pursue formal education or self-directed learning, there are countless resources available to support your career growth. Here are some tips and strategies for illustration career development:

1. Art Schools and Workshops

Formal illustration education through art schools and workshops can provide valuable mentorship and hands-on experience. Research programs in your area and online, and carefully consider the curriculum and faculty. Talk to alumni to get a sense of their experience and success after graduation. Attending workshops and conferences is also a great way to stay up-to-date on industry trends and network with other professionals.

2. Self-Directed Learning

In addition to formal education, self-directed learning through online resources and courses can be an effective way to develop your skills. Websites like Skillshare and Udemy offer a wide range of courses on illustration, graphic design, and related topics. You can also find tutorials and demos on YouTube and other social media channels. Joining online communities such as Discord servers or Facebook groups can also provide opportunities for feedback and collaboration with other artists.

Benefits of Formal Education Benefits of Self-Directed Learning
– Guided curriculum and mentorship
– Access to specialized equipment and facilities
– Networking opportunities with professionals and peers
– Flexibility to learn at your own pace
– Affordable and accessible
– Wide range of topics and skill levels available

3. Personal Growth

Developing your illustration skills is just one part of your career growth. It’s equally important to focus on personal growth and finding your unique voice as an artist. Taking time for self-reflection and setting goals can help you stay motivated and inspired. Experimenting with new techniques and mediums can also help you expand your creative horizons. Remember that developing your career is a journey, and it’s important to enjoy the process and stay open to new opportunities.

Diving into the Illustration Industry Trends

As an illustrator, staying on top of the latest trends is crucial for success in a competitive market. Not only does it keep you relevant and adaptable, but it also expands your creative horizons.

One of the emerging trends in the illustration industry is the use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in artwork. AR and VR technologies allow for a more immersive and interactive experience for viewers, creating a new level of engagement with the artwork.

Another trend is the use of bold and vibrant colors in illustrations. Color can evoke emotions and set the tone for the piece, and illustrators are experimenting with bright and unexpected color palettes to create visually striking artwork.

In addition, there is a growing demand for diverse representation in illustrations. Illustrators are exploring different cultural backgrounds, body types, and gender identities in their work, promoting inclusivity and representation in the industry.

These are just a few examples of the trends shaping the illustration industry. By staying up-to-date with these trends and incorporating them into your work, you can differentiate yourself in a competitive market and expand your creative possibilities.

Nurturing Your Passion for Illustration

As a creative professional, your passion for illustration is what drives you to create, innovate and push boundaries. It’s what motivates you to pick up a pen, a paintbrush, a stylus or whatever medium you prefer, and start bringing your ideas to life on a blank canvas. However, staying inspired and motivated can be a challenge, especially when you face creative block or feel stuck in a rut.

Fear not, as there are several strategies you can use to nurture your passion for illustration:

  • Explore new mediums: Trying out new mediums can be a refreshing way to reignite your passion for illustration. Whether it’s experimenting with watercolors, pastels, or digital software, exploring different tools can help you discover new techniques, styles, and approaches to your work.
  • Find inspiration in everyday life: Inspiration can come from many sources, including the people, places, and things around you. Take a walk in nature, visit an art museum, or simply people-watch at a local cafĂ©. You never know what might spark a new idea or perspective.
  • Set personal projects: Setting personal projects allows you to create work that is meaningful to you, without the pressure of a client brief or deadline. Whether it’s a series of illustrations based on a favorite book, a personal branding project, or a character design challenge, personal projects can help you stay engaged and motivated.
  • Connect with fellow illustrators: Networking with other illustrators can be a valuable way to share feedback, learn new techniques, and gain insights into the industry. Join online communities, attend industry events, or collaborate on projects with other artists.

Remember, your passion for illustration is what makes you unique, and it’s what sets you apart from the rest. Nurture it, cherish it, and let it guide you as you continue on your illustration career path.


Embarking on a career in illustration can be a challenging yet rewarding journey. You now have a comprehensive guide with tips and guidance to help you start your illustration career.

Remember, passion is the fuel that drives your success as an illustrator. Always keep your love for the craft alive, and nurture it by staying motivated and finding inspiration in your everyday life.

As you progress in your career, continue to hone your skills and stay up-to-date with the latest industry trends. Pursue formal education or self-directed learning to develop your skills further.

With a strong portfolio, effective networking, and persistence, you can find ample illustration job opportunities, whether you decide to become a freelance illustrator or work in-house at a company.

Overall, the world of illustration is waiting for you! Start your journey today, and turn your passion for illustration into a thriving career.

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