Drawing is a passion that instills itself in many people from a very young age. For some people this interest weans with time, but for others, it grows ever stronger. These people should consider a career as an Illustrator – a job with a great salary that does not require a college degree.
College doesn’t need to be a necessity to getting a foot on the career ladder of the working world. Extortionate fees, long-lasting debt and several extra years in the education system may be off-putting to some – but for those, there is no need to worry, as there are fine careers like that of an illustrator out there.
Illustrators create images for all manners of platforms – newspapers, books, tv shows, movies, advertising, and plenty more besides – using their artistic talents and skills.
Over the course of this article we will shed some more light on the career such as how do you become one, what skills are required and what is the salary of an illustrator. First though we will take a more in-depth look at what exactly is required to be done in the role.
Table of Contents
What Does an Illustrator Do?
So, what does an illustrator do? Well, firstly there are plenty of different types of illustrator; for example, there are storyboard illustrators, who work off of written guidelines to create their illustrations; there are technical illustrators, who create things like blueprints; there are medical illustrators who use their talents to create renderings for use in medical fields. These are just 3 examples, but there are many, many more types of illustrators.
And while there are several different types of the same job, there are many core components of the role that remain the same.
The process of illustration usually begins with the illustrator sitting down with their client and discussing exactly what they require in terms of illustration and design. Ideas should be exchanged and enquired about so as to create the best possible end product.
Once this has been discussed meticulously, prices and deadlines are then negotiated between the illustrator and their client. After this, the work can really begin.
The illustrator usually begins by sketching out a draft of what they want to make. Once they have a better idea of how all aspects of their project will play out ideally, they start creating them in essence.
This is done either by hand or by using computer software – whichever works best for a client’s needs. When some of the work is completed, a sample must be sent over to the client. If they approve of it, then work can continue.
As there is a deadline in place on most if not all projects, the illustrator must work towards this. As is the case with all deadline work, this means they may have to work long hours to complete their work in time.
Once the project is completed, the illustrator sends it on, gets paid and then moves onto the next part of the project or the next project entirely.
What Skills Does an Illustrator Need?
Working as an illustrator requires a great deal of skill – some that may come intrinsically, but others that you will need to put the time in on. Below are some skills that will see you excel in the role:
It may seem obvious, but being a good artist is vital to working as an illustrator. What “good” is, is subjective, but you will need a particular style or many different styles of drawing that you can use so that people want to use your services and that you will be able to effectively contribute to projects.
Even though you may be given guidelines for much of your work by clients, you will still need a great deal of creativity to work as a great illustrator. You need to be able to take ideas from conception to visualization, while also giving them your own unique flavouring.
In many cases, working as an illustrator, you may be working as part of a large project. This means you will likely be working in tandem with other illustrators, which means you’ll need to have great teamwork abilities. You need to be able to communicate effectively with them and work in tandem so that the end product is as good and polished as possible.
You will need to do a great deal of communicating as an illustaror. Communicating with your clients – hearing them out and explaining exactly how you can make it a reality. Communication with other people on the project to ensure you are working in tandem. Communication with writers if there is a particular storyline that needs to be followed. The bottom line is that communication is an integral part of the role.
If you are given an outline to follow, you must follow it, but you also have to be able to make decisive creative decisions. If something just doesn’t work, you need to be able to act fast and make any amendment required, while still fulfilling the brief that you have been asked to follow.
How Do You Become an Illustrator?
For many illustrators, there training begins at a young age, before they even fully realise that this is something they could do as a career. Sketching, messing around with drawing, emulating other drawings… it all lays down the foundations of an illustrator.
That’s not to say you can’t come to it later in life, either, but a love of drawing is generally cultivated in youth. In addition to a passion for the craft, you will generally need a high school diploma, but at the base level, this should be enough to go about securing some form of work.
Even though this is the case, it is highly unlikely you will be able to ascertain a job without a portfolio of work or some training. These two can come hand-in-hand.
While there are college courses available for training as an illustrator, they are not essential. Rather, you could take a much cheaper and shorter training course that will help equip you with the required talents to excel in the industry.
Check in your region for courses in illustration – they may be run by a community college or an evening school. Also, watch videos online for tutorials in specific art styles.
Once you have some knowledge of industry, you can begin developing your portfolio of work. It may be worth your while to search for an internship with an illustrator or illustrating company as many jobs require several years’ experience before considering a potential employee.
These may not be freely available in certain areas but research for places such as animation studios, advertising companies and newspapers in your region and enquire as to whether you can come in and get some practical experience.
In addition to interning, you should also look for freelance work to bolster your experience. This can be requested by going directly to somebody who may potentially require an illustrator and asking them directly.
Experience in any aspect is a way of building a portfolio, and your portfolio is a very important part of securing employment in the field. A portfolio of good work as an illustrator can be of significantly more value to you than anything on your resume as it is visual indication of your ability.
Salary & Additional Benefits
As of May 2018, the average salary of an illustrator according to payscale.com is $44,732 per year. This works out at approximately $19.77.
This is the median salary – the salary at which 50 percent of those working in the profession and 50 percent earn less than, so it gives a good indication of what the average salary in the role is.
To give a better indication of the salary range within the profession, the same source lists the salaries as going from as low as $21,917 to as high as $89,842. This means the hourly rate goes from between $10.18 and as high as $49.26.
There are a number of factors that go into determining what your salary will be – the amount of experience you have, where you are working, what you are working on and who for and what you have previously worked on (your resume).
In terms of additional benefits that come with the career, there are lots. You may be entitled to benefits from your employer if you are in full-time employment with them or are working on a long-term project. These benefits may include things such as insurance (health/dental), sick leave and vacation days – although consult with your employer about these as they may differ from place to place.
As you’ll be working in an industry you’re passionate about, you’ll get to meet people who share your love which can lead to making great friends both in and outside of the industry.
There is fine scope for entrepreneurship as an illustrator. If you’ve got good business sense, you could potentially open your own illustration business or studio, in which you could employ people and take larger scale commissions.
There may be a great many aspects of the work of an illustrator that interest you but you are still interested in hearing about other jobs. Well, you’re in luck as there are other careers out there that share somewhat similar skill sets that also do not require a college degree – careers like that of an artist and a graphic designer.
While illustration is art, it is separate in many cases from the work of artists, who create materials for sale or exhibition. This could be traditional paintings or it could be sculptures, pottery or other handmade objects. It requires excellent creativity and artistic ability in the same vein to an illustrator.
Graphic designers are required to employ their creativity in a different way to illustrators, even though they are both creating designs of sorts. Every company in the world could arguably do with at least one graphic designer, big or small – they are the people who ensure things are presentable, from advertisements to aspects of web pages and other promotional materials.
The career of an illustrator is perfect for someone who is passionate about art, drawing and design. It’s fulfilling, rewarding, challenging, you get to work in an industry you’re passionate about, it offers a great salary and it doesn’t require a college degree.
College is an important part of society for a great many reasons, but it isn’t necessarily one that is essential in gaining access to a great career – as the role of an illustrator proves – so be sure to consult your options before committing to a degree.
I never went to college, and it ended up being the best decision I ever made. Almost a decade ago I learned how to create my first online business, and now I work full time from home. The best part is that I set my own salary, and set my own schedule. If I want to make more money, I work harder. If I want to work less, I just take the day off!