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How do I Become a Commercial Artist?

By Vicki Hogue-Davies
Updated May 17, 2024
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To become a commercial artist, a good dose of creativity and artistic talent are needed. An understanding of how to communicate ideas and messages visually will help you on the road to become a commercial artist. Recognizing and being OK with the fact that your creations often will be guided by the design vision of an art director, corporation or someone other than yourself is important. Training through a college, university or art school will help you learn specific techniques and the latest technology in the field. Also, a four-year degree often is required to gain employment as an entry-level commercial artist.

Commercial artists work in a wide variety of industries and fields. They do multimedia design for corporations and advertising agencies. They help develop music videos. They provide graphics for anime and video games.

Title artists create lettering and drawings for film and television credits. Commercial artists also provide illustrations for medical and scientific texts. These are just a handful of the artistic jobs under the commercial artist umbrella. Deciding what your interests are and where you fit in is important in your journey to become a commercial artist.

Colleges, universities and art and design schools often provide targeted classes and educational opportunities in specific areas of commercial art. Do some research about different schools and their programs to figure out which one fits your interests and is right for you. Speak with school administrators, professors and students at the schools you are considering, if possible. Find out what kind of internship opportunities and job placement assistance are available.

Make personal connections in the commercial art field that interests you. If you want to work in graphic design, for example, look to join professional industry organizations for graphic designers. Many professional organizations have student chapters that offer reduced rates to join. If you want to be a graphic designer in book or magazine publishing, join industry organizations and attend events in those fields.

A very important element in finding employment as a commercial artist is a portfolio. The portfolio includes samples of your work to show to potential employers. It can be online, an actual book that you carry with you to interviews or both. Quality tops quantity when it comes to putting together a portfolio, so include only your best pieces. Targeting the pieces you include in your portfolio to the specific job for which you are applying can help you to become a commercial artist by showing the potential employer that you understand their needs.

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Discussion Comments

By irontoenail — On Dec 16, 2013

Being a commercial artist is actually extremely hard work. I had several friends who did graphic art degrees at university and they all worked very long hours. I joked that at least they would be able to have a rest when the course was finished, but one of them told me that they give them such intense assignments and so much pressure because that is what the workplace is going to be like. Since you're working to other people's specifications you will always be on a tight deadline and there will always be a lot of pressure.

It is a great job and my friends wouldn't do anything else, but if you like to take it easy or work in a place without much stress, this probably isn't the best way to go.

By clintflint — On Dec 16, 2013

@pleonasm - I don't think that's the only solution. There's a great article out there about Jim Henson and how he managed to marry business and art when he created the muppets. He was doing something creative and artistic that he really loved and he managed to maintain control of his creations, as well as make a fair bit of money.

I think if you are careful about who you work with and what you do, you don't necessarily have to make terrible compromises.

By pleonasm — On Dec 15, 2013

I think it's really important for commercial artists to be able to separate their own art from the art they do for hire. I've run into people who talk about selling out as though it's the worst possible thing you can do creatively, but that isn't true at all. It's possible to do both and just see the commercial art as a job, like any other kind of job.

You just have to be careful to make that distinction, because it can be soul crushing to start thinking of your work as being the same as your art when you don't have any control over it. Your designs can be completely changed or removed or whatever at any moment, so you have to be careful not to be too attached to them.

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