Careers in Botanical Art and Natural Science Illustration

“How the heck do you break into the market?”…… this is a question I received from a student in my online Drawing the Beauty of Plants Class.

The first thing I believe you need to figure out is exactly what you are looking to “break into” within the field of Botanical Art Natural Science Illustration. Then set up a plan on how you are going to do. Once you decide on what you want to do you can then decide how to achieve it.

There are many areas with the Botanical Art & Natural Science Illustration world that are professional. Here is a short break down on the possibilities:

1. Working for a botanist, ornithologist, mammalogist etc….requires scientific knowledge of anatomy within the given field. Black & white techniques like traditional pen & ink are vital skills as most scientific work is done in b&w. There are not many artists working this way and the pay is very minimal for the level of skill required and the time it takes. Scientists are usually working with grant money and the budget for an artist is at the bottom of the grant. Some scientists will do their own art, even if it is not up to professional skill levels. There are a few staff positions for artists in institutions like the Smithsonian. These positions are usually filled by an artist who makes a 20+ year career. A position opens when the staff artist retires….. if the budget is still available the position is filled for another 20+ years. Freelance work is available but don’t wait for it to drop into your lap.

2. Exhibiting and competing for awards in national and international competitions is something many artists strive for. The botanical world in particular is very competitive. The ASBA, SBA and other organizations have exhibits and competitions regularly. There are many opportunities to exhibit in the Natural Science and History fields, especially in wildlife art. The standards are high for excellent skills in watercolor or the color mediums, as well as composition, extensive knowledge of anatomy, as well as producing beautiful art. Gallery representation is few and far between. There are not many Botanical Artists or Natural Science Illustrators making a living by only selling their art.

3. Commercial applications- This is a very broad market with a huge range of skills and pay scales. This includes work for hire; no copyright benefits. The artist works for a flat rate and delivers the art, never to see it or another penny again. Licensing images or collecting royalties is a way for an artist to continue to make money on a work of art. This type of work can be illustrations in text books, children’s books, t-shirt designs, greeting cards, packaging designs, fashion industry, graphic design etc….. This is the largest area with the most opportunity. You will need knowledge of reproduction and preparation (scanning, Photoshop etc…), good technique drawing and color techniques, speed and ability to work under a deadline as well as marketing skills to find the work within this market. The work can be highly accurate, scientific and detailed or it can be simplistic and whimsical. The range is broad and diverse.

I wrote a blog post a while back about deciding on your expectations. I think this can also be helpful when deciding on a career path as an artist. Here is a link to that post:

http://www.mindylighthipe.com/art-expectations-why-do-you-want-to-learn-to-draw/

I hope this helps you along in your artistic journey……. Have you had success in selling and marketing your art within the field of Botanical Art & Natural Science Illustration? I would love to hear about your successes!