If you are wondering how to become an illustrator, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of the design industry, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Illustrators produce drawings, paintings or diagrams that help make a product more attractive or easier to understand. They work on a wide range of products, including books, book jackets, greetings cards, adverts and packaging and detailed technical diagrams for manufacturers.

    Typical responsibilities:

    discussing requirements (the ‘brief’) with authors, editors or designers
    negotiating prices and timescales
    deciding on appropriate styles for the illustrations
    creating illustrations using hand drawing and painting and computer design packages
    consulting with the client and modifying designs if necessary
    making sure the work is completed within set budgets and deadlines.
    Illustrators may specialise in one type of illustration, such as children’s books or medical illustration – see Medical Illustrator profile. As they are usually freelance, illustrators also need to market their work and complete the administrative tasks associated with running a business.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good illustrator include:

    excellent drawing skills and an appreciation of detail
    the ability to work to a brief and think around a problem
    creativity and imagination
    knowledge of CAD (computer aided design) and computer graphics
    the ability to manage your time well and meet deadlines
    good communication skills for making presentations and ‘selling’ ideas.

    How to become an illustrator
    If you have artistic talent, determination and relevant experience you may be able to develop a career in illustration without a formal qualification. However, most professional illustrators have a degree in illustration or another art-related subject.

    Entry requirements for degree courses often include a recognised art and design foundation course. You may also be considered with other relevant qualifications and could be accepted on the strength of your portfolio. Check with individual universities and colleges for their entry requirements.

    To search for colleges and universities offering art and design foundation courses and degrees see Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (UCAS).

    Marketing your work
    You will need an up-to-date portfolio of your work to show to prospective clients. You might be able to find a portfolio-building course at a local college if you need help in assembling your work.

    You can also market your work by contacting relevant companies directly. You can find advice about getting started as a freelance illustrator, lists of publishers and other useful information in The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, published each year by A & C Black. You should be able to find it in your local reference library as well as in bookshops. See the Artists Information Company website for a range of resources to help artists market their work.

    Using an agent
    If you work as a freelance illustrator you will usually sell your work through an artists’ agent to sell your work, who may take a commission of up to 40%. You can find lists of agents, publishers and specialist organisations such as those for children’s books on the Association of Illustrators (AOI) website (in Further Information). If you join the AOI you can have your contact details and samples of your work displayed on the website.

    Training and Development
    You can develop your skills as an illustrator by doing postgraduate degrees and diplomas in fine art and illustration. You will usually need a first degree to get on to one of these. Courses are available part-time, and you might be able to specialise in a particular area such as children’s book illustration.

    As a member of professional organisations such as the Association of Illustrators (AOI) and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators you can take part in their training events and seminars.

    You can develop and update your skills in using computer packages such as Illustrator, QuarkXpress and Adobe Photoshop by attending part-time courses available at many colleges.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    As illustrators are usually freelance, there are no set salary figures.

    Professional organisations such as the Association of Illustrators will advise on rates of pay, and the Artists Information Company website has resources to help artists price their work.

    Job Prospects
    As an illustrator you will usually work freelance and may use an agent or sell your work directly to clients. It can be difficult to become established and known to commissioning clients and agents. As a result, you may need to supplement your income with other part-time work whilst building up contacts.

    You could work for a design agency, publishing company or magazine, although you may also need graphic design skills to do this. Very few illustrators work for commercial clients directly.

    Networking and building up contacts is essential for finding work. You can use publications such as the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook for researching potential clients. Joining professional bodies such as AOI and the Institute of Scientific and Technical Communicators will give you professional recognition and opportunities for networking. As a member of AOI you will have access to portfolio consultations and business and legal advice. You can also register for entry on the AOI database which potential commissioners can search.

    Useful design industry resources:
    Association of Illustrators
    2nd Floor
    Back Building
    150 Curtain Road
    EC2A 3AR
    Tel: 020 7613 4328

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