Graphic artists, also called graphic designers, do a variety of creative work. A graphic artist had a hand in every website you see, advertisement you read and book you pick up. They work with computers and by hand to design visual elements that are aesthetically pleasing, tell a story or sell something. If you're dreaming of becoming a professional graphic artist, the amount of time it will take to start working in the field will depend on the kind of work you're seeking.
Unlike an aspiring doctor or architect, there's not a particular amount of education you need before you begin working as a graphic artist. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that a Bachelor's degree (four years) is usually required for most professional graphic artist jobs, though an associate degree (two years) or even a substantial amount real-life work experience may suffice.
Requirements by Type of Work
The type of work you want to do will also determine how long it may take to become a professional. To work for a publisher, design company or corporation, you will probably need a four-year degree and some visceral work experience in the field. If you're already artistic and proficient at using programs like Adobe Creative Suite and Dreamweaver, you may be able to start working as a freelancer designer as soon as you want. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about 29 percent of graphic artists are self-employed.
Building a Portfolio
Whether you're taking the freelance route or working for an established company, there's one investment of time that you won't forego: your portfolio. In fact, a potential employer or client is much more likely to hire you based on a quality portfolio than an impressive education. According to Westwood College, you should choose projects that show off your personal style, but also those that demonstrate creativity and diversity. Have a few hard DVD copies of your portfolio on hand, but also provide access to an online portfolio through your professional website (this is especially important if you're seeking clients on a freelance basis).
Internships and Advancement
If you're a student, it may be helpful to pursue an internship while you're working on your degree. Art internships will provide you with experience working to meet the needs of a real client, and it will build your portfolio. If you wait until after graduation to do an internship, this may increase the time it will take to become a professional by one or two years. Once you've landed a job as a graphic artist, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it can take one to three more years of experience to start advancing in your field.
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