How Do I Become a Book Illustrator?

Research what it takes to become a book illustrator. Learn about responsibilities, required education and skills needed to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Children`s Book Illustration degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Book Illustrator?

Book illustrators create artwork that enhances a book's content while maintaining the reader's focus on the storyline. They may create their art by hand, but more and more often illustrators are utilizing computers. They can create images that they then scan into a computer to color, or they may draw images directly onto a computer. Book illustrators use various art techniques, such as color, space and perspective, to create the desired effects. They may keep a professional portfolio of their work to promote and market themselves. The following chart provides an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Training Required Internships are helpful
Key Skills Artistic bent; draw well with all mediums; ability to listen and understand client's vision
Job Growth (2018-2028) 1% (for all fine artists)*
Median Annual Salary (2018) $49,380 (for all fine artists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Do as a Book Illustrator?

Book illustrators are generally responsible for executing someone else's ideas. Unless you are also the author of the book, the final decision on artwork rests in the hands of the publisher or author. Being employed by publishing houses allows you to produce artwork that may vary in style with each book. You may also do double-duty as designers for book publishers.

As a freelance book illustrator, you'll likely have sporadic projects. While your work may be full-time, the individual projects do not lead to a conventional hourly career. Many publishers and authors hire freelance book illustrators to work on specific projects. If you're talented at adapting styles to meet clients' needs, you'll stand the best chance of finding regular work. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), fine artists, which include illustrators, made a yearly median income of $49,380 as of May 2018. Job opportunities are expected to grow by 1% during the 2018-2028 decade.

What Skills Should I Have?

You must have experience with a wide range of tools, such as charcoal, ink, watercolors, pencils and computer software. In addition, you must be able to do the following:

  • Listen carefully and understand a book's concept
  • Translate that concept into reader-friendly illustrations that fulfill the author's expectations
  • Have the flexibility to change an illustration as needed
  • Meet tight deadlines
  • Be comfortable networking, marketing and self-promoting as a freelance illustrator
  • Have customer service skills to work with difficult or detail-oriented clients
  • Stay current with illustration and design trends
  • Constantly strive to improve your artistic skills
  • Maintain a portfolio with current and published work to show perspective clients

What Training Should I Seek?

To obtain a staff position with a publishing house, you must have a degree in illustration or another art-related concentration from a college, university, technical school or art academy. Many colleges offer fine art degrees in illustration, and a bachelor's degree may help you find additional job opportunities. Without a degree, you may find contract or outsourced work primarily on the strength of your portfolio.

Internships with firms and publishing companies allow you to network, understand how the business works and possibly secure a position with the firm after graduation. You may want to continue your training throughout your career to improve your skills and remain competitive in an evolving job market.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are several art-related careers that also require a bachelor's degree, including those of art directors, fashion designers and graphic designers. Art directors determine and maintain the visual style for an array of media, including movies, magazines and newspapers. Fashion designers sketch designs for clothing, footwear and more. They are involved in various aspects of the manufacturing process, such as selecting fabrics. Graphic designers design the visual concepts for things like advertisements, magazines and more. The often use computers to create their work.

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