Animation Student Asks: How to Get a Job as a Storyboard Artist, Character Designer and Illustrator

I love getting letters from art students all over the globe, aspiring to reach their career goals.  This week’s mailbag brought me a lovely letter from the UK and I thought I’d share it as this week’s blog entry:

Dear Renee,

I am currently studying on an animation degree at the University of the West of England. I am most interested in becoming a character designer and storyboard artist and it would be most helpful if you could answer some quick questions about working as a storyboard artist and illustrator and how to find work in this industry.

Did you do an art related degree and if so, on graduating, how long did it take to get work? Did you find it difficult to get work? Have you found that you’ve generally had a steady flow of work or have you found yourself with periods of time without a job or commissions? How do you develop a career within this industry? Have you found that this work has provided a steady income? Have you done much storyboarding or do you mainly do illustrations and painting? Have you worked in a company or have you just tended to work as a freelance artist? I eagerly await your reply.

Thank you very much for your time and consideration.

Emily L

First of all Emily, thanks for your letter. I’m so psyched you’ve chosen a creative path and an animation degree can take you many places in the media arts game. The biggest mystery for students is often “How do I find work in my chosen field?” and in this unsure economy, “How do I find work at all?”

Yes, I do hold a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree from Moore College of Art and Design. My major was Fashion Illustration as I loved (and still adore) figure and life drawing. And while it may sound off-target, I did my post grad studies in Transpersonal Psychology and Consciousness Studies, and the concentrations spent on mythology and archetypes really helped my narrative storytelling process.  And one key to great storyboarding is great storytelling.

 My first job straight out of school was born from my college internship, working in Philadelphia at a print house specializing in food service and menu design. While drawing spaghetti spot illustrations and croissant sandwiched was fun, but from there I wanted to get to Hollywood and work on more high profile projects. I got a gig in a swank Beverly Hills art gallery pretty much as soon as I landed, and focused on freelance fashion and textile work in my spare time initially.              I must say I’ve never really had difficulty finding work.  I’m confident and have a valuable skill other people need and I hustle my game.  I’m always looking for opportunity.  While I’ve held staff jobs here and there, I find I prefer being my own boss.

A fellow I was dating had a friend who did storyboards for a living. I was fascinated by how he had an agent and could work only a few days a week and make enough cash for a killer apartment and a great car. I wanted in! I knew I had to bone up my portfolio, but I didn’t really have any sequential art to show.  So I picked some TV commercials and storyboarded them out on spec, and made up some comic book sample pages.  Well, long story short, I took my book in on a Friday and by Monday they had me working on a McDonald’s commercial.

Yes, both my work and the income have been very steady, and seem to grow yearly. Even when the economy slumped three years ago, I was able to lower my rates and keep working. Things have bounced back of course and I am blessed to have turn work away. In any given week, I do plenty of storyboards for ad agencies and production companies, as well as finished illustration for certain clients, and comps and character work. I love variety.

Whether you decide to pursue work as a company employee, or to freelance on your own, the first thing i suggest is to get organized as your own “brand”.  Put together a website or establish a facebook page for your art or both.  Start thinking like a professional now.

For more industry insider tips, download the free chapters from ” The Art Student’s Guide to the Real World”, available here on

Thanks again Emily. I’m pulling for ya!

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