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Scientific Illustrator

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What does a Scientific Illustrator do?:

Scientific Illustration is a career that requires skill in detailed realist drawing with a range of mediums.

What are the hours and wages like?:

Hours and wages vary greatly, with entry level income around $12000 p.a., rising to $35000 - $52000. Some scientific illustrators may work as full time staff members with publishers, universities or in research facilities. Often illustrators do freelance work, negotiating for projects and book contracts. Detailed illustration can involve hours of painstaking work, which can be problematic for freelance artists where 'time is money'.

What training does a Scientific Illustrator need?:

There are many courses available in scientific illustration, ranging from weekend workshops to full degree and postgraduate programs. A degree program, especially one offering some form of industry experience or internship, would be ideal for a new entrant to the field. However, many illustrators make a shift from science studies and may only need some additional training in illustration technique to be employable.

How good does my drawing need to be?:

Scientific illustration requires highly accurate, realist drawing skills. Bear in mind that if you have some basic drawing skills, illustration courses should help you refine your drawing to the level required. Some illustration may copy directly from specimens, but some may involve being able to use references and imagination to create convincing images of abstract concepts, showing the passage of time, 3-D cutaways and cross-sections, extinct species and microscopic organisms.

What other skills do I need?:

A flair for science is clearly essential for a scientific illustrator. You may choose to specialize in an area, such as medicine, palaeontology, biology etc, and an in-depth understanding of the field is needed to help you translate texts or instructions into the required visual image. As with most commercial art, computer and graphics software skills are essential, with digital artwork a preferred format.

Is there a professional organization?:

There are many generalist illustration organizations, as well as specialist bodies on most continents. The Guild of Natural Science Illustrators is among the most notable. See also The Association of Medical Illustrators

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