*

Job Description: Illustrator

Published

Illustrators combine art, design and creative skills to develop ideas and produce original visual images for a wide range of products.

Image: Jean Jullien: Billboard for London Graphic Centre for It’s Nice That

View People View Companies View Jobs

Job Description, Salary & Benefits

Most illustrators specialise in a particular style. There are various different stages in their work, including:

  • discussing client needs and identifying a target audience for the work
  • agreeing the brief and contract with the client
  • developing visual ideas that suit the brief
  • seeking client approval for ideas with rough visuals - this stage may involve going back to the drawing board several times to rework sketches
  • using drawing, sketching, painting and photographic skills to produce illustrations.

Illustrators in employment usually work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The working hours of freelance illustrators vary depending on deadlines and quantity of work. Most illustrators work at home or in a studio. They usually work at a drawing board and computer workstation.

Salaries for employed illustrators working full time may range from around £14,000 to £40,000 a year. Self-employed illustrators are paid for each project or illustration.

An illustrator needs:

  • excellent drawing and IT skills
  • to be able to work to a brief, solve problems creatively and adapt their style
  • creativity and imagination
  • to enjoy creative work.

Illustrators work throughout the UK. Most are self-employed and work freelance. They often have other paid jobs while they try to build up their business. It is a competitive area of work. A few illustrators are employed by design and advertising agencies, and publishers.

There are no set entry requirements to become an illustrator. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work. Most illustrators have an HND, Foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject such as illustration, graphic design or fine art.

Illustrators can take a number of specialist courses to develop their skills in areas such as technical, book and sequential illustration, and animation. The Association of Illustrators offer practical support to illustrators and a range of classes for freelancers.

Most freelance illustrators remain self-employed. Success depends upon building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work. Some illustrators broaden their business by developing skills in related areas such as graphic design, animation and cartoons. There may be opportunities for illustrators in employment to become art directors, design managers or heads of departments.

What is the work like?

Illustrators combine art, design and creative skills to develop ideas and produce original visual images for a wide range of products. These include:

  • books and book jackets
  • educational, training and reference materials
  • instruction manuals, leaflets and sales brochures
  • greetings cards, giftware and packaging
  • advertising materials, posters and catalogues
  • magazines and newspapers
  • television and film animations and storyboards
  • computer games, websites and mobile phone visuals.

Most illustrators specialise in a particular style. There are various different stages in their work, including:

  • discussing client needs and identifying the target audience for the work
  • agreeing the brief and contract, including payment and deadlines, with the client
  • developing visual ideas that suit the brief
  • seeking client approval for ideas with rough visuals - this stage may involve going back to the drawing board several times to rework sketches
  • using drawing, sketching, painting and photographic skills to produce illustrations
  • increasingly, using computer packages to scan in their own visual images, and then refine and develop the ideas on screen
  • continuing to work with the client, seeking approval at all stages of development and making any changes as required, right up to completion of the job.

There are specialist areas of illustration, including fashion, medical, scientific and technical illustration. For more information, see Medical Illustrator and Technical Illustrator.

Self-employed illustrators need to be proactive in finding work. This includes promoting themselves to employers and keeping their portfolio up to date. Some illustrators use agents to do this work. They also need to keep their own records and accounts.

A new entrant working full time may earn between £14,000 and £19,000 a year.

Hours & Environment

Illustrators in employment usually work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. The working hours of freelance illustrators vary depending on deadlines and quantity of work.

Most illustrators work at home or in a studio. They usually work at a drawing board and computer workstation.

Salary & Other Benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • A new entrant working full time may earn between £14,000 and £19,000 a year.
  • An experienced illustrator may earn from £20,000 to £30,000 a year.
  • Well established illustrators may earn up to £40,000 a year. A few may earn more than this.

Full-time work can be hard to obtain. Most illustrators are self-employed and are paid an agreed fee for each project or illustration. The Association of Illustrators (AOI) has information regarding fees on its website, www.theaoi.com.

Skills & Personal Qualities

Illustrators need:

  • excellent drawing and IT skills
  • to be able to work to a brief, solve problems creatively and adapt their style if needed
  • creativity and imagination
  • an eye for detail and design
  • self-promotional skills
  • self-motivation and the ability to work to deadlines
  • to be good at communicating and negotiating with clients and colleagues
  • a good understanding of medicine, science or technology (to be a medical, scientific or technical illustrator).

Interests

It is important for an illustrator to:

  • enjoy creative work
  • have a wide interest in the visual arts.

Getting in

Illustrators work throughout the UK. Most illustrators are self-employed and work freelance. They often have other paid jobs while they try to build up their business. It is a competitive area of work.

A few illustrators are employed, although graphic design or animation skills may be needed in addition to illustration skills. There may be opportunities with:

  • design or advertising agencies
  • publishers
  • multimedia and web publishers.

Some illustrators employ agents to promote their services. Lists of agents are available to members of the AOI and the Society of Artists Agents.

Entry for young people

There are no set entry requirements to become an illustrator. It is important to have a high level of illustration ability, an extensive portfolio of quality work and self-promotional skills to obtain work.

Most illustrators develop their skills and portfolio through an HND, Foundation degree or degree in an art and design subject. The exact subject is not always important, but most illustrators study illustration, graphic design, fine art or combined visual arts. Qualifications include:

  • BTEC Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design) - many students in England, Northern Ireland and Wales take this one-year foundation course in art and design before starting an HND, Foundation degree or degree course. Entry requirements vary between colleges, but are usually at least five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), and often an A level/H grade or equivalent. Courses normally last one year full time or two years part time.
  • Foundation degrees and HNDs - applicants usually need a minimum of one A level/two H grades including an art and design subject, a relevant BTEC national award, Scottish Group Award (SGA) or BTEC Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design). Courses usually last two years full time.
  • Degree courses - entrants usually need at least two A levels/three H grades including an art and design subject, plus five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. Many colleges and universities also require the BTEC Diploma in Foundation Studies (Art and Design). Most full-time courses last three years. In Scotland, degree courses usually last four years with the first year equating to a foundation course.
  • Postgraduate degrees and diplomas - applicants usually need a first degree in an appropriate subject. Most courses last one year full time.

A portfolio of art and design work is usually expected by colleges and universities. Occasionally, an applicant with an outstanding portfolio of work may be accepted without the usual minimum entry qualifications.

Entry for adults

Mature students are welcomed on art and design courses and entry requirements may be relaxed, providing candidates can show a genuine interest and a strong portfolio of work. They may prepare for application to a degree by taking an Access course.

Training

Illustrators can take a number of specialist courses to develop their skills in areas such as technical, book and sequential illustration, and animation.

The AOI offers practical support to illustrators, and a range of master classes covering subjects such as business start-up, essentials of self-promotion, portfolios and agents, as well as current computer software and the use of technology.

Getting On

Most freelance illustrators remain self-employed. Success depends upon building a strong reputation and securing a steady flow of work. Some illustrators broaden their business by developing skills in related areas of work such as graphic design, animation and cartoons. They may choose to specialise and train in a particular area of work, such as medical or technical illustration.

Established illustrators may also run workshops in schools, libraries or museums. A few may become agents for other illustrators. Some may train to teach illustration.

There may be opportunities for illustrators in employment to become art directors, design managers or heads of departments.

Further Information

Further Reading

  • Getting Into Art & Design Courses - Trotman
  • Starting Your Career as a Freelance Illustrator or Graphic Designer - Allworth Press
  • Survive - The Illustrator's Guide to a Professional Career - AOI
  • Working in print & publishing - Connexions

Magazines

  • VAROOM - the journal of illustration and made images - AOI
  • Its Nice That 
  • Grafik

Comments