Become a Commercial Artist: Education and Career Roadmap

Oct 20, 2021

Should I Become a Commercial Artist?

Commercial artists work for advertising agencies and public relations firms. These artists create visual images and layouts for magazines, websites, commercials and advertisements. Their work may also include creating graphics, putting up photographs and making illustrations. Positions can be freelance or salaried. Competition for jobs and assignments might be stiff, and travel may be involved.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Graphic design, photography
Experience Develop a strong portfolio
Key Skills Must be creative and organized, have the ability to work on projects and communicate effectively with clients and be proficient in several different software programs, including Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign
Salary $43,890 (Annual median salary of Fine Artists in May 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (June 2012).

Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

While there are not typically formal requirements to become an artist, aspiring commercial artists might need to earn a bachelor's degree. Prospective commercial artists often pursue degrees in graphic design or photography. While the graphic design program will focus more on the technical aspects of art, photography programs will teach students about drawing and taking pictures. Both programs will teach students about color, composition and lighting. Students will also learn how to use various software programs and digital art concepts.

Success Tip:

  • Participate in an internship. Creating art for commercial operations requires communicating with clients, maintaining a schedule and meeting deadlines. Working under the supervision of an experienced commercial artist can give students an understanding of what it takes to work on their own once they've completed their degree.

Step 2: Develop a Portfolio

When applying for a job, the portfolio may be the determining factor on whether or not a commercial artist is hired. It will showcase an applicant's artistic skills and demonstrate to employers their creative abilities. To create a portfolio, individuals will put together their best work from classes or art that they've created on their own. It's also an opportunity to show one's proficiency with different types of software programs, like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator or InDesign. Professional work in a portfolio will be viewed more favorably than work completed during a degree program.

Step 3: Continue Training for Career Advancement

As individuals gain more creative, artistic and technical skills, it's important that they add new items to their portfolio in order to continue to foster creativity and remain marketable. Commercial artists often have the challenging task of promoting themselves, especially in freelance work. Basic marketing and business knowledge, combined with a quality portfolio, can help increase exposure to their work and grow their client base.

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