How to Become a Sketch Artist

Specializing as a sketch artist may not be the obvious choice for many. We often think of artists as painters or sculptors, or at least those are the first ones that might come to mind. Well, sketch artists can be described as specialists. They use their drawing skills and art talent to create images with pencils, charcoal or pastels, and other materials.

There are two main paths that sketch artists can take. They can focus on their art and work on creating pieces living on income from sales. Another option is to become a forensic sketch artist, which means that you work in a courtroom or with the police to create sketches of potential criminals or court scenes when media is not allowed inside. There are other options too, such as working in the comic arts industry, or sketching for books and publishing companies.

Before settling on becoming a sketch artist, you will probably try out a variety of media, such as painting, sculpture, or other forms of art. Ultimately, you really need to love sketching, but what’s more, you need to be very good at it. While it might be a bit more of a niche form of art, it is no less competitive or demanding.

Take a look at what it’s like to be a sketch artist through this infographic.

WHAT THE EXPERTS ARE SAYING

Arlissa Vaughn

Self-employed Artist

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I have a BFA from East Carolina University’s School of Art and Design. I have been a practicing professional artist for more than 10 years and have seen both the highs and lows of this career choice. I am an independent artist selling my work, both retail and wholesale, in addition to taking custom commission assignments.As a self-employed artist, I divide my time between all areas of a functioning business plan –marketing, sales management, exhibition procurement, and creation of art. I usually do the office tasks in the morning and create art in the afternoons. On most days I stop all work at 5pm to spend the remainder of the day in a more relaxed environment with my husband and daughter.

When I started out, I wish I had known more about wholesaling art and procuring customers. In art school, the emphasis is on the technical creation, not the business of art.

Advice

Treat it as a job
Learn to be flexible with your acceptance of commissions. Take on work to pay the bills, even if it’s sketching a comic that you doubt you’ll ever share in your high-end portfolio. Little jobs often turn into larger ones, so don’t turn up your nose too quick.

Learning is a great booster
Professional training through a school or apprenticeship with an artist is very useful. Learning the anatomy of the human body, animals, or botanical life will give your work a technical boost that differentiates it from a hobbyist.

Get your art out there
Make some sketches, and place them for sale on Facebook, Craigslist, and Etsy. Take notes on what sells and what doesn’t. Learn from your mistakes, and keep trying to grow your business.

Pablo Solomon

Self-employed Artist

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  • Pablo Solomon
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By the time I got to college, I was already selling art and had spent endless hours studying art. In college, I took very little art and a lot of science and technology. The courses like metal casting, welding, materials and processes, anatomy, etc. were priceless to my art skills. I also got an advanced degree in social psychology, which gave me a strong understanding of people. Along the way, I had to take a lot of English, which has helped my communication skills. I was lucky enough to get professional artists to show me the tricks of the trade along the way.I get up each day at about 4am and begin working on correspondence and new ideas. I love my work and consider it a blessing to be able to make a living doing what I love. The freedom and the satisfaction of seeing others like my art and designs is what I love the most. But the lack of certainty of income can be hard. We have learned to budget our money and to not get too excited or too down about the economy. We have been through enough ups and downs to know that one can always find a way to survive.

Read more about Pablo Solomon.

Advice

Have many skills
If you can attend a top notch design school, that would be great. However, you can learn the skills from many schools. In addition to your art education, always have skills in other areas with which you can supplement your income until you establish yourself as an artist.

Learn all you can
The more you can learn about everything in life and art, the better. I took both mechanical and architectural drawing, for example. This really gave me a good idea of representing objects and scenes from all sides. Study the great drawings of the ages and try to understand why those compositions are considered to be great. Good sketches depend on a balance of creativity, composition and skillful execution.

You really have to make connections
It is that simple and that hard. You must be prepared to show your skills if an opportunity arises, but the key is to make contacts with people who can offer you those opportunities.

Rob Cabrera

Creative Squirrels, LLC

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  • Rob Cabrera
  • South FL
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I earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts from University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and a Masters in Animation and Visual Effects from Academy of Art University – San Francisco. Today, an average workday depends on the project, but I try to keep a steady schedule. Some projects require more work than others. Normally, a typical studio workday can be anywhere from 8 to 10 hours (usually starting very early in the morning). But if I’m in a great creative groove (or there’s a tight deadline) the day can be as long as 14 hours. In that case, I don’t work them straight and will knock out 7 hours in one session, go home, and start up again after I’ve rested and will work well into the early morning.The creative freedom I have working on projects that mean a lot to me is absolutely invaluable. I have worked in some environments where the creativity was greatly restricted by the guidelines of the project, which can be quite frustrating. Also, connecting with people who really dig the work I do is awesome. I create a lot of sports-themed artwork, so it’s always a great feeling when pro athletes contact me wanting the original work.

While I do like handling the business end of the industry, the administrative paperwork sometimes has to take precedence over creative work, which means fun stuff has to wait. But fun stuff can’t happen unless the business side of things are taken care of. It’s a Catch-22 situation.

I wish I would’ve learned early on that having a strong business sense of your art is crucial to the success of your career. A lot of schools don’t teach that in their fine arts programs, and they absolutely should. Anything you create has value, and while it’s incredibly fun to create, it’s equally important to value what you create and make others appreciate that.

Advice

Work hard!
Don’t be a lazy artist. The best artists, whose work keeps on improving every year, are the ones who are putting in the time and effort to make their work look spectacular. The more work you put in, the better you’ll get, and the more efficient you will be in creating your art.

Learn the way you do
I would say do whatever you feel you need to reach your goals. If you’re the type of artist who needs a structured program to be taught techniques, then seek out the best program out there for yourself and do that. Do whatever you feel will help you and don’t let anyone or anything stop you.

Use social media
Social media is a great way to connect with people, groups, and companies, who have similar interests. Find the right platform for your work and distribute your work that way. Be active and clever in your use of hashtags and the right people will find you.

What Kind of Education Do I Need to Become a Sketch Artist?


Just like most art careers, there is no strict path when it comes to becoming a sketch artist. You may become successful whether you get a formal education or not. The industry is open for everyone as long as you have talent, passion and skills.

That being said, there are many techniques and nuances to sketching. There is also a lot of competition. Getting some sort of formal education might be a good idea to separate yourself from the crowd.

You’ve got a few options. Apprenticeships are one great way to get into the art industry. Not only will you learn techniques and approaches, you will also get to network and be part of the art world. For this, you will probably need a certain level of skill and talent already, as well as some degree of connections.

The other option is to take a couple of courses at a community college. This is a cheap option for those who are good at self-learning but need to hone specific techniques and skills. Once again, you’ll need to have built up some skills on your own beforehand. Also, if you are planning to go into business for yourself as an artist, you might want to pick up a couple of business classes to help you out.

Of course, there is also the option of getting a Fine Arts degree. Many universities offer this option. You will probably have some opportunities in-state and at private colleges as well. If this is an investment you’d like to make, pick your program carefully. Look at the courses they offer, what type of studio hours they have, whether you can minor in something that will help in your career, and whether the atmosphere is right for you. Our experts say that well-rounded knowledge is important to become a great artist, so consider taking a minor in something not related to arts.

WHAT IF I DO WANT A DEGREE TO BECOME A SKETCH ARTIST?

  • Yale University
    Yale has a general Bachelor of Fine Arts program, where the first year is spent learning the fundamentals, with specialization in the higher study years. Concentrations include painting, printmaking, sculpture, graphic design and photography. Current annual full-time tuition is $34,300.
  • Rhode Island School of Design
    RISD offers a number of BFAs and MFAs including ceramics, furniture design, glass, jewelry and metalsmithing, illustration and sculpture. All the courses include art history, art philosophy and studio classes for a rounded education in Arts. Current annual full-time degree tuition is $44,284.
  • School of the Art Institute in Chicago
    SAIC has a slightly different approach in their program design, where you get to study a BFA and choose to focus on one or more subject. This can be photography, sculpture, painting or something else, or many different mediums of art. You design your own curriculum, so-to-speak. They also have Master’s level courses. Tuition currently stands at $1,381 per credit hour for undergrads.
  • University of California – Los Angeles
    Similar to other Fine Arts programs, UCLA offers a generic fundamentals education, later concentrating in areas such as painting and drawing, photography, sculpture, ceramics, art theory and what they call new genres, which involves non-studio work, video and installations. Being a state university, estimated annual fees for UCLA are $15,131 for resident students and $38,009 for out-of-state.
  • Virginia Commonwealth University
    VCA offers a number of Fine Arts programs, Bachelor’s and Master’s levels, including craft and material studies, art history, sculpture and extended media and painting and printmaking, among many others. In-state tuition fees average $5,317 and $12,843 for out-of-state students, plus art school fees.

GETTING MY FOOT IN THE DOOR

Whether you are sketch artist, a painter, a craft artist or any other type of artistic businessperson, your key to the industry is first and foremost, networking. Until people know who you are, they probably won’t be looking for your products.

Of course, as an artist today, there are many options to get your art sales going. You can sell online, through Etsy or your own social media accounts, such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Instagram. You can also use these to establish your online presence and make a brand for yourself. You should, however, at the same time, get to know the live industry offline. Join local art groups and artist associations. They don’t all have to be sketch artists, but they should belong to the art world in one way or another.

Another good way to start promoting yourself is through smaller art fairs, and moving onto larger ones as you build a name for yourself. You can consider your “foot in the door” when your work begins getting commissioned. This being said, that’s not the time to stop your promotional efforts and networking. In fact, this is the time to work on them harder than ever. The art industry is a volatile business, so be ready for its ups and downs.