College junior interested in freelance illustrating, has taken absolutely no courses at the college level.
November 29, 2012 7:12 PM   Subscribe

I might want to do some freelance illustration, but is it possible to do so without any type of degree?

Right now, I'm a biology/theology double major. It's worked out easily for me because the biology classes fulfill all of my pre-med requirements, and every class in my theology degree has managed to fulfill my graduation/core requirements. Don't get me wrong, I love science (even orgo!), and I've enjoyed all my theology classes.

I've recently picked up drawing, and taught myself the basics around programs like photoshop, illustrator, and paint shop pro. I'm thinking of taking some art classes for fun during my senior year, since I'm pretty much done with the majority my pre-med, biology, theology, AND graduation requirements by the end of next semester, save for a couple bio classes. A visual arts minor is 6 courses, and I don't think I can fit them all in one year, especially since studio classes tend to take hours, and are difficult to schedule around.

So, what do I do? I'm starting to regret not working on the visual arts minor sooner. I've had to put drawing and illustrating in the background since I started college and started spending all my time with pre-med things and working in a research lab. All my life I've been doodling, sketching, and illustrating things, to the point where I did it so much, the increasing quality of my work made people think I had a lot of natural talent.

So should I go for the minor and spend an extra semester? I was really planning on taking a gap year, and I don't like the idea of postponing medical school applications even more. I also hate this feeling like I made a terrible mistake not pursuing a minor further. Help!
posted by grifninetoo to Education (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have hired many freelance illustrators. I have hired all of them on the basis of their portfolios. I have not asked nor known nor cared what their degree, if any, was in. It's all about the portfolio.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:21 PM on November 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

People will care about your portfolio and if you will deliver work on time and be easy to work with. There isn't much of anything else that matters.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just have a Journalism degree and no minor to speak of, but I have done freelance illustration/design projects off and on over the past seven years. In college, I designed ads at the college newspaper working elbow-to-elbow with full art majors and I managed to win some regional and national awards with my work. That was enough to start a portfolio. I mostly do technical diagrams/publication design and editing as well. My favorite client recently created a new position and hired me on full time for illustration and editing projects year round. It's excellent, enjoyable work.

No one ever asked me about a minor. No one ever cared about my specific degree. I took precisely one 100-level drawing course, during which the instructor gently nudged me toward watercolor, which is more fun and forgiving.

I think it was a combination of having good samples, making good contacts, and being easy to work with that brought me this far. If you can do that and can master software on your own, I don't think you need a minor.
posted by mochapickle at 7:26 PM on November 29, 2012

As a business owner and possible user of illustration services, I agree with all the above comments that a degree matters not and I wouldn't even think of asking about it. I would simply look at examples of past work and at how the person interacts, communicates, etc.
posted by Dansaman at 8:25 PM on November 29, 2012

I've had illustrations published in 7 books. Nobody asked me about my degree (though I now have one). It makes a difference in some of the jobs I pick up (possibly) and occasionally in my pay (through universities) but I don't just do illustration, so it's hard to tell. So, yeah, illustrate away without a degree. HOWEVER, I would recommend you keep taking courses, whether they give you credits or not. Having input from other people has always made my work improve in leaps and bounds, in comparison to learning alone.
posted by b33j at 9:42 PM on November 29, 2012

I don't know how you would get into the field exactly, but I've been told that good talent is always needed to create images for science/ medical textbooks.
posted by oceano at 10:10 PM on November 29, 2012

So should I go for the minor and spend an extra semester? I was really planning on taking a gap year

Do a gap year where you study at an attelier in florence or wander around venice with a sketchbook and watercolor set.
posted by sebastienbailard at 10:24 PM on November 29, 2012

Have you checked out the Association of Medical Illustrators?
posted by Sophont at 1:19 AM on November 30, 2012

If you're interested in medical illustration, I have a friend in the field. Send me a Memail and I'll see if I can put the two of you in touch.
posted by O9scar at 10:40 AM on November 30, 2012

I'm a biology/theology double major.

You are me, apparently. I did this (same majors), got serious about improving my drawing and painting skills in college, and have done a number of freelance illustration projects then and since.

In college I also took two semesters of a twice-weekly figure drawing course which had a strong focus on anatomy -- as a bio/premed person, you will have a huge advantage over your art major classmates. In addition, I volunteered at a natural history museum, which offered a lot of extra time to draw from taxidermy, which was invaluable to my understanding of animal anatomy.

I'd say, only spend the extra time for an art minor if it will offer you access to a ton of life drawing. You can also graduate now, get a day job (or take a gap year if you can afford it), and pay for your own life drawing classes for a fraction of the cost. It just takes more discipline, and you'll have to ask yourself if you have that outside of the structure of school.

I have no art degree, but have had plenty of gigs based on my portfolio. Here are some of the things I have done:
1. Editorial illustration for the school paper: this was great because there were deadlines and the topic changed every week.
2. Cartoon for the school paper: just for fun, but also productive due to deadline pressure.
3. Random drawings/paintings for friends. Mostly jokes and fun stuff.
4. Illustrations for public school curriculum material for a friend who teaches English and Social Studies.
5. Illustration of a children's book for a friend/colleague (this is in search of a publisher)
6. Animation for a student film director for a segment of his film (got this gig on Craigslist, of all places).

However, I have never gotten "serious" about making this into my sole career. I hate dealing with money and thus have done a lot of non-paying things, either for friends, for non-profit scenarios, or pet projects for myself. So I don't know how to advise you about monetizing your work.

Please MeMail me if you want to talk more about this, because I'm rather startled at the similarities in our paths.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 7:23 PM on November 30, 2012

I looked at my remaining schedule before graduation, and I decided not to fit the minor in. Thank you all so so much. Sorry I'm getting back to you all so late... I forgot about this submission in the craziness of finals week. I'm not actually interested in medical illustration, and I would say my interest in biology is completely separate from my interest in art, but you all have been more helpful than I would have imagined. Thanks again!
posted by grifninetoo at 5:58 PM on December 29, 2012

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