Designing Your Life : 5 Lucrative Art Pathways for Students and Mid Career Professionals 

Nov 5, 2023 | Art Insights

Written By: Chiara Atoyebi

Mural artist at work

When I was a writing undergrad at The New School in New York, I would often study in the Parsons’ School of Design library because I knew I wanted to one day work in the art world and immerse myself in color. I love color, shapes, text on color, prints and designs–they just have a way of emoting and helping me to express my mood. I have spent a lifetime looking at screens, blinking cursors, and blank pages. It’s all so, well, black and white. Art has always been in my life since the age of 5 when I declared to my parents that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up, but, like most young African American girls growing up in the 80’s we were taught to explore more stable careers.

Nowadays, the vast array of opportunities and information available to us can be overwhelming. However, with a little bit of exploration and discovery, you can find your niche in the world of art. Countless components that contribute to the magic of our cultural institutions, events, exhibitions, and historic preservation. Art is a diverse field that offers numerous career options for individuals who are passionate about it but may not possess traditional creative talent, feel like they may have aged out of the profession, or haven’t taken the typical pathways into the field. For those who thrive in organized and detail-oriented environments and have a deep appreciation for art, a career as a museum curator, conservator, arts administrator, or antique dealer can be an ideal fit. These professions require precision, a thorough understanding of the intricacies of the art world, and contribute significantly to preserving and promoting artistic heritage. These are great options if you have a love for art and a desire to make a difference. Additionally, there are other non traditional art careers that are worth exploring and also pay well. Here are five that you should check out now:

Medical Ilustrator

Photo by Joyce Hankins on Unsplash

As a Medical Illustrator, your role centers on creating anatomically precise illustrations. This involves in-depth research on body structures and rare medical conditions. Medical illustrators use reference materials and may even observe medical procedures for accuracy. As a Medical illustrators your work can be found in print, video and animations featured in textbooks, medical journals museum exhibits and research reports. Some medical illustrators employ traditional hand-drawing techniques, while others leverage graphic design software. Collaboration with project managers is common, as they play a key role in the final artistic decisions. Project managers are essential to the success of any creative project, as they oversee the planning, coordination, and execution of the project. By working closely with project managers, artists can ensure that their creative vision aligns with the overall project vision, and that the final product meets the needs and expectations of all stakeholders. You may consider scaling your practice in one or both areas.

Salary range: $147, 500-$260, 000 per year.

Game Artist 

Ever since video games rose to popularity in the 1970’s they’ve become more intricate with their animation, effects and elaborate storylines. With approximately 3 billion active video game users worldwide and an industry worth nearly 400 million, it’s safe to say that video games are not only here to stay but are a proven market for any artist to explore. Especially since there are only 30% of women artists represented in the field with men making up 70%, according to Statista. As of March 2023, on 4% of those working in the game design field identify as Black, and an even smaller percentage of those are women and very nominal. However, major companies have partnered with HBCUs like Spelman College and their Innovation Lab, to offer students access to information and exploration of their gaming design studio. According to Spelman’s Gaming Design Website”The GDS is supported by a state-of-the-art, 12-seat game development classroom (The Zynga Classroom), a student club (SpelmanXR), a student fellowship program (Unity Fellowship Program), a scholarship program (The Zynga Scholars Program) an R&D program (Microsoft Gaming Research Lab) and a faculty seed grant program (Unity Faculty Seed Grant Program).  The GDS also hosts an annual, inter-collegiate HBCU Game Jam.” It’s definitely worth checking out.

Salary Range: $64,000-$174,000.

Concept Artist

Do you love transforming other people’s ideas and making them unique an special to them? Then you may be a concept artist. As a concept artist, your primary job duty is to take your clients’ ideas and transform them into visual representations that can act as a foundation for the design phase of their projects. Concept art can take the form of either a storyboard, a collection of rough sketches and drawings, or a slide deck presentation. Concept artists work in various industries, including film and digital entertainment, video game design, architecture, and even interior design. You can find jobs as a concept artist in design studios or work as a contractor for companies that require your services.

As a concept artist, your primary responsibility is to create visual representations of an idea or concept for various industries such as video games, film, animation, and advertising. You will work closely with art directors, designers, and help creative directors to bring their vision to life. In a design studio, you will work with a team of artists and designers to create concept art for various projects. You may be required to work on multiple projects simultaneously and adhere to strict deadlines. As a contractor, on the other hand, you will have more flexibility in terms of work hours and assignments. You can choose the projects you want to work on and negotiate your pay rate.

Regardless of where you work, being a concept artist requires a high level of creativity, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate ideas effectively. You will need to be proficient in various software programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, and Maya. Additionally, a strong portfolio showcasing your skills and creativity is crucial to landing a job as a concept artist.

Salary Range: $127,000-$146,000.

3D Artist or Animator

A 3D Artist/Animator is a graphic designer with advanced computer technology and design software knowledge. They create captivating 3D animations for various industries, including science, healthcare, mobile applications, video gaming, and marketing. In order to become a successful 3D artist or animator you will need need to the ability to leverage your artistic talent with technical proficiency. For this job it is helpful to have experience in drawing, photography combined with excellent computer skills.

To become a 3D Artist/Animator, you will need a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design, computer graphics, or a related field. Additionally, a strong portfolio demonstrating artistic and technical skills is also a must. Proficiency in industry-standard 3D animation software, such as Maya, 3ds Max, and Cinema 4D, is critical. Moreover, keeping up-to-date with the latest technological advancements in the field is essential to remain competitive in the job market. A career in 3D animation can be incredibly fulfilling for those passionate about art and technology.

Salary Range: Salary range: $54, 000-$140, 000.

Art Therapist

What is an art therapist? An art therapist is a mental health professional with specialized training who leverages the creative process of art-making to assist individuals in confronting emotional, psychological, and behavioral difficulties. Art therapists are experts in both psychology and the visual arts, and they use various art forms, such as drawing, painting, sculpture, and other creative mediums, as therapeutic tools.

Art therapists work in a variety of settings, including hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, and private practices. They collaborate with individuals facing a range of issues, such as trauma, stress, anxiety, depression, grief, addiction, and more. The primary goal of an art therapist is to encourage self-expression, self-discovery, and emotional healing through artistic activities. Clients, whether children, adolescents, adults, or seniors, engage in art therapy sessions to explore their thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a non-verbal and often subconscious way. This can be particularly beneficial for individuals who have a diffult time to expressing themselves through traditional talk therapy.

I came into art-making practice fully after my daughter was diagnosed with a stage four brain tumor. During that time I witnessed the power of art and its ability to heal, inspire, and transform the mental, and even physical, wellness of some of the patients on the oncology ward. Art Therapy became my chosen healing modality and I credit it with transforming my life and helping me to recall deeply rooted traumas and wounds I didn’t know existed.

Today, mental health is a field where the opportunities are endless. You can simply teach art as a healing method or study at a university to become a fully licensed practioner. 

Salary Range: Varies by state and individual.