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An overview of the numerous markets that currently exist for illustrators reveals a surprisingly vast and deep pool of potential freelance opportunities. Originally compiled as an aid for my illustration classes at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, the list catalogs many lesser-known, supplementary markets beyond the traditional, more-populated avenues for illustration assignments. Despite limited budgets in some areas, the demand for quality illustration remains high in many esoteric markets. Illustrators with a passion to earn a living by way of their art are forging new career paths as current economics make “specializing” essential.

A brief inventory of the more familiar venues includes editorial illustration, which has changed dramatically since the “golden days” of Norman Rockwell. Yet, today hundreds of smaller trade magazines still rank as potential clients. Book illustration covers commercial, trade and education, while children’s illustration includes books, but can reach beyond to educational publishing. Also, advertising continues to be a strong base.

Comic book and comic strip illustration are distinct, yet similar fields. The comic book artist will usually work with a team of artists, each providing a specialty to the final comic. Comic books cover much more ground than stereotypical “superheroes.” Non-fiction graphic novels, educational comics, children's comics, self-published and underground “zine” publications and even comic books designed to sell products or promote public issues are prevalent. Comic strip artists work individually or in partnership with another writer or artist. Strips branch into markets such as advertising but most are published/syndicated for newspapers and the Web.

Humorists who enjoy cartooning but are not interested in comic books or comic strips, can find a place in the world of humorous illustration. Humorous art touches editorial, advertising, publishing, computer games and toys and limited-edition prints. Similarly, humorous illustrators with an interest in politics can express their viewpoints through political cartooning. The room on this stage is tight, however, and it's best to start locally if one has hopes to enter the state or national scene.

One’s imagination sets the limits for fantasy and science fiction. There’s a worldwide hunger for science fiction, fantasy and new-age/spiritual art. Book covers, magazines, graphic novels, video and computer games, tarot cards, astrology products, Halloween art and religious items barely skim the surface of the demand in this ever-growing emporium. An awareness of the trends will make a career in this genre a reality.

Medical illustration is a technically oriented, science-based art, the importance of which is immeasurable. Its production has evolved significantly over the years and the field remains strong. Medical artists also delineate animal biology.

The unique field of archaeological illustration involves traveling to distant lands, living on-site with archaeologists and rendering all aspects of a geological/archaeological dig. Archaeological art may be the right path for those who love to travel, are enthusiastic about history and science, and who wish to blend those interests with their love of drawing. Botanical illustration is an area for artists with a knowledge of and interest in plants and who can accurately and stylistically render flora of all types. The roots of this market reach into several industries.

Biological illustration and marine biology art address separate scientific disciplines. A biological artist details the microcosmic worlds of the plant, animal and insect kingdoms, while a marine artist depicts both the microcosmic and macrocosmic realms of aquatic life. Those who admire and study birds are well aware of ornithological illustration. Accurate and aesthetically illustrated bird life, in all mediums, is sought after by book publishers and research organizations. Animal illustration ranges from technical animal art to all types of animal/pet portraits for the public; it’s also in demand by the science and publishing trades as well as producers of farm and pet products.

Infographic/technical illustration ranges from informational and instructional imagery to “how-to” assembly drawings. Offshoots include 2-D/3-D charts, graphs and diagrams. A separate category of infographics is courtroom presentation art. Unlike traditional courtroom drawings, the graphics produced are used in trial courts to explain complex cases in layperson’s terms. These artists work with medical people, insurance personnel and others servicing the legal profession.

Licensing artists develop customized art and graphics for t-shirts, skateboards, snowboards, surfboards, hats, jackets, emblems and even those dynamic illustrations on the backboards of pinball machines. A bold style that translates well on all forms of merchandise is essential. A community of artists dedicate their careers to illustrating postage stamps; the US Postal Service holds competitions for new stamps, as do the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the Canadian Postal Service. Map illustration ranges from 2-D informational cartographics to fully illustrated 3-D scenes. With a history that predates the written word as a means of visual storytelling, historians credit illustrated maps as the oldest form of art.

Perspective artists concentrate on architecture and building cutaways for construction-related publishing and advertising clients, while exhibition design artists render presentations for museum exhibits, diorama displays and theater stage sets. This type of illustrator works under the direction of a museum, theater group, historical site or retail/commercial firm.

Automobile illustration of contemporary and classic cars is a niche for related magazines, books and prints. Employment at an auto manufacturer might also involve illustrating designs of new vehicles. Artists who create customized vehicle graphics are highly sought-after by car, motorcycle and truck enthusiasts. The best way to learn this trade is to apprentice at an existing shop for a few years. From drawing on someone’s car to drawing on someone’s body, a career as a tattoo artist is a field that requires little explanation.

Well-delineated historical illustration is needed by books, magazines, historical organizations and educational institutions. Closely related to this field is the category of military illustration, which involves historical or contemporary scenes of military life and/or battle depictions. Artists fond of watercraft might seek a career in nautical illustration, rendering maritime subjects from small boats to cruise ships. Similarly, there is the specialized field of aeronautical illustration.

Portraits of dignitaries, industrialists, celebrities, political figures, as well as portraits or caricatures of the common person are produced for numerous clienteles. Documentary illustration involves courtroom drawing, police sketch art, caricatures and any type of illustration created on-location. Sports illustration spans editorial, publishing and galleries; specialties include golf course landscapes, cartoon/comical sports art, fitness instructional drawings and historical images of sports personalities.

Product illustration is a specialized field servicing advertising, industrial and commercial accounts with detailed views of existing or proposed products. Some artists focus solely on food; national restaurant chains, food manufacturers, cookbook publishers, ad agencies, wineries and dining and travel magazines exemplify the types of companies seeking food art. Fashion drawings are not always created by fashion designers. Manufacturers hire artists to illustrate new design creations while retail chains commission illustrations of fashions they carry. Connected to this industry, the fabric pattern artist fills an avid need for new textile designs and patterns.

Greeting card and gift illustration is art created for cards, wall coverings, paper plates, napkins, calendars, school supplies, holiday banners and shopping bags. It also includes the collectible market with designs for figurines and chinaware.

Fine artists work on self-initiated projects such as landscape, still life and figurative imagery. The limited-edition print artist is the most independent, in complete control of subject matter, marketing and even the financing of print production (unless contracted by a licensing distributor).

Sidewalk artists liven the festivities of public occasions with their varied styles. “Anamorphic” is a new form of sidewalk art (stretched images that look 3-D when seen from a specific point of view). From drawing on a sidewalk to drawing on a wall, the career of a muralist includes working for educational institutions, corporations, city and town beautification committees, urban property owners, retailers and homeowners.

Feature films are not the only outlets for animators. Educational films, computer games, commercials and training films for industry and government also employ animators. A storyboard artist works on-site with a film’s director and cinematographer to interpret every scene for a movie. Other clients for storyboard art include ad agencies, educational filmmakers and television. Finally, concept artists create characters, vehicles, props and environments for use in video games and movies. All fictional worlds need concept art for their design aspects.

A web search of any markets listed will uncover obscure, satellite markets not mentioned here. In addition, illustration “societies” exist for most markets (The Society of Architectural Illustrators, The National Cartoonists Society). Art societies reveal detailed information about their specialties. In the end, it’s most important to honor what you love to do. Artists should not choose a market simply for monetary reasons, or because one’s peers are influencing a decision. An illustrator’s interests must come from the heart so that love will emanate in the work. ca

Author’s note: Many thanks to Murray Tinkelman for his input and consultation.

John Roman (john@johnromanillustration.com) is a freelance illustrator who specializes in technical, architectural and illustrated map art. His clients have included Time, the US National Parks Service, Marriott Hotels, Golf Digest and The Thoreau Society. Roman is also an assistant professor of illustration at Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston. He has won many awards from the Society of Illustrators, the American Society of Illustrators and Communication Arts. Roman wrote the Business column.

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