Before You Choose a Visual Art Career

Young female artist drawing jewelry design in sketch book
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Do you think you have what it takes for a career in art? As a hobby art is fun, but a professional in a competitive environment has to be 'a cut above' the rest, and you will need to develop real marketable skills. Creative careers can be challenging and rewarding. Remember that as well as being an 'artist', there are other creative, and sometimes lucrative, avenues to explore. Here are a few points to consider and discuss with your career counsellor.

Consider Your Personality and Aptitude

When choosing an art field you need to assess your own character and talents. A freelance artist has to be self-motivated, confident and organised, and able to manage their own business. Working in a company has many benefits, such as superannuation and regular work hours. Graphic and industrial design pay well and are often creative and exciting, though creativity must serve a commercial purpose

Consider the Lifestyle You Want

Do you want a family and financial security? Do you reject materialism or prefer to spend money freely? Who do you like to be around? Do you want to work from home, in the city or perhaps travel? Don't be seduced by romantic ideals of the creative life. Do serious investigation into the careers you consider, as the arts are generally misrepresented in the media and literature. There are creative choices that ensure more secure incomes, and others that involve independence and financial risk.

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Fine Artist

Fine Artists often don't make much money, sacrificing luxury in favor of creative expression. Fine Artists spend many hours working alone in the studio to communicate ideas and feelings with the world through their art. You will need to be able to support yourself by developing practical skills such as portraiture, photography or teaching until you develop a market, though this is less of a problem for traditional, atelier-trained painters than for contemporary artists.

Graphic Design

A graphic designer can earn a good salary, working in a busy, usually city office with high-energy people in an intense, competitive environment. They work on advertising images, product packaging, signs and so on. Graphic artists usually do a specialist university course to learn things like design principles, use of text (fonts), communications theory (psychology of advertising) and photography. Computer skills are very important as much design work is created on a computer.

Industrial Design

An industrial designer combines artistic skills with a practical understanding of materials and manufacturing, designing all kinds of objects and products from toys to household appliances, though usually specialising in one area. You need to be able to visualise object in 3 dimensions, and have solid technical drawing and CAD skills.

Cartooning and Animation

Cartooning and animation are competitive fields, but a talented artist can make an excellent income. First-class training is essential, with drawing being regarded as a vital skill. A great deal of work is digitally produced so computer skills are also important. There are many roles within the field, with teamwork a feature of both print media and film productions.


It isn't easy for an illustrator to get published. A unique, eye-catching style and ability to visualise an author's characters would be a plus. Those interested in realism might consider scientific illustration, which combines traditional art skills as well as computer graphics to produce botanical, medical and other illustrations for texts, brochures, reference books etc. Most illustrators have studied Graphic Design at a university level.

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Think Outside the Box

Whatever job you choose, identify the skills required (contact professional organisations, companies or employment agencies) and find out where you should study to have the best prospects. Don't jump into an interesting course to find out later that it takes you nowhere. Don't forget to consider other related avenues such as teaching, fashion design, architecture and much more, depending on your other interests - ask your careers counsellor for guidance.

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