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What are the work conditions, hours, and salary for concept artists/illustrators and art directors?

I'm a senior in high school and recently made a big decision to change my career path back to art, which is what I've wanted to do since I was little. I want to be a concept artist and major in illustration. #art #artist #arts #animation #illustration #conceptartist

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Andy’s Answer

Hi Kayley,

Glad you're thinking about the long-term practicality of a career in the arts. Meg's answer was very thorough and gets to the 3 main career branches for an artist so I won't repeat what she already said.

The primary thing that I wanted to add is that your location will also provide a major factor into your salary as well. An artist in the San Francisco Bay Area may end up making a six figure salary but with the higher cost of living it might work out to be the same as a 5 figure salary in another state. Generally, entry level salaries for creatives will be on the low end due to the high competition for those positions. Working in the arts can be fun and rewarding so many talented people compete for those jobs. Once you've proven yourself in the industry you could potentially command a much higher salary to go along with that track record and name recognition.

Personally I've worked in all 3 of those job types. They all can work well but are generally suited to different personalities. I've found that I am much more comfortable working in-house rather than for myself or for an agency. Working for yourself can be great but as Meg said, you always need to be looking for that next project and that next paycheck. Any time that you're not working is time that you're not making money. That can be great when you're first starting out and need to prove yourself and make connections within your chosen industry. But it is quite hectic and stressful. That being said, if you're successful and clients are coming to you, then it's likely because they want your specific and unique take. This path has the potential to be more creatively fulfilling.

Working for an agency or in-house gives you a bit more security and generally better work/life balance. That may be more suited to someone later on in their career. The primary benefits are health plans, vacation and sick leave, family leave (paternity and maternity), etc. That being said layoffs and closures are still possibilities there. And another downside is that you may not get a choice as to what project you work on. It may be something that you're excited about or it might be something that will bore you.

Art agencies can be great since you will likely have a wider variety of projects than you might get from working at one studio. The problem with that is that the client is generally not on-site and you won't necessarily get that level of immediacy and interaction with the team since you will most likely be interacting with their outsourcing manager instead of directly with their art director. Feedback will generally be sent through intermediaries and details may get lost along the way. And you will more than likely not have much input into the creative decisions for the project. You will just have to follow the guidelines and produce exactly what the client is asking for. It can be frustrating at times.

Finally, working in house can be great especially at larger companies that might have a variety of projects with different art styles. However, those are pretty rare and more than likely the company will have one or two specific games with a distinctive style that you will have to be happy with. There may be some room to flex other styles but generally you won't have much creative freedom or choice about what to work on. For example, Pixar does great films, but they all have a very specific look to them. They would never have made something like Spider-man into the Spiderverse. 343 Industries makes the Halo series and wouldn't put out anything like Fortnite or Fall Guys.

I hope that my additional information has helped to provide more context and illuminate your decision making.

Good luck!

Andy

Andy recommends the following next steps:

Check out Glass Door for salary information: https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries/index.htm
Think about what amount of risk/stress you're comfortable with versus stability and creativity
Remember this isn't a right or wrong answer. And your tolerances for various conditions will almost certainly change over time.
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Meg’s Answer

This is a great question to be thinking about. There's a lot of variation between creative careers, so depending on what you value the most, you can find one that strikes the right balance for you.

If you care most about working on a variety of exciting projects, you might consider working for an agency. These companies are experts that other companies hire for specific projects. For example, a marketing agency could create commercials and other advertisements for many other companies. They might hire an illustrator to help create these advertisements. This can be an exciting place to start your career because you quickly get experience with a wide variety of projects. With these companies, you'll usually have a moderate salary and know what to expect for the year. However, working hours tend to be long, and the environment can be a bit stressful because the company has committed to finish projects in a certain amount of time so you're often working towards tight deadlines.

If you're looking for a more standard work week, another option is to work "in-house". For example, a very large company might have their own marketing team rather than hiring an agency. As part of that team, they may also want an illustrator to help create marketing materials. This environment may be less stressful than an agency because as part of a dedicated team, you have more information on upcoming work that will help you proactively plan for it. Working for a large company means that you'll probably have a decent salary and benefits, as well as more regular working hours. You'll also work on a more limited range of projects. Some people like this because it allows them to build expertise with a particular brand or style. A wide range of companies might hire illustrators and art directors, so it's worth taking some time to explore. For instance, many tech companies incorporate illustrations into their apps or products. The company you work for will have a big impact on working hours and salary - these can range from 40 hour work weeks with 6 figure salaries, to 60 hour work weeks making half that amount.

A last option is to be self-employed. This could involve working on projects of your own invention, such as writing and illustrating your own children's book, or creating art to sell in galleries. This could be a lot of fun and will provide you with very flexible working hours, but you put in a lot of work before you know if anyone is willing to pay for what you produce. Another type of self-employment is "freelance" or contract work. This means that other people or companies will hire you for specific projects. For instance, I might agree to pay you a certain amount of money to create a set of illustrations for my website. Because someone has specifically agreed to hire you for a project, this option can be more stable than working on projects that you came up with yourself. However, you will have to spend a lot of time finding new projects, and when you finish a project you may have gaps with no work. For both of these options, you have a lot of flexibility, but your annual income will be fairly unpredictable and it may be hard to make enough to live on. This may be a better option later in your career, when your prior experience can help you find work.

In the end, you'll have to make tradeoffs between flexibility and stability as you pick a career path, but you should be able to find a creative career that you're happy with. Hope this helps you start thinking about some of the options!
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Lucy’s Answer

The salary depends a lot on your expertise, experience and work. If you become rather known because of the quality of your work, you can make a lot of money, whether you are in a contract position, a freelance or a full time position.

A full time position is often offered by big companies. Its usually a steady salary with good benefits and good working hours.
In a contract position you can charge by the hour, but you usually have to pay for your own benefits and the hours can be long, with stressful deadlines.
You have more independence if you work as a freelance, but the projects tend to be more sporadic and the income unsteady (sometimes it would be a lot of money when you land a big project or sometimes little money when you land 2 or three small projects). On top of that, you are your own sales agent, as well as in charge of getting paid on time by your clients.

In my experience, Its better to start in a big company if you have little experience. You may get little pay because of you are only starting, but the money will be steady and you will build experience in time with them. If you have the stamina, you can work as a freelancer on the side (if your contract allows you to it) and when you are confident enough to be fully freelance or to work in more engaging projects with an agency, you can do so with having some money saved up as a cushion.
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