10 Exciting Career Opportunities for Digital Artists, Graphic Designers and Animators

A few years ago, while serving as the Marketing & Public Relations Manager for the Renderosity Art Community, I had the delightful honor to give talks to digital art students at Nossi College of Art here in Nashville. Nossi is a local college that offers art degrees in Commercial Illustration, Graphic Art & Design, Digital Photography and Video. The students were eager to learn about different employment opportunities for digital artists. Being back in the digital art industry with YURdigital, I was presented with more opportunities to serve art students by sharing insights learned over the years.

The Working Man by SzarkEven after three years out of the industry, the job scenery is still pretty familiar. There are traditional jobs for digital artists and graphic designers with any number of various companies as a full time employee. Companies need artists to create packaging, branding, marketing and promotional materials, trade shows, online and print advertising. These jobs are relatively stable, if there is such a thing these days. If fairly dependable employment is important to you, consider checking out the larger job boards like Monster.com and Career Builder, or going directly to company websites to find open job listings. Full-time graphic designer jobs can be rewarding by offering steady pay and a somewhat creative outlet. Full-time jobs will require you be dependable, on time and be able to meet deadlines. These are going to be consistent requirements of a vast majority of employers.

Now, if you are one of the artists that wants to try something more artistically and financially daring and risky, then read on to find 10 exciting opportunities to make money as a digital artist or computer art creator.

Album(CD) Cover Creators: Being from the MTV generation, one of my artistic aspirations was to create an album cover. I made it as far as creating two cassette jackets. Hey, that's what we had at the time. I'm glad to hear records are making a come back. The art work is easier to admire in the larger format. If creating album covers is what you want to do, you will find that most of these gigs are done on a freelance basis and it does help if you "know someone". To start off, you may need to offer to do a few album covers for free so you can build up your portfolio. After you start building your name and reputation, you will likely find work will start coming to you through referrals as long as people are pleased with what you're producing and the price. There are still some record labels that hire graphic designers on staff. There are some music specific sites that may be helpful in the search like MyMusicJob.com or look for job openings with graphic design firms that specialize in the music industry.

Book Cover Designers: These are often freelance, one-at-a-time jobs, which can be found on job boards such as Graphicdesignbids.com. However, I do know artists that have been hired by publishing houses because they are able to consistently produce quality book covers that fit well with the publisher's expectations. A careful Internet search and a look at MediaBistro revealed there are publishing companies looking for full-time graphic designers who are familiar with InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark for Mac platforms. You may want to try a couple of freelance cover jobs to see how you like creating book covers, get your name out there and build your experience in this particular industry. If you discover this is the niche for you, put together an impressive portfolio of your work, update your resume and make the rounds to all the publisher sites and job boards.

Digital Art Content Creators: There opportunities for artists to make money creating digital art resources for other artists to use in their personal and commercial art projects. These art resources range in scope from high resolution material textures to complex 3d models, animation sequences, and software applications. Artists have many brokerage sites where you can upload your content for free and earn royalties from the sales. Most artists prefer the brokerage option, as it can be cost and time prohibitive to try and start your own site when you factor in the merchant and banking fees and marketing time involved. One of the leading digital art sites, YURdigital is looking for content creators. You will want to compare how much money you get to keep and how much the broker site will keep, the reputation of the site and the traffic before making your decision.

Freelance Artists: There are a number of freelance opportunities for graphic designers, digital artists and animators. The good thing about freelancing is that you can go after the types of jobs you want, they are short term, and when you're done you can move onto the next project. The down side is there is no regular, reliable paycheck. Some artists I've known have a "day-job" and freelance in their spare time to make some extra money as their schedule permits. Time management and organization will be necessary skills to have if you are considering freelancing your artistic talents. If you're considering graphic design freelancing you may want to look at oDesk and Elance.com and GraphicDesignFreeLanceJobs.com.

Game Development Artists: There are a number of web sites dedicated exclusively to jobs in the game development industry, many of which are for 2D artists, 3D artists and animators. Employers often seek out artists that are specialized in a particular area such as lighting, environment creation or architecture and will want someone that is experienced with Photoshop and ZBrush, Maya or 3D Max to name a few. If I were a digital artist looking for a job creating video games I would check out Gamasutra and Creative Heads. There you will find open listings with such companies as Blizzard Entertainment and Industrial Light and Magic. Of course, if there is a particular company you really want to work for, you can always visit that site directly to see what positions they have open. The advantage to using a job board is that you will probably find more opportunities with additional companies you may not have considered before.

Forensic Animation: In addition to the slim chance of working on the CSI television series creating detailed forensic animations, there are jobs for forensic animators and legal illustrators. These artists use their skills to enhance testimony and other evidence presented in legal cases and demonstrate, using science physics and mathematics how things most likely occurred at a crime scene. These opportunities are often found on a freelance and word of mouth basis and many of the requirements to land opportunities like this are the same as those for Medical Illustrators shown below.

Medical Illustrators: Medical Illustrators create visual material to help record and share medical and biological related information. For this career path, you'll need training in medicine, science, communication, and technology. At the moment there are only 5 accredited masters medical illustration programs currently available at John Hopkins(Baltimore, MD), Georgia Health Sciences University(August, GA), University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (Dallas, TX), and University of Toronto. For now, medical illustration still remains a relatively exclusive field. The need for these services is higher than the number of these highly specialized artists.

Mobile App Artists: Creating mobile apps has become the "hot" industry of the moment. At the moment there seems to be a need for artists that can work with the app developers to create the visual elements. However, it appears that companies are often looking for an all-in-one person that can write the code and create the graphics. They are expecting mastery of at least one 3D animation platform, skill in Photoshop, After Effects and Final Cut. Plus it will help if you have a working knowledge of web technologies like HTML 5, CSS, Javascript/jQuery, xml, Flash/Flex and ActionScript. If I were looking for one of these opportunities, which are often temporary, I would search Dice and Krop.

Print Products: Many enterprising digital artists try their luck selling their art work online. It is relatively easy and convenient to upload images and there are generally no up-front costs. Digital art can be printed on demand on canvas, posters, t-shirts, post cards, magnets, puzzles and anything else that can possibly be printed upon. There are a large number of different options available including: DeviantArt, Artbreak, CafePress, Imagekind, Redbubble and Zazzle. Each has different payout levels, options and requirements. Make sure to read and understand the fine print carefully. To avoid disappointment, it is best I mention that most artists I have heard from over the years have not earned nearly as much money from this activity as they thought they would. Keep this in mind and plan accordingly. Artists, more often than not, find themselves in need of more regular income because the revenues from these type of sales typically are not enough to cover food. If you don't want to literally be a starving artist, this option would be best treated as an unexpected, extra income source.

Web Design Artists: For digital artists interested in web design, it is really helpful to have a complimentary skill set that includes an understanding of how websites are designed which means being able to work with HTML, Java Script and CSS. Web Designers often specialize depending on their experience with Drupal, Wordpress, Joomla or other platforms. The web design segment has become very competitive, with lowering revenues being generated from the small business market with the implementation of easy-to-use self-publishing web options. However, there are still people more than willing to pay to have someone else do it for them, especially when they want a web site that is unique and special. In addition to the large job boards and freelance boards, you may want to try Authentic Jobs and Coroflot which also has specific job categories for 3d modeling, CAD, architecture and graphic design in addition to their web design listings.

If you are freelancing there is a fine art to negotiation, communication and contracts. Well drafted and signed contracts help avoid misunderstandings and possible legal problems down the road. Make sure expectations, payment, deadlines and copyright ownership and use are clearly defined and agreed to by both parties. Copyrights are an area you will want to pay very close attention to. Will you be transferring all copyrights, or will you retain the artwork? If you will be turning over the originals to the client, you may need to charge an additional fee to cover media costs and your time required to transfer the files. For more detailed advice on freelance art contracts please read: Never Work Without a Freelance Design Contract.

An exciting change I have seen over the past few years is the continued increase of jobs and education for artists in the "New Media Design" field creating interactive, multimedia and web-based content as applied to art, information design, education, commercial applications and entertainment and there are more gaming companies in play. It is an exciting time with more employment opportunities for digital artists than ever before!

However, I also noticed there are an increasing number of digital artists entering the marketplace, making this field far more competitive. Not only are artists competing with each other for income, they are also competing with businesses that offer "create your own" graphic options. The use of templates to create websites and business cards has become very popular and inexpensive. The click-and-go options have virtually dried up the need for artists to create website layouts and business cards for small businesses. However, there are still some artistic opportunities to be found from companies that want a unique brand and are not satisfied with looking like everyone else.

Regardless of what field you get into, one of the most important things you can do over time is to brand yourself. It is important to know who you are as an artist. What is your style? What's your specialty? Are you a 2d artist, 3d modeler, animator? Are you multi-talented? Always keep learning and honing your skills. There are plenty of excellent tutorials and resources available online. Digital art communities such as YURdigital are supportive of your efforts.

Once you know who you are, you'll want to get busy building your social and professional network. There are a number of excellent sites for this purpose. If you create products for sale you'll want to build your own email list of fans, clients and buyers, even if you sell through other sites that do their own marketing. This list is your direct contact to people that want to know what new products you have and it's valuable. Market yourself at least as well as you would an employer or client's products. You don't have to starve to be an artist. But, you do have to make wise career choices and work hard to make sure you don't. It's not always easy. But, we wish you the very best of luck in your artistic endeavors and prosperity in your creative adventures!

To make the job search easier, visit the Digital Art Jobs Board on YURdigital.

Written by: by Lillian Hawkins
Contributions by: Beth Rogers of Jazz'd Creative and Nossi College of Art



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