About 28,600 illustrators are employed in the United States; only a small percentage of these professionals specialize in fashion illustration. Nearly 59 percent of fine artists, including painters, sculptors, and illustrators, are self-employed, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Others work for large retailers, magazines, newspapers, design or advertising firms, and fashion firms (called houses).
If you have received a degree, one of the best ways to start out in this business is to find a job through your school’s career services office or by networking with alumni. Those who are financially able may go into business for themselves right away. However, it may take considerable time to establish yourself in the field and have a business that is profitable. Illustrators sometimes start out receiving no pay for their work, just a byline (a credit giving the person’s name). However, having your name published with your work will give you exposure on a professional level. As you take on more work, you may be able to begin charging more. Again, it may take some time to become established in the field.
Advancement for fashion illustrators generally comes as they gain professional recognition. The freelance illustrator who becomes known for the creativity and high quality of his or her work will find that he or she has a growing clientele. More clients translate into more jobs; more jobs translate into higher earnings. In addition, as illustrators become better known, they can charge more for their services and be more selective about what jobs they take. Illustrators who are salaried employees of organizations may either move up within the organization, taking on supervisory roles or working with specific accounts for example, or they may have starting their own illustration business as their ultimate goal.
Start developing a portfolio of your work so that you are ready to begin looking for jobs once you graduate. Include only your best work.
Join professional associations such as the Society of Illustrators to access training and networking opportunities, industry publications, and employment opportunities.
Join the Graphic Artists Guild to increase your chances of landing a job and receiving fair pay for your work.
Participate in internships or part-time jobs that are arranged by your college’s career services office.