The term "starving artist" sometimes applies to people who are not aware of all the interesting jobs available to them. Here are eight ways you can earn a respectable living as a talented sketch artist. Some of these jobs are full-time with benefits. However even if you prefer to freelance, paying work might be available where you weren't expecting it.
Greeting Card Companies
Greeting card companies buy poetry from writers year-round. They need artists to create lovely drawings for gift cards. It is possible to work full time in this area, once you realise all the genres of cards they design. Topics that are used all year round include weddings, birthdays, new baby, anniversaries and retirement, as well as get-well, and thank-you cards. Seasonal topics cover Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, High School and College Graduation, and Religious Holidays.
Manufacturers need new products and upgrades to existing product lines to stay competitive in the market. It doesn't matter if they sell to the public or to other corporations, they need cutting-edge products to maintain or increase market share. Manufacturers employ artists in several departments. The most important department is research and development, also called R&D. This is where researchers design new technologies or products. They depend on sketch artists to draw renderings of these new designs to submit to senior management for approval. Once senior management approves a project, these artists draw highly detailed plans that the production team will use to create a prototype. You should be experienced in sketching from sight and using computer art programs. Moreover, you should enjoy creating technical drawings.
Manufacturers, retailers, and all sorts of corporations hire advertising agencies to promote their goods and services. Advertising agencies, so Graphic Design Companies depend on creative artists to transform the marketing department's written and verbal descriptions into a series of sketches. The marketing department then presents these sketches to the client as they develop an advertising campaign. Work for an advertising agency is never dull as each campaign is different. For example, you might create a new character for one company, draw cartoon advertising for another client, or show various ways of using a new product for a third client.
Publishers employ artists for several of their biggest money makers, including textbooks for schools. Textbooks are filled with sketches to make it easier for students to visualise new concepts. They are overall simpler in style than the usual children's book. Books for young children have a picture on every page and their creation can take up to two years on and off work. It is customary that the author submits only the written story and illustrators send their portfolio to publishers for consideration. As it is the publisher who provides the artwork for cover and story, they are familiar with matching an illustrative style with an authors written text. Most publishers provide their submission guidelines Online. I also have prepared an article on the subject of "Book Illustration, the amazing world of story telling" book to further this subject.
Newspapers & Magazines
Newspapers publish daily political and editorial cartoons. This type of work is often freelance but can still be financially rewarding. It depends on how many papers contract with you for daily cartoons. The price you negotiate for syndication determines your profit. Some artists produce comic strips for the daily and Sunday papers. This is a highly competitive field at the national level. If you do not have an impressive portfolio with major publications but want to develop a comic strip, then consider starting with local papers, magazines, or online publications.
This job is emotionally demanding but also rewarding when the perpetrator is caught. You would work directly with crime victims to draw a sketch of the person who hurt them or burglarised their home or business. You need excellent listening skills and patience to transfer the victim's description, which might change several times as they remember more, and draw a lifelike sketch of the perpetrator. You can spend several hours with a victim that is emotionally distraught. Additionally, if a home was burglarised, you might draw sketches of the stolen property for distribution to local pawn shops.
Professional Portrait Commissions
Portrait sketching is mostly freelance or seasonal. Beginners in this field can offer their work on markets, shopping malls, and even theme parks. Year-round theme parks might employ you directly or through an agency. Experienced artists do private settings for corporate executives, private citizens, or their pets. Additionally, you might consider an online or snail-mail gig where people send you a photo of their child or pet, and you create a color sketch from it.
Court Room Artist
For years I have been working as a court room artist for Channel Ten in Brisbane. When a job becomes available you will be called by the network and must be available immediately or they will find another artist for that day. I received a flat fee no matter how long or fast the waiting time at the court turned out to be. Usually you are required to draw the defendant and at times the judge inside the court room. The time for the initial drawing ranges between 10-30 minutes, so you must be skilled in capturing the the essence of face features quickly. I usually began with very quick sketches of the most essential parts of the face, and drew some quick colour references, so that I was able to finish the work at home. Once completed I had to send the work to the network per taxi.
Working as a commercial illustrator for over 15 years included some interesting jobs at times. My tasks ranged from simple drawings for small businesses such as a dentists or a wheelchair supplier. Occasionally some really interesting work came along, for example when I had to paint several large 2x2 metre pop art paintings for Kellog's Pop Tarts, within the Gold Coasts busiest theme parks. But most of my work I received from Graphic Design Companies, who contacted me when they had jobs that fit my particular illustration style. If you try to work on a freelance basis, don't show a large variety of different work in your portfolio, but your individual style you have mastered over the years, unless you are applying for a regular job where versatility is required.
Visual Effects & Animation
If you can draw and have sufficient computer skills you have the option to enter the film industry working in visual effect (VFX), game art, animation and motion graphics. Every major movie these days is using visual effects to some degree. Despite that some may think that the film, television and game industry is almost too glamorous to be reachable, they are in the end normal jobs. Sure they are highly specialised but are jobs like any other. It is big business, good money and there is an ever growing demand.
Sketch artists can earn a sizeable income with advance planning and a good dose of talent. Drawing skills are in demand and some of these fields offer excellent compensation. Be open to the possibilities around you.