The Princeton Review is currently experiencing some Dashboard down time. Come back again soon for an update. Sorry for the inconvenience.

A Day in the Life of a Digital Artist

A digital artist makes art using the computer as his or her primary tool. This art can be intended for a CD-ROM, video game, or website; but almost as often, it is printed out and hung on a wall. Individuals who crave stability, please note: Change in this field is constant. Whether you’re an illustrator, graphic designer, animator, or game designer, the software you use is constantly evolving. Depending on the company they work for, digital artists may wear many different hats and contribute to five or six projects at one time. Most of their day is spent developing an interface for a project, drawing pictures, assembling the art, and making buttons for users to click on. “The work atmosphere is like a big clubhouse, and we can easily be there until midnight or two in the morning, particularly when working on a deadline. We easily can put in a 12-hour day, and 10-hour days are the average. That’s because we’re in the hot seat and clients want things yesterday,” says one artist at a startup company.

Paying Your Dues

A general art education is a good first step, especially for networking, as so much of this industry involves working with creative people in other fields. While a job with a print magazine was once the best way to break into commercial art, the Internet now allows young artists to land jobs as a junior/assistant designer, website designer, art director, illustrator, animator, or game designer. Today there aren’t any steadfast rules or traditional channels to paying your dues. You may be relegated to the toilet paper account as a junior art director at an ad agency, but if you’re stuck in the same role at an interactive agency, you can make the toilet paper talk, dance, and sing. You’re not going to be making complicated video games in the beginning. There is much to learn about how to manipulate the software; it takes time to be able to grasp the intricacies of its usability and understand a language that’s not totally developed. If you can say that you are not only an illustrator and graphic designer, but also know typography, understand color and page layout, and know how to optimize graphics for use on the Web, you will be an extremely valuable commodity. Right now, the demand for creative talent is immense, largely because the Internet is comprised of a world of technicians and engineers, and the people who start companies and develop software generally don’t have an understanding of how to create art. Because every project involves teamwork, communication is as important as artistic skills. In Web companies where technology often breaks inexplicably (particularly around a deadline), being calm, practical, and logical is an asset. While creativity and imagination are the most important attributes, understanding what makes things work and an analytical ability to think like a programmer is often very helpful. In the Internet arena, an artist’s unbridled creativity should be balanced with logic and analytical skills.

Present and Future

Commercial art began with the advent of modern advertising, and graphic design and typography were the world’s original interfaces; it is from these interfaces that all modern forms of graphical information are delivered. Internet art has already evolved from having entertainment value to commercial value as an integral part of demonstrating and selling products. “The people in this industry are taking part in creating a language just like filmmakers did in the 1920s. In the future, the Internet will be regarded as an ‘age’ just like the industrial revolution,” believes one digital artist. How will the role of the artist evolve along with new technologies and forms of communication? Many people are trying to predict its future, but all we know is that change is constant, and it’s proceeding so fast that keeping up is no longer even an option. You just have to ride the wave. Managing information, whether it is financial data or cartoons, is always going to be essential. However, the world will always need artists. Whether we watch television through virtual-reality glasses or ditch modern technology and go back to using paper to communicate, someone is still going to have to draw the pictures.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Starting salaries depend on how many programs you know and the extent of your experience. Knowledge of just the baseline illustrator programs will garner the lowest wage. Competition is toughest for animators and illustrators; 3-D artists are the most sought after.

FIVE YEARS OUT

On average, salary jumps about five dollars an hour for every two or three years of experience. The further away you move from making art and the closer you get to making software, the higher the pay—especially if you are adept at doing both. A brilliant artist and programmer could earn as much as $100 an hour.

TEN YEARS OUT

Digital artists and their software have scarcely been around this long. Check back in a few years to see what the next Internet revolution brings.