How To Start Your Illustration Career (With 8 Popular Jobs)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 February 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A career in design and illustration can be rewarding for individuals who seek creative satisfaction and expression in their work. Illustrators work in various industries, such as marketing, publishing, entertainment and media. Knowing about different job opportunities in design and illustration can help you make an informed career choice. In this article, we discuss how to start your illustration career and list eight popular career options for you to consider in this field.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

How To Start Your Illustration Career?

Here is how you can start your illustration career and advance your illustration skills:

1. Develop illustration and design skills

Having the artistic ability to make creative and visually appealing illustrations is crucial to becoming an illustrator. You can benefit from learning about the following art fields:

  • Design: using design principles and concepts to make physical and digital art

  • Artistic techniques: knowing how to generate depth, shading and gradient are some examples of artistic techniques

  • Sketching: sketching allows artists to create different concepts, ideas and compositions

  • Creativity: creativity helps artists generate unique and innovative illustrations

  • Design tools: knowing how to work with specialised design and visual editing software tools

  • Storytelling: understanding how to communicate stories visually and engage the audience

  • Composition: knowing visual elements such as shapes, proportions, balance, contrast, symmetry and stylisation

  • Colour theory: knowledge of how to use colours effectively to communicate visually

You can either complete an educational degree programme, such as BA in design or BA in visual communication or enrol for short-term diploma and certification courses to learn these skills. Depending on your interest, you can choose a specialisation towards the end of these courses.

Related: What Is Creative Design? Skills And Popular Careers

2. Build a portfolio

Once you have the foundational illustration skills, start building a portfolio to showcase your expertise and diversity of visual styles. Ideally, a compelling portfolio combines personal and professional projects to display your range as an artist. You can work on various projects and select the best ten or 15 to feature in your portfolio. To create a digital portfolio, you can make your own website or create a profile on any portfolio or creative design website.

Related: How To Make A Portfolio: A Step-By-Step Guide

3. Build crucial soft skills

Besides vital technical design skills, illustrators often require various soft skills to perform their roles effectively. These include communication, interpersonal relationship building, networking, business management, organisation, time management and client satisfaction skills. These soft skills can help you develop professional relationships, work with different clients and advance your career. Using these skills, you can also work as a freelance illustrator or start your design agency in the future.

Related: 10 Best Skills To Include On A Resume (With Examples)

4. Draft an impressive resume

Next, create a resume that showcases your skills and expertise effectively. First, choose a suitable format that helps highlight your creativity and design style. Then, add sections such as the professional summary statement, work experience, educational qualifications, skills and certifications. Proofread and edit the resume before submitting it and make sure you customise it as per the role and company.

Related: Professional Resume Samples To Help You Land A Job

5. Apply for suitable jobs

Find relevant entry-level design and illustration jobs that fit your career expectations. You can start by completing an internship at a design or marketing agency to gain professional experience and skills. Then, look for relevant jobs on job search websites, job boards and social media platforms. You can also contact design companies directly with your job application if they have a vacancy. Alternatively, you can also ask your college professors or certification course trainers to recommend you for job openings.

Related: How To Become A Graphic Designer: A Complete Guide

6. Attend industry events and workshops

It is essential for designers and illustrators to improve their skills continually. This can help you identify the latest design trends and incorporate new visual elements in your work. You can improve your techniques and learn new abilities by attending industry events, such as training and workshops. You can also complete short-term online courses or diploma certifications to develop niche design skills, such as digital, product or user experience design.

Related: What Does A UI/UX Designer Do? (With Salary And Skills)

7. Promote your work

It is crucial for artists and designers to market their work. Besides helping you attract relevant work opportunities and freelance projects, doing this can help create a personal brand by building an online portfolio. You can also consider licensing your illustrations to earn a passive income.

8 Popular Illustration Career Options

Here are eight illustrator employment opportunities that you can consider:

1.Book Illustrator

National average salary: ₹2,82,045 per year

Primary duties: Book illustrators work with publishing companies and design agencies to generate visuals and illustrations for books. They usually liaise with the author, editor and publisher to understand the message and tone of the book and create designs as per the target audience. Besides sketching illustrations to complement the text of the book, they may also create charts, tables and graphs as per the book's design style. Book illustrators also usually create visually compelling and engaging book covers.

2. Animator

National average salary: ₹2,67,474 per year

Primary duties: Animators help create frames consisting of multiple images that help create an illusion of movement or action. They typically work with clients from the media and entertainment industry on projects such as movies, television shows, video games, educational videos and other visual forms of storytelling. Animators are responsible for creating storyboards, making sketches, designing elements, adding timing and pace of movement, creating special effects and rendering the end product. They may create digital, hand-drawn, 2D, 3D, stop-frame or computer-generated animation.

3. Graphic Novelist

National average salary: ₹3,05,351 per year

Primary duties: Graphic novelists, cartoonists and comic book illustrators help create novels that have a visual narrative. They help conceptualise visual stories based on the words and texts of the author in the form of comic strips or graphic novels. While some graphic novelists may also create their own stories and characters, others may help authors and writers translate their work into visual stories. They often conceptualise stories for adults or children and may also help authors or publishing companies design-related merchandise.

4. Visual Designer

National average salary: ₹5,47,060 per year

Primary duties: Visual designers are responsible for creating the visual interface and aesthetic appearance of different products such as websites, devices, games and products. They help incorporate a company's brand guidelines to create designs consistent with its style and voice. They often design logos, icons, illustrations and other visual assets. Visual designers may also interact with clients, create presentations and work on different projects simultaneously. They require strong visual communication, time management, client service, organisation and creativity skills to perform their role effectively.

5. Storyboarding Artist

National average salary: ₹3,64,329 per year

Primary duties: Storyboarding artists help creative teams in the movie and video game industry to create visual representations of the director's vision. Storyboarding is the process of converting written scripts into 2D visual images that serve as a guide throughout the production process. These artists create a panel of images that help the team plan the shot or animation to maintain continuity and use visual communication techniques. They set the look, timing and point-of-view angle for each frame in the project by working with writers, animators and directors.

6. Concept Artist

National average salary: ₹4,00,776 per year

Primary duties: Concept artists help visually represent ideas in movies, video games, television, animation projects and graphic novels. They are generally responsible for creating characters, graphics, environments, elements and visual styles for these projects. Concepts artists usually work with different creative teams to finalise these ideas per the project brief and may also conduct research to select relevant concepts and references. They require strong design, time management, research, attention to detail, communication and collaboration skills.

7. Packaging Designer

National average salary: ₹5,07,540 per year

Primary duties: Packaging or package designers are responsible for conceptualising and executing the packaging of products. They decide the material, shape, colour, size and visual style of the packaging to appeal to customers. Besides making creative packaging designs, they also ensure that the packaging process is cost-efficient, scalable and compliant with government regulations. They typically work with the product, marketing and design teams to create unique packaging within the budget. Package designers require knowledge in industrial design and packaging materials, besides strong innovation, 3D design and communication skills.

8. Art Director

National average salary: ₹6,05,930 per year

Primary duties: Art directors usually lead design teams in creative and marketing agencies. They help set the visual style and direction for different projects and supervise junior designers who implement different tasks. Art directors are generally a part of the concept and idea-generation process of the project and work with the client to finalise different visual concepts. They typically work with the marketing team to ensure alignment and collaboration between team members. Besides experience in design and illustration, art directors require strong leadership, team management, organisation, client service and collaboration skills.

Explore more articles