The art and illustration industry is a very broad employment sector and notoriously competitive. Confidence to market yourself, network and develop commercial awareness are all important.
You will need to be prepared to volunteer or work for a low salary to build-up valuable experience and contacts.
Networking is particularly important to increase your chance of future employment. Taking a proactive approach and using every opportunity possible to make contacts will be a necessary and on-going process.
Where do I start?
Within the Creative industries sector you could be looking at a wide range of occupations. Prospects has a useful list of job profiles each containing relevant information about key responsibilities, skill requirements, starting salaries, entry requirements, career prospects with links to major employers and current graduate vacancies.
Job roles in this sector include:
- Arts administrator
- Commercial art gallery manager
- Community arts worker
- Concept Artist
- Fine artist
- Graphic designer
- Jewellery designer
- Multimedia programmer
- Multimedia specialist
- Production designer, theatre/television/film
- VFX artist
As part of your job-hunting strategy you will need to keep up-to-date on developments in this sector and keep track of any vacancies that are coming up. Below are some key resources to help you research opportunities available. The knowledge gained through your research may help you to target your applications and will help when preparing for interviews.
- Arts Industry – Providing the latest art industry news and job opportunities in the sector.
- Arts Jobs & Arts News – Advertises latest job opportunities in the art and culture sector as well as posting the latest art related news.
- Arts Hub UK – Essential jobs and news information for professionals working in the UK arts and cultural industries.
- Creativeboom – Website covering all the latest news and daily headlines which offers a comprehensive industry overview. Search the dedicated jobs career centre for current job postings organised by specific category.
- Artquest – Useful advice, information and opportunities for visual artists.
- ScreenSkills - Industry body which supports skills and training for people working in the creative industries and advertises vacancies in film, TV and related industries.
Start building up a portfolio of work while you are still an undergraduate. This should contain examples of your own ideas rather than just your coursework.
You need a portfolio of work to present to potential employers that demonstrates your evolving skills, so try to add to this with any work experience you get. You could have a traditional printed portfolio or an online portfolio.
Having an online portfolio shows potential employers that you can use at least one content management system, and that you are familiar with how websites work.
A great place to start to showcase your work is by becoming part of an online design community or directory: Behance, Dribbble and Cargo Collective all offer free online portfolio solutions.
However, you can decide to create your own online website. There are lots of website building tools to help you create an online portfolio but be aware that some may involve costs. Whatever you decide, make sure your portfolio is constantly updated and that you are able to confidently talk about and effectively showcase your work. In addition, enter as many competitions and exhibitions as possible and begin to get your work known. Many potential employers will also expect to see a portfolio that shows off all of your best work.
Internships (usually a fixed period or a limited amount of time), will give you more hands-on experience. Many employers will treat internships in the same way as full-time employment, so when a job role asks for 'at least one years experience' you can include this type of experience.
Placements will give you a long-term look at an organisation, and help you to build contacts and experience. On some degrees work placements are part of the programme, whilst on others you can choose to complete a placement as one of your modules. Many courses at the University of Portsmouth enable you to complete a one year work placement or self-employment placement; should you choose to undertake either your first point of contact is your placement office in your Faculty.
This is a good way to get a short but intense feel for how a particular role works and is a helpful way to find out more about a job you think you’d like and build some important contacts for your career.
This is an opportunity for you to spend time with an experienced professional and learn about what they do and their role.
Whatever experience you gain, it will help your understanding of the skills required in the art and design field. It will also give you an idea of the challenges and triumphs of the creative process.
Create your own work experience
Don’t be afraid to approach agencies directly. It will set you apart from a pool of hundreds of other people. A simple search on the internet should produce a number of design companies in your area. Even if they aren’t advertising vacancies send them a targeted CV and your portfolio (whether you have an online portfolio or you have collated a traditional one). Be proactive and make direct contact with organisations that interest you and apply speculatively; send a targeted CV and a covering letter focused on why you are interested in them and why they should be interested in you.
Finding experience will take time and effort; employers receive many CVs every week so you will have to work hard to stand out from the crowd. You can find out more about how to create a targeted CV through our website.
The key to success is to prepare thoroughly, do your research and organise your experience in good time. Explore the various areas of your sector before you apply for work experience; knowing what you want to specialise in will help you focus your research and ensure you gain the relevant skills.
Work experience and internships section in Prospects contains links to relevant resources to help you find some work experience.
Creative & Cultural Skills provides useful information on how to get into the creative and cultural industries as well as how to source job opportunities and internships.
It is also worth considering the voluntary sector for work experience. Voluntary work with, for example community art initiatives, can be valuable. Seize any opportunity to get involved in local community projects to help you develop your work experience. Our Virtual Volunteering Bank provides local opportunities to undertake alongside your studies.
Get involved in relevant university projects through the different groups and societies via the Student Union. This is a good way of demonstrating your motivation and interest in this area of work.
It might be worth speaking to one of your tutors in the Faculty of Creative and Cultural industries about potential contacts and opportunities for work experience over the easter period or summer vacation.
Sign-up to newsletters, and follow relevant social media accounts in order to keep up to date with industry news and access the hidden jobs market.
Be proactive and try to gather inspiration and ideas from the world around you: join creative clusters and attend networking events. This is a great way to meet people working in the creative industries and will help you with your networking skills.
LinkedIn is a useful platform to network with sector employers – see our guide on how to use LinkedIn.
Finding a job
Graduates can go into many different areas, particularly within the creative arts and design sector.
The range of employers who recruit in these areas includes:
- advertising agencies
- marketing agencies
- graphic design companies
- web design or animation companies
If you want to work within illustration it's worth considering that most illustrators are self-employed and generate their own work based on client needs. Paid vacancies are rarely advertised.
Potential clients can include advertising agencies, design consultancies, publishers, print (newspapers and magazines) and events management companies. Other areas that you may work on as a freelance illustrator include:
- film posters
- greetings cards
- fine art posters
- animated commercials, television shows, short films or government information services (including health and education)
Research shows that freelance and small businesses make up the majority of the creative industries, so this section is dedicated to helping you develop your business skills. Get advice on starting or growing a business from our student startup support team. Please contact our Student StartUp Team for advice about freelancing.
Useful websites to help you start your job search
- Arts Culture Media – The best jobs in theatre, music, museums, dance, marketing and PR, visual arts, media and culture. Clients include virtually all the major theatres, festivals, art galleries, arts venues and museums in the UK.
- Creative & Cultural Skills – Help and advice for your creative career, including job profiles, developing your career and advice on self-promotion when looking for a job.
- Creativepool – Online networking site for people working within the creative industries. Allows you to set up personal profile with which to network online as well as listing advertised vacancies
- MyCareer – Here you will be able to find graduate jobs across different sectors and locations.
- The Association of Illustrators – Provides a listing of agents, awards and events.
Tips for finding a job
Most of the jobs are not advertised in the traditional way so be proactive with your search and apply speculatively. If applying only for advertised roles it's likely that you miss out on a variety of job opportunities, particularly in the art and illustration sectors. To gain access to this hidden jobs market here are some useful tips:
- Keep up to date with art and illustration news and trends by following the professional bodies on twitter, this information might help you identify opportunities to network and tap into the hidden job market.
- Keep your online job search flexible as some employers might use different titles to describe the same job role
- If you are keen to focus on a specific sector check out the specialist websites for these areas for current vacancies
- Approach design agencies directly, even if they are not advertising vacancies, send your CV and your online portfolio anyway, it may lead to something
- Most companies have a Twitter and/or Facebook account, register with them as this is often a place where new opportunities are posted and where you can keep in touch with their current activities.
Useful Twitter feeds
Check out the following Twitter feeds for news and information about current projects and to tap into the hidden jobs market.
The Careers and Employability Service offers support to students throughout their studies and provision for graduates up to five years after graduation, with advice and guidance on:
- Career options
- Further study
- CV and covering letters
- Application forms
- Job search
We have an online jobs board advertising a variety of graduate jobs across different sectors and locations. We also have a dedicated in-house Graduate Recruitment Consultancy that delivers a personalised job matching service.
You can also access our services by calling or emailing us:
Email us: email@example.com
Phone us: +44 (0)2392 842684