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What does an artist do?

Artists make art. They use many styles—painting, sculpting, or picture. They use many materials—oils, watercolors, acrylics, pastels, pencils, pen and ink, plaster, clay, and computers. Their art may show objects, people, nature, or events.

Artists fall into one of three groups. Art directors design and look at material that is going to be in magazines, newspapers, and other printed or digital form. They decide which art to use.

Multi-media artists and animators create art on film, on video, or with computers. They draw by hand and use computers to create the large pictures that form movies, television programs, and computer games.

Fine artists create original art. They specialize in one or two art forms, such as painting, illustrating, sketching, sculpting, printmaking, and restoring.

Illustrators create pictures for books, magazines, and other publications. They also create pictures for products such as wrapping paper, stationery, greeting cards, and calendars. Illustrators work directly on a computer. Medical and scientific illustrators combine drawing skills with knowledge of biology or other sciences.

Cartoonists draw cartoons. Some cartoonists work with others who create the idea or story.

Sketch artists draw using pencil, charcoal, or pastels.

Sculptors make artwork using clay, glass, wire, fabric, plaster, wood, or stone. Some combine materials to make art.

Printmakers create printed images. They use wood, stone, or metal.

Painting restorers restore damaged and faded paintings.

Many work in art studios. Others work in their homes. Some share studio space, where they also may show their work. Work areas have a lot of light and air. However, artists may be exposed to fumes from glue, paint, ink, and other materials and to dust from filings, splattered paint, or spilled fluids. They may get back pain or eyestrain, or feel tired.

Artists may work extra hours to meet deadlines. Self-employed artists can set their own hours. They spend a lot of time selling their art and building a reputation.

How do you get ready to be a professional artist?

Formal training is not strictly necessary for artists. But it is hard to be successful without some training.

Many colleges and universities offer bachelor's or master's degree programs in fine arts. Independent schools of art and design offer associate and bachelor's degree programs in art. These educational programs include training in computer techniques.

Those who want to teach art at public elementary or secondary schools must have a teaching certificate and a bachelor's degree.

Medical illustrators need a bachelor's degree combining art and premedical courses. A master's degree in medical illustration is recommended, but only five schools in the United States offer this degree.

Artists usually prepare a "portfolio"—a collection of samples of their work. This collection shows their talent and skill, and it helps them sell their art and get jobs.

How much do artists get paid?

The middle half of all artists earned between $23,970 and $48,040 in 2002. The lowest-paid 10 percent earned less than $16,900, and the highest-paid 10 percent earned more than $73,560.

Earnings for self-employed artists vary widely. Many do not make enough money just from selling their art.

How many jobs are there?

Artists held about 149,000 jobs in 2002. More than half were self-employed.

Employment of artists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through the year 2012. However, there will be strong competition for most jobs. Many people with a lot of talent want to be artists.

Are there other jobs like this?

Where can you find more information?

More information about artists and related workers can be found in the Careers Database.

Source: Occupational Outlook Handbook -- U.S. Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

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