Illustration internships are a great way to start your creative career. If you are looking to gain valuable hands-on experience, network with professionals or explore different specializations, an internship may be worth considering.
An internship is a temporary, entry-level position that a company offers to undergraduate or graduate students. Since the purpose is to gain career experience, the work may be paid or unpaid. These often happen during the summer but can sometimes take place during the academic year on a part-time basis or as shortened programs that span a few days or weeks.
Even though you may think internships are only for business careers, it is becoming increasingly common for students in creative fields to pursue them too. In fact, the Strategic National Arts Alumni Project estimates that almost 70% of art school graduates had internships during college.
In this article, you will dive into a few facts about illustration careers, including the benefits of illustration internships, how to prepare and how to step into the field confidently after graduation.
Choosing Careers in Illustration
Are you an artistic person with a knack for clear communication and problem-solving? If so, a career in illustration might be a great fit.
Although illustration is closely related to graphic design, the two fields have distinct differences. An illustrator creates art for many purposes, including websites, advertisements, books, magazines or technical manuals. While an illustrator sketches to inspire or inform, a graphic designer uses creativity to market businesses and create recognizable branding.
What Do Illustrators Do?
Illustrators create visual materials to accompany text or ideas. They work with their clients to understand a project, brainstorm samples, set timelines and deliver a unique product by the due date. Most illustrators use computer programs and traditional methods like paint and colored pencils.
Job growth for illustrators is slower than in most other industries. This field is projected to grow by about 6.8% by 2026. Since it can be a very competitive space, most illustrators create a unique aesthetic to set themselves apart from the crowd.
Within the illustration field, the artist may choose one of the following specializations.
- Product illustrators create material for commercials, advertisements and brochures. These professionals know that products and processes are better understood when text is combined with clear visuals. Illustrations are especially helpful when walking people through situations that are confusing, frustrating or distracting.
- Book illustrators create the art found in books, most often children’s books. These artists can work as freelancers or for a publishing company and play an integral role in a book’s creation.
- Fashion illustrators create drawings to represent the fashion industry. These images are often used for advertising purposes in magazines or blogs. Fashion houses may also employ illustrators to bring new campaign ideas to life on paper.
- Medical illustrators sketch diagrams of body parts for use in hospitals, textbooks and art exhibits. The drawings are realistic and accurate since their purpose is to inform the audience.
- Technical illustrators create blueprints, diagrams and manuals. This specialization often combines art with computer-aided drafting software.
- Editorial illustrators work primarily for magazines, journals and other written publications. They create pictures and diagrams that coincide with text and help readers better understand complex political, scientific or abstract concepts.
What Skills Do Illustrators Need?
Illustrators are versatile professionals, and the job requires several key skills. Although they are artists at heart, illustrators need to have technical knowledge and business insight to succeed. He or she must also be creative, with a unique style that is brought to life through art. Since some projects will have challenging components, the ability to solve complex problems using innovative solutions is a plus.
Illustrators work collaboratively with clients, making clear communication skills essential. Understanding and communicating project goals and limitations is key to keeping clients happy.
Technical skills are also in high demand since most artists use a combination of hand drawing techniques and computer programs to work. The most common programs are Adobe Photoshop, ArtRage 5, Corel Painter, AutodeskSketchBook, Adobe Illustrator and Affinity Photo for iPad.
Finally, business skills, such as marketing and networking, ensure that freelance or self-employed illustrators can find a steady stream of clients.
Where Do Illustrators Work?
Most illustrators in the United States are concentrated in three places: California, New York and Florida. Some are self-employed and work from home, creating art for various clients. Others work for publishing companies, fashion houses, hospitals or even engineering firms. Since illustration is necessary for many fields, illustrators work in a variety of places and industries.
How Much Do Illustrators Make?
While the pay can vary depending on seniority and skill, the average illustrator makes about $22 per hour, which amounts to about $45,000 annually. High earners (in the 90th percentile) can make up to $60 per hour, which is over $119,800 each year. Illustration internships can help prospective students network and find higher-paying jobs after graduation.
On average, illustrators make less than other creative professionals, including industrial designers, architects and camera operators. However, they usually make more than museum conservators.
Understanding Benefits of Illustration Internships
Modern-day internships have their roots in medieval times when young people would labor for older craftsmen in exchange for knowledge and training. Today, illustration internships provide young professionals with similar on-the-job training and guidance.
Between learning job skills, making connections and boosting confidence, interning has many benefits, with the biggest possibly being job placement. According to a study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 60% of those in a paid internship received a job offer from the company upon graduation.
Experience working for a real company is invaluable in today’s complex career landscape, especially since many employers want candidates with on-the-job training. Working alongside a professional is often the best way to learn.
Internships offer numerous benefits for companies too. In this symbiotic relationship, companies benefit from discounted labor, while students benefit from college credits and experience. And today’s interns are not just getting coffee or filing papers, either. According to estimates by NACE, modern interns spend over 90% of their time doing hands-on projects like creating, strategizing and problem-solving.
According to recent surveys, up to 80% of working professionals agree that networking is key to career success. Illustration internships help students make valuable career connections that can last a lifetime.
Having a robust network of contacts is important when you are looking for job opportunities after graduation. It is also valuable to have industry professionals who are willing to assist when you need guidance or have questions at work.
For companies, internships help to keep talent in the hiring pipeline. It is expensive to locate new employees and even more expensive if a company hires the wrong person. The United States Department of Labor reports that hiring the wrong candidate can cost a company about 30% of that person’s first-year salary.
Many college students do not know which career path to pursue. Internships are beneficial because they give students a closer look into a particular field. After interning, sometimes they might realize the job is not a great fit and can make changes accordingly.
Many interns leave their programs feeling confident about their skills and experience. This can help students navigate the tricky interview process after graduation.
Preparing for Illustration Internships
Illustration internships can be competitive, especially if they are paid. Preparing for your interview is essential to scoring a great opportunity.
Start Searching Early
Illustration internships are typically completed during the student’s junior or senior year of college. This makes sense since most participants hope their experiences will lead to job offers with the company. If you are a younger student and want to apply, that is fine too. In fact, it is becoming more common for first- and second-year student college students to complete internships.
If you are interested in a fall internship, consider applying before you leave campus for summer break. Similarly, students looking to complete one in the spring should apply in the fall or at the beginning of winter break. Generally, summer internships tend to be the most competitive, and some have deadlines as early as fall. However, the most common months to apply for summer positions are January through March.
There are also programs called “micro-internships” that are for specific projects. Often lasting no longer than a week, these smaller engagements can be helpful if your school or work schedule is demanding and you have limited time.
Decide Between Paid or Unpaid
Internships can either be paid or unpaid. As a general rule, if the company benefits most from the arrangement, the DOL requires that they appropriately compensate the work.
Conversely, if the student benefits the most, it is legal for the role to be unpaid. Despite these guidelines, research shows that about 43% of internships offered at profitable companies do not pay their interns.
More universities than ever before are now requiring internships before graduation. In this circumstance, since the student is gaining school credit, the roles can legally be unpaid.
Stand Out From the Crowd
No matter the career field, a single internship can attract thousands of applicants. In fact, high-profile ones such as those at the White House or CNN accept less than 1% of students who apply. In the art field, the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s most recent paid internship received 1,700 applications, but they could only fill 40 positions.
Considering these numbers, you need to stand out from the sea of competition. Here are a few tips:
- Create a personal website. It has never been easier to put together an online portfolio to showcase your work. As an art major, you should include sample sketches and your past projects. Always let your unique personality shine through!
- Network effectively. Throughout college, focus on building your professional network. This group can include professors, family friends, neighbors and more. Do not be afraid to use social media, especially LinkedIn, to find and connect with professionals in your desired field.
- Update your resume. Your resume needs to make a great first impression, since the average hiring manager decides within five seconds to continue with the candidate or move on. Your resume should be professional, organized and accurate. Do not use an unprofessional email address, and do not include a photo (it is estimated that 88% of resumes with a photo are rejected).
- Ask for advice and feedback. If you are offered an interview but don’t get the position, take this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Ask the hiring manager for feedback and use this information to better yourself and hone your skills.
During Illustration Internships
Whether you’re completing a summer internship or just a weeklong stint, seek to do the following things to make the most of your limited time.
- Ask questions. This is your opportunity to really dig into the career. Ask questions, take notes and be present and engaged each day.
- Take on projects. Illustration internships are full of learning opportunities, but you can learn even more by taking on special assignments. Sharpen your leadership skills by asking to lead an initiative, act as a client liaison or tackle a project that has been on the back burner for the team.
- Make connections. Since many ultimately lead to job offers, it’s essential to make connections at the company. Ask teammates to join you for lunch, sit in on meetings and attend company social events if you’re allowed.
Completing the Internship
Once your illustration internship concludes, you’ll feel more prepared for upcoming job opportunities. Always send thank-you emails to your managers and mentors to let them know your appreciation for the opportunity. Connect with your teammates on social media (especially LinkedIn), so you can stay in touch. And don’t forget to add the new experience to your resume!
Finding Illustration Internships
Illustration internships offer students valuable professional experience and networking opportunities. If you’re looking to step into this creative position, an internship is a great place to start. Be sure to check out FutureSprout for more great career tips and expert advice.