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From Sketches to Success: A Guide To Pursuing a Career in Illustration

Young girl drawing by table with computer and ipad
Professional Illustrators work in a range of industries, such as publishing, advertising, fashion, gaming, and more. Pursuing a career in illustration can be a great way to combine your artistic talents with your passion for storytelling.

Aspiring artists who have a knack for visual storytelling may find a fulfilling career as an illustrator. Illustrators create visual representations of ideas, stories, or concepts, often using different mediums and styles. But what does it take to become a successful illustrator?

What is illustration and why pursue it as a career?

Illustrators are artists who use their creativity to produce visual imagery for various purposes.

Professional Illustrators work in a range of industries, such as publishing, advertising, fashion, gaming, and more. Pursuing a career in illustration can be a great way to combine your artistic talents with your passion for storytelling.

What tasks might an illustrator undertake?

The workload and variety of tasks for an illustrator will change frequently, but some of the tasks they undertake may include:

  • Creating illustrations for books, magazines, or newspapers
  • Designing characters and backgrounds for animation or gaming
  • Developing visuals for advertising campaigns or marketing materials
  • Producing storyboards for films or television shows
  • Crafting artwork for products such as toys, greeting cards, or apparel

What is the difference between an illustrator and a graphic designer?

Before delving deeper into the world of illustration, it is essential to understand the difference between graphic design and illustration. Graphic design and illustration are two closely related but distinct fields within the realm of visual communication.

While both graphic design and illustration involve creating visual content, they differ in their objectives, techniques, purpose, and focus.

What is graphic design?

Graphic design is the art and practice of creating visual content to communicate information or ideas to a specific audience. It involves using typography, images, colour, and layout to create designs for various mediums such as print, digital media, and advertising.

Graphic designers are primarily concerned with creating visual solutions to convey information and promote a brand or product.

What is illustration?

Illustration, on the other hand, is the art of creating visual representations of a concept or idea, often in a stylised or imaginative way. It is more focused on creating imaginative or artistic images that evoke emotions or tell a story.

Illustrators emphasise visual storytelling through images, whether it be in a narrative or standalone context. They may use a variety of media, including traditional techniques such as drawing or painting, or digital illustrations using graphic tablets or 3D software.

While there is some overlap between the two fields, the skills and techniques used by graphic designers and illustrators are distinct, and professionals typically specialise in one or the other.

What are the career paths in illustration?

Illustration offers a wide range of career paths. Some of the most common career paths for illustrators include:

  • Children's book illustrator
  • Editorial illustrator
  • Medical illustrator
  • Advertising illustrator
  • Concept artist for video games and animation
  • Storyboard artist for film and television
  • Fashion illustrator
  • Freelance illustrator

What are the skills needed to be a professional illustrator?

Illustration is a popular and exciting field for those who have a talent for creating visual art. But what are the must-have skills that every aspiring illustrator should master to succeed in this competitive industry?

Here are some essential skills you'll need to develop to pursue a career in illustration:

Ability to draw

The most important skill for any illustrator is the ability to draw well. Whether it's pencil sketches, digital illustrations or watercolour paintings, being able to translate ideas into visually appealing images is the foundation of illustration.

Knowledge of design principles

A good illustrator should have a solid understanding of design principles such as colour theory, composition, and typography. Understanding these principles will help you create visually cohesive and effective illustrations.


Illustration is a creative field, and the ability to come up with unique and engaging ideas is essential. Whether you're working on children's books, editorial illustrations or advertising campaigns, you'll need to be able to think outside the box and bring fresh ideas to the table.


As an illustrator, you'll need to be able to adapt to different styles and mediums. The ability to work with a range of mediums such as watercolours, digital software or ink is important. Being able to adapt to different styles is also necessary, as clients will often have different preferences and requirements.

Knowledge of design software

Most illustration work today is done digitally. Therefore, it is essential to have a good understanding of design software like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, and Procreate.

How can I pursue a successful career in illustration?

Aspiring to become an illustrator is an exciting venture for those who love to express their creativity through
drawing, painting, and other forms of visual art. Illustrators are in high demand, especially in the fields of advertising, publishing, animation, and multimedia.

If you have a passion for art and enjoy telling stories through pictures, then pursuing a career in illustration might be right for you.

Here's a guide to help you get started in your illustration career:

Develop your illustration skills

To succeed in the world of illustration, it's essential to have strong drawing and painting skills. It's important to practice regularly and learn new techniques to improve your skills. Take the time to practice drawing and experiment with different mediums, such as pencils, markers, paints, and digital software. Develop your skills in anatomy, perspective, shading, and colour theory to create visually appealing and engaging illustrations.

Take an illustration degree

An illustration degree can help you build a strong portfolio, learn new techniques, and connect with other artists and professionals in the field. Many universities and colleges in Australia offer illustration degrees, which can provide you with the opportunity to learn from experienced artists, gain access to industry-standard software and equipment, and attend workshops and events.

Build a portfolio

A portfolio is a collection of your best work that showcases your skills and style. It is an essential tool for any illustrator when seeking employment opportunities. Your portfolio should demonstrate your versatility and range of skills, including different mediums, styles, and subjects. You may consider creating a website or using online platforms to display your portfolio, making it accessible to potential clients and employers.

Stay up to date

The world of illustration is continuously evolving, with new trends, tools, and technologies emerging all the time. It's important to stay up to date with the latest industry news and changes.

You can do this by following industry leaders, reading industry blogs and magazines, and attending relevant events and conferences.

Studying Illustration at Melbourne Polytechnic will allow you to develop your folio, exhibit works in galleries and learn within a vibrant creative hub. Offering a Certificate III in Visual Arts CUA31120, Certificate IV in Visual Arts CUA41320, Diploma of Visual Arts - Illustration CUA51120 and a Bachelor of Illustration HEVAILL, our programs will also teach you the advertising and promotion skills required to set up your own business.


Melbourne Polytechnic's Illustration courses, including the only Bachelor of Illustration in Australia, will guide you through concepts of illustration, painting, printmaking, digital imaging, editorial illustration, freehand drawing, and computer technologies.

Certificate IV in Visual Arts CUA41320
Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
VTAC Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
Our Certificate IV in Visual Arts CUA41320 will help you build upon foundational artistic techniques and refine your artistic practice. You’ll advance your skills in drawing, illustration, printmaking, painting, design and digital imaging and photography. This broad range of media and processes will help you find your artistic strengths, and is supported by units in art history and professional practice.
Certificate III in Visual Arts CUA31120
Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
The Certificate III in Visual Arts CUA31120 course is designed to introduce students to a range of art forms and develop skills and confidence in using a range of techniques. The course has a practical hands-on focus where students are provided with highly structured tasks and in-depth instruction by specialist subject teachers.
Diploma of Visual Arts - Illustration CUA51120
Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
VTAC Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Preston
Push the boundaries of your art practice and develop your artistic skills and techniques. Work towards becoming an illustrator or designer in our Diploma of Visual Arts CUA51120 at Melbourne Polytechnic. Be bold and brave – follow your passion, it could lead anywhere.
Bachelor of Illustration
Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Fairfield
VTAC Visual Art - Full Time, Part Time - Fairfield
Let the Bachelor of Illustration at Melbourne Polytechnic draw you in. Develop your practical skills and knowledge to a high level and engage in research based practice that will enhance your capacity to see the world in a different way. This unique degree also addresses business practice and opportunities for entrepreneurship in today’s creative arts industry