Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Illustration Resumes: 3. Skill & Achievement

Even though illustrators and most visual artists are not necessarily lauded for their writing skills, they never the less must muster them to compose a resume. Now when it comes to the categories of skill and achievement, illustration resumes separate themselves quite substantially from other professional fields and even other visual arts based fields. And this separation should be properly recorded so it can be recognized. The skills section can present quite a range of expertise from the knowledge of centuries old traditional art media to the use of software applications on the latest computer operating systems and hardware devices. Additionally, illustrators most definitely possess noteworthy creative, perceptual, and aesthetic skills. Not to mention skills involving dexterity. Unfortunately, when it comes to choosing credentials to include in a resume, illustrators severely undervalue these skills, and quite often overlook them altogether.

© 2013 Don Arday
Although there are difficulties concerning the listing of skills, the achievement category is even less understood. At least in many of the resumes I have seen. It is arguably the most difficult category of a resume for illustrators to write. And most importantly, it can end up being the one section of a resume that turns out to be the most influential in attracting the attention of a potential employer, especially one that commissions freelance work. Achievements and accolades are where illustration resumes and those of graphic designers share some similarity. Both groups participate in many of the same competitive venues, and achievements regarding those venues are mutually admired. So the difficulty lies in two areas. The first being how to list accolades, after all, nearly everything you produce as an illustrator is a collaborative effort with a designer, art director, writer, editor, client, or even another artist. The second area concerns even knowing when your illustrated work has been recognized and received special recognition, because it may not have been you, but one of your collaborators, who entered the project into a competition. This happens quite often, and it is only through some third party association that an illustrator can find out that they have been awarded an industry distinction. This is why it is so important to use an online search engine to do an “ego search”. My own personal experience doing this has revealed important documentation and recognition of my work, which has resulted in several noteworthy resume citations, and it may well do the same for you.


Whereas the identity and history sections of a resume serve as the nuts and bolts, the skill section of a resume represents the meat and potatoes. That is to say, when resumes are reviewed a person’s identity and their history become the basic qualifiers for a prospective employee. If something is out of order here, a reviewer will not read any further. If all is good with the qualifications, than the skills section is examined.

For more on the qualifications of identity and history see: http://www.theinformedillustrator.com/2013/07/illustration-resumes-2-identity-history.html

Required and Desired Skill

A set of skills is what jobs are all about, let’s just say, a person who possesses the right set of skills may win out over a person who happens to have the right degree. Jobs descriptions usually list required skills for a given position. They may also list desired skills, which is a sort of wish list for the job position. Finding a candidate that possesses all the required and desired skills is nearly impossible, but job descriptions will list them nonetheless. The important thing is for you not to feel intimidated by a job listing. After all, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so it is always worth the effort to apply.

Skill Categories

These days, illustrators can demonstrate skills in several areas, and employers are searching for those individuals that possess a variety of skills. Presenting a well-organized skill section that lists noteworthy skills on a resume will help a resume reviewer to  quickly recognize the abilities you have to offer.

Art Skill
Art skill refers to an illustrator’s knowledge of traditional art media, technique, and materials. Some examples of advantageous skills, might involve being a practitioner in wet media such as oil, water-based oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, egg tempera, etc. Or dry media for that matter. Others skills can refer to techniques such as screen printing, dimensional illustration, cell painting, encaustic, oil sketching, intaglio, etc. And others can relate to the use of materials such as airbrush, letterpress, etc.

Subject Skill
Consider that your resume might precede your portfolio, so it is important to have a verbal reference for your form and style of work. This can be done by way of a brief description or it can be built into the skills section of your resume. Subject skills would include caricaturist, realist, cartoonist, muralist, scene illustrator, botanical illustrator, wildlife illustrator, fantasy illustrator, portrait illustrator, etc.

Technology Skill
Technology skills involve the use of computer hardware and peripherals, software applications, internet environments, and social networking. Knowledge of particular hardware platforms should be listed, as should their operating systems such as Mac OS/iOS, Windows, Linux, Android, etc.

Illustrators who use several software products should list them along with their estimated proficiency. Adobe products should be listed individually such as Photoshop, InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc. It is perfectly acceptable to list software programs you have used even if you use only portions of them regularly.

Special note: I once had a conversation with one of the creators of a widely used software program, and I asked him, “What did he consider an expert to be when it came to knowing a particular software program?” He said, “We refer to people who are well versed in a program as a ‘Power User’, and we consider a Power User to be someone that knows 20% or more of the capabilities of a program. He said, “There are very few professionals who use more than 20% of what a program has to offer in the daily course of what they do. Even the developers of the programs do not all know the usage extent of the software they have created”.

Tech Support
Knowledge of scanners, digital cameras, audio and video capture devices and other digital recording devices ought to be in your skill section. Knowledge of file formats and sizing, display resolution, and data transmission should also be listed.

Interpersonal Skill
Unless they have an agreement with an illustration rep, illustrators can no longer simply sit in their studio and produce work, only to have a rep or someone else handle all the client contact and business communication. Either as a self-representing illustrator or an employee of a firm, you will have to deal directly with clients, managers, fellow employees, vendors, and others. For this reason, employers place great value on applicants that have strong interpersonal skills. And in many cases, these skills become a make or break factor in the offering of a job. Illustrators seldom list these skills on their resumes, but just as your portfolio, history, and technical qualifications will be reviewed, so will your interpersonal skills. These skills will be demonstrated by you and observed by an employer during an interview. And, as your resume will preface your interview it should list any of these skills you possess, just as you would list any other skills and abilities. Interpersonal skills would include the ability to communicate effectively, to take direction, to work within a team, to collaborate on projects, to be adaptive, etc.

Business Skill
Another overlooked skill category on illustrator’s resumes is business skills. Nevertheless, these skills should be looked at as being as important as any other skills, and should be included on a resume. Business skills would include the ability to pitch new clients, to present your work, to sell an idea, to market a product or service, to estimate project costs, to create a business plan, to write a project proposal, etc. Most illustrators have business skills that are a necessity to being an illustrator. So why not list them?


For employers and freelance commissioners an illustrator’s achievements are like the icing on a cake…sweet. Accomplishments can definitely influence the way a potential employee is considered. A listing of accomplishments, and accolades on your resume will improve your standing with a reviewer. Achievements demonstrate a commitment to excellence, a quality all employers desire in an illustrator. Employers love to brag about their employees or people they’ve commissioned. It’s a way for them to enhance the status of their company. So it is important for you to keep track of your achievements. For freelancers, as stated previously, unless former clients contact you when one of your pieces is entered into a competition, or coincidently publicized, you may not even be aware that you have are the recipient of accolades or recognition. For this reason I can’t over stress the importance of doing an “ego search” on the internet to uncover any achievements you may be unaware of.

Achievement Categories

Illustrators can participate in a number of venues that will provide achievement and distinction to their work. So, presenting an organized achievement section on a resume will help you reinforce the influence your work has in the field among your peers, hopefully giving you an advantage over other candidates. Although producing freelance for a prestigious client is a kind of achievement, it should be listed under experience and not in the achievement section. Achievement refers to acclaim for your work in peer-approved venues after the client has used it.

Scholarly Achievement
Surprisingly, many graduates neglect to list their academic merit scholarships and awards, figuring they are part of their degree, and not singularly of interest to a potential employer, but that is not true. Your scholarly achievement becomes a testament to your academic standing. Employers want to hire employees that were among the top of their class, and demonstrating it on your resume will serve you well.  There’s a riddle that asks the question, “What do you call a medical student who graduated at the bottom of their class?” The answer is, “Doctor”, but no one would want to be treated by that doctor. The same goes for academic credentials. Scholarly achievement can be listed in the achievement section or it can be listed in the education section along with your degree. These would include scholarships, merit awards, published writings, and other forms of distinction.

Competitive Achievement
Mainly occurring in the form of juried art contests, competitive achievements add distinction to your work and confirm respect for you as an illustrator. Competitions, whether it is the one sponsored by the Society of Illustrators, or any of the many others, are most useful examples of an artistic recognition of quality. They represent recognition of artistic achievement by your peers, for which employers trust and value that judgment.

Exhibition Achievement
Along with participation in competitions, having your work selected for exhibition, i.e., the public display of your illustrations is also a form of artistic acknowledgment. Participation in art exhibitions and any awards or distinctions associated with them should be appropriately listed as achievements. Exhibitions can occur at gallery spaces and museums, or as online displays.

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