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Visual artists use a variety of methods and materials to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings, including computers, oils, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, magic markers, pencils, pen and ink, silkscreen, plaster, clay, or any of a number of other media, such as photographs and sound. They create realistic and abstract works or images of objects, people, nature, topography, or events. (Designers, a closely related occupation, are discussed in a separate Handbook statement.)
Visual artists generally fall into one of two categories-"graphic artists'' and "fine artists''-depending not so much on the medium, but on the artist's purpose in creating a work of art. Graphic artists, many of whom own their own studios, put their artistic skills and vision at the service of commercial clients, such as major corporations, retail stores, and advertising, design, or publishing firms. Fine artists, on the other hand, often create art to satisfy their own need for self-expression, and may display their work in museums, corporate collections, art galleries, and private homes. Some of their work may be done on request from clients, but not as exclusively as that of graphic artists.
Graphic artists, whether freelancers or employed by a firm, use a variety of print, electronic, and film media to create art that meets a client's needs. Most graphic artists use computer software to design new images. As the computer software becomes increasingly sophisticated, more artists are likely to become involved with this medium. Some graphic artists create packaging, promotional displays, and marketing brochures for new products, visual designs of annual reports and other corporate literature, or distinctive logos for products or businesses. They are responible for the overall layout and design of magazines, newspapers, journals, and other publications, and they create graphics for television and computer-generated media.
Fine artists may sell their works to stores, commercial art galleries, and museums, or directly to collectors. Commercial galleries may sell artists' works on consignment. The gallery and artist predetermine how much each earns from a sale. Only the most successful fine artists are able to support themselves solely through sale of their works, however. Most fine artists hold other jobs as well. Those with teaching certification may teach art in elementary or secondary schools, while those with a master's or Ph.D. degree may teach in colleges or universities. Some fine artists work in arts administration in city, State, or Federal arts programs. Others may work as art critics, art consultants, or as directors or representatives in fine art galleries; give private art lessons; or work as curators setting up art exhibits in museums. Sometimes fine artists work in a totally unrelated field in order to support their careers as artists.
Fine artists usually work independently, choosing whatever subject matter and medium suits them. Usually, they specialize in one or two forms of art. Painters generally work with two-dimensional art forms. Using techniques of shading, perspective, and color mixing, painters produce works that depict realistic scences or may evoke different moods and emotions, depending on the artist's goals. Sometimes artists combine mediums and include sound and motion in their works.
Sculptors design three-dimensional art works-either molding and joining materials such as clay, glass, wire, plastic, or metal, or cutting and carving forms from a block of plaster, wood, or stone. Some sculptors combine various materials such as concrete, metal, wood, plastic, and paper.
Printmakers create printed images from designs cut into wood, stone, or metal, or from computer driven data. The designs may be engraved, as in the case of woodblocking; etched, as in the production of etchings; or derived from computers in the form of inkjet or laser prints.
Painting restorers preserve and restore damaged and faded paintings. They apply solvents and cleaning agents to clean the surfaces, reconstruct or retouch damaged areas, and apply preservatives to protect the paintings. This is very detailed work and is usually reserved for experts in the field.
Illustratorspaint or draw pictures for books, magazines, and other publications, films, and paper products, including greeting cards, calenders, wrapping paper, and stationery. Many do a variety of illustrations, while others specialize in a particular style. Some illustrators draw "story boards'' for television commercials, movies, and animated features. Story boards present television commercials in a series of scenes similar to a comic strip, so an advertising agency and client (the company doing the advertising) can evaluate proposed commercials. Story boards may also serve as guides to placement of actors and cameras and to other details during the production of commercials.
Medical and scientific illustrators combine artistic skills with knowledge of the biological sciences. Medical illustrators draw illustrations of human anatomy and surgical procedures. Scientific illustrators draw illustrations of animals and plants. These illustrations are used in medical and scientific publications, and in audiovisual presentations for teaching purposes. Medical illustrators also work for lawyers, producing exhibits for court cases, and for doctors. Fashion artists draw illustrations of women's, men's, and children's clothing and accessories for newspapers, magazines, and other media.
Cartoonists draw political, advertising, social, and sports cartoons. Some cartoonists work with others who create the idea or story and write the captions. Most cartoonists, however, have humorous, critical, or dramatic talents in addition to drawing skills.
Animators work in the motion picture and television industries. They draw by hand and use computers to create the large series of pictures which, when transferred to film or tape, form the animated cartoons seen in movies and on television.
Art directors, also called visual journalists, read the material to be printed in periodicals, newspapers, and other printed media, and decide how to best visually present the information in an eye-catching, yet organized manner. They make decisions about which photographs or artwork to use, and in general oversee production of the printed material.
Graphic and fine artists generally work in art and design studios located in office buildings or their own studios. While their surroundings are usually well lighted and ventilated, odors from glues, paint, ink, or other materials may be present. They may use computers for extended periods of time.
Graphic artists employed by publishing companies and art and design studios generally work a standard 40-hour week. During busy periods, they may work overtime to meet deadlines. Self-employed graphic artists can set their own hours, but may spend much time and effort selling their services to potential customers or clients and establishing a reputation.
Visual artists held about 273,000 jobs in 1994. About 3 out of 5 were self-employed. Self-employed artists are either graphic artists who freelance, offering their services to advertising agencies, publishing firms, and other businesses, or fine artists who earn income when they sell a painting or other art work.
Of the artists who were not self-employed, many were graphic artists who worked for advertising agencies, design firms, commercial art and reproduction firms, or publishing and publishing firms. Other artists were employed by the motion picture and television industries, wholesale and retail trade establishments, and public relations firms.
In the fine arts field, formal training requirements do not exist, but it is very difficult to become skilled enough to make a living without some basic training. Bachelor's and graduate degree programs in fine arts are offered in many colleges and universities. In the graphic arts field, demonstrated ability and appropriate training or other qualifications are needed for success. Evidence of appropriate talent and skill, displayed in an artist's "portfolio," is an important factor used by art and design directors and others in deciding whether to hire or contract out work to an artist. The portfolio is a collection of handmade, computer-generated, or printed examples of the artist's best work. Assembling a successful portfolio requires skills generally developed in a postsecondary art or design school program, such as a bachelor's degree program in fine art, graphic design, or visual communications. Internships also provide excellent opportunities for artists to develop and enhance their portfolios. Most programs in art and design also provide training in computer design techniques. This training is increasingly important as a qualification for many jobs in commercial art.
The appropriate training and education for prospective medical illustrators is more specific. Medical illustrators must not only demonstrate artistic ability but also have a detailed knowledge of living organisms, surgical and medical procedures, and human and sometimes animal anatomy. A 4-year bachelor's degree combining art and pre-medical courses is usually required, followed by a master's degree in medical illustration, a degree offered in only a few accredited schools in the United States.
Persons hired in advertising agencies or graphic design studios often start with relatively routine work. While doing this work, however, they may observe and practice their skills on the side. Many graphic artists work part time as freelancers while continuing to hold a full-time job until they get established. Others have enough talent, perseverance, and confidence in their ability to start out freelancing full-time immediately after they graduate from art school. Many freelance part time while still in school in order to develop experience and a portfolio of published work.
The freelance artist develops a set of clients who regularly contract for work. Some successful freelancers are widely recognized for their skill in specialties such as children's book illustration, design, or magazine illustration. These artists can earn high incomes and can pick and choose the type of work they do.
Fine artists and illustrators advance as their work circulates and as they establish a reputation for a particular style. The best artists and illustrators continue to grow in ideas, and their work constantly evolves over time. Graphic artists may advance to assistant art director, art director, design director, and in some companies, creative director of an art or design department. Some may gain enough skill to succeed as a freelancer or may prefer to specialize in a particular area. Others decide to open their own businesses.
The graphic and fine arts fields have a glamorous and exciting image. Many people with a love for drawing and creative ability qualify for entry to these fields. As a result, the supply of aspiring artists will continue to exceed the number of job openings, resulting in keen competition for both salaried jobs and freelance work. Freelance work may be hard to come by, especially at first, and many freelancers earn very little until they acquire experience and establish a good reputation. Fine artists, in particular, may find it difficult to earn a living solely by selling their artwork. Nonetheless, graphic arts studios, clients, and galleries alike are always on the lookout for artists who display outstanding talent, creativity, and style. Talented artists who have developed a mastery of artistic techniques and skills, including computer skills, will be in high demand.
Employment of visual artists is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. Demand for graphic artists will be strong as producers of information, goods, and services put even more emphasis on visual appeal in product design, advertising, marketing, and television. Employment growth for graphic artists, however, may be limited by increases in productivity due to computers, and because some firms are turning to employees without formal artistic or design training to operate computer-aided design systems. Employment of fine artists is expected to grow because of population growth, rising incomes, and growth in the number of people who appreciate fine arts.
Demand for artists may also depend on the level of government funding for certain programs. For example, the National Endowment for the Arts offers a variety of grants to artists; however, competition is intense for most awards.
Median earnings for salaried visual artists who usually work full time were about $25,500 a year in 1994. The middle 50 percent earned between $18,800 and $34,500 a year. The top 10 percent earned more than $46,600, and the bottom 10 percent earned less than $14,100.
According to the Society of Publication Designers, entry-level graphic designers earned between $21,000 and $24,000 annually.
Earnings for self-employed visual artists vary widely. Those struggling to gain experience and a reputation may be forced to charge what amounts to less than the minimum wage for their work. Well-established freelancers and fine artists may earn much more than salaried artists. Self-employed artists do not receive benefits such as paid holidays, sick leave, health insurance, or pensions.
Many occupations in the advertising industry, such as account executive or creative director, are related to commercial and graphic art and design. Workers in other occupations which apply visual art skills are architects, display workers, floral designers, industrial designers, interior designers, landscape architects, and photographers. The various printing occupations are also related to graphic art, as is the work of art and design teachers.
Students in high school or college who are interested in careers as illustrators should contact: The Society of Illustrators, 128 East 63rd St., New York, NY 10021-7392.
The National Association of Schools of Art and Design 11250 Roger Bacon Dr., Suite 21, Reston, VA 22090-5202.
For information on careers in medical illustration, contact:
The Association of Medical Illustrators, 1819 Peachtree St. NE., Suite 602, Atlanta, GA 30309-1848.
For information on careers in scientific illustration, contact:
Guild of Natural Science Illustrators, P.O. Box 652, Ben Franklin Station, Washington, DC 20044-0652.
For a list of schools offering degree programs in graphic design, contact:
The American Institute of Graphic Arts, 164 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.
For information on art careers in the publishing industry, contact:
The Society of Publication Designers 60 East 42nd St., Suite 721, New York, NY 10165-1416.
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