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How To Become an Illustrator and Sketch for Success

If you’re a creative individual with a passion for art and an eye for detail, becoming an illustrator might be your best fit among all the many uncommon side hustles out there.

To make a career out of being a freelance illustrator, certain skills and resources will make this process easier and more enjoyable.

Whether you aspire to create illustrations for books, magazines, or digital media, this comprehensive guide on how to become an illustrator will provide the direction you need for your artistic journey.

An Overview of Illustrators: A Primer

Illustrators are crucial in bringing ideas, stories, and concepts to life through visual representations.

Through their artistic abilities, they use various computer programs and drawing sketchbooks to create illustrations for books, magazines, advertisements, websites, and more.

A professional illustrator has an eye for detail, strong illustration skills, and a creative mindset.

Illustrators often collaborate with clients or art directors to understand their vision and deliver fine art pieces that communicate messages effectively. A successful illustrator can evoke emotions, educate, entertain, and inspire audiences.

There are many different illustrator jobs out there, but some of the highest-earning ones are book illustrators who design book covers based on their target audience and the book’s age demographic.

Depending on your personal style and creative skillset, you can succeed in the field. All it takes is some talent, a professional portfolio, and a solid client base.

How Much Do Illustrators Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, a full-time illustrator can make about $57,000 annually, but the exact amount varies based on experience, expertise, clientele, and the projects lined up for them.

Some illustrators earn higher incomes through successful freelance careers, while others start at lower levels and gradually increase their earnings as they gain more experience and recognition.

Aspiring illustrators should continually refine their skills and work on their online portfolio to have a real shot at this competitive field.

What You’ll Need to Become an Illustrator & Associated Costs

To be successful in the illustration career, there are certain things you’ll need to get started and associated costs to consider.

Here’s a brief overview for you to kickstart your journey:

1. Education

Pursuing a formal education in illustration is not obligatory, but it can provide valuable skills and knowledge of the field.

Costs for art schools or online courses vary depending on the institution and location, but two-year degree programs usually range from $5,000 to $30,000 per year.

2. Art Supplies

Building a collection of art supplies is essential for an artist. These include various drawing tools, paints, brushes, sketchbooks, and digital art equipment if you work digitally. Aspiring illustrators can expect to spend around $500 per year on supplies.

3. Software & Technology

For digital illustrations, you’ll need access to illustration software like Adobe Illustrator, which requires a high-performance PC or laptop. Graphic design subscriptions like Adobe Creative Cloud typically range from $20 to $50 per month, while high-end devices such as drawing tables can cost anywhere from $100 to $1000.

4. Strong Portfolio

Creating a solid portfolio is vital for showcasing your skills and attracting clients. A digital portfolio can be made through online portfolio sites, which usually come with a subscription cost, while physically printing and binding a portfolio can cost anywhere from $100 to $500.

5. Licensing & Memberships

Many illustrators choose to join professional organizations and obtain licenses or certifications to enhance their credibility in the fine arts.

Membership fees for professional organizations and networking events range from $50 to $300 per year, while licensing costs vary depending on the specific requirements of your jurisdiction.

How Much Does it Cost to Become an Illustrator?

The costs that come with joining this particular industry vary on individual circumstances and choices. Formal education in illustration can range from a few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars.

Art supplies and equipment costs vary depending on the quality and quantity of materials needed, and ongoing expenses like software subscriptions, portfolio maintenance, and professional memberships all play a part.

Based on these average estimates, becoming a professional illustrator can cost anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 annually.

These costs vary significantly depending on individual choices and location, so anyone on the road to be an illustrator should research their local industry trends and plan accordingly.

Is it Hard to Become an Illustrator?

Entering the illustration field can be challenging, but with dedication, passion, and continuous learning, it’s possible to succeed with flying colors.

Talented illustrators constantly develop their artistic skills, work on their portfolios and establish their style, which is the only way to navigate the competitive nature of the industry.

While it may take time and effort, the rewards of pursuing a career in illustration can be very creatively satisfying, on top of being financially satisfying.

How Long Does it Take to Become an Illustrator?

Developing artistic abilities and mastering an illustration style can take several years of consistent practice and study.

Joining an art school degree program takes two years minimum, while building a strong portfolio can take several months to years, depending on the time and effort invested in creating high-quality work.

The most time-consuming aspect of being a professional illustrator is establishing a reputation and finding opportunities, which requires excessive time and networking.

Connecting with other professionals, attending art events, and showcasing your portfolio to potential clients are all essential steps.

While there is no fixed timeline to becoming an illustrator, it’s important to approach this journey with patience, inspiration, and a growth mindset.

Embrace learning opportunities, stay committed to your craft, and continuously seek inspiration to develop your professional illustration.

How to Become an Illustrator in 5 Simple Steps

Becoming an illustrator requires a combination of artistic talent, dedication, and perseverance. Professional illustrators typically follow the same path, which includes:

Step 1: Develop Your Artistic Skills

Begin by honing your artistic skills through regular practice. Experiment with different computer graphics applications and invest in technical training to broaden your creative abilities.

Any aspiring illustrator should consider life drawing classes, where they can learn about human anatomy and color theory. Seek workshops and video tutorials that provide practical exercises and guidance from a professional illustrator.

Remember, continuous practice is key to developing masterpieces, so even if you don’t see a college degree, invest your time and effort in personal projects that will help you succeed.

Step 2: Gain Knowledge & Inspiration

Immerse yourself in the world of illustration by studying the works of established artists.

A good illustrator creates art out of anything, so explore various styles and genres to find what resonates with you. Visit galleries, attend exhibitions, and read books on art history and illustration work.

Engage with online platforms and communities dedicated to illustration, such as forums and social media groups.

No matter whether you prefer medical journals, comic books, or even children’s books, always try to follow the different styles and patterns on their cover art.

Even if you don’t plan on being a book illustrator, being open to this kind of artwork can help you learn new techniques and gain inspiration.

Step 3: Build a Stellar Portfolio

Assemble a compelling portfolio that shows your best work. Select a variety of pieces that demonstrate your skill in different subjects. Consider creating original drawings that align with potential clients and their target market.

Always tailor your portfolio to the industry or niche you wish to pursue, whether it’s a book illustration publishing company, editorial illustration, the fashion illustrator industry, or concept art.

Including a mix of finished illustrations, sketches, and works-in-progress can also help clients see the full scope of your abilities.

Remember to regularly update your portfolio as you create images and illustration jobs, and consider writing an artist statement to boost your chances.

Step 4: Network & Collaborate

Connect with other illustrators, artists, art directors, and other professionals in the industry to expand your network. Attend artistic events, join online communities, and participate in collaborative projects.

Networking and even selling art online can lead to opportunities, mentorship, and exposure, granting more illustrator jobs as you go.

Engage in conversations, share your work, and support fellow artists. Collaborating with others on projects can enhance your skills, offer fresh perspectives, and provide a chance to showcase your work to a wider audience.

Depending on your style, make sure to be open to collaborations, whether that makes you a children’s book illustrator, medical illustrator, or conceptual artist.

Step 5: Promote Your Work

Establish an online presence through a website or social media platforms to showcase your illustration jobs.

Create a professional website that highlights your portfolio, provides information about your freelance work, and includes contact details.

Use Twitter and Behance to share your work and talk to your audience, and check out how to sell digital art for more insider tips.

Other illustrators regularly seek out freelance jobs or commissioned projects by reaching out to potential clients or responding to online job postings.

Building a strong online presence and actively marketing yourself will help attract clients and illustration job opportunities.

Don’t underestimate the power of word-of-mouth recommendations, as personal connections are the fastest shortcut in the illustration career.

Reasons to Consider Being an Illustrator

Freelance illustrators enjoy a range of exciting opportunities and advantages that others in the industry don’t easily find.

Here are some compelling reasons to consider being an illustrator:

  • Creative Freedom: Illustrators have the freedom to bring their unique vision to life through their artworks, expressing creativity and individual style.
  • Flexibility: This career allows for flexible working hours and the ability to work from anywhere, whether you’re a children’s book illustrator, social media designer, or conceptual artist.
  • Diverse Clientele: Illustrators have the chance to collaborate with clients from various industries, including publishing, advertising, gaming, and more, providing a diverse range of projects.
  • Income Potential: With the high demand for illustrations, there is potential for high earnings as you establish your reputation and portfolio, especially with commissioned work, licensing, and merchandising opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Most illustrators who first step into this exciting career come packed with questions, where the most common ones include:

What Qualifications Do You Need To Be an Illustrator?

When becoming an illustrator, formal education can be beneficial in developing your skills and understanding of the industry, but they’re not a must.

Many successful illustrators have built their careers through self-study, practice, and professional portfolios.

Is an Illustrator a Good Career?

Yes, this career is great for those passionate about art and creativity. It offers the opportunity to express yourself artistically, collaborate with art directors, and work on a variety of projects.

Still, it requires self-promotion, managing clients, and maintaining a consistent workflow, which can be challenging for some.

Similar Gigs to Check Out

After learning about the steps on how to become an illustrator, some may find that this gig may not work for them.

In that case, they may want to check out some similar gigs that may be more ideal:

  • How to Become a Tattoo Artist: For those who want to take visual representation to the next level by making beautiful, memorable art on human skin.
  • How to Become a Freelance Writer: For those who enjoy working with words and expressing ideas through engaging written content.
  • How to Become an Editor: For those with a solid understanding of grammar, structure, and content who have a keen eye for details and a drive for writing.

Wrapping Up

Becoming an illustrator offers a world of creative opportunities and the ability to turn your passion for art into a fulfilling career.

From honing your skills to building a portfolio and finding clients, you’ll have all the steps needed to succeed outlined for you in this comprehensive guide.

Embrace the freedom, flexibility, and artistic expression that this gig offers in the ever-growing gig economy, and return to this guide whenever you need a kick in the right direction.

Remember, success as an illustrator is within your reach with the right amount of dedication, learning, and passion for the craft. Start creating and let your imaging soar!

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