Career Opportunities?

Can a person make a living in scientific or medical illustration? Which of the two areas are more stable for employment?



Oh yes,

I am a medical illustrator, and I just had my best year yet, even in this weird econimic climate..  My key has been to diversify my client base, provide the best service I can (above and beyond the art), and rely on my clients to recommend me.  I feel very sanguine about the field--and I constantly act as an ambassador for the profession and for my professional organizations.  Raising awareness of the fields of Science/Medical illustration is half the battle. 

I do science illustration on a lesser basis, but I was trained in medical, so that is where I have put most of my energy, and even as a self-employed MI, I have always had a little too much work on  my plate, which is a good problem.  I feel very stable, and can charge a comfortable wage.





Yes, you can make a living as a scientific or medical illustrator.  But my experience says it's a bit of a fickle road!

My opinions:  

1) medical illustration is a bit more stable and job-friendly.

2) MI and SI staff-type jobs are becoming more and more animation- and/or 3D-dependent (it goes without saying that you will work digitally).  

3) Staff positions are fairly hard to find in science illustration; many or most self-employed science illustrators have a  "day job", at least until their business and clients allow them to freelance 100%.

4) Many self-employed illustrators (science OR medical) consider themselves quite successful, if not monetarily, then by enjoying the many benefits of a very unusual, often-versatile, and always educational field.


Good Luck!



I do not have a degree, but am going for my certificate from the New York Botanical Gardens.  I am getting straight A's, and feel confident in my ability.  Is it possible to get employment now even without a degree?  I would be fine with entry level.  How do I go about it?



Talk to people



Get your portfolio online

Have a small physical portfolio with photos, xeroxes, or prints of your work. Change the content to suit the type of job you are interviewing for.


I'm currently working on a website.  I have a friend helping me with that.  I have a portfolio too.  I'm talking to any people I meet, but there doesn't seem to be much call for scientific illustrators in the general public.  I'm networking with you, or am I?  I'll be going to March's mothly meeting of my local GNSI members.  Are there agencies or something like that?


You are right that the general public has little need for science illustrators in a direct sense. But the point of view and the attention to detail can find a place in almost any illustration job.  If you have only been illustrating plants, you should branch out and look for other types of material, and make illustrations that tell a story in the way they convey information.

I have never heard of an agency find work for Science Illustration. I have heard of agencies finding work for science Illustrators who are branching out into commercial work, especially food products.


Hi Britt,  

I am continually working on adding new drawings to my portfolio.  I am also building a website so that people can view it more easily.  As soon as I get my website up, I'll link it here.  As time goes by, I'm sure I will have a large variety of drawings of more than just plants.  I will definitely try to make at least one or a series of drawings that convey information or a story.  However, for now, what I have is some very nice drawings that show skill with pencil and pen and ink.  I wish it was a more fully rounded portfolio, but I need employment now.   If I can get a job in illustration, that would be ideal.

I also know photoshop.  Before I enrolled in the NYBG Botanical Certificate program, I had been rendering custom carpets and rugs for a high-end carpet company for the previous 12 years.  We started off hand painting the renderings, and then switched to the computer, so I do have that skill, too.

Thanks for your time and advice.


Can a person make a living in scientific or medical illustration? Which of the two areas are more stable for employment?