Do you want to be the next Quentin Blake, Norman Rockwell or Jessie Willcox Smith? Do you have a talent for drawing, sketching and painting? Do you believe in the emotive power of pictures? Well then, you’re in the right place.
Illustrators create images in black and white or colour, based on the creative brief given to them. Illustrations may be the end-product, e.g. in books, or they may be samples depicting the end-product, e.g. in video games.
Illustrators mainly work on a freelance basis and are employed in a range of different industries, including: publishing (e.g. newspapers, magazines and books), advertising and marketing, fashion and retail merchandising (e.g. greeting cards, t-shirts, mugs, photo frames), corporate communications and multimedia productions (e.g. video games, websites and animation).
Some illustrators might even specialise in producing medical, scientific and technical illustrations that are used in textbooks and online media.
When you’re presented with an illustration project, you’ll be meeting with your client, discussing their requirements and producing samples that meet the brief.
You’ll then be carrying out relevant research, choosing the best media for illustrating the project brief and preparing several examples for client approval. Once you’re given the green light, you’ll go about creating the final product.
To be a successful illustrator, you’ll need to exercise your commercial acumen, build relationships with a network of clients and make sure that you keep up-to-date on new techniques and tools, mixing new technology-driven methodologies with traditional drawing.
Salary & benefits
There are no fixed salaries for illustrators, since most are engaged on a freelance basis. The individual rate you receive may be fixed on the basis of working hours, the size of the commissioned illustration (i.e. full or half page), the type of media where the illustration is published and whether the work is in colour or black and white.
Generally though, people that produce illustrations for newspapers, magazines and other print media can earn somewhere between £200 and £3,500 for a commissioned piece.
On the other hand, if you choose to work in the advertising and marketing sector, you could earn between £1,000 and £12,000 for some projects.
Alternatively, if you choose to specialise in the retail merchandising arena, your illustrations could fetch between £100 and £600.
Working hours are flexible except when you need to meet tight project deadlines. Freelance illustrators usually work on several projects simultaneously and thus excellent time management skills are essential.
Work is mainly carried out in a studio set-up, but the nature of the job allows work to be carried out anywhere.
Income in the initial years is low and irregular, but increases progressively as illustrators build their portfolio and their reputation in the market.
Developing a comprehensive portfolio of illustrations is imperative and much more important than gaining academic qualifications.
However, doing a degree or diploma in graphic design, fine art, printmaking, illustration, visual arts or another similar subject is a great idea, as this will give you the opportunity to learn new and innovative skills and develop your portfolio.
Training & progression
Learning and development is mainly acquired by working on different kinds of projects, but the Association of Illustrators (AOI) also provides courses to help you develop your illustration skills and learn new techniques, such as computer aided design (CAD) and using software like Photoshop and Freehand.
Gaining membership of the AOI, networking and hiring an agent are some of the ways in which illustrators can develop their career and freelance reputation.
If you choose to get an agent, it’s better to negotiate agency fees that are acceptable to both parties. Standard agency rates in the industry are around 20%-40% and thus rates charged for commissioned work must account for these fees as well.