Some illustrators earn high incomes working as freelancers, because their illustrations for children’s books or other publications are widely recognized. The industry is competitive, so gaining that kind of recognition isn’t easy. You don’t have to be an art major to work as an illustrator, but formal art training may bolster your skills and career.
Illustrators use a variety of techniques to create original artwork for all sorts of companies. An illustrator’s drawings may appear in books and magazines or on calendars and wallpaper. However, getting wide exposure in the field may depend on your training. Illustrators typically have natural artistic talent, but some get a bachelor’s degree in art to develop their talents. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) asserts that illustrators and other artists who master artistic techniques have the best job prospects.
More companies are focusing on creating digital formats of newspapers, magazines and books. That has created more opportunities for illustrators to work with animators and website designers to create artwork for online publications, broadcasts and video games. The BLS notes that many art degree programs include training in computer techniques, which can be critical knowledge for illustrators as jobs in the field increasingly require experience with computer graphics and design software.
Illustrators who work in medical and science sectors must combine their artistic talents with their knowledge of biology, geology or other sciences. In such cases, a bachelor’s degree that includes art and premedical classes is generally required. However, the Association of Medical Illustrators indicates that most medical illustrators have master’s degrees in medical illustration. There are only four accredited programs for medical illustration in the U.S., plus one in Canada, and the Association notes that no more than 16 students are admitted to each of those programs every year, as of 2011.
The number of illustrator positions at newspapers and publishing companies may drop as those employers continue to reduce their staffs, according to the BLS. However, the Bureau notes that illustrators with specialized skills in digital graphics or medical illustration may see demand for their work grow through 2018. Media companies requiring more elaborate online images may spur some of the demand. An increase in medical research also may spark the demand for medical illustrations.