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How To Become An Illustrator in 8 Steps

You have noticed that you have an eye for illustrations, every time you see an ad or cartoons or a comic you can’t help thinking “I want to be able to do that”. For many, this is one of the early steps to realizing you have a passion and would choose be an illustrator as your preferred career path. Taking up a career as an illustrator is amazing because it keeps you creative and at the same time it gets you money and if you are fueled by challenge you will love knowing that it is a competitive field just like most art-inclined careers.

Choosing to be an illustrator is the first step, what you need to do next is to figure out how to be an illustrator. This will involve a road map of steps you need to take, starting from knowing exactly what is expected of you as an illustrator to knowing how you launch yourself and make a mark in your chosen career path. Continue reading this article to know what you need to do to achieve your goals of becoming an illustrator.

Who is an Illustrator

An illustrator is a professional that specializes in providing artistic and pictorial 2D representation of ideas, concepts and other existing realities with the intention to convey a message to a particular group of people. As an illustrator, consider yourself a visual communicator with the help of your artistic creation. To make it as an illustrator, you have to be able to harness your creativity to convey a message in a way that people perceiving it can easily understand in a glance so creativity and proper communication are your requirements with every project.

The market for illustrative is competitive without a doubt but what career path isn’t? and it is nothing you cannot handle with the right drive and ingenuity, you bring something new and interesting to the table and carve a place for yourself. It should also be relieving to know that being an illustrator does not restrict you to a particular field as every career uses illustrations to convey messages so you are needed.

Where you can work as an illustrator

Think about where and what field could use some illustrations to convey messages and ideas for better understanding? As an illustrator the following are your options

  • Advertising: Be it on billboards or on posters your illustration skills go a long way in the advertising industry.
  • Fashion industry: Designing clothes and fashion accessories require a graphical illustration to portray your ideas.
  • In book companies: Comic books, magazines, novels, newspapers, and others in the print media all require illustrations.
  • As a medical illustrator: All those drawings and medical illustrations are done by professional medical illustrators.
  • Web designing: Web designing requires a lot of artistic representation in order to do a good job, so you can work with a web designing firm to use your illustration skills.
  • Become a fine artist: Illustrators make good fine artists because they know how to convey messages with art.
  • Lecture in Art Academies: The education field is a good career choice as an illustrator, not to mention that you will be bringing up other young ones and be giving back knowledge.

What you need to do to become an illustrator

Becoming an illustrator just like other career fields has a systematic process that you need to follow in order to get to the point of having a full-on career practice.

Step 1: Understand what is expected of an illustrator

It is a steady practice that before you venture into any career path, you need to do your research an understand what you should about the path you choose. This involves knowing what is expected of you and what your job options would be with that career you have chosen. Those have been covered in this article but more research on your path wouldn’t hurt, you cannot be too equipped.

Step 2: Get the necessary education

Becoming an illustrator is not just a talent or a hobby, it is a skill from which you are building a career and hence there are technicalities to it and things that needs to be learnt. People you are going to be working with will want to see that you are educated as an illustrator and the higher level of formal education you can get (up to a Bachelor degree) the better your chances when you go out there.

A lot of illustrators talk about being self-taught and not needing to go to any formal school, while this is a way to go it is always advisable to get educated not just for your practice but also to become a professional especially if you plan to start off apply for jobs as an illustrator. Remember that you are trying to set yourself ahead in your career not just follow the crowd.

The benefit of getting educated is to help you enhance your talents while building core skill required for a career in illustrating. There are different courses you can enroll for that will help you to become an illustrator, these courses can be taken in technical schools and in universities. You can consider getting a diploma for arts from technical schools, applying for a degree in universities in your related fields. You will be taught graphic design, painting, fashion design and illustration, medical illustration, visual communication, drawing, how to use computer-aided design all in relationship to your field.

You can enroll for the required courses to take them online or offline. If you already have a job and enrolling offline would not allow you combine both, going online will be a more convenient option, you could also consider part time schooling etc. like any career it takes a while before you start to make money from illustration, so it is advisable not to cut off a source of income while on the journey to get there.

Step 3: Pick a niche

As an illustrator, it won’t be a good idea deciding to do everything, you have to decide on a niche to follow because illustration is wide and to make a real mark you need to specialize. Besides, some areas of specialization require that you have some related degrees and skills before you can work there, for instance, you may need to have some background diploma in the fashion designing to be a fashion illustrator, to be a medical illustrator you need a background of premed etc. Reasons like this are why you have to decide on a niche because in some cases you may need to be educated simultaneously with your illustration education. You can take related courses so that you have that included in a shorter time and so on. If you want to be an illustrator for advertising agencies, then learn about advertising and/or marketing, if you want to do your illustration in arts then you may need to take classes on things like painting, visual arts and so on. With the right research, you will know what exactly is required for the niche you pick.

A tip on successfully picking a niche is to take your time and explore, if you haven’t already figured out what niche you would rather specialize in, then take your time to explore your options. Try your hands at different types of illustration by engaging in personal projects and sometimes working for free or for a lower pay. This will be your journey to discovery before you eventually pick an area of specialization.

Step 4: Put together a portfolio

As an illustrator, anytime you meet with prospective clients or you apply for a job, they will ask to see your portfolio to know what you have done in the past. Your portfolio could include school projects, personal practice, works you have done for other clients and so on.

Do not wait until you are done with school to put together your portfolio, as soon as you start practicing, consider your works as prospective parts of your portfolio. However, putting together, a portfolio to present requires careful selection, yes you keep samples of all your works but you do not present all of them to clients. Mostly you present previous works that are related to the job you are seeking, you can ask an already practicing illustrator or your lecturers for tips on this.

Knowing that you have to put together a portfolio is a drive that would push you to start trying your hands out at illustrating when you get the chance, and of course taking every opportunity to illustrate seriously.

Step 5: Start your career before you graduate

There was a time when people treated the journey to having a career as a linear roadmap, that means one thing had to be over before the other began and maybe that is still possible with some careers but not with illustration. To have a successful illustrator you need to have started your career even before you graduate, this is not just doing some illustration work in your free time as a hobby.

Start your career while still in school means to actually work as an illustrator while you study, this includes school required internship and internships that you go after by yourself. Even though not all of them may pay, and some may pay you less than you should be earning as an illustrator, the key is to meet new people, experienced people in your field, get acquainted with how things are run as an illustrator and of course build your working experience for companies you may apply to.

It is no secret that companies often put working experience as one of their major requirements when they hire someone, you improve your chances of getting a job or a great internship placement when they can see that you have prior experience. However, when you start to take your first steps to getting this working experience, you will need all the recommendation and patience you can get because you may have to work for free for a while.

After the first stage, you can become careful and strategic about the kind of works you do and the companies you apply to, only go after the once that will add value to you as an illustrator and/or to your resume.

Step 6: Display your works to build clientel

Image by PowerProduction Software

Yes, you are planning to be an illustrator, you shouldn’t shut up about it. Even if you do not want to go into freelancing, you should build a reputation and a brand for yourself using your skill and of course your portfolio.

You need to put the word out there and advertise your skill as an illustrator, many professionals get their jobs from a string of references from a job they did before. But you do not have to wait for someone who knows someone you have worked for to reach out to you before you expand your client base.

That means you need to start displaying your works as an illustrator at an early stage, you have different options for doing this. Displaying your works will help you create and expand your client base, make people know that you are there and can offer illustration services, it can help you build a brand. When you display your works you make yourself into a brand of what you display, people think about your skills and your works when they think about you which is very important. All professional illustrators have been able to become a brand and that is why they are so easily marketable. Displaying your works will build you a fan base among colleague and professionals, you can start getting respect, recommendation and offers to collaborate on jobs.

Displaying your works can also be done before you graduate, there are different mediums where you can do this which includes social media, at art exhibitions, free fairs and so on. Anything to put your name out there to the right market.

Step 7: Go after work experiences

Starting your career is not exactly the same thing as building work experiences. Your career involves branding yourself as an individual, this means taking private jobs as a sole illustrator. While building work experiences involve associating yourself with reputable illustrator that are already practicing and striving.

As mentioned earlier, companies look out for work experiences, but companies are not the only ones who look out for this. Clients also look at work experiences, especially clients that are already familiar with the field of illustration because there are certain expectations when you have some companies in your resume.

Schools encourage this through recommending a compulsory internship for students but that is enough, you need to be going after work experiences yourself, putting yourself at an edge over your colleagues, making yourself employable.

Aim for reputable and big firms but do not completely turn down other offers, because you may need to work your way up to being hired the way you want and there is a lot you can learn from working with professionals that will help you apply your uniqueness to the market in a way that will work.

Step 8: Build your personality and resilience for the career

Every career requires a particular type of personal skills in order to have you thrive, skill that may not be taught directly in schools. Being an illustrator also demand some of these skills which includes; Communication, networking, patience, resilience, creativity and discipline.

As an illustrator the goal is to communicate, and having poor communication skill can put a huge damper on your chances for success. Therefore, you should build your communication skills, learn to figure out what needs to be said and how to express the. You will also need it when you have meetings with clients.

Networking with other illustrators both beginners and experts alike is important when you want to be an illustrator. Meet people, attend functions, make the move to talk to people when you need them and also introduce yourself as an illustrator. The value of the right network is insurmountable.

The money doesn’t just fall into your lap overnight; you need to learn patience to be able to do the steps discussed while you grow into a full blown illustrator.

With any career you need to build a form of mental and psychological resilience and most especially for creatives. Expect that some clients will turn you down, sometimes your favorite works will be the least received by the people that matter, you need to learn how to forge on and keep your creativity alive in spite of it all.

It goes without mentioning that you need to stay creative to make a mark as an illustrator.

To do all these, discipline is important. Discipline to keep practicing. Practice as much as possible, practice even when you do not have a client, practice even if you haven’t found a new trick you are trying to learn, keep practicing.

In conclusion

The last step is to start: start your journey to becoming an illustrator, just start doing something. These 8 steps will carry you through to having a great career and set yourself on a pedestal among your peers.

How to Become an Illustrator in 8 Steps
Article Name
How to Become an Illustrator in 8 Steps
Step 1: Understand what is expected of an illustrator Step 2: Get the necessary education Step 3: Pick a niche Step 4: Put together a portfolio Step 5: Start your career before you graduate Step 6: Display your works to build clientele Step 7: Go after work experiences Step 8: Build your personality and resilience for the career
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Improve Your Drawings
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