So you love to draw and paint. You've probably toyed with the idea of making a living with your art, but you don't know where to begin. Your day job wears you down; you weren't cut out for life trapped inside a cubicle -- you've been coloring outside the lines all your life. You checked out a couple of children's books, and you know you can create illustrations just as good -- if not better -- than some of those illustrators. While you can certainly make a living as a book illustrator, the path starts out a bit rocky and slow, as most book illustrators work on a freelance basis. Besides being a good artist, you'll need to know how to market your illustrations to the right people.
The federal government provides a good source for information about salaries for illustrators, but it's only a national average -- and it groups several artistic disciplines together. An illustrator's salary depends on the type of employment she has. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics pointed out in May of 2012 that illustrators, grouped together with painters, sculptors and fine artists, averaged $25.96 per hour, or roughly $54,000 per year. But that's only if the illustrator worked in a full-time job.
Illustrator salaries also vary by region. Illustrators in California earned an average of $65,670 per year in 2012, and those in New York made $66,600, while in Washington the mean wage was much higher, at $69,830. Illinois illustrators averaged $49,400, while those in Florida earned even less, at $32,490. Illustrators earn more money in California, New York and Washington, because those states have more jobs available and a higher cost of living. Some illustrators take on jobs at advertising agencies or graphic arts studios to make a living while they start up their freelance business during their off hours.
Children's Book Publishers
When you work with a publisher -- a market that takes skill breaking into -- you can receive an advance for your book. But you'll share the advance on a first book with the author, and it only runs between $8,000 and $12,000. You receive royalties as well, between 3 and 6 percent, the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators reports, but you won't start receiving royalties until the book's earned back the advance. But traditional print publishing is losing ground to electronic publishing, where you can self-publish your work much more easily. When you upload your book to e-book sites, you can keep the larger percent of royalties on book sales yourself, up to as much as 70 percent per book, depending on the platform you use.
Artists and illustrators usually don't require formal schooling if they have talent, but an education helps an illustrator to develop her skills. Besides a high school diploma, many illustrators earn a bachelor's or master's degree in fine arts or attend art schools to learn illustration techniques, enhance their talents and improve their job opportunities. If you decide to attend a post-econdary art school, make certain it has accreditation from the National Association of Schools of Art and Design, with 333 art institutions and accredited schools in its membership.
While you work your day job, pursue your artistic passions on the side to build up your business. With e-book sales now surpassing hard-copy book sales -- children's illustrated books included -- many freelance children's authors need book illustrations. Freelance illustrator websites offer you the chance to start your freelance business. Some book illustrators charge as little as $5 to $20 for the first illustration just to get a foot in the door with a client. After exposure and experience, you can negotiate higher fees for a series of book illustrations. If you commit yourself to your passion -- with time the "starving artist" adage won't apply to you -- you could be making a six-figure salary.
2016 Salary Information for Craft and Fine Artists
Craft and fine artists earned a median annual salary of $49,250 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, craft and fine artists earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,210, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $70,210, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 53,300 people were employed in the U.S. as craft and fine artists.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2012 27-1013 Fine Artists, Including Painters, Sculptors, and Illustrators
- Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators: How Much Money Will I Make On My First Book?
- Kindle Direct Publishing: Enter Pricing Information
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Craft or Fine Artist
- National Association of Schools of Art and Design: FAQ
- MediaBistro: eBook Revenues Top Hardcover
- Upstart Business Journals: Children's Book Illustrator
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Craft and Fine Artists
- Career Trend: Craft and Fine Artists
As a native Californian, artist, journalist and published author, Laurie Brenner began writing professionally in 1975. She has written for newspapers, magazines, online publications and sites. Brenner graduated from San Diego's Coleman College.