Approximately 28,600 fine artists, including illustrators, are employed in the United States, a majority of whom are self-employed. Illustrators who are not self-employed work in advertising agencies, design firms, commercial art and reproduction firms, or printing and publishing firms. They are also employed in the motion picture and television industries, wholesale and retail trade establishments, and public relations firms.
Medical illustrators are employed at hospitals, medical centers, schools, laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, medical and scientific publishers, law firms, and advertising agencies. Fashion illustrators are employed at magazines, newspapers, and catalog companies.
Graduates of illustration programs should develop a portfolio of their work to show to prospective employers or clients, or create a Web site that touts their artistic abilities. Most schools offer career counseling and job placement assistance to their graduates. Job ads and employment agencies are also potential sources for locating work.
Medical illustrators can also find job placement assistance with the Association of Medical Illustrators (AMI). In addition to the job leads, AMI also provides certification that is often preferred by employers.
After an illustrator gains experience, he or she will be given more challenging and unusual work. Those with strong computer skills will have the best chances for advancement. Illustrators can advance by developing skills in a specialized area, or even starting their own business. Illustrators can also go into teaching, in colleges and universities at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Others become art directors, who work with artists, designers, photographers, and text editors to develop visual images and generate copy.
While still in in high school, regularly dedicate time to drawing, painting, and learning about illustration.
Talk to professional illustrators in your community or in nearby areas to learn more about the work and business of illustration.
Familiarize yourself with the history of illustration and how illustration is used commercially. Visit museums and study the illustrations in advertisements, books, and online.
Participate in the Association of Medical Illustrators' mentor program to develop your professional skills and make industry contacts.