Illustration Degree

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Illustration Degree Overview

A degree in illustration provides individuals with the skills and education necessary to work commercially as an artist. Illustrators must have an understanding of art both in the practical and theoretical sense. A student studying illustration will be give instruction on how to capture form on paper, understanding color, working with various mediums including painting, and how to bring together a composition. Most programs will also provide courses on the commercial applications of illustration for various fields.

What is the Difference Between an Illustrator and Graphic Designer?

While both an illustrator and graphic designer perform design work, their professions are different given the areas of specialty of each.  For example, an illustrator will perform an array of duties for a commercial agency such as a magazine publisher, advertising agency, product manufacturer, or comic book publisher.

Duties of an illustrator include the drawing, development, and integration of visual elements to meet customer expectations.  A graphic designer, on the other hand, will perform design work specific to elements and structures with concentrations in web development, product design, or publication design.

Top Illustration Degrees

If you are considering a future as an illustrator, it is important to take the time to collect information about degrees available in the field of study.  Illustrators can choose from an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, or master’s degree from a number of accredited colleges and universities.  Program requirements will vary from school to school but will tend to share the same core components of illustration principles.

Associate Degree in Illustration

An associate degree in illustration is a 2-year program conferred as an Associate of Arts (AA) or an Associate of Fine Arts (AFA).  The two-year program will provide a mixture of core studio courses along with liberal arts education elements such as critical reasoning, English composition, history, communications, math, and psychology to provide a well-balanced education for students.

Core classes will provide students fundamental skills in areas of illustration such as drawing, art history, art, painting, sculpting, visual computing, history of illustration, and visual storytelling.  Graduating from an accredited college or university with an AA in illustration will help students begin their journey in the field of study in a number of entry-level positions from an editorial illustrator to fashion illustrator.

Bachelor Degree in Illustration

A bachelor’s degree in illustration will be conferred as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) depending on the school’s curricular design and program emphasis.  The bachelor degree is a 4-year program for full-time students and will take part-time students longer to complete the degree program depending on course load and pace.

Students in a BA or BFA program will take a number of general education courses in classes as anatomy, history, literature, creative writing, and sociology in addition to core curriculum.  The core classes in a bachelor’s degree program will typically include the following: digital coloring, hand lettering, etching, monoprint, advanced perspective, drawing with ink, watercolor techniques, figurative sculpture, modern illumination, collage illustration, digital painting, photocopy zines, low-tech illustration, storyboarding, artistic anatomy, character illustration, animal drawing, and computer imaging.

Students graduating with a BFA or BA in illustration will be equipped with requisite conceptual, communication, and technical design chops to make an impact in a wide variety of organizations.  Students will hone their craft by creating salient, effective content for various digital and print applications leveraging rich imagery for a company’s product, story, brand, or service.

Master Degree in Illustration

The master’s degree in illustration is typically a 2-3 year program for full-time students that that focuses on enhancing technical, conceptual, and research skills in the field.  The master’s degree is conferred as a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) or Master of Arts (MA) at accredited colleges and universities.

Core programs in the master’s degree track include upper-level classes such as: drawing critique, creative drawing, computer illustration, creative writing, painting, studio workshops, digital books, and storytelling.  During the second year of the master’s degree program, students will begin to work on their thesis project in illustration and continue the evolution of the thesis project through completion.

Graduate programs in illustration are for professionals in the field or qualifying students with work experience that are looking to advance in their field of study, upskill, remain relevant, or prepare for an upcoming job transition.

Employment Opportunities for Illustrators

A degree in illustration provides graduated with far more options to find gainful employment in the field as degree programs involve multiple mediums and a more in depth understanding of art.  Often, if all else is equal, employers will choose a degree holder for employment due to their experience and discipline throughout their career in art school.

Additionally, degree holders tend to show more refinement in their work and have a broader base from which to draw experience from when working, thus require less training to accomplish tasks.

An illustrator who invests the time and energy to learn computer programs for illustration and animation tend to have more employment opportunities than those without these vital skills. The adoption of digital media by most studios, private firms, and others means that the more technically savvy the artist, the more likely he or she is to find work.

Job opportunities for an illustration major include the following:

  • Illustrator
  • Graphic Designer
  • Animator
  • Storyboard Artist
  • Pre-Visualization Specialist

Due to the nature of illustration there is no average wage available from the BLS. The varying nature of the work and the abilities of the artist often dictate one's wage.  Data gathered by Glassdoor indicates a median wage for illustrators to be just over $53,000 per year.  Further, salaried illustrators average approximately $42,000 per year, where as art directors tend to average $90,000 per year.  Students interested in illustration may also be interested in art history, commercial art, fine art, graphic design, advertising, and animation.

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Career Summary: Illustration Major




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