You’ve probably seen the work of editorial illustrators thousands of times without even realizing. From your favorite niche magazines to global news outlets, editorial designers and illustrators bring specialist artwork to both print and online media on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis.
As publications grapple for the increasingly limited attention of their prospective readers, the need for captivating and engaging graphics is increasing, and editorial illustration has become a lucrative and sustainable career choice for many talented artists.
“You don’t have to be a designer or illustrator. You just have to want to make something cool and solve a problem,” says Skillshare teacher Mikey Burton, an independent designer and illustrator. With notable clients over the past decade including The New York Times, TIME Magazine, ESPN, and now a current position with the Emmy Award winning Last Week Tonight with John Oliver show, Burton acknowledges that, while challenging, editorial illustration “is really for everyone.”
In this post, you’ll learn what exactly editorial illustration is, what jobs in the industry look like from the people who are already living it, and tips on how to get editorial illustration work yourself.
What is Editorial Illustration?
For artists and designers looking to work in the field of illustration, it’s important to first consider the types of pieces that you want to create. Children’s books, for example, have very distinct graphic styles compared to comic or fashion illustration. Some forms may be more familiar to you than others depending on your own interests and background, but editorial illustration is often overlooked by new artists hoping to break into the industry.
One of the first questions you might have is “what is editorial illustration?” Editorial graphics typically accompany articles and longer content pieces to highlight concepts that the writing discusses. The aim is to draw in the reader’s attention and to capture the tone of the article content in a visual form. Different publications will lean toward different styles of illustration depending on their subject matter and audience. But overall, the goal of editorial illustration is to hint at the content of the writing in a conceptual way, rather than being a like-for-like depiction of everything featured within the story.
Editorial illustration ranges not only from publication to publication, but also medium to medium. Print magazines now also need to take into account how their layout works on digital platforms, both as full issue digital copies for mobile devices and as individually published articles on the publication’s website.
Some magazines and newspapers lean towards a more whimsical style, with colorful cartoon-like drawings providing the perfect balance to several pages of black text.
Others like to incorporate still photography into their designs, blending the hand-drawn graphics of the illustrator with eye-catching photos.
Whether working in-house or as a freelancer, illustrators typically work under the instruction of a publication’s art director, collaborating closely with the design team to create graphics that work for the magazine or newspaper’s overall aesthetic and style, as well as the content of the individual article.
The process to create these graphics from beginning to end varies from illustrator to illustrator, but most begin by reading the final article and noting any key words or phrases that come to mind that the design could include.
From there, the illustrator begins drawing concepts with a simple sketchbook and pencil before moving onto a digital medium like Adobe Illustrator to complete the piece. “The more refining I do of a sketch, the easier time I have illustrating the final,” says Burton.
Get Started With Digital Illustration!
Intro to Procreate: Illustrating on the iPad.
Editorial Illustration Artists
Many Skillshare instructors are proof that making a great living as an illustrator is absolutely possible! They each have a unique style that’s helped them find work with some of the world’s biggest media companies and bring years of experience to help you get started in the industry.
Ed J Brown
Brown is a freelance illustrator, typographer, and designer based in Germany. He has worked for clients including Nestle and Reader’s Digest, along with exhibiting his work in galleries in London, Norway, and Tokyo.
Learn how to get started with editorial illustration in only a few days with Brown’s class, Editorial Illustration: Learn what it takes in just 3 days.
Mikey Burton is a freelance designer and illustrator with over a decade of experience in the field. He’s worked with companies including Airbnb, Facebook, Starbucks, and Target, winning coveted design awards from the Art Directors Club, Communication Arts, and Print Magazine.
Burton teaches a Skillshare Original class, Editorial Illustration: Draw Idioms the “Designy” Way, that’s perfect for artists who are looking to break into the world of editorial illustration.
Anita Kunz is a Canadian artist and illustrator with decades of professional experience and work featured in The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, GQ, and Rolling Stone. She holds numerous awards, including the Order of Canada, the highest civilian award, and received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal of Honor in 2012 for her contributions to illustration. She was also the first woman and first Canadian to have a solo exhibit at the Library of Congress in Washington D.C.
Learn from the best in the industry with Kunz’s Skillshare Original class, Editorial Illustration: Communicating an Idea Visually.
Editorial Illustration Jobs: Where to Find Work and Career Path Examples
Discovering how to get editorial illustration work, either as an in-house illustrator or as a freelance artist, can be challenging, but there are plenty of online resources to help you get started.
Editorial illustrators come from varied backgrounds—some started their careers after design school or working in-house as designers in art departments, while others took the leap into self-employment straight away by freelancing for multiple clients at once.
Illustrator Lisa Congdon took a somewhat unconventional path into the field. After falling in love with drawing during a painting class at the age of 31, Congdon started a blog and Flickr account to post her work online. She soon started receiving inquiries asking if she sold her designs or if she took commissions, gaining enough interest to leave her job and start making art full time.
“I highly recommend diversifying your income,” says Congdon, who now divides her time between illustrating for children’s books, stationery companies, and magazines. She teaches a Skillshare Original class, Professional Practice in Illustration: Following a Creative Brief & Executing an Assignment.
Building a portfolio online is the best place to start if you’re trying to attract interest in your work. If you need sample pieces to send to your first few prospective clients, create two or three mockups using articles from magazines that you’ve read before. Share your work on Instagram and design platforms like Behance or Dribble—they’re often the first point of call for many art directors looking for new illustrators. “I like portfolio sites with a social element, so I can see what artists I’ve worked with are looking at,” says Parker Hubbard, art director of New Republic.
Sites such as Upwork and LinkedIn advertise freelance and short-term editorial illustration jobs for clients with different needs and budgets, so these are good places to start to look for paid opportunities. You can also make a list of publications that you’d like to work for and reach out to their art directors personally. Remember to keep your email brief and tailored to the specific publication: Why are you the best person for them to work with? Do your research first to determine what kind of work they usually commission and only send samples that fit that style.
How Much Do Editorial Illustrators Make?
Pay for editorial illustration jobs will depend on your years of experience and the company that you’re working for. According to ZipRecruiter.com, a typical in-house salary for a US-based illustrator is $51,837 per year. On a per-article basis, this can range from $100 for smaller publications up to $3000 for a cover page for an experienced illustrator. Most well-known publications like TIME, The New York Times, and NPR pay $300-500 per illustration.
Building a career as an editorial illustrator is a rewarding choice for artists looking for consistent work in a growing creative field. If you’re intrigued, get started on your artistic journey today!
Prepare for Your Career as an Editorial Illustrator!
Developing Concepts for Editorial Illustration Using InDesign.
Featured image from Skillshare teacher James Olstein.