What is an illustrator?

You may have heard the term before, but what does an illustrator actually do?

The world of visual arts is so broad that there are many professions in the field. Photographer, sculptor, graphic artist, and don’t even get me started on painters. If you think you might be interested in illustration but aren’t too sure what you’re getting into, then keep reading!


Simply put, an illustrator is a visual artist creating two-dimensional work for either individuals or companies to convey a specific message. They can use various mediums and their work is typically showcased in books, magazines, advertisements or even fashion. The scope of illustration is very broad, but it’s typical to find illustrators who specialize in a certain field. Though this post does not cover all there is to illustration, it gives you an idea of what it is and what to do to become an illustrator.

Tasks of an illustrator

An illustrator’s work definitely isn’t easy, though it is very rewarding. First off, it’s important to create an artist portfolio so that future clients have an idea of their work. Also, they must meet with clients to discuss various projects. They have the responsibility to provide their own equipment and make sure they possess all the tools to get the job done. Another task is to provide the client with initial sketches to give them an idea of the final product and make any necessary changes while it is still possible.
Some projects can be more complex than others, and so illustrators might sometimes have to conduct research to ensure they properly understand the project’s requirements and can therefore produce the best outcome. Finally, illustrators also need to take care of the business side of things – at least for those who don’t have a manager or agent who can do that for them. That includes negotiations, sending invoices and managing their platforms. 

Me sketching my Artsy Amani character

Types of illustrators

As mentioned before, the world of illustration is very wide, and so there are all types of illustrators. Here is a short list of some of the most common ones: 
Book illustrator: As the name implies, they work on books, from those intended for children to those for adults. They usually work hand-in-hand with the author to take care of all the illustrations in the book
Medical illustrator: This branch is much more specific and requires medical knowledge. These illustrators usually work on realistic posters in medical cabinets or even those in textbooks showing the human anatomy and everything linked to it
Fashion illustrator: This type of illustrator will take care of creating the design for various clothing apparel. Though they are not fashion designers, they work closely with fashion designers to create sketches of different types of clothes and accessories
Product illustrator: This category takes care of the visual appeal of various products, such as the design of the product itself and the design of its packaging. They can also create marketing tools – like posters and brochures – for the product.

Do you have what it takes?

We’ve already seen what the tasks of an illustrator are, but it’s also important to understand what skills are required for this profession. First off, you need to be creative. This job requires you to constantly create new work, so if you have trouble getting your creative juices flowing, that might be a problem. Next, you’ll need to have good sketching skills. Remember, it’s important to give your client an idea of the final product right from the beginning. If your sketches are hard to make out, or worse, nonexistent, then consider getting some practice on that.
Another important skill is good knowledge of colour theory. Though there are many types of illustrators, they nearly all work with colour. Thus, it’s important to understand the meaning each colour has and know which combinations are the best. One last skill to mention is discipline. You need to be able to push yourself and make sure you meet your deadlines. Illustrators often work as freelancers, which means they are their own bosses. Not having someone to check if they clocked in on time or if they are getting the job done can sometimes bite them in the back. Always make sure you have a healthy workflow that allows you to stay organized and on time.

Image of a weekly planner
You can use a weekly planner to stray on track

Still up for it?

If you’ve read this far and are more excited than frightened, then maybe you’re up for the job. Now the question is: how does one become an illustrator? Honestly, there is no set road map. Some have gone to art school whereas others are completely self-taught. The main thing you will need to do – and this is applicable for any art career – is to practise. Practice will help you constantly improve your art and grow as an artist. This will also help you create your portfolio, which will be essential to find potential clients. You need to show people what you can do, and make them want your services. After that, make sure you network by going to events where potential clients might be. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and approach people, you’d be surprised by the outcome!