The job of the illustrator is generally to create images to compliment the text of magazines, books, websites, and more. They work in a variety of media – pencil, watercolor, acrylic, ink, Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, etc. Illustrators either work for a company at an illustration job, or they freelance.

become an illustratorBecoming an illustrator requires much of the same skills as an artist. The only real difference is the intent. For example, if an artist paints an image of a tree, with the intent of it being in a gallery, then it can be called art. But if an illustrator paints the same tree to illustrate a book, it is called illustration. In many ways, an illustrator has to be more technically skilled than an artist though. 

I am writing a series of posts on ideas for artists to use their talent to create in art related businesses. Find the first two articles in this series here:

Business Ideas for Artists
How to Become a Tattoo Artist

These are some things to keep in mind for becoming an illustrator.

  1. Decide on a Medium

    illustrator designerThere are all kinds of illustrators and it will help to focus on a specific area. Today, it is common for illustrators to use computer software such as Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, InDesign and Freehand. But, there is still a large market for traditional art mediums, such as acrylic paint, watercolor, oil paint, pencil and ink. It also helps to zero in on the category of illustration, such as illustrating books, comics, fashion, portraits, caricatures, book covers, medical and commercial illustration.

  2. Learn art techniques first.

    Practice drawing as much as you can and copy techniques that are popular. An illustrator should know how to quickly sketch ideas, so they can be presented to others. An illustrator has to be able to use a broad range of techniques to suit a specific client’s needs.

  3. Get college training

    illustration collegeGo to a local college or art school and take courses on illustration, art, painting, drawing, art history and digital imaging. Even though not everyone goes this route, this can help you learn everything about illustrating. There is a lot of competition in the illustration industry, and this could bring you one step ahead. Advanced training is necessary for much of the graphic arts, especially with computer generated illustration.

  4. Learn how to use graphic design software.

    These days learning how to use Photoshop and other programs like Illustrator, Painter and InDesign is a must. Even if you do not use these for creating illustration, certain ones are still needed to format the work according to the needs of the client.

  5. Look at what others are doing

    Keep track of trends of what’s happening in the world of illustration and design. Designs are ever-changing, and it helps to know what’s going on and to stay up to date.

  6. Create a portfolio

    illustration portfolioMake a portfolio of your best illustrations and designs. Then, find as many companies as you can to submit this portfolio. Read some general advice for creating a portfolio of artworks here: How to Make an Art Portfolio

    A website portfolio is also highly recommended. This could be something you can show to potential clients. Having a newsletter and blog along with it will help to keep past clients updated on happenings in your career.

  7. Get an Agent

    Having an agent is a great option, and goes a long way in helping you land jobs with companies.

  8. Be Willing to Work for Free

    illustration pencilsAt the outset of an illustration career, it may be helpful to create work for certain clients for free. A good example would be creating work for charities and fundraisers. The work you create will be seen by many, and may bring you in contact with paying clients. 

  9. Develop your own style

    In the competitive graphic arts world, its important for illustrators to develop a style that is unique and original. Even though in some cases you may be called on to emulate styles, it is necessary to have one all your own. This may help your illustrations be readily recognized as belonging to you.

  10. Network and Market

    2013 Artists and Graphic Designers MarketGet out there and network with other illustrators. Follow them at social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, and leave intelligent feedback on their work. Join groups, clubs and associations for Illustrators and designers. Use resources such as the Artists and Graphic Designers Market, which has a large listing of companies you can contact with your work.

Are you someone who is interested in the field of illustration? If you are an illustrator, please leave further advice on becoming an illustrator in the comment section.

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  1. As an illustrator who's been in the business for over 30 years I have to take exception to numbers 7 and 8. If you don't know how to promote yourself, you are leaving yourself open to being ripped off by an agent. Learn how to be your own agent first and after you've learned the ropes you will be more informed about taking the step towards being involved with an agent. And be prepared to work for free? Sure, you could do that, but why give away your hard work? This just perpetuates the idea that people can get something for nothing. Bad advice.
    Hal Mayforth

  2. @Hal Mayforth Thanks Hal.. good point about agents..

    Working for free can have huge benefit if you do it selectively. I am currently doing a commission for a volunteer committee. They wanted me to do two paintings at first, but decided to cut it to one .. since that is all they have budgeted for. So, I told them I would donate the other one. The head of the committee (who writes for a newspaper) was so pleased that he promised to promote me from "here to the moon"... this is what I mean by working for free. Think about situations that you will benefit from.


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