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Illustrators are commissioned to produce still drawings for use in advertisements, books, magazines, packaging, greetings cards and newspapers.

It is essential to prepare a sound portfolio of work that can be used to demonstrate abilities.

What does an illustrator do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Most illustrators are self-employed, running their own studios or working from home. They are normally commissioned directly or via an agent to produce drawings for newspapers, magazines, books and catalogues.

Typical responsibilities of the job include:

  • liaising with editors, authors or designers
  • negotiating contracts and timescales
  • undertaking relevant research and generating ideas
  • drawing rough sketches for approval
  • producing final illustrations
  • promoting and running a business.

While graphic designers work on the bigger picture, eg page layout, illustrators do more drawing, though there can be some overlap between the two, particularly when working for a smaller employer.

Typical employers of illustrators

Illustrators may be employed by design consultancies, advertising agencies or publishers.

Vacancies appear in national newspapers and publications including Design Week and Creative Review, both their online and print versions.

Freelance illustrators can register with the Association of Illustrators to be added to its database or they can contact potential clients directly via the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. Read more on making speculative applications.

Qualifications and training required

There are routes into illustration for both university graduates and school leavers.

Although there are no formal academic requirements for entry into the profession, fine art, illustration and graphic design qualifications may be helpful. Postgraduate courses may be beneficial and are available in subjects such as children’s book illustration, medical art, graphic design and illustration. However, aptitude, relevant experience and artistic abilities are generally considered by employers to be more important than qualifications. It is essential to prepare a sound portfolio of work that can be used to demonstrate abilities.

Progression can be achieved through specialising in a particular area.

Key skills for illustrators

Freelance illustrators have to be keen networkers to build up a number of contacts and have good business skills. Communication skills are important; you need to be able to discuss what is needed with clients. Being able to work to a brief is equally essential. You also need to be able to work within an agreed time frame and meet deadlines. Above all, illustrators are creative with excellent artistic skills.

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