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Imagine you are five years old, and your dad's about to read you a story. He sits you on his lap, and pulls out a book full of nothing but words. No pictures, nothing for you to look at. The words are hard for you to focus on, and your mind wanders...

Imagine that you have this funny rash on your body. It is red and itchy and you're not sure what caused it. You open a medical book, and look up rashes. There are three pages of descriptions of rashes, but no visual clues. Your rash sounds like any of the rashes written up, but without a picture to compare it to, you really don't know what is wrong with you.

What is missing from these examples? Illustrations! Pictures tell just as much of a story as words do. They are helpful to children and adults. They clarify things in ways text just can't, and in some instances, books with pictures are just easier to read.

Illustrators are the individuals who create the pictures in textbooks, storybooks, annual reports, cartoons, advertisements, packaging, posters, and anything else that is enhanced and clarified by artwork. They use different styles, including photographs, pencil sketches, computer design, paints and collage to create the pictures. Some specialize in a particular style or field, like advertising, children's books, fashion, wildlife drawing, technical illustration, and medical and science pictures. However, due to the competitiveness of the field, most illustrators will work in a number of areas, as limiting themselves to only fashion or animals cuts them off from other job opportunities.

Because of this, illustrators are generally good at many styles and techniques when it comes to art. They are also good researchers, as for each job, they need to study up and fully understand the subject matter. A medical illustrator will study biology thoroughly, a technical illustrator will work closely with engineers, and a children's book author will spend time with children in order to properly capture their emotions, actions, and reactions to situations.

Even with the common use of film and photography, computers, and other technological advances in image reproduction, there will always be a place for creative illustrators with innate artistic flair. They are often called upon to produce images that cameras and computers cannot. Illustrators have imaginations, creativity, and take risks, producing breathtaking, finely detailed, original pictures for the rest of us to share and marvel at.
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  Average Earnings  
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Median Salary:
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  Interests and Skills  
In order to work as an illustrator, you need to have excellent drawing, painting, computer design, and cartooning skills. You should be patient, dedicated, and loyal, and be willing to work for little money in order to do something you love. You need good people skills, as well as boundless amounts of creativity, energy, and a good sense of humor. You need to be someone who pays attention to fine details, is organized, and has researching abilities. You should have some business and marketing sense, especially if you want to be in business for yourself.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Discuss the client's requirements
  • Work out budget and give quotes
  • Discuss the layout of drawings with the client
  • Research the subject area for ideas and images to copy
  • Read the book or article requiring illustrations
  • Draw sketches of work, making any necessary adjustments before completing final drafts
  • Illustrators work within various media to create pictures. Their tasks differ depending on their assignment. Those who do technical or medical drawing must do research, while those who illustrate children's books must read the story over a few times to get an idea of what pictures are needed. They spend much of each day indoors, working at drawing boards and computers. They will have consultation meetings with clients and other illustrators regarding the various projects they are working on.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Illustrators usually work for a publishing company, a medical institution, newspapers and magazines, or a graphic design firm. Many are self-employed, and work for clients on a contract basis. They work in company studios or in home offices to complete their work. They work regular, 40-hour weeks, unless they are in the midst of a major project, meaning they must work longer hours. They use computers, pencils, and paint to complete their illustrations.
  • Illustrators may work alone, especially if they are self-employed. Those who work in an office environment will have coworkers in numerous departments to share ideas and concepts with.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Illustrators can apply their talents to all sorts of jobs. They can become regular illustrators with a publishing company, or train to become animators, comic book artists, visual artists, as well as train to use computer animation programs and get involved in computer animation, video game animation, and CD-ROM animation. They can write illustration instruction books or picture books. They can become illustration instructors, and teach in colleges, universities, or private art schools, or they can become public school art teachers, and pass on their talents and knowledge to young, eager artists.

  Educational Paths  
In order to become an illustrator, you need a fine arts or graphic design degree or diploma. You can get this training at a community college, technical institute or university. You should make sure that the course offers life-drawing and various drawing and painting techniques, including computer programs and classical techniques.

It may also be useful to take a few courses in biology, engineering, architecture, or astronomy. These are all fields that require illustrators, and the more comfortable you are with these subjects, the more likely it is you could land a job illustrating for them. It is a good idea to practice all the time, even if you are not in school. Take a few art courses now, to make sure the field is right for you.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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