So you've decided to journey on the path to become an illustrator. As a new traveler, you'll need supplies and skills to get to your destination. You look around and found a huge training center: "Art School". It seems promising with the teachers and shiny tools, but you'll have a to pay a big fee, and you don't want to figure out how to climb this mountain all by yourself.... So the question is, is art school really worth it?
In this post I'll talk about the pros and cons of art school and self education, so to make your journey easier at the foot of the mountain.
Art schools are universities where you study art as a major, and you receive a degree certificate after you complete the studies. (Examples: CalArts, SCAD, RISD) Having a degree is important to some people, as it will make your resume look better and qualify for certain jobs. Who knows you might want to switch to another career in the future? Some art related jobs such as art teachers and gallery curators often require you to have a degree as well.
Proper art education
Art schools with good reputation will give you an all-rounded, break-you-then-make-you resurrecting kind of experience. You'll have to unlearn the ways you've been drawing and start again from the beginning. Your creative skills will improve greatly as you follow the curriculum and critique each other's works. Teachers in art schools have usually worked in the industry for some time and they provide great career tips and insights.
One of the greatest benefits of art schools is the connection to industry professionals. Knowing the right people can help to get your foot in the doors of your dream job (Disney, Pixar, Marvel, or your favorite publisher/game company). Most art schools are practical: they prep you to land a job. You will learn how to build a strong portfolio, promote yourself and pitch ideas to clients. Some art schools also offer internship and mentor programs, which serve as great career stepping stones.
Sounds awesome, right? However, all good things comes with a price... and for art school, a very big price. A full undergraduate degree in an art school is equivalent or sometimes more expensive than normal university tuition fees. A lot of students will graduate with a bunch of loans and spend their first few years as starving artists in debt. What's worse, studying in art school does not 100% guarantee you to become a successful artist, so you'd better give a second thought at this investment.
Practice makes perfect, so expect to spend long hours in the studio honing your art skills with little time for everything else. Studying art in a full time degree is exhausting, you'll often feel fed up and don't want to ever pick up a pencil again. You might enjoy drawing as a hobby, but it will be different when all you do is draw.
Certificates are not compulsive for illustrators
Honestly, you don't have to have a degree to be an illustrator. Clients hire you for your art, not for your education background. There are lots of self-taught artists out there who didn't go to art school and they have a great illustration career. Some developed their distinctive style because they didn't go to art school and got brainwashed in drawing things as certain way.
Lots of online resources
You don't have to go to art school in order to learn the ropes, resources are everywhere if you look for it! You can find books/online tutorials/youtube videos that teach things from drawing cats to framing comic panels. You can follow great artists, emulate them and improve your art skills. Just like the saying, "nothing in the world is difficult for one who sets his mind on it", no one stops you from learning to be a better artist.
If going to art school requires too much money and time, then self-teaching is the opposite. You have absolute freedom on your path. You can have a day job and practice art at night, without worrying about homework deadlines and being in debt.
Lack in fundamental skills
If you want to become a character designer in Dreamworks, then you would have a hard time learning by yourself. Some illustration positions require highly trained drawing skills in human and animals, and those fundamental skills are best learned in art school. Without a curriculum forced on you, it's easy for us to only draw the things we like and skip the tedious training.
Little industry knowledge and connection
Starting your illustration career as a self-taught artist is less privileged than an art school student, because you have little connections. You can make great art, but if you don't know how to show it to the right people, or know how the industry works, then it'd be difficult to find a good job. Even if you landed a nice job, you might not know how to protect yourself and get taken advantage of.
So... did it scare you away? Or maybe reading this post makes you want to enroll in art school even more? I hope you have a better view of both options by now. My advice is: if you don't have to worry about money, go for art school. If you have no money or you're not sure about your career path, don't.
But some of you might ask, are there other options? The answer is yes. And I'll cover them in later posts!
Hello! I'm Bonnie Pang and I'm an award-winning illustrator and comic artist.